A furnace is almost always a background player for your home, helping keep you warm during the cold winter months. It frequently won't be noticed until a malfunction appears.
One source may be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It can potentially be hazardous, so it’s worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the signs of a cracked heat exchanger and what to do if you believe that may be the problem.
What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?
A heat exchanger transfers heat from the combustion chamber inside your furnace to the air that circulates throughout the ventilation. It usually does this using coils or tubes that heat up the air while functioning as a barrier to keep byproducts formed in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from escaping out into your home.
Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?
Thanks to its central role, it isn't surprising that a broken heat exchanger can be very dangerous. Cracks in the heat exchanger can allow dangerous gasses – such as carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to be distributed throughout your home.
For obvious reasons, don't ever turn on your heater if you believe there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as letting it run could make your entire family ill. Contact an HVAC professional right away if you think your heater has a cracked heat exchanger that needs to be repaired.
Four Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:
- Furnace switches off: A crack in your heat exchanger could cause your furnace to switch off.
- Odd Smells: If the air leaving your furnace has an intense chemical odor, it might be evidence gasses are slipping through cracks in your heat exchanger. These byproducts, which will often smell like formaldehyde, are a significant warning sign.
- Carbon monoxide alarm initiates or you notice poisoning symptoms: If a cracked heat exchanger is releasing carbon monoxide in your home, your carbon monoxide alarm should go off or household members could struggle with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If an alarm goes off or you feel unwell, get out of the home right away and then call for help.
- Soot: If you notice black sooty buildup on the exterior of your furnace, it’s an indication something could be seriously wrong.
What You Can Do if Your Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked
If you worry your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, contact a pro experienced in furnace installation Pella right away so they can take a look at your system and, if required, start a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs should differ depending on the situation, but estimates often hover around $1,000 to $3,000.
Fortunately, the good news is that heat exchangers are often covered by the warranty. It's a good idea to check the warranty paperwork on your furnace, as while the warranty may not cover the entire cost of repairs, it still may significantly reduce your bill.
How to Avoid a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home
One of the best ways to avoid problems in your furnace overall is through consistent furnace maintenance. Furnaces work the best when they run efficiently. Contacting a skilled professional to inspect your furnace for worn-out parts, clogged filters and other potential problems can keep you from getting a big bill later on.
It’s also helpful to take a look at your furnace filters every few months – it’s encouraged some filters be changed every 90 days or sooner if they are dirty or grimy. While the filters aren't connected to the heat exchanger itself, the strain of pulling air through a clogged filter makes your entire furnace work more vigorously to accomplish its job. And the harder your furnace needs to run, the more strain components like the heat exchanger will sustain.