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Cracked Heat Exchanger: What That Means and What to Do Next

September 20, 2022

A furnace is often a background player at home, keeping you warm across the cold winter months. It frequently isn't noticed until something breaks down.

One source might be that your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger. It’s a potentially dangerous issue, so it’s important to know the evidence of a cracked heat exchanger and what to do if you are worried that is the problem.

What Is a Heat Exchanger in a Furnace?

A heat exchanger transfers heat from the combustion chamber of your furnace to the air that circulates through the ventilation. It usually accomplishes this with coils or tubes that heat up the air while functioning as a barrier to keep gas produced in the combustion chamber, called flue gasses, from escaping out into your home.

Is a Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?

Because of its important role, it shouldn't come as a surprise that a damaged heat exchanger can be hazardous. Cracks in the heat exchanger can enable dangerous gasses – including carbon monoxide, which can be lethal – to flow throughout your home.

For this reason, don't ever use your furnace if you think there's a crack in the heat exchanger, as doing so could make the whole family ill. Contact an HVAC professional right away if you believe your heater has a cracked heat exchanger that should be repaired.

Four Warning Signs of a Cracked Heat Exchanger:

  • Furnace turns off: Cracks in the heat exchanger may cause your furnace to shut off.
  • Strange Smells: If the air coming out of your furnace has a strong chemical scent, it could be evidence gasses are leaking through cracks in your heat exchanger. These gasses, 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 relieving carbon monoxide inside your home, your carbon monoxide alarm may go off or family members could start experiencing signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or feeling sleepy. If an alarm goes off or you feel unusually tired, get out of the home right away and then call for help.
  • Soot: If you see black sooty accumulating on the exterior of your furnace, it’s another sign something could be seriously wrong.

What You Should Do if Your Furnace Heat Exchanger is Cracked

If you suspect your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, hire a pro with extensive experience in furnace installation Portland as soon as possible so they can examine your system and, if needed, start a furnace heat exchanger replacement. Costs will vary depending on the situation, but estimates often hover around $1,000 to $3,000.

However, the good news is that heat exchangers are generally covered by the warranty. It's a good idea to review the warranty paperwork on your furnace, because while the warranty might not cover the entire cost of repairs, it can significantly reduce your bill.

How to Prevent a Cracked Heat Exchanger in Your Home

One of the best ways to minimize the risk of problems in your furnace overall is via regular furnace maintenance. Furnaces offer the most benefits when they work efficiently. Hiring a trained professional to inspect your furnace for worn-out parts, dirty filters and other common problems can help you avoid getting a big bill later on.

It’s also a good idea to take a look at your furnace filters every few months – it’s recommended 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 dragging air through a clogged filter makes your entire furnace work longer to accomplish its job. And the harder your furnace needs to run, the more strain pieces like the heat exchanger will experience.