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How to Tell If Your Heat Exchanger Is Cracked

What Is A Heat Exchanger?

In the simplest possible terms, your heat exchanger is the part of the furnace that heats the air. It’s a set of tubes or coils that are looped repeatedly inside your furnace. They must be fully sealed because the air we breathe has to be separated from the combustible air in that part of your furnace. It is a combination metal chamber and passageway that starts at the burner assembly and ends approximately where the chimney vent connects to the furnace. Air is heated as it is blown across the hot metal surface of the heat exchanger. The heated air is then distributed through the house to warm it.

Is A Cracked Heat Exchanger Dangerous?

If your heat exchanger is cracked, it can be dangerous for you and your family. There are dangerous gasses in your heat exchanger, the most dangerous being carbon monoxide. The most common pollutants that can enter your home’s air through a crack in your heat exchanger include:

  • Carbon monoxide
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Soot
  • Nitrogen oxides

How Old Is Your Heat Exchanger?

Sooner or later your heat exchanger will crack or fail. With that in mind, a key piece of info in this investigation is your furnace’s age. The metal expands when it’s heated. Then, when it cools, it contracts. Because of our climate, we run both our heaters and air conditioners quite a bit. This means the metal that seals the dangerous gasses in heat exchangers moves around. Like a paperclip that is bent in and out of shape over and over again, the metal eventually becomes brittle and breaks.

How Long Do Heat Exchangers Last?

Heat exchangers are built to last 10 to 20 years, but that period could be shorter if an HVAC system is used more often than the norm. Not having proper maintenance performed by a skilled professional will also take years off the life of a heat exchanger.

How To Tell If Furnace Heat Exchanger Is Cracked

1. A Change In Flame Appearance

The flame in your furnace should be blue if you have a regularly-functioning gas furnace. If the heat exchanger is cracked (or if the burner is dirty), you’ll see a moving yellow flame. That’s a sign to immediately call an HVAC pro.

2. Soot Build-up Inside Your furnace

Soot can leak out of your heat exchanger if there’s a crack. If you open up your furnace and see a black carbon buildup on the surfaces there, this is another sign that there’s a crack in your heat exchanger.

3. Unusual smells

Cracked heat exchangers generally produce a strong, unpleasant smell, similar to formaldehyde. This can give you headaches and other physical symptoms, so immediately call a local HVAC tech.

Invest In Furnace Maintenance To Avoid Heat Exchanger Problems

A good furnace tune-up will involve checking your ductwork, as well as the performance and efficiency of the HVAC system, which will help you avoid the multiple scenarios that lead to a crack in the heat exchanger in the first place. It will also be evaluated for cracks so that you can rest assured toxins aren’t polluting the air in your home. Here a Cassel Home Comfort we inspect every heat exchanger with a high definition camera, record the results and file that for future analysis.

Contact An HVAC Professional

If you have any concerns about your furnace or heat exchanger, my expert opinion is always to have a trusted HVAC tech out for a visit (which you should have had done for a pre-winter checkup anyway). Be sure to mention to them that you’ve done some investigating and found that your heat exchanger may be in danger. And go ahead and pay attention to what the tech tells you in return, so you can be a responsible homeowner.

So if you have an HVAC company tell you your heat exchanger is cracked call Cassel Home Comfort for a free second opinion and we will be right out to get you taken care of.