How Do I Know If My Heat Exchanger Is Cracked?

How Do I Know If My Heat Exchanger Is Cracked?

MSCO suggests that if you’re having trouble with your gas furnace it could be due to a cracked heat exchanger. What’s a heat exchanger? How can you tell if that’s the issue? What should you do about it? 

Don’t ignore the possibility. A cracked heat exchanger in a gas furnace is a serious safety issue. Even though your furnace may look and seem fine, dangerous gases could leak into your home and seriously affect, even kill, your family members. If someone informs you that your heat exchanger is cracked, call MSCO, and one of our specially trained technicians will immediately assess your furnace’s situation.

What is a Heat Exchanger?

A gas furnace’s heat exchanger is the furnace component that actually heats the air. It’s comprised of a set of tubes or coils that repeatedly loops through the airflow inside the furnace to heat the air. The shape of the coils depends on the type or model of your furnace. 

If there’s a possibility of your heat exchanger being cracked, don’t ignore it. A cracked heat exchanger is serious, as far as safety for your home goes. If there’s a crack in this component, the gases being burned off, such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrous oxide, could leak into your home, causing illness or, in extreme cases, death. 

Symptoms of a bad Heat Exchanger

Corrosion and/or cracks on other furnace components

When other external parts of your furnace start showing signs of wear and tear, it’s highly possible that the internal parts are also beginning to wear. Stress cracks are pretty common and can happen with the expanding and contracting of components during heating and cooling. Also, components can become corroded with the exposure to fumes emitting chloride or moisture from other sources.

Strange smells

Often a malfunctioning heat exchanger creates a strong and unpleasant odor similar to formaldehyde. It can cause headaches as well as other physical symptoms. If you smell anything strange, have your system checked immediately. 

Other physical signs

If you or other family members experience continuous recurring headaches or flu-like symptoms, this could indicate a cracked heat exchanger. Leaking combustion gases would be the culprit. Recurring nose and/or eye irritation, sleepiness, disorientation, and nausea would also be troublesome symptoms. Be sure your Carbon Monoxide (CO) Monitor is in good working order with a fresh battery. This poisonous gas, along with the other burned-off gases (sulfur dioxide and nitrous dioxide), could be the problem with it leaking from your heat exchanger. Be sure to note if these symptoms start and stop when you arrive at and leave your home. If they do, get your furnace inspected immediately.

What Should You Do About It?

If your heat exchanger is most likely the issue, it’s time to call in a professional. He or she can use a combustion gas analyzer and visually inspect to determine if it is your heat exchanger or not. If it is your heat exchanger, you cannot run your furnace, even if it seems to be running fine. The gases will continue to seep into your home’s air.  Upon finding a cracked heat exchanger, it is recommended that you shut your furnace down.

Every cracked heat exchanger needs to be replaced, either by replacing the heat exchanger itself or by replacing the entire furnace. When faced with that decision, something to consider is the age of your unit. If it’s older than 10 to 12 years old, you may want to go with replacing the entire furnace. Furnaces typically last 15 to 20 years and it may make more sense to invest in a new furnace rather than simply buying the heat exchanger and running the risk of replacing the furnace itself in the next few years.

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