A cracked heat exchanger is one of those furnace issues that should not—well, cannot—be ignored. Not only is it something that most often happens to aging furnaces that are just about at the end of their lifespan anyway, a cracked heat exchanger is dangerous. It enables carbon monoxide—a tasteless and odorless, yet hazardous, gas—to make its way into your living space.
If you suspect your heater is experiencing this problem, or that you have a gas leak, we would encourage you to call your utility company’s emergency line, first and foremost. If you want help in preventing this from happening, then give our team a call for professional Oradell, NJ heating services, such as maintenance.
“Wait, What Exactly Is a Heat Exchanger?”
This heating component is essentially what allows your furnace to heat up the air that travels through your ductwork system. When the burners of your furnace come on, they generate hot combustion gas, which is collected inside the heat exchanger—this is a small metal chamber, or series of chambers, that resembles a clamshell shape.
The hot combustion gas within the heat exchanger heats up the metal walls. The blower fan of the furnace then cycles on and sends air around that exchanger, where it picks up the heat from the furnace wall, and then continues into the ducts. This way, the combustion gas heats the air without that gas ever coming in contact with your indoor air.
Once this process is complete, the combustion byproducts in the heat exchanger are vented out the system through a flue to release the gas harmlessly into the air.
The Problem with a Cracked Heat Exchanger
Since the metal of the heat exchanger expands and contracts as it heats and cools off, the stress of this can eventually cause a crack to form on the exchanger. Corrosion, due to the reaction between the gas and the metal, and often from improper venting, can also weaken the metal to the point that cracks form.
These cracks are typically very small, but as the exchangers expand with the heat, they open up enough to let some of the combustion gasses out, where they enter your airflow. This means you and your household are now exposed to carbon monoxide.
Warning Signs of a Damaged Heat Exchanger
So, how can you tell if you actually have a cracked heat exchanger? A major warning sign is the sound of clicking coming from your furnace, shortly after the blower shuts off. This should always be investigated. Also, if you see corrosion anywhere on your furnace system it’s the sign of a problem. In almost all cases, you should have your furnace replaced at this point (especially if it’s 15 years old, or older).
And of course, one final warning sign is your carbon monoxide detector going off. Don’t just shut it off and ignore it—turn off your furnace and call your utility company’s emergency line. And once the immediate danger has passed, be sure to call for professional furnace repair (or likely, replacement).