The heat exchanger is an essential part of many HVAC systems, and if it cracks or breaks, it’s a major problem. A cracked heat exchanger in your furnace will prevent the system from working correctly, and it’s extremely dangerous for your home. Sometimes a heat exchanger can be replaced, but if in many cases it’s actually not economically viable and replacing the entire furnace is a better investment. In this article, we will take a closer look at heat exchangers; we will explain how they work and how they can crack.

What is a Heat Exchanger?

The simple way to think about a heat exchanger is to think of it as a device used to transfer heat between fluids without those fluids making contact with each other. Inside the heat exchanger, there is a series of crunched or looped coils that have liquid flowing through them. These coils get very hot due to a fuel source, a blower motor pumps air over these coils, this heats the air, and the treated air is then delivered throughout the home. Without a functioning heat exchanger, no warmed air will come from your vents.

How Can a Heat Exchanger Crack?

Because they are a vital component in the furnace, and they have a hard life, heat exchangers are designed to be tough. But, a heat exchanger is still a mechanical component, and it’s still going to fail after repeated uses over an extended period of time. In the majority of cases, a heat exchanger cracks simply because it’s older, and the materials used in the manufacturing process have finally failed.

During a single winter, a furnace will cycle on and off between 2,500-4,000 times, depending on the individual home. That is a lot of use, the heat exchanger is a very hard working component, and it will fail sooner or later. But, it’s important to understand that the useful lifespan of the heat exchanger can be extended with regular maintenance. There are several checks, some cleaning, and essential maintenance tasks that can maintain the health of the heat exchanger. A heat exchanger is an expensive component, and regular maintenance is a good investment.

How Bad is a Cracked Heat Exchanger?

When a heat exchanger is cracked or failing, it will prevent the furnace from working correctly. No heat can be generated, and you will need to fix or replace the heat exchanger before normal heating can be resumed. But, even if the furnace would still run with a cracked heat exchanger, that would be very bad for your home. Firstly, when a furnace is running, it can generate a large volume of nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide. These are both bad gases; having them escaping into your home would be hazardous. Carbon monoxide, in particular, is extremely toxic, larger quantities can be instantly fatal, and even exposure to smaller leaks over a longer period of time can damage your health. Secondly, a cracked heat exchanger would allow heat and even fire to escape from the furnace. This creates a serious risk of a housefire, and running a furnace with a cracked heat exchanger is dangerous.

What Can You Do if Your Heat Exchanger is Cracked?

If you get an HVAC professional to check your furnace, they can carry out tests to determine if your heat exchanger is safe to use. If the heat exchanger is diagnosed as being cracked, this can only result in two courses of action. In some cases, the heat exchanger can be replaced, and the furnace repaired. But this isn’t common because the heat exchanger is an expensive component. In most cases, it makes better financial sense to replace the entire furnace with a new unit.

This is a tough decision to make, some homeowners take the cheaper route and get the heat exchanger replaced and the furnace repaired. But, a new heat exchanger can cost anywhere between $600-$1,800 depending on the make and model. Then there is the cost of hiring an HVAC professional to carry out the repair. As we mentioned above, a heat exchanger has a hard life, and if it’s more than five years old, it’s a better idea to replace the furnace. This will cost more, but there are some benefits to choosing a new furnace for your home.

The latest furnaces are extremely energy efficient making them cheaper to run. In terms of energy savings, the cost of purchasing a new furnace can be recouped faster than you may imagine. A professional HVAC company can install your new furnace quickly to reduce downtime and get your home comfortable for winter.

Choose a Professional HVAC Company

It’s important to realize that a heat exchanger crack can often remain hidden from sight. When the heat exchanger is cold, the thin cracks contract and the surface looks smooth and free from cracking. When the furnace is working, any thin cracks expand with the heat and open up, creating a gas release and fire risk. So, diagnosing a crack in your heat exchanger is pretty hard if you don’t have the experience and testing equipment to confirm your fears.

Once the HVAC professional has established whether you have a crack in your heat exchanger it’s time to make a difficult decision. The HVAC technician can assist you here, they can point on the differences in costs, and this can help you to make an informed decision. A new furnace will cost more, but in the medium to long term, it’s the best investment that you can make. If your finances are tighter, you can opt to replace the heat exchanger and repair the furnace, saving money in the short term. The age of the furnace is usually the deciding factor, and an older furnace should be replaced if finances allow. Many HVAC companies have financing options for new cooling and heating equipment, and it’s worth checking these out before making a final decision.

If you have a problem with your furnace or heat exchanger contact a local professional HVAC company. The technicians can service, repair, or replace your heating and cooling equipment to make your home comfortable all year round.