cracked heat exchangerYou’re a responsible homeowner, ensuring that your furnace is checked every year heading into the cooler months. However, when you’re told that you have cracks in the heat exchanger, it doesn’t sound that dangerous. After all, it’s just a few cracks, right? This is actually a potentially deadly situation as carbon monoxide can escape through the cracks into the air in your home.

Unfortunately, most people don’t even realize they have a cracked heat exchanger unless they’re vigilant with routine annual maintenance. If that doesn’t happen, the cracks will eventually cause a heating system failure—but the key word here is “eventually.” Your heat exchanger is comprised of a number of ribbons and tubes inside the furnace that work together to create a chamber. They keep the hot gases and flames separate from the forced air which heats up your home. Cracks can lead to a dangerous situation complete with carbon monoxide poisoning.

The heat exchanger is the heart of a gas furnace, it’s a costly fix and the vast majority of the time it’s easier and more cost effective to replace the whole heating system.

Understanding the Basics

A flame is created when a gas furnace is ignited—the flame and hot gases alike are directed into the heat exchanger, and then out of the exhaust system or flue. As the blower is activated, the circulated the air in your home is forced over the exchanger. As the air flows over the heat exchanger, it becomes hot and that’s what heats your home.

Generally speaking, natural gas and propane burns clean, but the combustion process can cause issues. Carbon monoxide is produced during the combustion process but is contained within the heat exchanger and exhausted out of your home – that is until a crack in your heat exchanger is formed, and then carbon monoxide can escape into your home’s breathable air. Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer for a reason.

Carbon monoxide has no odor, color or other red flags. There’s no way to know if your home has toxic carbon monoxide present unless you have a specific tester and alarm installed. This is completely separate from a fire alarm. If a heat exchanger has any cracks, holes or sections that are rusted out, the forced air can easily and quickly spread that poisonous gas throughout the home. You and your loved ones will never see it coming.

How to Fight Back

There are two ways to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning from cracked heat exchangers: get regular, annual maintenance for your furnace and invest in a carbon monoxide alarm. This two-prong approach provides the best protection. Don’t put off maintenance out of fear of an expensive repair. Yes, it’s costly to replace a heating system, but it’s much better than becoming a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Since both carbon monoxide and a cracked heat exchanger have no warning bells, it’s up to the homeowner to stay on top of things. It’s best to have your system checked in the autumn and spring, right before you start using your cooling and heating systems more often. Check these assessments off your bi-annual to-do list, and you’ll enjoy peace of mind knowing that your home is as safe as possible. A tiny crack might be all it takes to poison an entire home, but routine maintenance saves lives.