What does it mean when you are told you have a cracked heat exchanger?
Most furnaces that blow hot air through your registers have a heat exchanger that separates the combustion gases from the air that goes through your house. The combustion gases are exhausted outside through a chimney or through other approved venting material and include, water vapor, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and deadly carbon monoxide, soot and other combustion by products.
A cracked heat exchanger is a generic term indicating that there is a defect in the heat exchanger and gases are (or could be) seeping into the air inside your home. Unfortunately, there is no real way to repair the heat exchanger — these are manufactured in a factory to the manufacturer’s specifications. Any attempted repair would void all warranties and place all liability on the contractor (or their staff). In addition, insurance companies will not allow contractors to take that responsibility.
How does this affect your family?
Sometimes the defect in the heat exchanger is small — but there is no way of telling when it could turn into a larger problem! For that reason, there are industry protocols to protect the occupant’s when a defective heat exchanger is discovered. This includes turning the heater off and possibly disabling it so it cannot be turned on. Remember, a defect in the heat exchanger can result in dangerous/deadly gasses getting into the air you and your family breath, so we can’t take a chance and let it run! IF YOU ELECT TO TURN THE HEATER BACK ON AFTER IT HAS BEEN SHUT OFF, YOU DO SO AT YOUR OWN RISK KNOWING IT IS DANGEROUS AND CAN RESULT IN SICKNESS OR DEATH.
What are your options?
The soundest advice is to replace the heater. While the heat exchanger may have some warranty coverage, chances are the rest of the components in the heater do not. You could spend quite a bit of money to install a new heat exchanger (if it's even available) and wind up spending more on other components when they go bad!
If your heater is less than 10 years old, you can consider replacing the heat exchanger under the manufacturers warranty. Most warranties usually just cover the part only. These warranties generally do not cover labor, shipping the part from (and back to) the manufacturer, other items that may be needed to install the new parts and warranty processing by the contractor. Non-warranty costs are generally between $450-$900...
If your heater is 10-20 years old, it may still have some warranty coverage by the manufacturer; including a pro-rated coverage on the cost of the parts themselves. Certain manufacturers offer some trade in value on one of their new units.
If your heater is more than 20 years old, just replace the heater...NOW!
This is not the type of news we like to give out, but our responsibility is to keep you and your family warm AND SAFE. Unexpected news always impacts the budget and we can offer financing options to lessen the immediate burden.