Understanding the Differences Between Boilers and Furnaces

Boilers and furnaces are two of the most popular options for whole-house heating. While both boilers and furnaces are great heating options, understanding the differences between the two heaters and why those differences create their own unique sets of pros and cons is very important when choosing a whole-house heater. Here is everything you need to know about the differences between boilers and furnaces to ensure that you select the best heating option for your needs.

What Is a Boiler?

A boiler is a type of heater that uses water to distribute heat throughout the home. Contrary to the name, modern boilers don’t actually boil any water. They simply heat a tank of water to a point where it’s almost steaming and then disperse the water through pipes within radiators, radiant flooring, or baseboard heaters. The hot water heats the metal pipes in radiators and baseboards or tubing under floors and projects heat into the room. Boilers create a gradual but powerful type of heating for any home.

What Is a Furnace?

A furnace heats the air directly by burning fuel or by using electric heating elements. The hot air is then pushed through the air ducts, out the vents, and into the various rooms of the home. In order to warm up each room more effectively, the cooler air is sucked out through the return vents, heated, and then sent back to each room. This constant circulation of heated air quickly warms up any room in the house to a comfortable level.

What Are the Pros of Boilers?

Boilers are known for distributing heat throughout rooms much more evenly than forced hot air. Radiant heat warms the air in the room from the floor to the ceiling, allowing warmth to spread over the room evenly. Radiant heat also warms up nearby objects, such as the floor and walls, which disperses the heat even more.

Energy efficiency is a great positive of boiler systems. No heat is lost through any gaps in air ducts since they don’t utilize them, and boilers use less fuel than other heating systems use to heat the entire house effectively. Many homeowners save money on their energy bills every year by using boilers instead of alternate heating methods.

Another advantage of using boilers as your source of whole-house heat is that they have very long lifespans compared to other heating systems. A properly maintained boiler can have a lifespan of around 30 years or more, while furnaces tend to only last around 20 years at most. Due to the simple design of boilers and the fact that they don’t tend to experience as much wear and tear as other heaters, they also don’t require much maintenance.

Boilers are also relatively quiet as they heat your house. You won’t have to hear the sounds of blowing air while you’re trying to watch TV or concentrate on work.

What Are the Pros of Furnaces?

Furnaces continue to be the most common type of heating system found in homes. They are very cost-effective, easy, and cheap to install, and there are thousands of different brands, makes, and models to choose from.

Homes with furnaces enjoy immediate heat. Since air is much more easily heated than water and can be blown into a room to provide direct warmth to the inhabitants, you warm up much faster with a furnace than with radiant heating.

Furnaces are flexible when it comes to fuel sources. While the most common types of furnaces are fueled by oil, electricity, and propane, there are also furnaces that work on wood, solar power, and even geothermal energy.

Reliability is an advantage many furnace owners enjoy. They work consistently even in the coldest winter weather, and they rarely run into issues if they’re properly maintained. They also don’t use water to heat your home as boilers do, so there is never an issue with your heat not working because of frozen pipes.

What Are the Cons of Boilers?

Boilers are more expensive to purchase and install than furnaces. While the energy savings certainly help defray the cost of the unit and installation over time, the initial costs are high enough that many people opt for a cheaper heating system. Also, for people who already have a heating system, changing to a radiant heat system can be cost-prohibitive and not very practical.

Despite radiant heating being a great way to distribute heat within your home evenly, they’re not the fastest heating solution. Boilers require around ten minutes to heat enough water to distribute throughout the house. Once the water is heated and has entered the pipes, it can take up to another hour for the rooms to be heated to the desired temperature.

Due to their reliance on water, boilers have several issues that aren’t present in other heaters. They may leak and cause water damage in your basement. You will also have to shut off your heating system until the leak is repaired. The water lines may freeze, preventing you from using the system until the pipes thaw. Finally, while the odds are low, boilers can suffer from dangerous mechanical failures due to overheating or too much pressure within the unit. In terms of upkeep, boilers do not require as much maintenance as other heaters, but maintenance for boilers is usually more expensive.

What Are the Cons of Furnaces?

While newer models are much more energy-efficient than older units, furnaces are still less energy efficient than boilers. The hot air rises to the ceiling of each room when it’s blown in through the ducts, and this may result in uneven heating.

Furnaces are also not considered a very environmentally friendly heating option if they run on gas, propane, or oil. Greener options, such as solar power, are available, but they’re much less common and very expensive. They are also not very practical in colder climates.

The lifespan of the average furnace is shorter than a boiler. They also tend to require more maintenance more often due to having more moving parts and motors to run things like fans. Additionally, failure to properly maintain your furnace regularly can lead to dangerous carbon monoxide seeping into your home.

If your HVAC system doesn’t have a good filtration system or if you don’t keep your HVAC system properly maintained by having your ductwork cleaned regularly, it’s possible that using a furnace may be detrimental to your indoor air quality. Dust, allergens, and other debris in the system tend to get recirculated through the ductwork and redistributed throughout your house.

Contact the Professionals

If you’re in need of repair, maintenance, or installation work on a boiler or furnace, you can rely on our skilled technicians at The Lee Thompson Co. to provide you with professional service. In addition to services for boilers and furnaces, we also provide repair, maintenance, and installation services for air conditioners, heat pumps, air ducts, dehumidifiers, air purifiers, UV germicidal lights, and more. For additional information on any of the services we provide to the areas in and around Houston, Texas, contact us at The Lee Thompson Co. today.