Heating efficiency is imperative for your wallet and comfort during the colder months. But what types of heat systems work best for your home? In comparing and contrasting a boiler vs. furnace, it’s necessary to assess which heating system offers the most warmth for your home while simultaneously cutting down on energy costs. Taking the time to fully understand the difference between a boiler and a furnace to determine which home heating options win on warmth and efficiency is a smart decision for homeowners.
A boiler and a furnace are both forced air heating systems designed to maintain a uniform temperature inside a building by heating air in a central location and then pushing that air through duct work. After learning more about the difference between a boiler vs. furnace you can understand how to efficiently heat your home this winter.
How does a furnace work?
A furnace uses air to transfer heat throughout your home. The furnace heats the air, which is then distributed by a blower through your home’s air duct system. The hot air is released into the room through registers or vents in the floor, walls, or ceiling. Furnaces can operate on electricity, natural gas, propane, or oil.
A well-functioning furnace translates into efficiency, which keeps your energy bills low, so it’s relevant to know how much a furnace inspection costs when choosing a heating system.
How does a boiler work?
There are two different types of boilers: steam and hot water. Steam boilers distribute heat through pipes to steam radiators. Hot water boilers distribute heat through baseboard radiators or radiant flooring systems. There are pros and cons of baseboard heat. Alternatively hot water boilers can send the heat to a coil that heats the air. Boilers are powered by various energy sources, including natural gas, oil, electricity, and wood.
What's the difference between a furnace and a boiler?
The most obvious difference that surfaces when comparing a boiler vs. furnace is that a boiler heats water and furnaces heat the air. However, there are a great deal of differences that come into play when comparing a boiler vs. furnace.
- Consistent, yet targeted, heat flow. Boilers provide reliable, steady heat. The temperature consistency is better than with a furnace, evenly distributing heat throughout the home. In addition to evenly distributing heat, it's easy to add a zone system to a boiler heater system, giving you specific control of where heat is distributed in your home.
- Not as noisy as a furnace. Boilers heat water, so they don’t blow air around, making them much more quiet than furnaces. If your boiler is making loud, strange noises, that could be a bad sign.
- Lower maintenance. There are no filters to clean or change with a boiler, making it a very low maintenance part of your HVAC system. As with many HVAC systems, it's important to have them checked annually by a trained technician.
- Higher quality air. If you or your family suffer from allergies, a boiler is the best type of heating system. Hydronic heat systems use water to heat the air, so they don’t harbor allergens and dust in vents like furnaces.
- More expensive than furnaces. Mid-efficiency boilers cost anywhere from $2,500 to $4,000, while high-efficiency boilers run $5,000 to $10,000, including installation. Steam and hot water boilers are approximately the same price, but hot water boilers are more efficient and cost less to operate in the long run.
- Slower to adjust to thermostat changes. Boilers take longer to react to changes in the thermostat. If you turn the heat up or down, a boiler will take longer to kick in or shut off compared to a furnace. For quick home heating, a boiler system may not be your best bet.
- Leaks can be hazardous. A water leak in a boiler system can cause significant property damage — ruining floors, walls, and ceilings. Although boilers are rather low maintenance, you should always keep an eye out for leaks and have a trained professional inspect your equipment once a year.
- Less expensive than boilers. Furnaces are more common than boilers because they’re far less expensive. The average furnace costs about $2,000 to $3,500 — including installation. Boilers tend to operate more efficiently, costing less to operate in the long run.
- No freezing hazard. With a furnace, there’s no water inside the system that can freeze if your power goes out. If the power goes out, the heating pipes in a boiler can freeze and burst if they’re exposed to frigid temperatures for too long. Frozen pipes can be extremely dangerous to many parts of your home.
- Easier to install and repair. A furnace can usually be installed in a matter of hours, while a boiler installation can take days. Furnace repair is typically easier and less expensive as well. It's important to schedule routine maintenance of your furnace to extend its lifespan and avoid any costly, unexpected repairs.
- Poor efficiency. A furnace will burn through fuel faster than a boiler because heating with air is less efficient than heating with water. This can drastically increase your energy costs.
- Noisier than a boiler. A furnace blows air around through vents, which can create a lot of noise. It is (typically) extremely noticeable every time a furnace kicks on or shuts off.
- Reduced heat consistency throughout the home. Heat from a forced air heating system is not as consistent. Some areas of the home may be hotter or cooler than others. Furnaces also produce much drier air, which can be uncomfortable in the winter.
- Lower air quality. Furnace systems spread dust and allergens throughout your home and dry out the air, requiring you to have a humidifier. Indoor air quality is a big difference between boiler and furnace output that many homeowners prioritize.
Energy efficiency of boilers vs. furnaces
Finding energy-efficient heating and cooling systems for your home is likely a top priority. Boilers and furnaces can be compared in terms of energy efficiency in a few ways: the annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE), as well as other features like a continuous pilot light, a small-diameter flue pipe or sealed combustion. The AFUE is the ratio of annual heat output of the equipment compared to the total annual energy it consumes.
In short: a boiler is more energy efficient than a furnace. Some of the hot air generated by the furnace escapes through the duct system, never making it to your desired rooms. This is especially true if ducts are located in a basement, garage, or attic space. Heat loss of the duct system or piping isn't calculated in the AFUE measurement. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, that can be up to 35% of the energy for output of the furnace.
A heating system perfect for your home.
Now that you know what the difference is between a boiler and a furnace, you can make a more educated decision for your own home. Before choosing a heating system, you should fully understand the costs associated with a furnace and a boiler. If you’re asking yourself why your house is cold even with the heat turned on, then you might need to rethink if you have the optimum heating system for your home.
Whether you are in need of boiler or furnace repair, replacement, inspection, or just regular service work with the experts at John C. Flood. We are your go-to resource to extend your boiler or furnace lifespan, from installation through preventative maintenance and even repair.
Work with a team that puts your home’s comfort first. Contact John C. Flood for the most trusted HVAC professionals to take care of your boiler or furnace maintenance. HVAC systems are complex and require routine inspections and maintenance. You don’t want to be stuck with no heat in the middle of winter, so schedule your HVAC inspection today!