Boiler vs. Furnace: What’s the Difference

Not all home heating systems are created alike. Two of the most common are furnaces and boilers. Whether you’re replacing an old heating system or installing one on a new build, we have everything you need to know to compare boilers and furnaces. Read on to compare the pros and cons of boilers vs. furnaces to help you figure out which one is best for you.

How Does a Furnace Work?

A furnace operates by heating air, which is then distributed through your home’s duct system. The hot air releases through registers in the floor, walls, or ceiling. Furnaces can run on electricity, natural gas, propane, or oil.

A furnace’s efficiency is determined by its size in relation to your home’s square footage. The right size furnace ensures optimal energy usage and overall comfort. Too small, and the furnace will need to work overtime to heat your home. Too big, and the furnace won’t run for long enough to maintain enough warmth. A good, well-maintained furnace can last about 15-20 years.

How Does a Boiler Work?

There are two main types of boilers: steam and hot water. Steam boilers heat water to create steam, which circulates through pipes to steam radiators. Hot water boilers depend on pumps to distribute heat through baseboard radiators or radiant flooring systems. 

Boilers can operate on various energy sources, such as natural gas, oil, electricity, or wood. Due to the higher operating temperature, a steam boiler is generally less efficient compared to a hot water boiler. Properly sizing a boiler to your home ensures that water is maintained at a constant boil to maximize its efficiency by eliminating the need for cycling on and off to generate heat.

Pros of Boiler Heating Systems

Boilers have much to offer in the way of home heating. Here are some advantages for homeowners to keep in mind.

Consistent & Targeted Heat

Unlike furnaces, which can have fluctuations in temperature, boilers offer reliable and steady heat distribution throughout the home. Moreover, they allow for a zone system so you can control where the heat is directed.

Reduced Noise Level

Since boilers heat water rather than blowing air, they operate much more quietly than furnaces. 

Lower Maintenance

Unlike furnace systems with filters that need regular cleaning or replacement, boilers have fewer components that require upkeep. 

Fewer Allergens

For those with allergies or sensitivities to airborne particles, boilers do not trap allergens and dust in vents as furnaces often do, resulting in higher-quality indoor air and a more comfortable living environment for you and your family.

Cons of Boiler Heating Systems

Despite their advantages, keep these potential drawbacks in mind when considering a boiler heating system for your home.

Higher Upfront Cost

New boilers typically cost $4,500 to $7,100, and that doesn’t include the cost of installation. However, some heating service companies offer coupons or other discounts that may help bring the price down.

Slow Response

When you change the temperature setting, a boiler takes more time to start or stop compared to a furnace. If rapid heating or cooling is a priority, a boiler system may not be the most suitable option.

Potential Leak Hazards

A water leak within the system can lead to significant property damage. Have a trained professional inspect the equipment on an annual basis to ensure continued safe operation.

Pros of Furnace Heating Systems

Now, let’s look at some of the biggest advantages of a furnace heating system and why it might be right for you.

Lower Initial Cost

The average unit costs between $2,800 to $4,700, not including installation—about half the price of a new boiler.

No Risk of Freezing Hazards

Unlike boilers, furnaces don’t contain water. In the event of a power outage, there’s no risk of a furnace’s pipes freezing and possibly bursting.

Easier to Install

A furnace installation can typically be completed within a matter of hours, whereas a boiler installation may require several days.

Cons of Furnace Heating Systems

Despite their widespread use, furnaces have potential drawbacks you should note as you consider types of heating systems.

Lower Efficiency

Furnaces consume fuel at a faster rate due to the less efficient process of heating air instead of water. This can lead to higher energy costs over time.

Noisy

The forced air system of a furnace involves blowing air through vents, which can generate noticeable noise each time the furnace cycles on or off.

Find the Heating Solution That Works for You

If your home already has a working heating system, you might want to stick with it. Sign up for yearly inspections from a trusted HVAC and heating professional to keep your system running smoothly all winter. 

Whether you’re looking to install a new heating system, repair a furnace or boiler, or schedule preventive maintenance and inspections, choose John C. Flood for the job. We’re the #1 service provider in the Maryland, D.C., and Virginia areas. 

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