Choosing the right central heating system for your home or business is very important. The right system can save you money, give you peace of mind and provide you with optimal comfort. With that being said, how do you find the system that’s right for you? Should you choose a boiler or a furnace? Let’s start with the basics on how each system works.
How a Boiler Works
- Heats water
- The water is turned into steam
- The steam heat moves through pipes into the rest of the house and is dispersed through radiators. Hot water versions move through baseboard radiators or radiant floor systems or they heat air via a coil.
- Boilers also run on various energy sources including natural gas, oil, electricity and wood.
How a Furnace Works
- Heats air
- The heat is distributed by a blower through your homes duct system. The hot air is released into the room through registers or vents in the floors, walls or ceilings.
- Also known as hot air heating systems, furnaces can run on electricity, natural gas, propane, or oil.
- Furnaces are more common in newer homes because they generally cost less than boilers. There are, however, pros and cons to each.
Boiler Pros & Cons
- Generally more energy efficient: Boilers usually use less fuel to heat your home, which means potentially lower energy costs. (We’ll go deeper into energy efficiency below.)
- More consistent heat: This could be a big consideration when pondering whether to get a furnace or boiler.
- Less operational noise: Boilers are generally quieter than furnaces because you don’t hear the sound of hot air blowing.
- Less maintenance: Boilers do not have filters that require cleaning, for instance.
- Better air quality: Since boilers don’t blow air, they don’t spread dust or allergens. They also don’t dry out the air as much as blown hot air would.
- Slower to react: Boilers take longer to adjust to thermostat changes. That means it takes longer for you to feel a temperature change after turning the heat up or down.
- Harder to install: Boilers are more difficult to install than furnaces.
- Harder to convert: Switching from a boiler heating system to one run by a furnace is almost impossible. Adding the duct work to pump air through your home would be cost-prohibitive. Also, boilers don’t cool homes, so if central air conditioning is important to you, you likely want to stick with the furnace/duct system.
- Leaks pose a hazard: If your boiler leaks water, your home can sustain serious water damage.
Furnace Pros & Cons
- Less expensive: Since furnaces are more common than boilers, they are less expensive, sometimes even by half as much as the price of a boiler.
- Reduced leak hazard: Furnaces that leak usually only leak air, which is clearly less able to do damage to your home than a boiler filled with water.
- No freezing hazard: Since furnaces do not contain water, the system is not in jeopardy of freezing if the power goes out. In contrast, heating pipes can freeze and potentially burst if the temperatures go too low in a prolonged power outage.
- Easier to install: Furnace installation typically takes a few hours, as compared to days in some boiler installations.
- Less efficient: Heating with air is less efficient than heating with water. That means that your furnace will use fuel more quickly than a boiler, potentially increasing your energy costs.
- More noise: Furnaces blow air and that makes sound. You hear a furnace every time it turns on.
- Reduced heat consistency: Forced air heat is not as consistent as steam or hot water heat. As a result, some rooms may be cooler or hotter than others.
- Inferior air quality: Since furnaces blow hot air, they also blow dust and allergens. Additionally, the air will likely be drier in the winter than if you have heat that comes from hot water or steam.
Boiler vs. Furnace Maintenance
It doesn’t matter whether you have a furnace or a boiler— if you don’t take care of it, it won’t operate at its optimum. And that means you could be losing money as you heat your home less efficiently. Here are some recommended maintenance tips from Energy.gov.
For all systems:
- Check your vent connection pipe and chimney. A chimney problem may be a reason to install new equipment that doesn’t need to use the existing chimney.
- Check heat exchanger.
- Adjust boiler or furnace controls to make sure settings are best for water and/or air temperatures for efficiency and comfort.
- If you’re considering replacing or retrofitting your current system, Energy.gov recommends having a technician perform a combustion-efficiency test.
For forced air systems:
- Check combustion chamber for cracks.
- Test for carbon monoxide.
- Adjust blower control and supply-air temperature.
- Clean and oil blower.
- Remove dirt, soot or corrosion from furnace or boiler.
- Check fuel input and flame characteristics and adjust if needed.
- Seal connections between furnace and main ducts.
For hot water systems:
- Test pressure-relief valve.
- Test high-limit control.
- Inspect pressure tank, which should be filled with air only.
- Clean heat exchanger.
For steam systems:
- Drain some water from the boiler to remove sediment and improve heat exchange efficiency.
- Test low-water cutoff safety control and high-limit safety control.
- Drain float chamber to remove sediment, which will prevent clogging.
- Analyze boiler water and add chemicals as needed to control deposits and corrosion.
- Clean heat exchanger.
Ultimately, the energy efficiency of your home can save — or cost — you money. Although you might not think too much about your furnace or boiler when everything seems to be working fine, it’s important to understand how they work so that you know you’re doing the best you can to keep your home running efficiently. Having the recommended routine maintenance performed on your furnace or boiler can save you a lot of money (and headaches), so call MAC Services today and one of our technicians will come out and get your unit running at top efficiency!