What Is The Difference Between A Boiler And A Furnace?

house wrapped in scarf for home heating

Boilers and furnaces are two types of home heating equipment that many people often confuse. This isn’t surprising given that both of these units supply heat to commercial and residential buildings. This, however, is where the similarity ends. Even though both systems share the common purpose of indoor heating, one is very different from the other. As a homeowner, you will have to choose a system for your home. The system you choose will depend on the layout of your property and your heating needs. As such, it is vital to understand a boiler vs. a furnace, their differences, and the advantages of each.

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Differences Between Forced-Air Furnaces And Boiler Heating Systems

This article will talk about some of the basic differences that lie between these two heating system types.

What Are Boilers?

Boilers are large-sized, closed containers in which water or another liquid is warmed up to generate steam or vapor. This is the central component of many heating systems. It is also a main component that contributes to heat distribution and emission.

When water or liquid is used for heating purposes, this is called a radiator system or a hydronic heating system. Apart from the actual boiler, the entire system is comprised of piping, a circulator pump, radiators, and the baseboard. These are all installed in different spaces and rooms for proper heat distribution. Residential boilers can have very few components or many, depending on how much space and how many rooms require heating in the home.

image of a residential boiler room

What Is A Furnace?

A furnace uses air to generate heat. This system is capable of distributing warm air to many rooms. A lot of people refer to this heating system type as a forced-air heater. With it, room-temperature or cool air is forced through a heat exchanger where it gets warmed up. Once heated, it is passed through HVAC ductwork for distribution. There are three furnace types that property owners can choose from: downflow, upflow, and horizontal. They can use induction, gas, electricity, or oil to get the job done.

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How Is A Boiler And A Furnace Different?

How they operate is the primary difference between a furnace and a boiler. Boilers produce warmth by heating liquid or water within a sealed container. This system then pushes hot water through a series of pipes that travel throughout the building. The pipes are heated by the hot water so that sufficient heat is generated for warming up the interior rooms. As long as a boiler is capable of producing steam or hot water, it will be able to keep the building warm.

Conversely, a furnace heating system relies on a heat exchanger. With this process, the furnace heats air rather than liquid or water. The air is then moved about the home to create warmer indoor temperatures. A blower motor is used to circulate this air so that it is effectively moved through the ductwork and vents.

cat on radiator from boiler heating

Furnace Vs. Boiler: Which Option Is More Energy-Efficient?

Heating up air requires more energy than heating up water. Due to this fact, furnaces tend to use more fuel over a shorter period of time than boilers. When it comes to heating equipment cost, boilers tend to be pricier, but they can also be a lot more durable than furnaces. This, of course, will additionally depend on how well homeowners are maintaining this equipment.

The Benefits And Drawbacks Of Boilers

Below, we’ll talk about some of the benefits and drawbacks of owning a boiler.

Boiler Heating Systems: Benefits

  • Boiler Energy Efficiency: In general, boilers can produce heat using less fuel. Thus, property owners won’t pay more in energy costs.
  • Quieter: Boilers don’t produce hot air and force it through a closed system. As a result, they offer significantly quieter operation than most furnaces.
  • Consistent Heat: Vapor or hot water can produce far more consistent heat than warm air.
  • Better Air Quality: Because boilers aren’t moving air like furnaces, they aren’t distributing things like pollen, dander, dust, and other particulates.

Boiler Heating Systems: Drawbacks

  • Only Heat: Boilers are only capable of producing heat and cannot cool down your home. Furnaces aren’t able to cool either, but the same ductwork system that’s used for a furnace can support a central AC system.
  • Boiler Installation: It is more time-consuming and labor-intensive to put a boiler in.
  • Slow To Respond To Thermostat Changes: When the thermostat setting is changed, boilers are typically slow to respond.
  • Leak Hazards: Boilers that are old, worn, or damaged are at risk of leaking water or other liquids. This issue can eventually result in moisture damage to the property.
  • Difficult To Convert: Changing boiler heating systems over to furnace or forced-air heating systems is both costly and complex, especially given that ductwork installation is required.
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image of a furnace hvac filter replacement

The Benefits And Drawbacks Of Furnaces

Following, we will talk about some of the benefits and drawbacks that having a furnace entails.

Furnaces: Benefits

  • Furnaces Are Flexible: Furnaces use heating oil, propane, natural gas, and electricity. There are even models that can use geothermal energy or solar energy, but these aren’t all that common.
  • Highly Responsive: Furnaces are able to generate heat faster than boilers can, which means that they’re able to warm the home up in far less time.
  • Affordable Cost: Furnaces are quite common. Thus, there are many models and units for buyers to choose from. With more units on the market, furnace prices tend to be a bit lower.
  • Few Leaks: If furnaces leak, they will only leak air rather than water or liquid. For this reason, they are unlikely to cause damages within the home.
  • Zero Risk Of Freezing: In regions with exceedingly low winter temperatures, homes with furnaces are not at risk of having frozen or burst pipes. Given that boilers rely on liquid or water for heating, freezing is a risk that boilers are subject to.

Furnaces: Drawbacks

  • Noise: When moving and distributing air, furnace blowers generate a fair amount of sound. Each time a furnace is turned on, it will produce some noise.
  • Insufficient Heat Consistency: Heated air is incapable of providing consistent heating, particularly in comparison to steam or hot water heat. This is why some rooms can feel cooler or hotter than others in a home that uses a furnace.
  • Lower Air Quality: If homeowners aren’t properly replacing or maintaining air filters, the quality of the indoor air will go down.


Get in Touch With Tower Energy To Get Help With Your Home Heating Concerns

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At the end of the day, whether you choose a furnace or a boiler will largely depend upon the nature of the building that you’re trying to heat. It also depends on the magnitude of your heating and cooling requirements. If you’re changing out an old and outdated heating system to have a new one installed, you’ll be delighted to discover that many new furnace and boiler models have high-efficiency ratings. Thus, you can enjoy significant savings with these products over time. If you aren’t sure which system type is going to be right for you, get professional advice from a trusted, local HVAC contractor.

Tower Energy is the leading expert in the area of heating and cooling solutions. Our technicians are all NATE-certified and possess ample experience in helping you with all of your home comfort issues. You can trust us to give you the most competitive prices locally. Moreover, for your satisfaction, we proudly stand behind all of the work that we perform. Give Tower Energy a call now to get your free, in-home consultation and estimate.

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