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The Differences Between a Furnace and a Boiler (and the Pros and Cons of Each)

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Most houses nowadays are heated with either a furnace or boiler system. While there are alternative choices such as in floor heating and mini-split heating units, these two types of heat supply remain the most widely used.

Oftentimes, however, most plumbers use the terms “furnace” and “boiler” interchangeably. There are major differences between these two types of heating systems and each has its own benefits and considerations.

Furnaces Versus Boilers

Both furnaces and boilers require equipment to provide heat throughout a home yet do so in two very different ways.

Furnaces rely on circulating air to distribute heat. They do so via a blower that forces warm air through a series of ducts installed throughout the home.

Air pushed through filters until it reaches vents placed in various rooms.

The warm air blows into the home through the vent to provide heat.

Boilers, on the other hand, utilize hot water to distribute heat.

Water is heated in the boiler and distributed throughout the house through pipes that lead to baseboard heaters, cast iron radiators or, in some cases, in floor heating systems.

While furnaces rely on electricity or gas to run, boilers can be fueled by electricity, gas, oil or wood pellets.

Regardless of which you choose, you want to make sure both your furnace or boiler work properly during the colder winter months for obvious comfort reasons.

The Pros and Cons of Furnaces

Furnaces remain a popular choice for home heating systems because they are inexpensive to install and have a long lifespan. Most furnace systems will last from 20 to 30 years.

When you live in colder climates, you need a system you can rely on to keep your home warm. Furnaces provide reliable heating even in the coldest temperatures.

Since furnaces are only used during the colder months, they require less maintenance than most other heating options that provide air conditioning as well.

However, furnace systems do require yearly maintenance to ensure the system is functioning properly. Otherwise, it has to work harder to produce heat and may increase your heating bill.

The duct work used to circulate heat from the furnace also increases the risk of allergens being spread throughout your home. Even properly installed and replaced air filters may not be enough to prevent the circulation of dust.

The Pros and Cons of Boilers

Whereas furnaces potentially blow allergens around your home, boilers provide heat with improved air quality.

Indoor quality is an important consideration when choosing a heating system for your home, especially if you or any member of your family has allergies or other breathing-related issues.

Boilers do not blow air around the home as furnaces do, so the dust in your home does not circulate throughout the air.

Boiler systems also create a more comfortable heat since it helps keep the surfaces of your home warm as opposed to simply heating the air.

However, boilers are more expensive to purchase – about $1000 more than furnaces. It pays off in the long run, though, since they are less expensive to power. You’ll eventually recoup the savings on your energy bill.

Because boilers rely on water to provide heat, they are at risk of leaking. When one of the pipes or the boiler itself leaks, it can cause a mess or damage to your home’s basement.

With newer systems this is less of a worry but something that should be kept in mind when the boiler reaches an age of 15 years or so.

Which is Best For Your Home?

Choosing between a furnace or boiler system for your home is a matter of personal choice. For more information about which system is most appropriate for your living space, contact an HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) specialist.