I'm definitely one for cozying up with blankets and sweaters during the winter - but what I love even more is turning up the heat when I get home to take the chill out of the air. Since layering on the sweaters isn’t really enough in the dead of winter, I rely on my home heating systems to keep me warm. But how exactly do boilers work? What's the difference between a furnace and a boiler?
Here some clarification about boilers:
What is a boiler?
Usually located in the basement and especially common in homes that reside in colder climates, a boiler is the heating unit part of a home's HVAC system. Its central location and ability to spread heat throughout the home earns it the label of central heating system, although boilers take a bit more time dispersing the warmth when compared to furnaces and other home heating systems.
How does a boiler work?
Unlike furnaces that warm homes with hot air, boilers heat spaces with water or steam. They produce radiant heat by running cold water through heated pipes to circulate warm water or steam throughout the home. The heated water or steam reaches radiators and radiant floor heating to warm each room. As boilers heat objects instead of blowing hot air into rooms, the result is typically more consistent heat. Plus, homeowners with boilers often experience fewer allergic reactions because of the better air quality, as noted by All Seasons Comfort Control LLC.
What are the different types of boilers?
The first distinguishing factor between boilers is the fuel source. Gas-fired boilers run on natural gas or propane, while oil-fired boilers serve as an alternative in areas where homeowners have limited access to natural gas. Electric boilers can be more efficient than gas and oil models, but operating costs are often much higher.
Boilers are either condensing or non-condensing. The former concentrates the water vapor produced during the heating process, so it can preheat the cold water that enters the boiler. This allows the boilers to operate at lower temperatures, making them far more efficient than non-condensing models.
Consumer Reports advises homeowners to buy sealed-combustion boilers because they direct exhaust gases outside rather than sending them through the chimney like non-sealed combustion units do. The sealed method is much more efficient and doesn't expose your home's interior spaces to gases.
How much does a boiler cost?
Prices will vary depending on the boiler size, brand, type and retailer. Home Depot, for instance, sells boilers for as low as $1,500 but also offers models that exceed $5,000. Installation costs will also fluctuate depending on the project. While boilers are more expensive than furnaces, they often save homeowners money in the long run with lower operating costs.
How efficient are boilers?
The Federal Trade Commission requires every boiler to have an annual fuel utilization efficiency score, which is the measure of how efficient the unit is at converting energy into heat. Modern boiler systems have efficiencies as high as 98.5 percent, according to Consumer Reports. Consider purchasing ENERGY STAR certified boilers, as they're guaranteed to have an AFUE rating of at least 87 percent for oil-fired models and 90 percent for gas boilers.
Homeowners can also retrofit existing boilers to boost their efficiency, which can include anything from switching the fuel source to installing programmable thermostats. However, the Department of Energy advises weighing the costs of hefty retrofits with the price of a new boiler.
How can homeowners maintain their boilers?
Consumer Reports estimates a 15 to 30 year lifespan for most boilers, but you can always extend the life of your HVAC system with regular maintenance. While you can handle ongoing maintenance and perform a do-it-yourself home heating check up before the colder weather settles in for good, boilers do require annual servicing by a certified professional. An experienced technician can safely inspect the venting system, adjust boiler controls for optimum efficiency and clean the heat exchanger.
The last thing you want is to be stuck without heat in the dead of winter. Which is why winter preparedness for you and your family is important. Be prepared for the unexpected by planning today. See how plans from HomeServe can help with the costs of covered home repairs.