Furnaces vs. Boilers: What’s the Difference?
Which Is Better?
In Virginia, heating is our largest residential energy expense. In Charlottesville, heating probably accounts for nearly half of your family’s residential energy bills.
The heating system you choose can save you money. Proper HVAC maintenance can save you even more!
Many Charlottesville area homes are equipped with a heat pump, which is a heat transfer system that becomes less efficient as temperatures drop. Whether your home has a heat pump or not, you’ll need a system that heats your home efficiently on very cold days. Aside from wood stoves, your options are a boiler or a furnace. How do you decide which is a better heat source and better investment: a boiler or a furnace? Let’s take a closer look.
How Heating Systems Work
We’ll start with the basics. Heating systems have three main components:
- Heat Source – The appliance that generates warmth
- Heat Distribution System – The network of pipes or air ducts through which warmth travels
- Control System – A control system, usually a thermostat, enabling you to regulate how much heat is distributed
Choosing Between a Boiler and Furnace
Most Charlottesville area homes are heated by a furnace or boiler. Both appliances generate heat in a central location and then distribute it throughout the house. What they heat is their fundamental difference.
Furnaces Heat Air
Furnaces heat air and distribute it through ducts until it reaches vents where it is released into the rooms of your home.
Boilers Heat Water
Boilers heat water, which is distributed through connected pipes either as hot water or steam. Hot water passes into baseboard radiators or radiant floor systems. Steam passes into steam radiators, usually one or more per room.
Which Lasts Longer?
Furnaces and boilers each have about the same life expectancy of 15 to 25 years.
What Are the Fuel Options?
Each can be fueled with natural gas, heating oil, wood, electricity or other fuel sources.
Which Costs More?
Furnaces tend to cost less to purchase but can be more expensive to operate.
Boilers are more expensive to buy, but tend to save you money over the long run because they enable you to heat only the rooms or zones of your house you’re using. This is called zone heating.
Boilers Provide Better Air Quality
Boilers provide better air quality than furnaces. A furnace heats your home with warm air, which also circulates dust, allergens, and other airborne particles throughout each room.
Furnaces are Easier to Maintain in Cold Climates
By now you may be leaning towards buying a boiler, especially if dust and pollen trigger allergies for members of your family. Just remember, boilers require a minimum temperature to prevent pipes from freezing. This is important if you live in an area where temperatures often dip below freezing.
Comparing Heating Efficiency
Be sure to compare efficiency as well as purchase price. Choosing an efficient heating system can lower your monthly energy costs significantly. For this reason, paying a higher price to purchase an efficient heating system is often a wise investment.
Whether you’re shopping for a boiler or furnace, heating efficiency is easy to compare because it measured the same way: AFUE , which stands for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. AFUE quantifies how effective the appliance is in converting the energy in its fuel to heat over the course of a typical year. It is shown as a percentage. A perfect score would be 100%.
Heating efficiency varies by age (older appliances tend to be less efficient). Old, low-efficiency systems are in the 56%-70% AFUE range. Mid-efficiency heating systems score 80%-90% AFUE, while high-efficiency heating systems exceed 90% AFUE.
When shopping for high-efficiency furnaces and boilers, look for the ENERGY STAR® label. If you live in a cold climate, consider buying the highest-efficiency system available.
Make Energy-Efficiency Improvements to Lower Your Heating Bills
Before buying a new heating system or modifying your existing equipment, you can reduce your heating bills by increasing the energy efficiency of your home. Here are some important tips to improve heating efficiency.
- Plug leaks to stop direct paths for cold air to enter your house. Leaks are often found around doors and windows but can also be in your basement or attic.
- Add insulation. Many older homes have less insulation than homes built today, but often even newer homes can benefit from additional insulation.
- Replace old windows and doors. New, energy-efficient doors and windows can lower your energy costs enough to pay for themselves in just a few years.
- Regularly scheduled HVAC maintenance by trained heating professionals is an excellent investment. Professional HVAC experts will check the condition and integrity of the equipment as well as adjust the controls to optimum settings for efficiency and comfort.
Retrofitting Your Furnace or Boiler
If your furnace or boiler is old or inefficient, and upgrading to a modern high-efficiency model is not in the budget this year, retrofitting your existing heat system may be your best option.
Both furnaces and boilers can be retrofitted to increase the efficiency and safety of otherwise sound, older systems. If you plan to switch to a different heating system in a few years for other reasons, such as to add air conditioning, retrofitting can provide a cost-effective interim solution. Just be sure to weigh the costs of retrofitting an older, less efficient boiler or furnace against the cost of purchasing a new one.
Ask the Charottesville HVAC Professionals at Fitch Services
Not sure what the best option is for heating your Charlottesville, Virginia home? With all the variables to consider, making a decision can be difficult.
Whether you’re building a new house or buying a new boiler or furnace for your existing home, a Fitch Services heating professional can walk you through the pros and cons of all your options. Contact us today to schedule a FREE in-home appointment!
We Service All Brands of Heat Pumps, Furnaces and Boilers
We service all gas boilers and all oil boilers. We service all heat pumps and all furnaces. Whatever you have, Fitch Services can service it!
Boilers We Sell and Recommend
We service all brands of residential boiler, but Buderus and Burnham are the brands we sell and recommend. We service and install both gas and oil boilers.