What's the Difference Between a Boiler and a Furnace?

by Team eLocal
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When the winter winds blow, you expect your heating system to work reliably — whether it’s a furnace or a boiler.

Knowing the difference between boilers and furnaces can help you decide which style is best for your home.

Boilers Vs. Furnaces

On a very basic level, the difference between a boiler and a furnace is what each uses to heat your home. Boilers use water to keep you warm — either hot water or steam that comes from hot water. Furnaces use hot air to heat your home.

Here are some additional differences:

  • Power source: Both boilers and furnaces can operate on electricity, natural gas and propane. However, boilers can also run on oil or wood pellets.
  • Heat distribution: Boilers move the hot water or steam through radiators and radiant flooring systems. The radiant heat then warms the home. Furnaces use ductwork as part of a forced-air system that blows the heated air out of vents throughout your home.
  • Maintenance: You should get a yearly tune-up from a pro for both types of systems. Boilers don't typically need much additional maintenance, but you'll need to change furnace filters regularly.
  • Price: Boilers typically cost more to have installed than furnaces.

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How Do I Know What's Right for My Home?

Boilers and furnaces can both be effective at heating your home. If you're replacing an existing unit, it's typically best to replace it with the same thing. You'll pay a lot more to have your home retrofitted for the other type of heating system. For example, if you switch from a boiler to a furnace, you'll need to have ductwork installed to pipe the heated air through your home.

Boilers offer some benefits, including more consistent heating, but it takes them longer to respond to thermostat adjustments. They also don't stir up dirt and pollen because they don't blow air like a furnace does. The advantages of furnaces include the cheaper cost and the easier installation, especially if you already have the ductwork in place. Boilers can have leaks that lead to water damage, which you don't have to worry about with a furnace.

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