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  • Writer's pictureRob Mitchell

Which is better, a boiler or furnace?

Many people use the words boiler and furnace interchangeably. While it is true, they both provide heat for your home, they are quite different in how they operate. Both boilers and furnaces are used in Colorado, but which heating system is better?

Knowing more about both systems may be beneficial if you are considering doing an addition to your current residence or moving to a new home, either a new build or an existing home. If you are just considering replacing the system in your existing residence, the easiest choice is often sticking with the same type system that is already in place.

Cat on radiator bed

A boiler heats water to create steam or hot water. That steam or hot water is then pumped through pipes to baseboard radiators, cast iron radiators, or even radiant floor heating systems to deliver that heat to each room. When the water cools (or the steam condenses back into water), it generally flows back to the boiler, and the process starts all over again.


A furnace warms up a heat exchanger or heating element. A blower motor then pushes air from your home’s return ducts, over the heat exchanger, heating the air. The warm air then travels through the supply ducts and out vents or registers into your home’s rooms.


When properly sized and maintained either a furnace or a boiler can meet your household’s heating demands. Despite this, comfort means different things to different people, and each system does have advantages and disadvantages.


Boiler advantages


Boilers generally come out ahead when it comes to energy efficiency. This is because heating air requires more energy than heating water. Some of the hot air generated by the furnace also escapes through the duct system, further reducing its efficiency.


Boiler heat is more evenly distributed throughout your home than furnace heat. This means you’ll have fewer ‘cold pockets’ in your home, and it’s easier to keep a consistent temperature in your home with a boiler.


After heating for a while, when the systems turn off, furnace heat dissipates much more rapidly than boiler heat.


Boilers are quieter than furnaces. Furnace blower motors generate noise as they circulate air for distribution.


The use of ductwork can create a drafty environment, and the spread of dust and dander is worse when using a furnace. Boilers do not circulate air like furnaces do.


It is much easier to achieve zone control and manage how heat is distributed throughout the house with a boiler system.


Boilers do not have filters that require replacement or cleaning and have fewer moving parts making maintenance a bit easier with a boiler.


Furnace advantages


Generally, furnaces cost less than boilers. In addition to budgeting for the equipment itself, you need to pay for installation. It’s easier for HVAC technicians to install a furnace than a boiler. Therefore, the installation cost for a furnace is typically less as well.


Most furnaces are compatible with air conditioning units. This allows you to conveniently incorporate cooling into your HVAC system. Boilers solely provide heating and do not possess cooling capabilities. This may be a deal breaker for some. 


Furnaces can produce more heat rapidly than boilers, allowing your home to warm up in a shorter timeframe.


Furnace systems are not in jeopardy of freezing if the power goes out. In contrast, boiler pipes can freeze and burst if secondary measures are not taken.


Damaged or old failing boilers may also pose additional risks that could lead to water damage.


Did we answer the question?  Which is better, a boiler or furnace? The truth is that it depends on your budget and personal preferences. If you're looking for a cheaper heating system then a furnace might make the most sense. But if you're interested in a lower-maintenance option, with more consistent heating then a boiler could be the right choice.

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