boiler vs furnace illustration
boiler vs furnace illustration

Are there advantages to installing a boiler vs furnace in your home? Boilers and furnaces are the most common methods of heating homes in the U.S. Boiler systems use radiators, baseboard heaters, or radiant flooring to deliver heat. Furnaces circulate warm air through ductwork and vents. Several types of furnaces can be installed in forced-air systems. Similarly, various types of boilers can be used with hydronic heating systems.

When choosing a heating system for your home, there are many considerations, including upfront costs, installation and maintenance requirements, lifespans, and energy efficiency. According to Energy.gov, home heating systems consume a significant amount of energy and account for approximately 29% of household energy costs. This guide breaks down the differences between boilers and furnaces to determine which is suitable for your home.

boiler icon

Boiler

Unit Cost: $3,663 - $8,281

Average Installation Costs: $1,000 - $2,500

Fuel Source:

  • Natural gas
  • Oil
  • Electricity
  • Wood pellets

Life Expectancy: 10 - 30 years

Pros:

  • Higher unit and installation costs
  • Heat is more comfortable
  • Less noise
  • More energy efficient
  • Longer lifespan
  • Better air quality inside the home
  • No ductwork required
  • Heated water can be reused

Cons:

  • More expensive to install
  • Takes up more space
  • Pipes may freeze in extreme temperatures
  • Damage from leaks can be extensive
furnace icon

Furnace

Unit Cost: $2,000 - $5,400

Average Installation Costs: $600 - $3,100

Fuel Source:

  • Natural gas
  • Propane
  • Oil
  • Electricity

Life Expectancy: 15 - 20 years

Pros:

  • Lower unit and installation costs
  • Easier installation
  • Warms the home up faster
  • Not a freezing hazard
  • Takes up less space

Cons:

  • Requires ductwork
  • Noiser operation
  • Poorer air quality
  • Can dry out the air

What Is a Boiler?

A boiler boils water to create hot water or steam, circulating through pipes to radiators, baseboard heaters, radiant floor systems, or a heating coil in a furnace. The heat from the water or steam radiates or transfers to objects and ambient air in the home.

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What Is a Furnace?

Most people have a basic understanding of what a furnace is. A furnace burns fuel or warms electric elements to generate heat, which is transferred to the air inside the furnace and distributed to the house through a system of ducts. Gas furnaces and electric furnaces are the most popular.

Boiler vs Furnace

Boilers and furnaces provide homes with heat but differ in many aspects.

Size and Appearance

Older boilers are tall and cylindrical. Newer boilers are rectangular. Boilers are larger than furnaces and have an “industrial” appearance due to the pipes branching out of them. Furnaces are rectangular metal cabinets that can fit into tighter spaces than boilers.

Cost

Home Advisor states boilers cost between $3,663 and $8,281, or an average of $5,812. Home Guide reports that furnaces cost between $2,000 and $5,400, or an average of $3,700.

boiler vs furnace cost illustration

Installation

Boilers and furnaces involve electrical and gas line connections and should be professionally installed. In some cases, ductwork and pipe installation involve the removal of walls and floors. However, furnace installation typically takes less time than boiler installation–a few hours versus several days.

Energy Efficiency and Performance

Boilers are more energy efficient than furnaces, use less fuel, and produce lower energy bills.

Fuel Type Boiler Efficiency Furnace Efficiency

Natural Gas

90% - 97%

91.2% - 99%

Propane

90% - 97%

91.2% - 99%

Oil

87% - 91%

85% - 96.7%

Electric

99% - 100%

99% - 100%

Wood

40% - 90%

40% - 90%

Maintenance

Furnaces require more maintenance and are more likely to break down than boilers. Furnace maintenance consists of filter changes every 30 to 90 days and professional cleanings, inspections, and tune-ups one to two times a year.

Boilers don’t require regular maintenance for homeowners and have few moving parts to break. Professional inspections and tune-ups once a year are recommended.

Lifespan

How long HVAC systems last generally comes down to the system’s type and how well it’s maintained. A boiler can last anywhere from 10 to 30 years. Furnaces last 15 to 20 years on average but can last longer.

Furnace vs Boiler: Which is Better?

Generally, replacing your heater with the same type is more straightforward and cost-effective. Switching from a furnace to a boiler or a boiler to a furnace would involve significant renovations. Despite that, some circumstances favor a furnace vs boiler and vice versa.

Best Furnace for Homes on Budget: Furnaces

Furnaces are best for households on budgets because there are lower upfront costs. The average furnace costs $3,700, while the average boiler costs $5,812. That’s a difference of 64%.

Best for Energy Efficiency: Boilers

Boilers are more energy efficient than furnaces. Energy-efficient appliances consume less fuel and yield lower energy bills. Only high-efficiency heat pumps are more efficient than boiler systems.

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Best for Cold Climates: Furnaces

Boilers are better at maintaining consistent temperatures in homes, but the water pipes can freeze and burst if the power goes out during wintry weather. A furnace won’t operate during a power outage, but there is no freezing risk. Moreover, furnaces heat up instantly and warm houses faster than boilers. It takes time for boilers to boil water and pump it to every part of the house.

Best for Smaller Homes: Furnaces

Furnaces are better for smaller homes. Furnaces are smaller than boilers and can fit into tighter spaces like utility closets.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is a boiler cheaper to run than a furnace?

Boilers are cheaper to run than furnaces because boilers are more energy efficient. Energy-efficient appliances use less fuel and yield lower energy bills.

Is a boiler or furnace more efficient?

Boilers are more energy efficient than furnaces because boilers use less fuel to generate heat than furnaces.

Is a boiler HVAC or plumbing?

Despite their use of pipes and water, boilers are considered HVAC system components because they are designed to heat homes.

Do boilers last longer than furnaces?

Boilers can last longer than furnaces if they are well-maintained. Boilers last 10 to 30 years, while furnaces last 15 to 20 years. Furnaces can also last longer if they are well-maintained.

Are boilers and furnaces the same thing?

Boilers and furnaces are different appliances. While boilers and furnaces heat homes, they function differently and use other systems.

A boiler heats water and pumps it through pipe systems to provide radiant heating. A furnace burns fuel or warms electric heating elements to generate heat. The heat transfers to the air inside the furnace, and a duct system distributes heated air throughout the house.

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