If you’ve never given much thought to your heating equipment before, you may use the words “boiler” and “furnace” interchangeably. In casual conversation, it might not make a difference but if you’re shopping for or building a new home, or if you’re looking to replace your current heating system, understanding the difference is important.
As you start to do your research, you’ll discover they are not the same. So, what’s the difference between a boiler and a furnace? In a nutshell, the main difference is how they distribute heat. A furnace uses a system of ducts to blow heated air throughout your home. A boiler heats water to create steam to spread heat via baseboard radiators or flooring systems.
If you’re navigating home heating equipment for the first time, here’s what you need to know:
There are two types of boilers. Forced hot water boilers heat water to between 170 degrees and 200 degrees and provide instant heat through pipes throughout the house. Vents in the baseboard then disperse the heat throughout the house.
Steam boilers create steam and sends it to radiators as a vapor. When the vapor cools, it returns to the boiler to become steam again. It’s important that the water level doesn’t drop below a certain level, and steam boilers have a gauge in front to show the water level. If the water level gets too low, the burner will not fire, and the boiler will not provide heat.
A furnace uses a heat exchanger to warm air, which is then blown through ductwork to warm your home. Registers in the floors or ceilings of your living space allow warm air into your spaces and feature a damper so you can control the flow.
Supply registers, which deliver warm air, are usually located under windows or in the ceiling near outside walls. Return grills are typically located closer to the interior of the home and bring air back to your system. They do not have a damper.
Furnaces and boilers can be run with oil, propane, natural gas, or electricity—although except for natural gas and propane, the equipment is not interchangeable. In the northeast, most homes will use oil or gas for heat. Electric heat just takes much longer to reach a comfortable temperature and maintain it—driving up your energy usage. That means, even without geopolitics driving energy costs up, electricity costs you more.
Heating oil is a great option because it has a higher BTU output per gallon, so you use it more slowly than propane. That means you could pay less to heat your house with heating oil, even if the per-gallon cost of propane is less.
Today, home heating oil is ultra-low sulfur. It burns much more cleanly, with significantly fewer particulate emissions even from the already low levels of the past few decades. What’s more, new heating oil boilers and furnaces now burn fuel 99.9% cleanly, according to studies conducted at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven Laboratory.
Propane is also a great option! Propane generates more Btus than an equivalent amount of electricity, and it delivers more than twice the Btus of natural gas, so you need much less propane to produce the same amount of heat or energy. It’s also a smart choice if you also want to run other appliances on propane.
It’s the preferred fuel for cooking, and it’s great for all kinds of heating—washers and dryers, water heaters, spas, and hot tubs—as well as for powering backup generators.
One of the biggest decisions you make about your home, particularly here in Vermont, is how you are going to heat it. You have plenty of options—but some are better than others. Whether you are updating, replacing, or starting from scratch, the pros at Junction Fuels can answer all your home-heating equipment questions.
Contact us today to get started on upgrading your home’s heating system.