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The Differences Between Boilers, Furnaces and Heat Pumps

By on Mar 26, 2014
The Differences Between Boilers, Furnaces and Heat Pumps

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Heat prices are on the rise, but fortunately for homeowners, we have options to choose from when it comes to our heating systems. Boilers, furnaces and heat pumps are among the most popular options Americans choose, but sadly, few understand how each works. We will discuss how all three heating units work, the costs associated with installing and repairing, as well as other advantages and disadvantages for all boilers, furnaces and heat pumps. 


What Boilers Do?

Not surprisingly, boilers boil water. A boiler heats water until it is hot. The hot water then flows through pipes to the various radiators or baseboard heaters you have in your home, which produce the heat that warms the room. A boiler is responsible for providing heat to your entire home.

Costs Associated with Boilers

Heating systems are extremely important when it comes to a home so unsurprisingly, each system is expensive to install. Costs start around $2,000 for a new boiler. The increase in cost is proportionate to the space they are being used to heat. Boiler installation costs average $4,321. Depending on your home, the boiler can pay for itself with savings in the first few years. A condensing boiler will cost even more, often in excess of $5,000.

As I referenced recently in Why Pithed Roofs Are Better Than Flat Roofs, homeowners can’t only look at the initial costs for home improvement. You need to look at the long-term value and expected future expenditures. Fortunately, according to our cost estimator, the average price for boiler repair is $335.

How Does A Boiler Work?

Most boilers need some type of fuel to keep them running. The most common fuel types are oil and natural gas. These fuels can be expensive and especially pricey if your boiler is outdated or inefficient. It is important to remember the amount of space the boiler is responsible for keeping warm compared to the amount of fuel being used. Be mindful of your energy and fuel bill when running your heat. This should tell you if your boiler is adequately efficient. Using a boiler with an electronic ignition, rather than a constantly running pilot light, is also a way to save energy costs when purchasing a boiler.


What Furnaces Do?

Furnaces produce heat via coils instead of water. They use a fuel to heat a set of coils, according to Oliver heating experts. Furnaces then use a motorized blower to blow air across the coils. The air becomes warmed and then travels through your ducts.

Costs Associated with Furnaces

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Electric furnaces are smaller but often less efficient than other types of furnaces. Gas furnaces require the availability of natural gas and require regular maintenance to ensure that no gas or carbon monoxide is leaking. The furnace must be properly sized to the home, as a furnace with excess capacity will use extra power while an undersized furnace will not effectively heat the home. Some homeowners add accessories such as a humidifier and air purifier, which further increase the project cost. Overall, furnace installation tends to run homeowners around $3,600. Once again, do not be scared off by the large initial cost. Furnace maintenance averages $258.

How Does A Furnaces Work?

Furnaces can operate using propane, natural gas or electricity as the power source. Oil furnaces, geothermal furnaces and solar-powered furnaces are alternative options that a homeowner might consider. The U.S. Department of Energy offers Energy Star ratings to highly efficient furnaces. To determine a furnace's efficiency, look up its AFUE, or Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency rating. The higher the AFUE value, the more efficient the furnace is. For example, a furnace with an AFUE of 60 converts 60% of the fuel to heat and loses 40% in the combustion process. For more information on AFUE, check out No. 11 on 13 Shocking Facts About Your HVAC System.

Heat Pumps

What Heat Pumps Do?

Heat pumps use electricity to move heat from a cool area to a warm one, which makes the warm space warmer in the winter and the cool space cooler in the summer. Heat pumps can either increase or lower temperatures.

Costs Associated with Heat Pumps

A heat pump is a great way to increase overall energy efficiency in your home, which leads to lower monthly heating and cooling bills. Since a heat pump system replaces your existing furnace and air conditioning unit, heat pump installation costs average $4,888. No extra worries about repairs, as the average cost to repair heat pumps are on par with a boiler and furnace at $318. Luckily, if you ever decide to sell your home, having heat pumps in place can significantly boost your resale value.

How Does A Heat Pump Work?

Heat pumps are very simple. Rather then generating heat by itself, a heat pump takes warm air from cold areas and moves it to warm areas. Heat naturally moves to areas with lower temperatures, but if you want heat to stay or move to a specific room, a heat pump is ideal. Given that heat pumps do not generate heat themselves, you need a relatively warm climate outside. Therefore, heat pumps are not recommended in areas of extreme cold. As Oliver says, it requires transferring cold air from outside the home and warming it up for distribution inside the home. The colder the air outside of the home, the harder the heat pump has to work.

Read more about HVAC installation and repair costs here.

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