Written on: December 11, 2023
How you heat your home has a big impact on your comfort. It can also make a big difference in what you spend each month to keep comfortable. If you’ve never given much thought to your home heating equipment before, you may use the words “boiler” and “furnace” interchangeably. But if you’re building a new home, or if you’re looking to replace your current home heating system, understanding the difference is important. As you start to do your research, you’ll discover they are both effective and efficient, but they are not the same. 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, while a boiler heats water to create steam that spreads 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. However, except for natural gas and propane, you can’t change fuels without replacing your equipment. In our area, with its coastal storms and cold, raw weather, most homes will use oil or gas for heat. One reason is that 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 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.
In addition, thanks to advance in the refining process, heating oil has evolved into a fuel that produces such negligible emissions that the Federal Clean Air Act doesn’t even regulate it anymore. On its own, ultra-low sulfur heating oil burns more cleanly than traditional heating oil.
When it’s mixed with biofuels, as in the Bioheat® fuel we deliver, the result is a cleaner-burning heating fuel that emits up to 80% less sulfur dioxide as well as 20% less carbon dioxide. Fewer greenhouse gases mean cleaner air and a more sustainable future for everyone!
What’s more, new high-efficiency boilers and furnaces now burn heating oil 99.9% cleanly, according to studies conducted at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven Laboratory.
A new heating system is a significant investment that is worth every penny, especially if you make the right choice for your home. You have plenty of options—but some are better than others. Whether you are updating, replacing or starting from scratch, the pros at Swezey can answer all your home-heating equipment questions, and get your new system installed properly and help make sure it performs well for a long time.
Contact us today to get started on upgrading your home’s heating system.