What Is the Difference Between a Boiler and a Furnace?

Your heating system may have to carry a heavy load combating frigid outside temperatures. Different areas will require unique heating demands, and you’ll want to get a system that is up to the task. There are a variety of factors that go into selecting heating equipment. You should consider things such as the size of your home, the climate where you live, energy efficiency, repair costs, and more. It is important to look at each system and how they work to determine the best fit for your needs.

Two options often considered when looking at heating systems are a furnace and boiler. The difference between boiler and furnace operations is markedly unique. A furnace heats air and works with a blower to move warm air through a home’s duct system. By contrast, a boiler heats water and then sends the hot water through a network of pipes that generate heat throughout the home. Figuring out which system will work best for you will take some research and thought. Let’s look at some of the differences between a boiler and a furnace.

Equipment Operation


A furnace system will operate on natural gas, propane, or electricity. It heats the air and then uses a blower to force hot air throughout the house. A heating system that relies on a furnace can create a high level of ambient temperature in your home. The downside, however, is that the hot air from your furnace can be uncomfortable at times due to dryness. People who live in colder climates and rely on their furnaces for an extended period might also need a humidifier to combat dryer air.

Boiler systems heat water through natural gas, oil, electricity, or even wood pellets. The system heats water to very high temperatures and then relies on a special pump to heat radiant flooring systems, cast iron radiators, or baseboard radiators throughout the home. As a result of the lack of a blower, radiantly heated air is often the more comfortable choice for inside properties. Both a boiler and a furnace are used in conjunction with air conditioning systems in the summer.

Maintenance Requirements


Due to the unique operation of furnaces and boilers, the maintenance requirements are very different. Boiler units typically last 20 years or longer and require little maintenance beyond an annual service tune-up. Furnace units are expected to last between 10 and 15 years and require more in-depth maintenance. A furnace also requires regular preventive maintenance every fall and frequent filter cleanings and inspections. In the case of equipment powered by natural gas, both boiler units and furnaces require regular inspection by a qualified technician to prevent carbon monoxide leaks.

Pros vs. Cons

Furnaces typically cost less and are much easier to install than boiler systems. Since a furnace relies on heated air, there is also a reduced risk of freezing up in the event of a power outage during the winter. Since ductwork is associated with a furnace, however, there are considerations for indoor air quality and the health conditions that might result from the circulation of dirt, dust, pet dander, and other allergens. A furnace could also contribute to significant energy consumption in the winter.

When considering a boiler, the radiant heat from this type of system is much more comfortable than forced air. These units are also less noisy, more energy-efficient, and promote healthier indoor air quality. Depending on your system, the heated water from the boiler could also be used for laundry, showers, and the dishwasher. The downside with boiler systems is that they are typically more expensive and require a more in-depth installation process. Additionally, if there is ever a leak, your home could experience significant water damage.

Choosing the right heating system for your home will require a bit of research and time to consider all of your options. While both systems offer pros and cons, you need to find the best equipment for your home and situation.