Boiler Vs Water Heater: 8 Key Differences

Boiler vs. Water Heater: 8 Key Differences

Did you know that boiler systems have been widely used since the late 18th century?

From steam engines to steel manufacturing, boilers have played a key role in the Industrial Revolution, and they helped lay the foundation for much of the infrastructure that our society uses today. While the boilers of today’s homes bear little resemblance to those first boiler systems, they still rely on similar technology.

In addition to your boiler system, your water heater plays a key role in the water usage of your home. Both boilers and water heaters have several things in common:

  • They have sealed and pressurized tanks of water (when they have tanks at all).
  • They heat water from your water supply line and send it throughout your home via your pipes.
  • They have a lifespan of about 10-15 years.
  • There are several different varieties of each available for residential and commercial use.
  • It’s recommended that you inspect them at least annually.

With all these qualities in common, what differentiates the two machines from one another? Why do some homes have both boilers and water heaters if they share so many qualities?

Keep reading to learn the key points of difference between a boiler vs a water heater and to figure out which one you should have in your home.

1. The Kinds of Water They Use

Water heaters are used to heat potable water, or water that is safe for consumption according to standards set by the EPA. Think of all the ways you use water in your home for eating or cleaning: preparing food, washing your hands, and washing your clothes. All these tasks and more require potable water provided to you by a water heater.

photo of boiler room with water heater and other equipment

A boiler, on the other hand, works with non-potable water, or water that hasn’t been treated to make it safe for consumption. This is primarily water used in the heating system in your home, which will get further into in a second.

2. Their Necessity

You absolutely need a water heater in your home. Without it, you wouldn’t have any hot water for your sinks and showers!

Boilers, on the other hand, are a bit more optional. Although you likely need some sort of heating system in your home, you have many options other than boilers to choose from:

  • Furnace
  • Heat pump
  • Radiant heat system

In fact, residential boilers tend to be less popular than some of these other heating system options, unless the home has a combi boiler or a system that functions as both a home heating unit and hot water heater for your taps.

3. Their Sources of Energy

Boilers mostly use natural resources like oil, natural gas, and propane to create heat, although some boilers also use electricity. This use of nonrenewable fuel sources has given boilers the reputation of not being very energy efficient, but contrary to popular belief, there are also several high-efficiency boiler options that offer a reduced carbon footprint.

Water heaters mostly use electricity or gas to heat the cold water coming into your house to the desired temperature.

4. Their Installation Costs

Boilers are more expensive to install than water heaters. Between the unit itself and additional labor costs, a boiler installation can cost upward of $5,000. Water heater installation, in comparison, is most likely to cost you about $2,000.

5. Their Water Storage Methods

A water heater often has a water storage tank. After drawing in cold water and heating it up, it stores the heated water in a tank until you open the tap, creating a vacuum that sends the hot water up to your faucet.

Boilers do not store water; instead, they heat the water instantaneously and only as it’s needed.

Nowadays, tankless water heaters are becoming more and more common. Like boilers, tankless water heaters heat the water on demand, rather than heating and storing it. This helps homeowners save energy and money, as you’ll only pay for and heat water when you need it.

6. Water Temperature

hvac gauges water temperature in boiler

Because your water heater is meant to supply hot water for use in drinking or bathing, it only heats and stores water up to about 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise, it would scald you every time you turned on the tap!

Most boilers heat water for the purpose of heating your home, so they heat water to a much higher temperature, up to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. This water isn’t hot enough to boil, but it does create steam, which is what’s sent throughout the pipes to heat your whole house.

7. Water Circulation

Because boiler water is used to heat your home, once it cools down, the water is sent back to the boiler through your pipe system to be reheated and reused. Pretty economical!

Water heater water, on the other hand, is not recycled. Once you use it to wash your dishes, take a shower, or clean your floors, the water that goes down the drain is taken away from your home to your local wastewater treatment facility.

8. Warranty Coverage

Sometimes, home warranty companies won’t provide coverage for a boiler. This is because they’re less common in the United States than other forms of home heating, so it can be harder to find a trained expert to service your unit when it’s in need of repair or replacement. When boilers are used, they are most commonly used on commercial properties, which have different considerations than the needs of most single-home warranty coverage.

Water heaters are almost always covered by home warranties because they’re much more ubiquitous than boiler systems.

Boiler vs. Water Heater: Differences Explained

Now you know the key differences between a boiler vs water heater. Next time you visit your basement, send a little word of thanks to your water heater (and boiler if you have one) for all the work it does to keep your home water running smoothly!

Sometimes, you need some help keeping your home water systems in peak condition. The team at Aquarius Home Services is more than qualified to help you with all of your boiler and water heater repair, maintenance, and installation needs. No matter which model you have or what kind of issue you’re experiencing, our plumbers and technicians are up to the challenge.

Ready to get started? Give us a call today to set up an appointment!

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