Compare a Boiler vs a Furnace Costs
Boilers and furnaces are often confused, but the terms are far from interchangeable. Both are systems that heat your home, but the similarities end there. Boilers heat water, providing either steam or hot water as a method of heat; furnaces heat the air.
- Steam boilers distribute heat through pipes to steam radiators.
- Hot water boilers distribute heat through baseboard radiators or radiant flooring systems, or they can send the heat to a coil that heats the air.
Boilers, also known as hydronic heat systems, can run on gas, oil, electricity or alternative fuels such as wood pellets. They’re less common in newer homes because of the price, but many people still prefer them over furnaces.
How Much Does a Boiler Cost?
Boilers are more expensive than furnaces. Mid-efficiency boilers cost anywhere from $2,500 to $4,000, while high-efficiency boilers run $5,000 to $10,000. Those prices include installation, but keep in mind that installing a boiler is more expensive than installing a furnace because the process is more complex.
Steam and hot water boilers cost about the same upfront, but steam boilers are less efficient, and thus cost more to operate. Gas and oil boilers are priced similarly, too. No matter which type of boiler you buy, the unit’s energy efficiency rating has the greatest impact on price. Each type is available in varying efficiencies.
Removal and haul away of your old boiler can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $1,500, depending on size and difficulty. If you’re upgrading to a high efficiency boiler, you may have to spring for a new chimney liner, which starts at about $500 for a gas unit and about up to $1,500 for an oil unit (including installation).
- More energy efficient - Boilers typically use less fuel to heat your home, saving money on your monthly energy bills. (However, this is not always the case - more on energy efficiency ratings later on in this guide.
- More consistent heat - Boilers provide good, steady heat. The temperature consistency is better than with a furnace.
- Quieter - Because there’s no air blowing around, boilers are much quieter.
- Low maintenance - There are no filters to clean or change with boilers.
- Better air quality - Hydronic heat systems don’t spread dust and allergens through your home the way forced air systems do. They also don’t dry out the air the way furnaces do.
- Slower to react - Boilers take longer to adjust to changes in the thermostat. If you turn the heat up or down, a boiler will take longer to react.
- Difficult to install - Boilers are much more difficult to install than furnaces. The process could take several days as opposed to several hours.
- Difficult to convert - If you have a boiler system, you’re pretty much stuck with a boiler system. Adding the duct work required to switch to a furnace is a difficult and costly task. Also, boilers don’t provide a way of cooling your home. Adding central air without existing ductwork is very costly.
- Leaks pose a hazard - A water leak in a boiler system can cause significant property damage - ruining floors, walls and ceilings. A water leak in a furnace is possible, but the damage is usually relatively minor and contained to a small area.
Furnaces work by heating air, not water. A furnace has a blower that distributes that air throughout your home’s duct system. That hot air is released through registers or vents in the floors, walls or ceilings.
Furnaces, also known as forced hot air heating systems, can run on electricity, natural gas, propane or oil. They’re more common than boilers in newer construction due to the lower cost, although there are pros and cons to each.
How Much Does a Furnace Cost?
The average furnace costs about $2,000 to $3,500, including installation. The furnace itself usually costs $1,000 to $1,500, while labor adds an additional $1,000 to $2,000. Very high-efficiency models can cost $5,000 or more to buy and install.
Removal and haul away of the old furnace usually costs $300 to $1,000, depending on size and difficulty. As with boilers, a new chimney liner for a high efficiency unit will cost anywhere from $500 to $1,500, with liners for gas units priced on the lower end of that range and liners for oil units on the higher end.
- Less expensive - Furnaces are more common than boilers because they’re far less expensive. In some cases, they’re about half the price. Builders and homeowners choose them to save money.
- No leak hazard - If a furnace leaks, it usually only leaks air. When boilers leak, they leak water, which can cause significant damage to your home.
- No freezing hazard - With a furnace, there’s no water inside the system that can freeze if your power goes out. With a boiler, the heating pipes can freeze and burst if they’re exposed to frigid temperatures for too long.
- Easier to install/repair - A furnace can usually be installed in a matter of hours, while a boiler installation can take days. Also, repair companies tend to be more familiar with furnaces, so it’s easier and less expensive to get them fixed.
- Less efficient - Heating with air is less efficient than heating with water. A furnace will burn through fuel faster than a boiler, increasing your energy costs.
- Louder - All that air blowing around makes for a lot of noise. You’ll be able to hear the furnace every time it kicks on.
- Reduced heat consistency - Heat from a forced air system is not as consistent. Some areas of the home may be hotter or cooler than others. Furnaces also produce much drier air, which can be uncomfortable in the winter.
- Inferior air quality - Furnace systems spread dust and allergens throughout your home.
Boiler vs Furnace Energy Efficiency
Energy efficiency for boilers and furnaces is measured by annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE). If a unit has an AFUE of 80, that means 80 percent of the fuel is converted to heat while the other 20 percent is lost.
For gas- and oil-powered furnaces, the lowest efficiency rating allowed by federal rules is 78 percent (except in mobile homes, where the minimum is 75 percent). High efficiency units have an AFUE of 85 percent or greater.
With boilers, the minimum AFUE varies based on the type of boiler and its heating source. A steam boiler that runs on oil has a minimum AFUE rating of 82 percent, while a steam boiler that runs on natural gas has a minimum of 80 percent. For hot water boilers, 82 percent is the minimum for gas models and 84 is the minimum for oil versions.
All-electric furnaces typically have an AFUE rating of 95 percent or higher, but they are not practical in most regions of the country because heating with electricity tends to be far more expensive than heating with gas or oil.
Today’s AFUE ratings are much higher than they were in the past, so upgrading to a new boiler or furnace can lead to a healthy drop in monthly energy bills. Older boilers and furnaces can have ratings of less than 60 percent.