There are key differences between a boiler and a water heater. Hot water boilers can be used to heat water for use throughout the home, but they’re more commonly used to heat indoor air with a series of connected radiators. Steam boilers heat water up enough that it turns to steam, which is pumped through radiator lines to warm up indoor air. Steam boilers are more commonly used in commercial settings, while hot water boilers are better for residential properties. Boilers can be more energy-efficient and quieter than furnaces, making them a great option for home heating. Hot water heaters are only designed to heat water for use in faucets, fixtures, and appliances. Unlike water heaters, boilers do not store water. However, there are also tankless water heaters, which quickly heat cold water as it flows through the unit, allowing the hot water to be used on-demand.
Standard steam boiler systems typically last 25 or more years, while a combination water heater boiler may only last 10 to 15 years. The average tank water heater lasts about 6 to 10 years, and tankless water heaters last longer at up to 20 years.
Boilers and water heaters both require annual maintenance. Visual inspections can identify problems like leaks, but homeowners may need a professional for system maintenance, like flushing, draining, or lubricating. Typical boiler maintenance includes a visual inspection for leaks or other problems, lubricating circulating pumps to reduce wear, flushing the boiler to remove built-up sediment and debris, and a safety valve check to ensure the security of the system. Typical water heater maintenance includes a visual inspection for leaks or other problems, checking the pressure relief valve to ensure it is working properly, draining and flushing the water heater to remove sediment and debris, and operating the valves to prevent them from seizing.
Before deciding between a boiler vs. water heater for your home, carefully consider your needs. Boilers are expensive and difficult to install, but they can be a long-lasting option if the home doesn’t currently have a dedicated heating source, and can also be used to heat water for use throughout the home. Water heaters are a more affordable choice that can be installed with relative ease, though these appliances cannot function as a heating source. Learn about differences in functionality and maintenance between boilers and water heaters that could impact which type of water heating system you install.