Many U.S. homes are heated with furnaces or boilers. As the temperature starts to drop, our natural tendency is to consider if our homes are ready to handle the next heating season.

This guide is specifically geared toward the homeowner who has a residential boiler as their primary heat source or is considering an upgrade to an existing boiler. We discuss top residential boiler recommendations, advantages, boiler system home safety, service, maintenance, and much more.

Since half of the energy used in your home goes to heating and cooling (according to Energy Star), making smart decisions about your home’s heating system can affect your utility bills (and let’s not forget your comfort). We want to provide you with the most reliable, energy-efficient brands on the market, so that you can live comfortably.

Types of Boilers

There are two main types of boiler systems: Steam boilers and Hot waterboilers. A steam boiler system heats up water to steam, which is pumped throughout the radiators wheras a hot water boiler system heats water and pumps it through the homes radiators. In many cases, this will also heat water used for other purposes in the home, such as bathing and cooking, eliminating the need for a separate hot water tank.

When considering a boiler system to purchase, you’ll want to consider the system’s operating efficiency. How efficient your new system is will determine the percentage of fuel  used to create heat. Theoretically, the more efficient the boiler system is, the more you’ll save on your heating costs.

When evaluating a boiler system’s efficiency you’ll find there are two types; Standard Efficiency and High-Efficiency. Standard efficiency systems are slightly less expensive but less energy efficient and are usually around 84% in efficiency. High-efficiency systems refer to a boiler with an energy efficiency of greater than 90%. Such boilers usually qualify for Energy Star.

Energy Star is a certification from the federal government that a boiler has an energy efficiency rating of over 85%. However, contrary to popular belief, not all Energy Star products qualify for federal tax credits.

High-Efficiency vs Standard Efficiency Boilers

If your unit is over ten years old, you’ll probably save money by installing a new system. However, it can be confusing to know what type of boiler is best for your home.

What Makes a Boiler High-Efficiency?

A boiler works by heating water, which is conducted through radiators or a coil. Energy that is used to heat the boiler, whether it is fossil fuel or natural gas, is lost in the process of conducting.

A boiler is meant to trap the escaping heat, which then pushes it back into heating the home.

Why is High-Efficiency Important?

Low-efficiency means that high quality fuel is going unused. Boilers over ten years old only have efficiency ratings between 50-70%. That means they use 50 to 70% of the fuel to heat the house, and the remaining 30-50% of the fuel goes to waste.

Along with saving fuel costs, a high-efficiency boiler will also help the environment because it uses less fuel, it creates less pollution. According to the calculations by ENERGY STAR, 29% of your home’s fuel use is in heating. In especially cold climates, that percentage can be even higher. The most significant thing you can do to reduce your home’s impact on the environment is to have an efficient heating system.

What is the Difference in High-Efficiency vs. Standard Efficiency?

The Federal Trade Commission requires that new boilers display their Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) so consumers can compare them.

Here are the ratings:

  • Old, Low-Efficiency Boilers have 56% – 70% AFUE
  • Minimum Efficiency Standard Boilers have 78% AFUE
  • New, Mid-Efficiency Boilers have 80 – 83% AFUE
  • New, High-Efficiency boilers have a 90 – 98% AFUE.

High-Efficiency Boilers vs. Standard: Energy Costs

Since high-efficiency boilers are so good at converting fuel into useable heat, they reduce the amount of fuel needed to heat your home, which also reduces the cost.

How much you’ll save depends on the AFUE of the boiler you’re replacing. The U.S. Department of Energy suggests that if you are replacing an old boiler with a new high-efficiency one, you may reduce your fuel bills in half.

High-Efficiency vs. Standard Boilers: Replacement

High-efficiency boilers generally cost more to install, whereas standard boilers are cheaper. Here are some reasons why:

  • The initial cost of a high-efficiency boiler unit is higher.
  • Retrofitting a house to handle a high-efficiency boiler may cost extra.
  • Repair and installation of high-efficiency boilers may be more expensive because they have more technology.

Offsetting these higher costs is the fact that many homeowners can buy a smaller high-efficiency boiler, which reduces the cost.