Boiler heating in a nutshell
A boiler heating system uses liquid as a heat transfer medium. This hot liquid is then delivered via piping into radiators that heat up the space.
Traditionally, a boiler (hydronic) system uses hot water as the medium for heat transfer. However, in recent years, modern and more advanced systems have started to incorporate the use of other liquids, such as antifreeze (glycol is a popular option).
Antifreeze is beneficial in helping to prevent water from freezing and pipes bursting, as well increasing water’s boiling point. In some cases, mineral oil can also be used.
Much older systems use steam instead of water as a medium of heat transfer. Some of them are still in operation today in very old houses.
To get a new boiler, radiator, or the entire system contact your local HVAC pros for free estimates.
Boiler replacement cost
Here is a summary of the prices homeowners pay for different types of boilers, as well as system parts, repairs, etc.
|Oil Boiler||$2,000 – 6,500 (device)|
|Gas Boiler||$1,200 – 4,500 (device)|
|New Install Hydronic System||$6 -12 / sq.ft. (labor only)|
|Install Standard Gas Boiler||$2,500 – 5,000 (labor and materials )|
|Install High Efficiency Gas Boiler||$6,000 – 9,000 (labor and materials)|
|Install Oil Boiler||$4,000 – 6,000 (labor and materials)|
|Boiler Repair||$300 – 700 (common issues)|
|Switch from oil to gas boiler||$5,000 – 8,000 (labor and materials)|
|Circulation Pump||$300 / each|
|Radiator||$100 – 500 / each depending on size|
|Radiant Flooring Installation||$3 – 7 / sq.ft|
|New Piping Installation||$1.25 – 2.50 / linear foot|
|Replace broken piping||$500 – 1,000|
|Install new pipe main line||$1,500-5,000|
|HVAC Contractor Labor||$70-85 / hr|
There are basically two types of boilers condensing or non-condensing. A condensing boiler is designed to use wasted heat to preheat cold water that enter it. This enables it function at a lower temperature, which greatly improves energy efficiency. Boiler efficiency is designated by its AFUE rating.
A condensing boiler will have an energy efficiency rating from 90-98.5% efficient.
Most condensing boilers are available as a combi boiler (delivers hot water so you don’t need a separate hot water tank), or heat only boiler.
The most efficient condensing boilers as rated by Energy Star are:
Energy Kinetics Accel CS™ Series (models are between 95, 96, 97% efficient)
HTP EFT Series (models are between 95, 96, 97% efficient)
Buderus SSB Series (96% efficiency)
BAXI Luna DUO-TEC Series (95% efficient)
Bosch Greenstar Series (95% efficient)
Bradford White Brute Elite Series (95% efficient)
Burnham by U.S. Boiler (different series are available, 95% efficient)
Carrier BMW Performance Series (95% efficient)
Crown Boiler Phantom Series (95% efficient)
Dunkirk Series (95% efficient)
Firebird Popular Series (oil-fueled, 91 and 92% efficiency models)
By contrast a standard non-condensing boiler needs to operate at a higher temperature. As a result, is only 80-88% energy efficient. Keep in mind that if you have a non-condensing boiler, its efficiency with actually go down with age.
Typically, a boiler that is less than 10 years old will be about 85% efficient. Every 5 years, its efficiency will go down by about 5%. So a 25 year old boiler will only be 60% efficient.
Sealed combustion vs non-sealed combustion boiler
Another very important distinction between boiler types has to do with combustion. A sealed combustion boiler bring outside air into the burner, and draws the exhaust gases out. By contrast, a non-sealed boiler takes heated air and sends it up the chimney. This not only wasted energy, but also requires having proper chimney lining, etc. Overall, its preferable to install a sealed combustion boiler.
Gas vs oil boiler
In terms of fuel source, you can have either a gas-fired boiler or an oil-fired one. Oil boilers are a lot more expensive, both to install and to operate. Moreover, an oil boiler requires you to have a separate storage tank for oil.
Oil is more expensive as a source of fuel compared to gas. However, if you live in an area where there are no main gas lines, heating with oil may be your only alternative. However, keep in mind that you always need to remember to order your oil and have it delivered ahead of time. Otherwise you may get stuck without heating fuel at the worst possible time.
Gas, on the other hand is always available. You just need to watch out for broken gas main lines, and carbon monoxide leaks. However, these are extremely rare.
Oil leaks and ground contamination as well as clean up are all potential hazards that can happen if you have an old, leaking oil boiler or tank. From this perspective, a gas boiler is a lot less problematic.
$3900 - $5600
$4800 - $6700
$2100 - $3500
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Heat distribution options
When the boiler heats up the water, it can be delivered into three different types of receptacles. Each one has its own pros and cons. However, hot water radiators are the most popular options for residential installs.
Radiant underfloor piping
This system can be installed throughout the house to provide very uniform and comfortable heating that will rise from the floor and be distributed throughout the room. It is essential to install very high quality tubing to avoid the risk of subfloor leaks, as these can cost thousands of dollars to repair.
Radiant heated floors are considered a very desirable and luxurious feature, especially if your home is located in a cold climate. If you ever plan to sell your home, installing radiant flooring is sure to attract and impressive prospective buyers.
A radiator is the most popular receptacle that most homeowners install. Radiators can be placed anywhere along the walls of a room, radiating heat out. Baseboard radiators are wonderful because they surround the room, providing a very even and pleasant source of heat, low to the ground.
There are many designs available for baseboard radiator covers that can match both classic and modern interiors. They can be made of wood, or rust-proof plastic.
Baseboard radiator installation costs range from $450-1,1000.
Baseboard heaters require a lot less tubing under the floors, so they are cheaper and easier to install than radiant floors. For best efficiency, you should make sure that there is no furniture or other items blocking the radiator.
Wall and ceiling panels
These panels are similar to radiant flooring. They can be installed inside the walls and ceilings, thereby concealing the presence of the heater all together. They can also heat a very wide surface area, but great care should be taken during installation, as there is a risk of severe water damage.
Types of flooring best suited for radiant heat
Many homeowners looking to replace their old heating system with radiant heat, worry about which flooring material they should use. Replacing an unsuitable floor costs a lot of extra money, and people want to avoid this expense. The good news is that the majority of flooring materials work just fine with radiant heat, and do not need to be replaced.
Hardwood floors, as well as bamboo and engineered wood are a good option, especially because this wood warms up quickly and is a wonderful heat conductor. This means that your wood floors will be very pleasant to the touch. HVAC pros recommend that floating hardwood floors work the best with hydronic underfloor heating, and are preferred over planks that are glued or nailed.
Other flooring materials, such as laminate, ceramic or porcelain tile, as well as natural stone such as slate, marble or travertine all work perfectly well with radiant floors. You should keep in mind that stone will take a lot longer to heat up and transfer heat outside compared to other materials. At the same time, once it has warmed up, it will retain heat for a lot longer, compared to other floor types.
Installing a thick carpet may not be the best choice, since carpet is a very strong insulator and it will prevent a lot of the heat from entering the room.
If you are installing radiant floor heating along with new flooring, make sure that both contractors are aware of the work that is going on, so that they can recommend the best materials to use.
Benefits of a boiler heating system
When choosing the type of heating system to install in your house, its important to consider all the pros and cons, as well as installation, maintenance and repair costs you will incur down the line.
It turns out that a hot water boiler heating system offer many advantages that are superior to other types of heating.
– Clean, dust, odor and mold free heat, which is very important if anyone in the house has allergies or sensitivity to dust.
– Its easier to install zone thermostats and control the temperature in individual rooms, compared to a furnace heating system. If you are interested in additional heating for a particular room, consider installing a ductless mini-split.
– The heat is distributed more evenly throughout the space and feels more pleasant. In the winter, you will not get cold feet, the same way you would with a furnace heater.
– Because heat comes through ground radiators or from radiant flooring, the heat remains close to where you are, so you actually feel warmer at a lower temperature setting. This can help you save money on heating costs, especially during the cold months.
– A boiler provides radiant heat, which means it actually heats op objects in the room, including the floor itself, as opposed to the air (this is what a furnace does). This type of heating is ideal for homes with very high or cathedral ceilings, where heated air just escapes upwards, leaving the livable space actually cold.
– Since there are very few moving parts in a hot water boiler system, there is practically no maintenance and much less risk of something breaking. Repairs are rare, but if one is required, its not expensive ($300-500 on average)
– If you live in a small house or an apartment, you can install a combi boiler: it serves both as a source of heat and hot water. This way, you don’t need to install a separate hot water heater.
Here are some downsides to keep in mind about boiler systems.
– A boiler heating system is more expensive than forced air. In fact, this is why forced air heating has become so popular and is often considered the default option for new construction homes. However, upon closer examination, it turns out that the cost difference between the two systems is not more than $1,000-2,500.
– If the house has old cast iron radiators, they may become very hot to the touch, so you need to be careful if you have young kids in the house.
– An older boiler system may leak, if a pipe freezes and bursts.
– A faulty gas boiler can release poisonous carbon monoxide fumes. That is why its extremely important to do a boiler maintenance check once a year. Schedule a boiler inspection before the cold weather kicks in, so you can rest assured your boiler will function well throughout the winter. Also, make sure that you have a functioning carbon monoxide detector in your home.
– Many people worry that a boiler may blow up or cause a fire. Generally, the risk of this happening is extremely low. However, this can potentially happen if the pressure on the boiler becomes too high, or if there is a gas leak. The good news is that newer boilers have controls that automatically kick in to shut off the pressure if it gets too high.
If you have an old boiler, you should manually check its pressure once every month or so. The indicator on the display should be in the green zone (1-2). If its higher, you can manually release this pressure, by bleeding out one of the radiators.
– If you want central air, you will need to install a separate system of ductwork to accommodate central air. This makes the initial investment into having both systems very expensive. If you have furnace heating, its very easy to put in central air, as all the ductwork is already in place.
How to make your home heating even more efficient
While boiler heating on its own offers superior energy efficiency, you can improve it even more! This can be done by installing either a solar water heater on the roof or a geothermal heat pump.
Both of these solutions will heat water via natural means (sunlight or thermal heat from the earth). This way, your usage of oil, gas, or electricity to heat the water will be significantly reduced or eliminated all together.
Not only is this a green option, it will also basically heat your water for free, after you have paid for the installation and the cost of the system itself. This can be a viable option if you are planning to live your house for at least the next 10 years.
$3900 - $5600
$4800 - $6700
$2100 - $3500
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