How Boilers Compare to Furnaces and Heat Pumps

Boilers are one of three popular heat sources for homes and commercial spaces. Here’s an overview of how they compare in essentials.

  • Gas and oil furnaces: Furnaces deliver heat through ductwork and grates in rooms or zones. Natural gas furnaces can be modified for propane. Oil furnaces only use home heating oil. Furnaces are an excellent choice in any climate and for homes that already have ductwork. These heaters last 15-20 years depending on their quality. Furnaces are the most affordable of the three with prices starting at less than $600 (unit only). Our Gas Furnace Price Guide has in-depth information on brands, features and prices.
  • Heat pumps: These units deliver both heating and cooling. They are powered by electricity. Heat pumps use a compressor to circulate refrigerant between heat exchanger coils, one outdoors in the condensing unit and one indoors in the furnace or air handler. The result is the movement of heat from inside to outside in the summer and the reverse in the winter. Heat pumps last about 20 years when properly installed and maintained. A heat pump is a good choice for hot-to-cool climates. They become ineffective when outside temperatures are sub-freezing. Heat pump prices start at about $1,200(unit only). See our Heat Pump Guide for additional information.
  • Boilers: These units are ideal for new construction and for replacing an old boiler. The cost of installing piping and radiators is prohibitive in buildings already outfitted with ductwork. Heat pumps and boilers cost more than furnaces, and boilers last 20-30 years, the most durable of the three. Boilers don’t operate using forced air like the other two, so they are quiet and don’t spread dust, other allergens or odors throughout the space they heat. Boiler systems with radiant floor heating create a very comfortable home in winter, and boilers are suitable for all climates. Boiler prices start at about $1,300(unit only).

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