How Does a Boiler Heat Your Home?

Posted: December 5, 2022

What Is a Boiler?

Boilers use hot water or steam to heat your home. Another name for a boiler is a hydronic heating system, which is defined as a system that transfers heat via a circulating fluid, such as water, in a closed system of pipes.

Steam boilers can still be found in older homes, usually ones built before the 1950s. If you have this type of system, your boiler stays true to its name because it actually has to boil water to make steam before your heat can be distributed.

In comparison, newer boilers do not need to boil the water to make steam. Instead, they use hot water to distribute heat through a home’s piping. The heat is distributed through your home by either radiators or baseboards.

Because a boiler is a closed-loop system, water does not need to be constantly brought in or replaced, making it more efficient.

Some of the key components of a boiler system include:

  • a burner, where the fuel (gas or oil) is ignited in the combustion chamber.
  • a heat exchanger, which allows heat to be exchanged between two substances (fuel oil and water, for example) while not allowing the two substances to mix together.
  • Circulator pumps, which push the hot water from the boiler into the piping. A steam boiler doesn’t require a circulator pump because it doesn’t need to be pushed into the piping. It rises up the pipes naturally.
  • Piping, which includes supply lines to deliver the heated water (or steam) to the radiators or baseboards. When the water cools or the steam turns back into water, return lines bring the water back to the boiler for re-heating.

Many homeowners prefer hot water and steam-based heating to warm air systems like furnaces and heat pumps. The heat that boilers create does not dry out the air. Plus, the heat generated by your hydronic heating system can also be used to heat water in your home, creating an efficient two-in-one home and water heating solution. Heated water is stored in a separate tank that’s connected to the boiler for later use. Learn more about water heaters.

When to Replace Your Boiler

Like any piece of equipment, your boiler will eventually have to be replaced one day. But is that day near, or still far off? If you need a repair, should you still keep putting money into your current boiler? Or would you be better off investing your money into a new, high-efficiency boiler?

First, let’s look at age. While the average boiler will last about 20-25 years—as long as proper maintenance has been followed–there are many home boilers out there that are even older than that. And while they may still be keeping homes warm enough, their efficiency rate is much lower than a new hot water boiler, which means you are using more fuel to generate heat. Some people have upgraded to a super-efficient condensing boiler, which converts water vapor condensation into heat and recovers some of the lost heat from waste gases.

Other Signs That Your Boiler Is Wearing Out

  • Do you see any corrosion? Just like your water heater, if you see outward signs of rust on your boiler, its time is limited. A professional inspection may also reveal damage to piping or other boiler components.
  • Is it keeping you warm enough? A properly working boiler should keep you comfortable even on the coldest nights in the Delaware Valley, but a boiler’s operating performance diminishes with the passage of time.
  • Repairs are becoming common. A higher number of repairs for an aging system is another strong sign that you would do well to let go of your old boiler and invest in a new one.
  • Diminished hot water production. If you depend on your boiler to heat your domestic hot water—Summer/Winter Hook-Up Systems—and you’re not getting as much hot water as before, this could be a sign of a leaking or corroded coil on the boiler – a precursor to boiler failure.

What You Get with A New Boiler Installation

Boiler technology has improved dramatically over the years and the new hydronic heating systems we install are much more efficient than the systems we installed for our customers decades ago. When we say efficient, we mean that the boiler puts out more heat with less fuel, which translates to big savings on your annual home heating costs.

Wilson Oil and Propane has been handling the service and installation of home heating boilers for a long time. In fact, if you live in Swarthmore, Broomall, or Newtown Square, the chances are pretty good that at least one of the boilers in your neighborhood was installed by Wilson boiler technicians.

Read more about a new boiler installation.