Imagine, if you will, an energy-efficient appliance that can provide heat to your home, water, pool, and driveway—and save you money on your heating bill, too.
If this sounds along the lines of Peter Pan finally deciding he wants to grow up or finding an actual pot of gold at the end of the next rainbow you see, we assure you it is true!
The amazing super-appliance we are talking about here is the heating boiler.
An Energy Star-certified heating boiler can not only accomplish each of the tasks we just described but, according to National Resources Canada, it can also save you up to 63 percent on your annual heating bill!
Best of all, heating boilers are no more challenging or costly to maintain than any other heating system, including the traditional furnace.
In this post, we share inside knowledge of what a heating boiler can do and how it can save you time and money while keeping you warm and toasty inside and outside!
What Is a Heating Boiler?
As you now know, a heating boiler is one of those unique appliances that can do several things well. A heating boiler makes heat with the help of hot water and circulates that heat with the help of a pump. In HVAC lingo, this is called a “hydronic” system. “Hydro” means water and “onic” means electronic.
Heating boilers can use hot water or steam to distribute heat. Since steam needs a higher base temperature to operate, a steam heating boiler tends to be less efficient than a boiler that uses hot water for a distribution system.
A heating boiler can function as a space heater, a zone heater, or a central heating system. It does this through a connection to radiant flooring or radiator pipes (either steam or hot water).
Which Type of Heating Boiler Is the Most Efficient?
In spite of its name, a heating boiler actually doesn’t have to use electric heat—it can also use natural gas, propane, biodiesel blends, or oil as a power source.
While electric heating boilers have the highest efficiency in terms of fuel use with minimal waste, the cost of the electricity itself can make these a higher-cost option in some areas.
Pricing out the fuel sources available to you can help you decide which is the most cost- and energy-efficient option.
How Efficient Is a Heating Boiler?
To fully answer this question, we can take a look at a brief efficiency history of the heating boiler.
Let’s say you have a heating boiler in your basement right now. It has been there for at least 20 years, or maybe closer to 30. It still works, but it is starting to look…rustic. It has a continuous pilot light.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, this old heating boiler probably delivers around 56 to 70 AFUE. AFUE means “annual fuel energy utilization.” This means anywhere from 30 to 44 percent of the heat your old boiler generates gets lost in translation somewhere, whether due to leaks, evaporation, or some other cause.
Or perhaps you have a somewhat newer system that was installed within the last 10 to 15 years, when the AFUE requirements were raised to a minimum of 80 percent. So your boiler is currently delivering anywhere from 80 to 83 percent efficiency via hot water or steam.
But then there is the new gold standard of heating boilers, which sport sealed combustion (no escaping steam or heat), two heat exchangers (to extract even more heat out of stale waste air), and an overall efficiency score of 90 to 98.5 percent. Wow!
Since the average heating boiler can last anywhere from 15 to 30 years, and the HVAC industry is currently knocking on the door of 100 percent energy efficiency, you really can’t go wrong upgrading to one of these beauties!
How a Heating Boiler Saves Heating Costs
It is absolutely true that a heating boiler can be pricier to purchase and install on the front end. But the investment begins paying for itself immediately with eyebrow-raising energy-efficiency improvements, which translate promptly to bottom line heating savings.
However, you likely noticed your cutting-edge new heating boiler still has an AFUE range of 8.5 efficiency points. You could realize 90 percent efficiency or you could realize 98.5 percent efficiency. And you would really prefer to realize the full 98.5 percent efficiency, right?
So how do you do this? You can help your home or workplace retain all that wonderful efficient heat your new heating boiler is putting out by doing some simple upgrades of your own:
- Insulate the boiler and the hot water pipes. This will prevent heat loss due to leaks or evaporation.
- Caulk and weatherstrip. If your doors, windows, and walls have developed cracks or the sealing has begun to degrade, making these simple repairs can noticeably impact your heating efficiency.
- Perform proper maintenance on the heating boiler system. Small fixes like descaling the boiler and/or adding chemicals to control for mineral buildup, removing float chamber sediment, and cleaning the heat exchangers can really make a difference in efficiency.
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Part of realizing maximum energy efficiency for an existing or new heating boiler system is sizing the system properly for your space. Another part is performing routine maintenance to keep any fixes small and affordable.