Top Question: Should I Replace My Boiler With a Heat Pump? And Why?

Shipton's Heating and Cooling in Hamilton, Ontario, discusses heat pumps vs. boilers.

Is your boiler system dying? Are you trying to lower your heating costs for the upcoming winter? If so, you’re probably on the hunt for the best replacement heating system. And you probably have lots of questions!

Should I replace my boiler with a heat pump?

Is a heat pump more efficient than a boiler? More reliable? More affordable?

With current fuel costs, finding cheaper heating is on everyone’s mind! Especially those with fuel-based heating systems, like natural gas, propane and oil.

If you’re planning on switching from a boiler to a heat pump, this article is for you! We answer all these questions and more! So you can make the best heating choice for your family and budget.

The Basics Of The Boiler

If your home has a boiler system installed, you probably already know all about it. But, just in case you don’t, we want to ensure you have a thorough understanding. That way, you can understand the similarities and differences between a heat pump and a boiler.

After all – the two systems can seem quite similar at times. And knowing which is the better option for your home can be difficult.

So, let’s begin!

A heating boiler is a type of hydronic home heating system. It uses hot water or steam to heat your house and distributes that heat in one of three ways:

  1. Baseboard Radiators
  2. Radiant In-Floor Heating
  3. Coils

But they don’t just provide heat – boilers are multifunctional!

They can also work as hot water heaters, pool heaters and driveway de-icers. Making them useful in both the summer and winter!

And while there are two main categories of heating boilers (hot water and steam), there are many types.

Types of Home Heating Boilers:

  • Combi Boilers
  • Hot Water Boilers
  • Steam Boilers
  • Oil Boilers
  • Natural Gas Boilers
  • Electric Boilers

Learn all about these different types of boilers HERE!

Next Up, The Heat Pump!

Have you heard of the heat pump before? We wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t. Although these systems are growing more popular each year, they are not the social norm of furnaces quite yet. And many homeowners are just not aware of them.

This is especially true if you’ve purchased a house rather than building one. Chances are, it came with a working furnace, meaning you never had to think of replacing it – until now.

Now you’re on the lookout for furnace warning signs and trying to decide whether it’s worth it to try and make it last just one more year.

Maybe you’re also looking at fuel costs, wondering if another option exists that could save you money down the road.

Cue the heat pump!

Heat pumps provide heat to your home by extracting thermal energy from a given heat source and delivering it to the designated sink.

During the winter, the heat pump will draw thermal energy from the outdoor source and use it to heat the home.

During the summer, the heat pump will draw thermal energy from indoors and reject it outdoors.

Two Popular Types of Heat Pumps:

1. Air Source Heat Pump

Air source heat pumps rely on the air as a thermal energy source. They can operate air-to-air using a forced-air distribution system. Or air-to-water, which would incorporate a hydronic distribution system – radiators, radiant flooring or coils.

In an air source heat pump, thermal energy transfers between the outdoor air and the indoor air/water.

2. Geothermal Heat Pump (ground or water source)

Ground source heat pumps rely on the thermal energy found in the earth or nearby water source – either a closed-loop or open-loop system.

In an open-loop system, the geothermal heat pump connects directly to a water source (well, lake or pond). As the water flows through the piping, it collects thermal energy from the ground. Then, that thermal energy travels to the home before the water deposits into a discharge well.

In a closed-loop system, water and refrigerant fill the underground pipes. During the winter, this refrigerant prevents the water from freezing, as it carries out a similar process as that of an open-loop system.

The only difference between the two systems is the water supply. One continually uses the same water within its pipes while the other draws from a water supply.

Which Is Better: Heat Pump Or Boiler?

Now that you understand the basics of a heat pump and a boiler, it’s time to explore which is better for you, your home and your wallet in 2022.

Is a heat pump more EFFICIENT than a boiler?

Not surprisingly, the first question we’re going to tackle is the efficiency of a heat pump vs. a boiler.

Heat Pump Efficiency

As you know, heat pumps do not convert fuel to heat. Instead, they transfer heat from one place to another (from source to sink).

And while each type of heat pump is unique, ground-source heat pumps (geothermal technology) can provide up to 400% efficiency!

For every 3-4.5kWs of heat transferred to the home, a geothermal heat pump will only use 1 kW of electricity.

Boiler Efficiency

To measure the energy efficiency of a furnace, we use an AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) rating. This rating measures how efficient your furnace is at converting fuel to heat.

The higher the AFUE, the more fuel your furnace converted into heat. And therefore, the more efficient your system is!

A boiler usually has an AFUE between 50-90%. However, recent technologies have allowed for even higher!

For example, our Weil-McLain CGI Gas Boiler has an AFUE of 84%, but our IBC Gas Boiler has an AFUE of 95%!

Is a heat pump more RELIABLE than a boiler?

The reliability of your heating system is crucial. Especially if you live in Canada, where temperatures can drop as low as -30 degrees Celsius! You want to ensure your heating system is durable, long-lasting and there when you need it.

Heat Pump Reliability

A heat pump will generally last between 15-25 years, depending on which type you choose and how well you take care of it.

For example, a geothermal heat pump (ground-source heat pump) can last 20-25 years, while an air source heat pump usually lasts between 15-20.

In terms of durability and maintenance, heat pumps are pretty self-sufficient. Although, our heat pump maintenance team at Shipton’s recommends an annual appointment to prevent potential minor issues from developing.

Lastly, you can rely on your heat pump to operate even in the dead of winter! Their efficiency may decline as temperatures drop. But if you choose a cold climate heat pump, these systems can function in temperatures as low as -30 degrees!

Boiler Reliability

A heating boiler usually lasts around 15 years, depending on how old the system is and how well you take care of it.

They also require at least one maintenance inspection per year. Our boiler maintenance team recommends this annual inspection before start-up (late fall) to ensure energy efficiency for the upcoming season.

During the inspection, we’ll check for common warning signs of boiler damage and ensure nothing is amiss.

If you take care of it properly, you can usually rely on your boiler all winter – without an issue!

Is a heat pump SAFER than a boiler?

The system’s impact on air quality and the environment should be a huge consideration when selecting a new heater.

Heat Pump Safety

  1. Do heat pumps bring in outside air? And if so, does that affect indoor air quality? We get this question a lot. But don’t worry! As we said above, heat pumps transfer heat from outside, not air.
  2. Heat pumps do not use a flame or hot surfaces like fireplaces do.
  3. Because heat pumps do not use combustion to operate, your home is not exposed to fumes. Thus improving your indoor air quality.
  4. Forced air heat pumps utilize a filtration system that helps remove odours, smoke, spores, mould and dust from your home.

Boiler Safety

Boilers use the combustion of fuel to convert energy to heat. However, incomplete combustion produces carbon monoxide (CO).

Thankfully, all modern-day boilers now have a high-quality ventilation system. This system carries the CO outdoors and away from your indoor air.

But there’s always a chance of a leak!

Is a heat pump more AFFORDABLE than a boiler?

And last but not least, the question you’re all waiting on is whether a heat pump is more affordable than a boiler.

As we dive into this last question, we must note that there are two angles to consider here – the upfront cost and the cost of operation.

Heat Pump Affordability

The upfront cost of a heat pump is always high. Even with the help of Canada’s Greener Homes Grant!

But thankfully, the cost to operate a heat pump is quite low. Like we said, these systems can be up to 400% efficient! 

So the potential return on investment is huge!

Boiler Affordability

Boilers are typically less expensive than heat pumps, making their upfront costs more affordable.

However, because they are less efficient than a heat pump and use fuels like propane or oil, the operational cost of a boiler is typically more expensive.

Have Questions? Get In Touch With The Experts!

Shipton’s in Hamilton, Ontario, has been a leader in the heating and cooling industry since 1924! Our team can install, maintain and repair any make or model of HVAC equipment you need.

Want to learn more about heat pumps and boilers? We’d be happy to help!

Give us a call at (905) 549-4616 or Schedule a Free Quote with one of our HVAC consultants. We’ll ensure you have all the information you need to make the best heating decision for your home.

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