Most home and business owners heat their spaces with conventional forced air heating systems. While boilers certainly aren’t a thing of the past, people sometimes associate them with old movies and old houses.

If you’ve lived in or visited someone who has what they call radiator heat, you’ve enjoyed one of the benefits of a boiler. If not, and you’re preparing to install a new heating system, this post is for you.

Today, we’re answering the question on many people’s minds—what is a boiler?

Take a minute and learn more about a time-tested and efficient way to heat a home or building. You might decide it’s past time to install one in your home or workplace.

What Is a Boiler?

Unless you live off the grid, your home stays warm in the winter because it’s equipped with a central heating system. You might assume homes with central heating systems only use forced air furnaces. Some homes use a boiler instead of a furnace.

You’re familiar with water heaters, right? Think of a boiler as a water heater. Instead of delivering hot water to your tap for a hot shower or to wash dishes, the boiler carries hot water to radiators or radiant floor systems.

Now you know what it is, but how does a boiler work?

The Secret Lives of Boilers

Boilers heat homes (and commercial buildings) but they don’t follow the same process as a gas forced air furnace. A furnace warms the air. A boiler warms objects by using radiant heat.

How a boiler uses radiant heat depends on the boiler type and the fuel source. Fuel sources include gas, electricity, and oil. We’ll touch on those in a minute.

Regardless of the fuel source, the main role of a boiler is heating water or producing steam. You’ll find two types of boilers: hot water and steam. One of the biggest myths about boilers is that they boil water.

Ready for the truth?

Hot water boilers don’t boil water, but they do heat it up to between 140-180 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the boiler heats the water, a pump pushes it throughout your home.

Steam boilers, on the other hand, heat water past the boiling point. At that point, the water converts to steam. The steam moves through radiators or the radiant floor system mentioned earlier.

The Nitty Gritty of Boilers

Like forced air furnaces, boilers rely on signals from your thermostat. The thermostat detects a drop in temperature and calls the boiler.

Once the boiler turns on it calls the heat source (oil, electricity, gas). Combustion happens and the water inside the boiler heats up. We just discussed how the boiler uses radiant heat to warm a room, but the water doesn’t stay hot for long. And steam changes its form.

Water cools and steam condenses. The water goes back to the boiler, gets reheated, and sent back through the radiators. Now, it continues heating your home.

It’s a cycle that continues until your home reaches the desired temperature. Then the thermostat tells the boiler to shut down.

As you can see, there are similarities between the two heating systems. Both need a thermostat to turn on and off. When they break down, you’ll either call for boiler repair or help with a furnace.

Which Fuel Source Is Best?

Rather than argue a case for or against a particular fuel source, we’ll touch on all three and let you decide.

Natural Gas

If you’re considering installing a boiler in your home or business in North America, you’ll find out natural gas is the most common fuel in most areas. It’s also a clean fuel when you compare it to electricity and oil. If you install a high-efficiency gas boiler you’ll usually pay less for fuel.


People like electric boilers because they’re quiet, clean, and easy to install. They also don’t use a firebox, which means they’re safer than gas or oil boilers. The downside of an electric boiler is the cost of the fuel.


Most oil-fired boilers use fuel oil. It’s expensive because it needs to be transported by truck. In areas with limited access to natural gas, this boiler type is popular. If you can install one of the high-efficiency oil boilers, the combustion process is clean and ash-free.

The one fuel we didn’t mention is propane. This fuel is most often used in rural areas with no access to natural gas. You can use propane in a gas-fired boiler as long as you use a conversion kit.

The Benefits of Installing a Boiler

Whether you’re considering using boiler heat in your home or in a commercial building, you’ll enjoy several benefits including:

  • Lower Energy Costs
  • More Consistent Heating
  • Less Noise
  • Lower Maintenance
  • Better Indoor Air Quality

Any of these benefits can stand alone but put them all together and you have a great heating solution for your home or office building.

Granted, your initial investment is usually higher than with a furnace. However, the cost savings you’ll enjoy due to better energy efficiency, less maintenance, and more consistent heating, are things you can’t afford to ignore.

However, believe it or not, there are actually some really competitive pay monthly boiler schemes now available, certainly worth checking out for those of you struggling to pay for a boiler outright

Here Is Another Thing to Think About

Most homes and workplaces have both a boiler (or furnace) and a hot water heater. Ever heard of a combi boiler?

Combi boilers heat your home and your hot water. You get hot water on demand without the need for a tank. One benefit of combining your room heat source and your hot water source is the space you can save.

If you live in a small home, space is precious. Imagine what you could do with the extra space opened up when you remove the water heater tank.

The real benefit, of course, is having another energy-saving appliance in your home. Talk with your HVAC service team and discuss the benefits of combi boilers and if they’re available in your area.

Ready to Install Your New Boiler Heat System?

Can you now answer the question: what is a boiler? We know we can’t provide every answer to your questions about boiler heat in a short post. You should have enough, however, to pique your interest and get your brain going.

If you’re still stuck at home with your beat up boiler that has been running for more than 15 years already, or maybe thinking of having an upgrade in your home, then this is your sign to go get that new boiler.

If you enjoyed reading this post, continue browsing our blog. We’ve put together a wide range of posts on topics of interest to people interested in making their living space into a home.