Home Boiler Heaters
Many methods are used to provide heat to your home with one of the most reliable being a boiler heater. The basic job of a boiler is to heat water by using natural gas, oil, electric or by burning solid fuels such as wood, coal and wood pellets as a fuel source. Once heated, the water is dispersed via an electric pump to carry heat to radiators conveniently placed throughout the home to provide heated water.
What Type of Boiler Do I Have?
There are three types of boiler heaters including natural gas boilers, electric boilers, and oil boilers. Each boiler produce hot water or steam by using their individual fuel source and each cater’s to a specific use case depending on your home’s heating needs which you can read about below.
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Natural Gas Boilers
A number of homes use natural gas, propane or butane to provide their heating, cooking and hot water needs. Natural gas boilers are one of the most commonly installed home heating units.
Pros of Gas Boilers
- Provides an even, constant room temperature.
- Customers connected to a main gas line can pay monthly, eliminating the need of large storage tanks on their property.
- Homes without the convenience of a main gas line can use an under or above ground storage tank to house their gas supply.
- Clean-burning gas contributes far less to the greenhouse effect versus oil and solid fuel boiler systems.
- Natural gas emits hardly any odor as it burns.
Cons of Gas Boilers
- As with oil, natural gas prices can fluctuate throughout the year making it harder to plan and budget.
- Natural gas systems require annual cleaning and maintenance.
Electric boilers offer a more environmentally friendly alternative to gas and oil fired boilers. They provide an extremely energy efficient option for installing a new boiler in your home.
Pros of Electric Boilers
- Increased energy efficiency. A boiler can provide both the heating and hot water needs of your home.
- Because they do not require a flue or chimney, an electric boiler runs at approximately 99 percent efficiency.
Cons of Electric Boilers
- Power outages due to downed power lines resulting from inclement weather or natural disasters result in no electricity to your home. During winter months, this translates into no hot water or heating in your home.
- Depending on how and what source is used — oil, coal, hydro or nuclear –to produce your electricity, producing it could be as detrimental to the environment as gas and oil-fired boilers.
Oil is one of the tried and true fossil fuels this country was built on and still depends on today. Oil boiler installation is common for homes that do not have access to a gas line for a natural gas boiler to be installed.
Pros of Oil Boilers
- Modern high output oil-fired boilers require less space due to their compact size.
- Oil is stored onsite in storage tanks located in or outside the home.
- Ample supply is available, under normal conditions, providing economical fuel for a home’s heating and hot water needs.
- Boiler system maintenance and cleaning are usually required only once a year.
- Fuel delivery and periodic adjustments are required twice a year, or as needed.
Cons of Oil Boilers
- Burning oil as a fuel source releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect.
- Price fluctuates due to demand, supply, refinement limitations and world events.
Solid Fuel Burning Boilers
Wood, coal and wood pellets are all considered solid fuels and can be burned to create heat for solid fuel burning boilers. These types of boilers are the least common type of boiler installed in homes can be useful for certain home heating needs.
Pros of Solid Fuels
- Solid fuels produce a gentle heat with satisfactory output levels.
- Wooden pellets are stored in a tank and fed to the boiler via an automatic conveyor belt. Their storage tanks can hold up to a year’s supply of pellets.
- Wooden logs are an ample and inexpensive fuel source that is 100 percent natural.
Cons of Solid Fuels
- Solid fuels, especially coal, burns dirty and has a negative impact on the environment.
- Wood and coal require larger areas for storage versus wood pellets, gas and oil.
How Do Boilers Work?
The boiler is an integral part of your home’s central heating system. You activate the boiler by setting a thermostat to the desired temperature. A valve opens to allow gas– natural, propane or butane — to enter a combustion chamber where it is ignited by a pilot light or electronic ignition system.
Jets direct the gas flames and heat onto a heat exchanger connected to a section of water pipe. The heat is transferred to the water pipe through the exchanger where it is heated to about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. From here, the water then travels through a series of pipes that travel to and from radiators strategically located throughout your home.
An electric pump connected to the water pipes provides the necessary pressure and circulation to distribute the water through the pipe and radiator system. As the water reaches each radiator, it emits its heat through the radiator to warm the air in your home in an even and consistent manner. The water then travels back to the boiler through a return pipe where it is reheated and circulated through the system again. Since this is a continuous process, the boiler must keep firing to maintain the required water temperatures.
Boiler Heater Maintenance
Boiler maintenance and repair is crucial to help keep your heating system running efficiently and avoid major breakdowns. While it is strongly recommended that you hire a licensed and insured heating and air conditioning contractor to service and repair your boiler, there are a few things a homeowner can do before the winter season to save a few bucks.
- Inspect the vent pipes and flue if gas, oil or solid fuels power your boiler.
- Verify that the pipes are free of any obstructions like bird nests, leaves and other debris that would hinder the exhaust from exiting your boiler and home.
- Look for visible signs of wear and tear on exhaust pipes such as rust, cracks or holes and make sure they are supported appropriately.
- Older circulation pumps might have oil ports while newer pumps are self-lubricating allowing you to oil the pump and motor.
- Verify all carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are in working order and replace when necessary.
- Start the system up and do a test run to make sure it is working properly.
- Schedule regular maintenance with your heating and air conditioning contractor.
Now that you understand how a boiler system works, you can operate it safely and with peace of mind throughout the winter months. You should also understand the importance of regular maintenance, repair and adjustments required by the system to keep it running at peak performance and energy efficiency.