The winter season has seen many homeowners replacing their boilers with electric furnaces. And despite this seemingly seasonal decision, some homeowners are now considering making the trade as well. But is swapping your boiler for an electric furnace a trade-up—or just a bad, last-minute investment?
Keep reading to find out!
Boiler or Furnace: What’s the Difference?
The main difference between these two is what they use to heat your home: A boiler uses hot water to transfer heat throughout your house via the baseboards and radiators.
A furnace uses hot air and ducts.
How Does an Electric Furnace Work?
Furnaces use “forced air heating,” which basically circulates warm air throughout the home using an air duct system. The cold air is drawn in through the ducts and delivered to the furnace. The air is then filtered, heated, and circulated back to the room.
Furnaces run on natural gas, heating oil, or electricity. Although gas furnaces are most common, electric furnaces are slowly gaining popularity due to their accessibility.
How Does a Boiler Work?
A boiler plays a crucial role in what is called a hydronic heating system—alongside a circulator pump and a system of pipes and radiators. The boiler heats up water to be sent to the radiator via the circulator pump. Then, the circulator pump distributes the hot water using the pipes.
As the water passes through the pipes, it gives off heat. This successfully heats up the walls and, by extension, the rooms. When the water reaches the radiator, it stays there until it cools down. When cooled, it circulates back to the boiler to be reheated.
Boilers typically use gas, oil, or propane for fuel.
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Is an Electric Furnace Worth It?
An electric furnace comes with its own set of pros and cons.
- Using electricity instead of gas or propane eliminates the risk of harmful byproducts (like carbon monoxide) getting released via your vents or pipes. Moreover, electric furnaces do not utilize products that produce similarly toxic gases.
- Low Upfront Costs. Because the technology for electric heating is widespread and widely available, electric furnaces are actually quite affordable. They cost much less to purchase and install than one would think.
- Availability & Access. You will always have a source of electricity available—as long as you pay your utilities. The same can’t be said about gas or oil.
- From a heat-loss perspective, electric furnaces are considerably more efficient than other heating sources because of their accessibility (as mentioned), and their independence. They don’t require more structures to help them function properly.
- Costly Operation. Because it relies on electricity to run, an electric furnace will drastically increase your utility costs. Many homeowners actually prefer gas-run boilers for this reason.
- Specialized Repair. Because of their electric nature, attempting to perform short-term fixes or stopgap measures on an electric furnace can be too risky. When they break or malfunction, they will need quality professional repair.
- Constant Maintenance. Electric furnaces require almost twice as much maintenance compared to boilers. Some homeowners simply don’t have the time or resources for that.
To Switch or Not?
In the end, it is a matter of preference.
Many homeowners prefer the traditional stability and simplicity of a boiler. Whether it’s because boilers are just more commonplace or because boiler repair is just more accessible, they simply don’t consider switching to electric furnaces to be a smart move.
On the other hand, just as many homeowners believe that an electric furnace is a smart investment due to the multiple benefits it has to offer.
The best way to decide would be to weigh the pros and cons of boilers versus electric furnaces with regards to your own unique situation.