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Boilers vs. Water Heaters - What’s Best for Your Household?

Boilers vs. Water Heaters - What’s Best for Your Household?

Homeowners face a difficult choice. What’s the best solution for providing heating and hot water to a household? There are economic, practical and environmental factors that should help you determine which option is suitable.

This article will take you through all aspects of boilers and water heaters - two of the most popular solutions for providing hot water. At the end of this article, you should know what solution is best for you

  • if you wish to have on-demand access to hot water; 
  • if you want to minimise your carbon footprint; 
  • or if you have little space.

How Is a Boiler Different From a Water Heater?

If you’ve browsed through a website offering boilers and water heaters, you may be confused as to what is the difference. Both solutions have many variants and in some cases, the differences between them are hard to grasp. However, the key difference that stays unchanged, regardless of the type of device, is that boilers provide your household with hot water and heat while water heaters, as the name suggests, merely heat water.

Boilers change cold water into steam, which holds temperature far better than air and transports it throughout the pipes to the whole household. They are compatible with versatile heating systems: radiators, baseboard or traditional radiators, a hydronic floor, or ceiling-mounted systems. This way, you can enjoy warmth in every room. Additionally, they warm up potable water for your daily activities like washing, showering or running laundry.

As we mentioned, water heaters have one simple task - heat water. When you compare those two devices, keep in mind that a water heater needs to be complemented by a heating system, like a furnace or air handler.

Are Boilers Tanked and Water Heaters Tankless?

Boilers are associated with huge tanks, separate for cold and hot water, whereas water heaters are seen as smaller tankless devices, or with a small tank. This distinction is no longer useful, as it compares conventional boilers to conventional water heaters only. 

Conventional boilers indeed have a cold water tank and a hot water cylinder, in which they store heated water. Conventional water heaters have a tank only for hot water storage. However, various varieties of boilers and water heaters can have a tank or not. You can choose a tankless water heater or a combination boiler (which is also tankless), or a system boiler (which has only a hot-water cylinder and no tank).

Choose the type optimal to the amount of space you have. If you have a large laundry room in the basement, consider tanked versions, as they’re cheaper. Tanked versions store hot water, so naturally, you can run out of it if you require large amounts. Tankless versions don't have that problem. However, if many people use hot water simultaneously in your household, the tankless heater/boiler won’t be able to keep up and quickly heat up the water enough.  

Which is More Economical?

Cost is perhaps the most important factor for many users. However, the answer to it is not a simple one. You have to analyse the upfront cost for the device, periodic energy bills, and the cost of maintenance. Water heaters are cheaper to buy than boilers, but keep in mind that you have to add the cost of a heating system. The cost of boilers is in the range of 2600£ to 6000£, whereas you can purchase water heaters from as low as 750£ to 2600£. In general, tankless, energy-efficient or those compatible with green energy sources are more expensive to buy.

The next aspect is the source of energy and how it’s used, which will impact your monthly energy bills. Boilers and water heaters were conventionally powered by gas. It’s an effective energy source at a reasonable price. However, you should be aware that it’s based on burning fossil fuels and has a significant carbon footprint. Some modern home designs do not include gas heating or hot-water systems, so you may also consider that. 

Alternatively, you can choose electric boilers or water heaters. Nevertheless, in most cases, they leave an even larger carbon footprint and significantly raise your energy bills. There are a few types of green energy boilers and water heaters, which are powered by solar panels or hybrids using heat from the ground and air. Using green energy is an investment. Many governments offer subsidies, grants, and tax relief, and It's worth researching whether you can take advantage of these before taking this step.

Finally, there is the maintenance cost. You may choose to take care of your boiler/water heater yourself, without any professional assistance, which limits your costs. However, remember that boilers require a little bit more regular work. It includes annual water levels inspection, cleaning the vents and flues, descaling lime build-up, thorough clean-up every 6 months and the lubrication of all moving parts every 6 months. To maintain water heaters you only need regular leak inspection, a valve test and a thorough clean-up twice a year.

You have to consider all the factors to make a final decision. The biggest benefit you gain, if you choose a boiler, is a reliable hot water source and a heating system in one. The biggest advantage of a water heater is its low price, the small amount of space and the ease of maintenance.

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