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The difference between a furnace and a boiler

Something I have learned in talking to people is that for most folks, all heating systems are considered “furnaces.” So what’s the difference and why does this matter?   “Furnace, boiler, it’s all the same thing.” People think it is just semantics, but it’s not.  Sure, we get the idea, and we understand that you are talking about your heating system.  But they are not the same thing.   A boiler uses hot water to heat your living space, while a furnace uses warm air. The heat is different, and the way that heat is circulated through your home is different.

A hydronic boiler installed in a home. Not to be confused with a furnace which has duct work coming off of it, not copper tubing.

I was recently talking to a customer on the phone about installing central air conditioning in her home.  Of course, over the phone, you must ask “qualifying questions.”   Now, I work in the heating and cooling industry, so I have learned the “lingo.”  However, if you don’t understand the terminology, it is difficult, really, to answer the questions.  This woman was insisting that she had duct work and a furnace in her home. I learned however, that she had a boiler with baseboards.

Ductwork, Warm Air, Hot Water, Boiler, Furnace.  Some people just really do not see the difference.

Now when speaking with customers, I learned a long, long time ago that the customer is always right.  So when they are insisting they have something that they don’t, it is sometimes difficult to convince them otherwise. Maybe you finally ask the question that helps them understand what type of equipment they have.  Most people know what baseboards are, and if you have them, you have a boiler, not a furnace, and chances are you do not have duct work.

We have a diagram on our website that shows the different types of equipment.  

Hydronic = Boiler = Hot Water

Warm Air = Furnace =  Warm Air

Of course, like everything else in the world, there are exceptions:

Hyro-Air = Boiler + Air Handler = Warm Air

With hydro-air we introduce the addition of the air handler that turns the hot water into warm air.  These systems are typically more efficient, and are engineered to create a less dry heat, efficient hot water heating, and air conditioning all in one.

Not sure what you have?  Maybe this article helped.



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  • Andy Harrison
    March 15, 2016, 4:28 pm REPLY

    Since there are homes that use one or the other, it is important to know which one you have in the event that it breaks. In simple terms, a boiler uses water and a furnace uses air. Just be sure that you know which one you have in case you do need to get repairs done.

  • John Carston
    March 16, 2016, 10:34 am REPLY

    I had no idea that there was a difference between a boiler and a furnace. I had been referring to all of them as furnaces, like you mentioned in your article. I also learned that there is hydro-air as well, which I’ve never seen, but it’s good to know.

  • mitesh
    March 26, 2016, 12:22 pm REPLY

    Is this boiler is same as industrial boiler? If it same, which type of it?

  • kiyel williams
    March 31, 2016, 10:31 am REPLY

    I had no idea that a furnace and boiler were two different things. I always assumed it was just about where you are from and what you called them. In deciding on one I guess it also comes down to if you want duct work or copper piping as well. I will have to talk to my friend about his boiler and see how it compares to a furnace for heat output. Thank you for the information!

  • Kenneth Gladman
    April 15, 2016, 7:02 pm REPLY

    Thanks for the article, I really didn’t know the difference. Do you know which is more efficient? I think we have a furnace in our home and wonder if a boiler would be better.

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