Boiler vs. Water Heater

Boiler vs. Water Heater

When considering a home system for all your hot water needs, you may come across various options for either boilers or hot water heaters. What’s the difference you may ask? The following article details both types of systems and why you may choose each one for your particular living situation. 


While boilers are advertised as a means to heat water, they can also provide heat for your home and generate additional power. Despite the name boiler, these systems do not boil water but instead convert water into steam. Boilers main strength is in its ability to heat water very quickly. Also, most boilers have a hot water cylinder that stores the heated water so it’s ready to use whenever needed. In addition to the hot water cylinder, some boilers also have a cold water tank like that of traditional water heaters.

Boiler Variations


Like described above, conventional boilers have both a tank that holds cold water to be heated and also a separate hot water cylinder that can provide hot water on demand. Although this system takes up more space with both the vessels, it is an ideal choice for larger households who need access to lots of hot water at once.


A system boiler only has a hot water cylinder that obtains water directly from the main and is then heated and stored. When the stored water is depleted you have to wait until the cylinder can be filled up again and more water heated for the next use.


Combination boilers heat both your water and your house. Neither a cold water tank or a hot water cylinder is needed and hot water is supplied instantly and with no limit.


This variety of boiler simply utilizes heat that would otherwise escape other types of boilers to add to its water heating abilities and save energy in the process.


Boiler Maintenance 

The following are tips to provide your boiler with proper maintenance so it runs effectively for as long as possible.

  • Clean vents and flues, if needed
  • Ensure proper water levels monthly
  • Inspect for leaks
  • Clean lime buildup
  • Lubricate moving parts (every 6 months)
  • Flush out water and clean (every 6 months)


Hot Water Heater

Hot water heaters are designed to only heat water that can be used throughout your house or building. The two main types of hot water heaters are traditional/conventional (includes water tank) and tankless/on-demand (no water tank). 

Below are brief descriptions of the various types of hot water heaters:


Traditional hot water heaters have a water storage tank where water from a main line is supplied to the tank and then heated where it can then be utilized as hot water throughout the building. Models can either be gas or electric.


Like the names imply, tankless or on-demand water heaters do not have a storage tank and instead heats water very quickly from the main water supply to be transported to where hot water is needed in the house.

Heat Pump/Hybrid

In climates that are not typically very cold, a heat pump or hybrid water heater can be an energy efficient source of hot water as this type utilizes heat from the ground and air to aid in heating the stored water.


In warmer climates, solar water heaters are designed to transfer heat to the water to be heated. This system does not need electricity and therefore can be an efficient and cost-effective choice for some.


Water Heater Maintenance

Similar to boilers, hot water heaters need regular maintenance by the owner or a trained professional to extend the life of the appliance and keep it operating optimally.

Consider implementing the following maintenance steps:

Test Valve

Check that the power is off and that the water valve is closed. Quickly lift the tab and allow a little water to come out then close the tab. The water flow should stop. It not, the valve may be broken and need replacing.

Check Anode Rod

If the anode rod inside of the tank has calcium buildup, clean it off. 

Drain & Flush

Drain any water in the tank into a bucket. Add more water into the tank to combine with any sediment that was settled at the bottom of the tank and flush out until bucket water comes out clean.

Adjust Temperature (optional)

To save money, consider manually lowering the temperature of your water. To do this, use a flathead screwdriver to turn the temperature gage on the side of the water heater.

Insulate Pipes

To help retain heat in the hot water pipe, insulate them with foam that matches in diameter. Similarly, adding foam insulation to the cold water pipes will prevent condensation in warm climates.

Insulate Heater

Retain heat by insulating the water heater tank with an insulation blanket wrapped around the tank but with the controls and top exposed.


Boiler or Hot Water Heater?

The following is a list of factors to consider when deciding if a boiler or hot water heater is best suited for your heating needs:

  • What climate do you live in?
  • How much space is available for a unit to occupy?
  • How many people will utilize the heated water?
  • Is immediate hot water a priority?

Regardless of which hot water system you choose, proper regular maintenance can keep your system functioning for 10-20+ years. Review this detailed article when making the best choice for your household or building. 

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