Winter brings bone-chilling storms and mitten-friendly temperatures that make us rely on our home’s heating equipment to keep us safe and comfortable. As ice and snow quickly replace the summer warmth, a dependable boiler is the difference between living in a frigid shack and a cozy home.
This guide provides the information you need to choose the right boiler. You’ll learn about:
Boiler BasicsLet’s talk about the important concepts and details for purchasing a boiler. Here’s what we cover in this section:
- How a boiler works
- Boiler efficiency ratings
- How to determine the right size of boiler for your home
How a Boiler WorksA boiler uses a fuel source (natural gas, oil, electricity or propane) to ignite a combustion chamber, electric ignition system or pilot and heat water inside of the boiler chamber. The hot water then travels through pipes to the home's heat distribution system, which are commonly iron radiators, copper fin baseboard radiators, air handlers or in-floor radiant heating. Afterward, the hot air rises and circulates or radiates through the house.
How Boilers and Air Conditioners Work TogetherUnlike furnaces, boilers are just for heating. The home’s distribution method, like air ducts or radiators, can limit your air conditioning options. If you plan to buy a boiler and want to use your existing ductwork, you’ll need to install an air handler. An air handler has a heating coil and a fan. The fan operates like a furnace's fan to push air through the heating coil, which warms the air and distributes it through the ductwork into every room. On the other hand, if you use a radiator or in-floor heating as your distribution method and want to have AC in the summers, consider installing a ductless heat pump or ductless cooling system.
Boiler PartsMost boilers contain the following parts:
- Combustion chamber
- Heat exchanger
- Electrical components
- Heat emitter options: radiators, in-floor heating, air handlers
How to Determine Boiler EfficiencyBoiler efficiency is a critical component in selecting the right boiler for your home. Although boiler efficiency may seem like a personal choice, we recommend that homeowners give consideration to higher efficiency ratings for energy savings and home comfort.
AFUE RatingBoiler efficiency is calculated by measuring the annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE), which compares the amount of heat a boiler generates to the energy consumed by it. The AFUE rating communicates how efficient the unit performs in a year. Introduced in the 1980s, the EnerGuide tag, which is often affixed to the side of your unit, will list your boiler’s AFUE rating. If your unit doesn’t have an EnerGuide label, your equipment is likely old and needs to be replaced. Boiler efficiency depends on the type of boiler and fuel source but typically range from 80-88% for mid-efficiency boilers and 90-98% for high-efficiency boilers. There is no efficiency standard for Canada; however, we recommend that homeowners choose boilers with a minimum efficiency of 92%. For most people, boilers in and above 92% offer the best balance between monthly energy savings and upfront cost. Regardless of your AFUE rating, annual boiler maintenance by a licensed technician is the best way to ensure your boiler always operates at its peak efficiency.
How To Determine the Right Boiler for Your HomeMany factors help determine the best boiler for your home, including:
- Heat distribution method
- Available space
- Size and age of home
- Number of bathrooms
- Hot water supply needs
Heat Distribution MethodWhen you decide to replace your boiler, your first consideration should be about what heat distribution infrastructure is in your home. Since your distribution system likely can’t be changed easily, it limits the options an HVAC consultant can provide. For example, installing an air handler to distribute heat requires ductwork. Without existing ductwork, the project would be extremely expensive and time consuming. Hot water circulation systems are the most common residential boiler applications in Canada. Popular examples of heat distribution systems are cast iron radiators, copper fin baseboard radiators, in-floor radiant heating, and air handlers.
Fuel SourceThe fuel source supplied to your home can determine your options. The most common boiler fuel sources are natural gas, propane and electricity. In Canada, most homes use natural gas; however, it is crucial to understand how natural gas codes can affect your installation options. We recommend you ask your HVAC expert or natural gas provider about any restrictions.
Physical SpaceFor many homeowners, the deciding factor for choosing a new boiler comes down to physical space. Depending on the type of boiler, the unit can be floor standing or wall-mounted and many come in both configurations. A floor standing system may take up to 4x4ft of space. A wall-mounted combi unit which also provides hot water can help you save room in your home because there isn’t a need for a hot water tank.
SizeRather than thinking about physical size, which varies among manufacturers and equipment styles, boilers are sized by BTU (British Thermal Unit) output. To determine the boiler's right size, an HVAC consultant will perform a heat loss and heat gain calculation. This calculation looks closely at the size of your home, insulation, and where heat escapes. These findings provide an estimate of the heat lost per hour for each room in your home. The wrong boiler size can negatively impact your unit’s efficiency and cost more to operate. Your ideal boiler will heat your entire home without wasting fuel. A great rule of thumb is that the bigger the house, the bigger the boiler and the higher the BTU output will be. After the heat loss analysis, your HVAC consultant can help guide you through the remaining options for boiler replacement.
Types of Boilers
Depending on your heat distribution method and desired efficiency, selecting a boiler type comes down to your home’s specific needs. Each type of boiler has pros and cons, depending on your space, budget, and preferences about features and equipment efficiency. The following section informs you about the types of boilers in Canada and how they operate.
A heat only boiler’s function is to provide heat to the home and is the most common boiler setup in Canada. These systems come in many configurations - drafted natural vent, power vented or condensing/direct vented. With open vent systems, exhaust gases are vented up a chimney and indoor air is used for combustion. Power vent systems force exhaust gases up a chimney or out the side of a house using a fan motor and indoor air is used for combustion. Condensing/direct vent systems are typically high efficiency systems that exhaust gas to the outdoors and use fresh outdoor air for combustion.
The purpose of a heat only boiler is to only heat the home. They are set up to flow hot water through a closed loop piping system into heat emitters such as radiators, in-floor heating or air handlers. This system is separate from the domestic water piping for your home’s plumbing needs. It is equipped with a backflow preventer in order to prevent any water from the heating hydronic system getting into the municipal water system.
Combination boilers — also referred to as combi-boilers — can perform both space heating and provide domestic hot water within one appliance. Combi-boilers contain all operating components within one unit and are ideal if you want to save floor space or move away from storage type water heaters. Combination boilers are perfect for small to medium-sized homes and stacked condo townhomes. The price of a combination boiler, including installation, is approximately $8,000+, depending on the desired efficiency and system configuration.
When a thermostat calls for heat or a hot water faucet is turned on, it signals for the boiler controls to activate the energy source (natural gas, oil, electricity or propane) to heat the water flowing through the boiler. Internal valves and system piping will divert the hot water to flow for heating or domestic hot water supply. If hot water is needed for both heating and hot water at the same time, domestic hot water typically takes priority.
When To Replace Your BoilerReplacing a boiler can be a tricky situation and we suggest consulting an HVAC expert about the decision. Here are a few guidelines you can use to determine if it’s time to have a consultation:
- Your boiler is 15+ years old
- Your boiler needs frequent repairs
- There is an extreme increase in energy bills, even when set to efficient controls
- Any part of the boiler is making loud or unusual noises
- Inconsistent temperature
- There is discoloration including yellow flames or black soot
- Your boiler is leaking
Considering that the highest costs in operating a home are heating costs, we recommend that homeowners replace older, low or mid-efficiency boilers with high-efficiency condensing boilers to keep the home comfortable and save energy.
How Much Does a Boiler Cost?The cost to install a new natural gas boiler is approximately $8,000+, including the unit, standard installation, and all required licenses, permits and code requirements. Several variables determine the cost of a new boiler, including:
- Fuel type: natural gas, oil, electricity or propane
- Boiler type: heat only boiler, combination/combi-boiler
- Environmental choices: energy efficiency, heat distribution type and comfort-enhancing options (like heated bathroom floors)
- Personal preferences: extended warranties, maintenance plans and service guarantees
- Technical requirements: the size of your home, number of bathrooms, type of heat source
- Code requirements: safety, licensing and natural gas code requirements
Generally speaking, you have two options when getting or replacing a boiler for your home, buying or renting.
The majority of providers offer a variety of ways to purchase your boiler. Make sure to ask about your options which may include making a one-time payment, deferred payments or financing programs.
If buying a new boiler doesn’t interest you, consider renting one instead. Most rental programs charge no money upfront and instead the customer is responsible for affordable monthly payments. Plus, many offerings come with perks to ensure you never worry about your boiler again.
The Enercare Advantage™ boiler rental program includes:
- Free equipment installation*
- Includes $0 repairs and maintenance for the life of the boiler, performed by our licensed technicians‡
- Same Day Service – call by 5 p.m. and we’ll be there as fast as the same day§
Government RebatesGovernment and utility provider incentives and rebates may be available for upgrading the energy efficiency of your home. Ask us about the latest programs and how you may qualify.
Average Operating Costs
Aside from the unit and installation cost, a boiler's ongoing price depends on the heat source, boiler type, equipment efficiency, local weather conditions and personal preferences like temperature set points. Commonly, the least expensive boiler fuel sources are natural gas followed by propane while electricity and oil will lean on the pricier side.
Each type of boiler also has a different efficiency rating. More efficient boilers cost more upfront but the energy savings add up and eventually cost less to operate over time compared to less-efficient options.
InstallationOnce you determine your desired boiler type, efficiency and size, your licensed technician will handle your installation needs from beginning to end. Most boiler installations may take one to three days, depending on the boiler type and installation complexity. For example, if you choose to replace your boiler with a similar style and shape, installation may only take a few hours, whereas changing equipment location, fuel source or the type of boiler can take one to three days. After the installation, your licensed technician will test your new heating system and provide you with information regarding your unit’s operation and required maintenance. Be sure to keep all manuals, warranty documents and other paperwork. Price is a leading factor for many people, but choosing a boiler comes down to a lot more than how much it costs. As you continue reading the following sections, you’ll get the full picture so you can make an educated decision.
How to Choose a Boiler InstallerBoiler installation is a specialized process and must legally be done by a licensed professional. Although you may find yourself in a hurry to repair a faulty or broken system, selecting the right service provider is just as important as choosing the right type of boiler. A certified and qualified company will complete a comprehensive assessment of the entire system to avoid complications down the line. It is essential to request that all individuals assisting with the installation are qualified in all aspects of the job including gas, electrical, hydronics, plumbing and have experience in installations. Aside from technical aspects, your desired installer should be easy to contact and have customer service skills so they can assist with repairs or questions after the installation. A high-quality installer should meet the below requirements:
- Specialization in hydronics
- Experience with a variety of heating methods and adaptations
- Local availability with 24/7 assistance
- Guarantees, certifications, and licenses including TSSA Certified Gas Technician, Contractor Registration Number, Electrical License
- All contractors on-site are certified
- WSIB registered
Common Boiler ProblemsLike all home equipment, boilers need regular maintenance to avoid malfunctions or breakdowns. When your boiler has problems, you need to get the issues diagnosed and resolved fast to prevent any future breakdowns and damage to the equipment. Most boiler problems fall into two categories: equipment that needs immediate repair because it’s dangerous and equipment that is not performing optimally, has other non-immediate hazards or code infractions.
Red Tagged EquipmentIf a technician assigns a product warning tag to your equipment, it is known as a red tag. A red tag indicates a vital issue with your boiler that is hazardous if it remains unfixed. If you receive a Type A red tag, your equipment is at risk of carbon monoxide leaks or other dangers. Upon receiving a Type A red tag, the licensed gas technician onsite is required to immediately turn off your natural gas for safety concerns. Once your boiler is repaired by a licensed technician, your gas will be turned back on. A Type B red tag indicates an issue that requires the homeowner to replace or repair the equipment or code infraction within 45 days but does not threaten the household. In this situation, your gas is kept on for the specified amount of time. If your boiler isn’t repaired or replaced within 45 days, your gas company may turn off your gas to limit potential safety hazards from occurring.
If you are experiencing uneven heating or none at all, your equipment is faulty. The culprit could be anything from a simple thermostat replacement to more complicated internal components, such as valves, the diaphragm in the expansion tank, airlock, and more. When it comes to hydronic heating or heating using hot liquid, it is best to contact a licensed technician to diagnose the problem and provide a solution rather than troubleshoot it yourself.
Boiler Troubleshooting and Maintenance TipsA broken or damaged boiler can be inconvenient, uncomfortable, and expensive to repair. Most importantly, fiddling with a boiler without expert training is extremely dangerous. The best way to ensure your equipment is properly functioning is to contact a service technician. The technician can diagnose the issue at hand and can identify the required repair.
Routine MaintenanceA qualified technician will conduct comprehensive performance and operational checks on all major components to ensure that the boiler performs to the manufacturer's specifications and standards. Routine boiler maintenance is typically performed once a year by a licensed professional. All heating and cooling equipment should get annual maintenance. The best time for homeowners (especially in colder climates) to get their boilers inspected and maintained is at the beginning of the heating season before the weather gets too cold.
Have Any Questions?
We hope this boiler buyer’s guide helps you purchase the right boiler for your home’s needs. If you have any additional questions about the heating solution for your needs, please contact our sales team.
You can reach our sales team at 1-855-255-5458 or fill out the following form to request a free in-home assessment and price quote.
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