The term "boiler" is a funny one because it brings up so many different ideas. For some people, a boiler is synonymous with a water heater (and if you're in the United Kingdom, it often is synonymous), while others think of boilers as home heating systems. Different sizes and configurations add to the confusion. However, a boiler in the United States is a distinct type of heating system that can be used for water, home heating, or both. If you are remodeling a home and are choosing between a boiler and a water heater, here are some differences you need to be aware of.

Setting Terms

First, be sure of what you're looking at. In this case, a boiler is the rectangular tank that sits on the floor, hooked up to pipes that run throughout the house for heating, water heating, or both. Water goes into the boiler and comes out either as hot water for plumbing or steam for home heating. A water heater is just a tank or box (tankless) that heats water, either storing the hot water in the tank or heating it as it enters and exits the box.

Old House Renovation

If your installation is part of renovating an old house that has a steam radiator heating system, installing a boiler lets you upgrade the heating without having to do major renovations just for distributing heat around the house. You may have to replace old radiators themselves, but you won't have to change the structure of the house to install heating. If you were thinking of having central heating in the house, you'd have to do major renovations just to add the ducts connected to the furnace. There are other heating system types available, but even a simple one like a one-room wall heater would require extra work to modify the wall.

Water Storage and Emergency Supplies

If you are more interested in adding a boiler because of its similarity to a large-scale tankless water heater, keep in mind that you won't have a tank of drinkable water in case of emergency. Tank-style water heaters store several gallons of drinkable water, and if there is an event like a quake that cuts off the water supply, that tank of water is certainly helpful. If you have a tankless water heater or a boiler, then you won't have that extra water.

Additional Water Heating

One of the issues that seems to pop up with water heating no matter what is the availability of hot water given demand and location. If lots of people will be sharing the house, or if there are multiple stories where the upper floors might not get very hot water (because the water can cool off in the pipes), you could look at a combination of the two. A boiler would be an efficient way to combine whole-house heating and water heating for the lower floors, for example, while smaller tankless heaters could be installed on each upper floor, ensuring a good supply.

It's best to contact boiler installation companies and see what models they have that could work in your home, especially if you want to both heat the house and the water. Boilers are versatile, and you'll be able to find the right combination that will work with your remodeling plans.