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The Difference Between Steam Boilers and Hot Water (Hydronic) Boilers

by | Jan 11, 2022

Although steam boilers and hot water boilers operate using similar principles, steam boilers are more powerful. Both heating systems involve heating water or creating steam by burning fuel. The heated water is transferred through boiler piping by the use of a pump while steam is produced and transferred by convection thru the piping. 

Continue reading to learn the critical differences between steam boilers and hot water boilers:

Difference 1: Heating Points

Steam boilers have a higher heating temperature, so they are capable of producing more btu per surface area.

Difference 2: Water Levels and Circulation

Hot water boilers need to maintain proper water pressure throughout the whole system, while steam boilers don’t have the same requirement, water is only supposed to be in the boiler. Furthermore, hot water boilers need an electric pump to move hot water. Steam pumps don’t need this component because of the natural convection of steam into the pipes.

Difference 3: Boiler Installation Cost

The cost of implementing both systems in Grand Rapids, MI, is nearly the same. However, the difference is based on what size and efficiency is required.

Difference 4: Safety and Efficiency

In general, hot water boilers are safer and more efficient than steam boilers. Since steam boilers don’t utilize motor pumps to enhance heat circulation, they can be less efficient for home heating.

Steam Boilers

In a steam boiler system, the water heated in the boiler turns into steam. Then, the steam moves through radiators to heat your home.

Although there are many similarities between hot water boilers and steam boilers, there are some key differences. These differences include different components present in the different systems. Steam boilers include:

Steam Valves

Steam valves are located on the radiators, and they vent the air in the pipes to make room for the steam. If there’s a calcium buildup near a steam valve, it can cause steam to escape.

Low-Water Cutoff

A low-water cutoff is required by code, and it shuts off the burner on the steam boiler if the water level in the boiler gets too low.

Gauge Glass

A gauge glass displays the water level inside the steam boiler. The normal level of water is usually in the center of the glass. However, the water level in the glass will swing slightly as the burner runs.

Pressure Relief Valve

The pressure relief valve operates as a safety mechanism to prevent the steam boiler system from over-pressurizing. 

Steam Limit Control

A steam limit control is also known as a pressure tool. This device shuts off the burner when adequate steam pressure is achieved.

Automatic Water Feeder

The automatic water feeder is an optional device that automatically adds water to the steam boiler when levels are too low. Even if your system has an automatic water feeder, you should still monitor the steam boiler’s water levels regularly.

The Advantages of Steam Boilers

Let’s discuss the advantages that steam boilers have over other heating systems.

Easy Installation and Maintenance

Once a steam boiler is installed, it can run efficiently for several decades without much required maintenance. If you’re renovating your old home in Grand Rapids, MI, a steam boiler system is a make sure the piping and boiler can support any new additions. 

Furthermore, buildings can be retrofitted to hold steam boilers without exorbitant cost. Given this low initial cost, homeowners who invest in a steam boiler can reap the benefits for dozens of years to come.

Save on Energy Costs

Although steam boilers and hot water boilers are both energy-efficient, they are efficient in different ways. This discrepancy exists because steam boilers use energy to boil water and use less energy during the heat transfer. 

As such, steam boilers are often used in extremely cold environments or in under-insulated or older homes. Furthermore, many historic homes in downtown Grand Rapids, MI have steam boilers

Hot Water Boilers

In a hot water boiler, heated water from the boiler is sent by the circulator through radiators, baseboards, or radiant tubing. Hot water boilers allow you to divide the system into separate areas of your property. This zoning functionality offers comfortable, efficient, and affordable heating.

Radiant heating, which is one of the oldest forms of hot water heating, is rising in popularity again because of its warmth and efficiency. Furthermore, advancements in technology have made radiant heating pipes more affordable and durable. 

Plastic tubing, which is the most economical choice of piping, has made it possible for property owners to have their walls, floors, driveways, and pools heated hydronically.

With their wide flexibility, hot water (hydronic) boilers can distribute hot water through:

  • Radiators
  • Baseboards
  • Vents 
  • Convectors

These options make heating rooms of any type simple.

The Advantages of Hot Water Boilers

Hydronic heating allows you to heat every part of your home to the desired temperature using a space-saving and energy-efficient system. Some of the specific advantages of heating with a hot water boiler include:

Zoning and Flexibility Options

With a hot water boiler system, homeowners can mix and match heat emitters. As such, you can have hydronic baseboard radiators or heaters in your family room, hydronic radiant flooring in your kitchen, and forced-air heating in the rest of your home. You can even add additional heating options such as hydronic heated towel bars. 

Furthermore, you can easily extend the hydronic heating to a new room, such as a finished basement, attic, or garage. Extending your heating system like this saves room because you don’t need to run ducts along the floors and ceilings to reach other areas of your home in Grand Rapids, MI.

Additionally, zoning is convenient with hot water boilers because you can use a separate emitter for each room. You can also choose to use different emitters in different areas in your home to precisely set the level of warmth in each room.

If you choose to use the hot water boiler for regular hot water usage, you’ll free up space that a hot water heater would occupy.

Reliability and Efficiency

Hot water boilers are just as efficient or even more efficient than traditional forced-air heaters. If your property uses an older forced-air heater and water heater, upgrading to a hot water boiler allows you to replace both fixtures with a high-efficiency system. 

In addition to lowering your energy bills, you may also be eligible for rebates based on energy efficiency. Furthermore, you can opt for a modulating boiler that offers maximum efficiency by varying its energy usage based on the amount of hot water needed. 

Important Information About Hydronic Systems

There are a few essential pieces of information to take note of if you’re interested in a hydronic boiler system. 

First, your home will need a gas line that’s large enough to supply the boiler. Then, you’ll also need an electrical supply to power the boiler’s controls and ignition. Furthermore, you’ll need enough space to vent the boiler to the outdoors. 

Hydronic systems are also more cost-effective to install if your property already has a boiler. A new forced-air system costs less than a combi boiler.

If you’re looking for a heating system for a newly built property, a hydronic system with a conventional AC system will likely cost less than radiant flooring with a ductless AC system.

Hydronic systems are optimal for all homes. All boilers have convectional heat that increases comfort and minimizes cold spots.

All in all, hydronic heating systems are a great choice if you want to live in an energy-efficient home and want a system that’s exceptionally adaptable and reliable.

Contact Your Local Boiler Installation Experts

At Lake Michigan Heating, Cooling, and Plumbing, we install combi boilers, residential boilers, retrofit boilers, in-floor heating systems, and system boilers. 

Covering Grand Rapids, MI, we are here to repair your old boiler or install a new boiler in your home. Our specialists will inspect your property and recommend the most optimal and energy-efficient system for your home. 

So reach out to us online or give us a call today to get started on your new boiler installation!