Buying A Boiler

Buying a new boiler for your home isn’t something most homeowners think about. Typical boilers will last approximately 20-30 years with proper maintenance and care, so purchasing a new boiler is very much an investment, not only in the operation and efficiency of the unit, but in your comfort for the next 20-30 years!

Many people purchase a boiler the same way they would get their carpets cleaned or clear a clogged drain; they open the phone book and call the first HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) contractor on the list. While doing this may get you a boiler that will keep your home warm in the winter, it may also have you spending hundreds or even thousands more over the life of your unit!

Here are some tips to help you make a more informed decision about what is best for your home and your family’s comfort.

#1) Do it right the first time

Among the many factors of picking not only the right company, but the right boiler, you want to make sure it is installed correctly and per your local codes. You are making an investment when buying a new boiler and the initial cost may not be the only cost.

Is the boiler the right size for my home?A boiler that is either too large or too small can actually cost you up to 2 times more than your initial investment and 15%-45% more in utility bills over the course of its life if the boiler is not sized correctly. A boiler that is not sized correctly will have a shorter life span due to constant expansion and contraction of the cast iron or aluminum heat exchanger. A boiler that is not sized correctly can also cost you more in utility bills due to a unit being too small and running constantly to keep up with the cold weather or a unit being too big and running every few minutes due to the unit heating up the home too fast. Remember, bigger is not always better!

#2) Picking the best contractor

The second most important thing to remember when buying a new boiler is to use a good HVAC contractor. Ask your friends and family for referrals and check their status on sites such as Angies List, Kudzu, and most importantly the Better Business Bureau. Sites like these will have actual customers rating and comments on their experiences with that contractor.

A good contractor…

  • …should not only give you a good price, but should also have a full office staff to provide you with scheduling and customer service. You may save some money by using a small shop, but when the weather takes a turn for the worse, tracking that person down and getting immediate service will be difficult, if not impossible!
  • …must be fully licensed, insured, and bonded to work in your town and in your home. Deal with a contractor that is not is a risk to your system and your family’s health and safety!
  • …should act like a guest in your home. This includes using drop cloths and shoe covers to protect your floors, taking extra precautions when working in delicate areas (ex: gardens) and always treating you with the highest level of respect.

#3) Pick the best unit for your home

There are many different levels and types of boilers that can be installed in almost any home. The differences can make a world of difference in not only the initial investment, but also in the savings of utility cost over the life of the boiler as well. Some of these items are:

  • The efficiency of the unit (AFUE - Annual Fuel Usage Efficiency)
    Today’s boilers range anywhere from 80% all the way up to 95% AFUE, or Annual Fuel Usage Efficiency, which is similar to Miles Per Gallon (MPG) on your car. A higher AFUE means you pay less to heat your home. Higher AFUE furnaces will cost more initially, but over the life of the boiler will actually cost you less! The efficiency of your existing unit may be anywhere from 50% to 70%, depending on the age of the unit. 70% boilers are usually vented into a chimney along with your water heater, and naturally vent dangerous carbon monoxide gases in to the atmosphere. More efficient boilers (90% and above) carry more moisture in their vent gases, and therefore must be vented using PVC pipe to the outdoors. An easy way to visualize the efficiency of a boiler is this: When you have an 80% efficiency boiler, for every $100 you spend to heat your home you can use $80 to heat the home and send $20 up the chimney. When you have a 95% efficiency boiler, you can spend $95 to heat the home and only send $5 up the chimney. So you can see, over the life of the boiler, the efficiency of the boiler will play a major role in off-setting that initial installation cost!
  • Standard boiler or a condensing boiler?
    Newer boilers also have the latest money saving technologies. These technologies not only save you money, but can also make your family more comfortable. Your existing boiler is most likely a standard boiler, meaning it is either on full blast or it is turned off. This is fine on the few, frigid, below zero days of Chicago winters. However, a majority of the winter, this will cause your home to heat up too quickly, causing the boiler to turn on and off (cycle) more than needed. This causes more wear and tear on the boiler and can shorten the life of the boiler. A solution to this problem is a condensing boiler. These boilers are better for the environment, can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 30% and can even reduce your heating bills by as much as 40%! These units use a unique gas valve that are either multi-staged or fully modulating valves, that can burn gas anywhere from 40% to 100%, giving you optimal savings and comfort during the course of the winter!
  • Pump(s) and proper pump sizing.
    Some boilers use steam and gravity to heat your home, but a majority of today’s boilers use hot water that is pumped through the radiators or radiant flooring to heat your home. The pumps have many different setting and levels of power that can either push the water too fast or too slow through your system, causing heating issues, so it is important that the proper pump(s) are installed on your system.
  • Indirect water heaters
    Some boilers have the potential of using some of the heated water to circulate through an "indirect" water heater. These sealed tanks use the heated water that your home would use to also heat the domestic water in your home. This uses one gas burning appliance to do the job of two (your boiler and water heater), greatly saving you on your gas utility! A typical standing water heater’s life is about 10-12 years and an indirect water heater can last up to 25 years due to the fact that there are no flames actually burning inside the unit.

#4) The brand of the unit

You will notice that the brand of the unit is the last item to be considered. Any boiler can and will work relatively well to heat your home. Better name brands will most likely give you more reliability over the years and most likely will result in fewer breakdowns during the life of the boiler. However, as stated before "The most important day of the boiler’s life is the day of installation." Even the best and most efficient boilers can cost you more money over its life if it is not installed properly to begin with or if it is not maintained properly over the course of its life. Maintaining your boiler is absolutely crucial to not only achieve the greatest savings from your boiler, but in most cases it is crucial to maintain the manufacturers warranty so the unit may be serviced by a trained professional every year!

Unique Indoor Comfort of Chicago Better Business Bureau Angie's List