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What’s The Difference Between A Water Heater, Furnace, And Boiler?

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, we may receive a small commission for made purchases.

Once the cold weather starts biting, it is time to think about heating your home.

Fortunately, some things can help make sure your home stays warm and comfortable all winter long.

The main methods of heating your home usually come in the form of Water heaters, boilers, or furnaces.

However, many people don’t seem to quite understand what the difference is between these crucial pieces of hardware for your homes, and that can be a real issue when the time comes to check it, or, worse still, when it needs repairs.

So, let us take a look at what those differences are, and how they might affect you.

Understanding Your Heating System

The first thing to consider is whether you want an electric water heater, gas water heater, or oil furnace.

Electric water heaters (see also ‘Electric Water Heater Installation: Step-By-Step Guide‘) are generally more expensive than gas and oil, but also much easier to install.

Gas and oil boilers are far more complicated to install, as well as being much less efficient. They also require regular maintenance, which will cost money over the long term. 

To help dissect what exactly the distinctions between each system are, we’re going to break them down for you here.

How Do Water Heaters Work?

Electric Heaters

Electric water heaters work by using electricity to heat the water inside a tank. This means that the hot water doesn’t need to travel very far before it reaches its destination.

In addition, this type of system has no moving parts, so it is very reliable and easy to maintain.

However, because the hot water in these models tends to have no tank, it takes longer to get hot enough to use it, as well as to warm up the amount of hot water that you need.

As such, most electric systems have a temperature range from 120-140 degrees Fahrenheit, with models with greater ranges being used during extreme cold spells, to maintain that same level of heat.

Gas Heaters

Gas water heaters work similarly to their electric counterparts, except instead of electricity, they rely on natural gas to heat the water.

While they are similar to electric units in terms of reliability, they tend to produce hotter water than electric ones do.

Because gas is generally cheaper than electricity, this makes them more affordable for smaller homeowners.

They also tend to last longer than electric ones, since they do not have any exposed electrical components.

However, the downside to this is that they are significantly harder to repair, and therefore may require professional service more often.

How Do Boilers Work?

Gas Boiler

A gas boiler works by using natural gas to heat the water around your home. This allows the burner to stay relatively cool, making it safer to operate.

It also produces extremely hot water, which is why it is ideal for large families. To keep the burner safe, however, it must be maintained properly.

If the unit isn’t maintained correctly, then it could fail catastrophically, maybe even explode in extreme circumstances!

On top of that, if the system is poorly-installed, it could cause serious damage to your home and family.

Electric Boiler

Electric Boiler

An electric boiler works by using electricity to run a pump that circulates water through a series of pipes.

These pipes carry the hot water into your house, where it will release that heat.

Unlike gas, an electric boiler does not need to be cleaned regularly, nor does it pose the same level of danger to the home’s occupants.

How Do Furnaces Work

Furnaces are simply heating units designed to heat air, rather than liquid. They come in two main types: forced air furnaces and radiant floor furnaces.

Forced air furnaces (see also ‘How To Tell If Forced Air Heating Is Gas Or Electric‘) blow heated air into rooms via ducts, while radiant floor furnaces use warm floors to generate heat.

Both of these options are relatively inexpensive to purchase and operate.

However, they are both fairly difficult to install. There are also different models available, depending on your preferences and budget.

Which One Should I Choose?

There are pros and cons to each option, so you’ll need to weigh up the benefits and drawbacks of each one carefully.

Here are some things to think about when choosing between the three:


One of the biggest factors to consider when buying a new heating system is price.

If you’ve got a tight budget, you may want to opt for something like an electric water heater, where there is less choice but you can save money on installation costs.

Alternatively, if you have a bit more cash to spend, you might prefer a gas or oil furnace, which will give you much greater flexibility in terms of what kind of appliances you can fit into the room.


Another important consideration is size.

You should always choose a model that’s big enough to meet your needs, as smaller systems won’t provide the amount of heat required.

Also, remember that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better – you don’t want a huge space-hogging furnace that requires constant maintenance just because it has a larger capacity, especially in a small home or apartment!


Finally, make sure that the type of fuel used is appropriate for your area.

For example, if you live in a cold climate, you should look for a gas furnace with a high-efficiency rating.

This means that it will produce fewer emissions, thereby reducing the risk of CO2 being released into the atmosphere.


When it comes to heating systems, there is no definitive right answer.

Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, so you’ll need to decide what’s best for your situation based on how you plan to use the space, how much money you’re willing to invest, and what features you require.

author avatar
Anthony Barnes
Anthony Barnes is the founder of Water Heater Hub and a second-generation plumber by profession. Before developing Water Heater Hub, Anthony Barnes was a full-time plumber, and he has undertaken a wide variety of projects over the decades. As a second-generation plumber, it was easy for Anthony to get used to the technicalities of all from a tender age


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