Residential Heating Boilers
Both ducted hot air heating systems and boiler heating systems have been used in Michigan for over a hundred years; so what are the reasons why some homes have ducted hot air systems and others have boiler systems? Like many things in life, the types of heating systems that are installed often comes down to money. Boiler systems have been widely used in Michigan homes, in the past, because they were less expensive to install and operate than ducted hot air systems.
Around the turn of the century, before electric motors were widely available, home owners only had a few options to heat their homes. The options were wood burning stoves, coil (or oil) burning, natural draft ducted systems, hot water heating boilers, and lastly low pressure steam heat, which requires no pumps or motors, and can be installed to be used without electricity. One hundred years ago, low pressure steam heat was the heater of choice in many areas in Michigan.
One hundred years ago, the best heating men were boiler makers and pipe fitters. The widespread use and availability of electric motors did spur the development of forced air heating systems. However, because the best "heating men" worked in the arena of hydronic heating, low pressure hot water heating boilers became the next heating system of choice after steam. Research and development of forced air heating systems was lacking compared to that of hydronic heating systems. Natural gas was relatively inexpensive, and economic pressures did not cause manufacturers and tradesmen to look to efficiency as a major consideration when designing or installing heating systems. Also notable is the fact that until the 1960's, air conditioning systems were always thought of as a luxury that could only be afforded by the very wealthy. Because nearly every air conditioning (or air cooling system) requires forced air, but very few people intended to buy air conditioning (or air cooling systems), there was no inherent advantage to using a ducted forced air system for heating over a hydronic heating systems. Boilers maintained a lead on forced air heating systems until the late 1960's when people actually considered air conditioning (or air cooling systems) when selecting a heating system for new construction.
Boilers maintained an efficiency advantage over furnaces until the development and wide-spread use of condensing furnaces, which happened in large part because of the spike in fossil fuels which occurred during the 1971 Arab Oil Embargo. Because air conditioning (or air cooling) systems were becoming more of a thing of the present than a thing of the future, forced air heating system sales were taking up more and more of the market share compared to their biggest rival, hydronic heating systems. For a short two decade stretch, forced air heating systems surpassed hydronic heating systems in efficiency during the 1980's and 1990's. Around the year 2000, condensing boilers turned the tides on the efficiency battle, and caused boilers to again take the lead. The development of widely available, extremely efficient furnaces and boilers occurred at about the same time in the 2000's. 95% efficiency (and greater) models of furnaces and boilers are now widely available throughout Michigan and North America. Before the development and widespread use of the DC blower motor, a high efficiency forced air furnace and a high efficiency boiler where not equal because it could be argued that the gas efficiency of the furnace may be equal with that of a high efficiency boiler, however, it's electricity consumption may cause it to be more expensive to operate.
Today we are left with a scenario where hydronic heating systems are just a little bit more efficient to operate, and that is the way that things are likely to stay because there are no foreseeable economic pressures that are expected to arise which will cause the average homeowner to split hairs over a percent or two. After all, unless I'm mistaken, the only way to get 100% efficiency on any heating system is to vent the combustion air directly into the home, and I'm not much of a fan of ventless fireplaces and the like.
Because hydronic heating systems and forced air heating systems operate at about the same efficiency, and cost about the same amount of money to install, which is best? Installing a hot air ducted system with central air conditioning is usually much less expensive than installing a boiler plus an air conditioning system. When a forced air furnace with duct work is used, the furnace functions at the air handler for the refrigeration system, and the same duct work used for directing the hot air can be used for directing the cold air. If a boiler system is used, provision needs to be made for installing some type of air handler, or air handlers, to operate with the refrigeration system, and provision must be made for distributing cold air to the different areas in the home. Because of economic considerations, it is very rare that hydronic heating be installed in a new home along with a separate air conditioning (or air cooling) system. The men at Johnson Heating and Cooling, LLC have installed hydronic heating with a separate cooling system, but usually those systems are only used in commercial buildings where it may be economically beneficial, or in homes owned by people who can afford exceptional HVAC systems.
From a boiler maker's perspective, I prefer redundancy over efficiency. I don't like systems that use complicated electronics to micro manage the operation of HVAC equipment, just to save a few percent. Our attitude is that the more "stuff" that a system has, the more "stuff" that can fail. All too often, home owners fail to consider the cost of future repair when calculating savings, in their process to chose a heating system. Our customers have the benefit of our decades of experience, and we always explain the pro's and con's with our customers if we feel that it is prudent to do so. Buying the "wrong" boiler from the "wrong" company can be very costly. We always try to install systems that are inexpensive to maintain, are reliable, and are inexpensive to repair.
If you live in the State of Michigan and need boiler repair, boiler installation, boiler service, or just a good boiler repair company, give us a call. We have two decades of experience working on boilers and hydronic heating systems, our rates are competitive, and we always treat our customers the way that we would like our families to be treated if they were in your shoes. If you would like to learn more about some of the work that we have done, and look into some of our references that are local to you, just navigate to our contact page and click on the link to your township or city. We have listed a few references from several areas in Macomb and Oakland Counties that are organized under their respective township/city and area codes.
Boiler Service and Maintenance
- CSD-1 Reports