If you’re researching for a new gas boiler or electric boiler or really any piece of equipment associated with hydronic heating or hot water then you have come to the right place. I offer you all the modern tips, techniques, reviews and pricing on not only your hot water equipment but parts as well. Our goal is to completely inform the consumer (you) with product review articles, how to videos, part suppliers and really anything you need concerning your gas boiler, electric boiler, hot water heater or components thereof. ie. circulating pumps, controls, gas valves, thermostats, relief valves and etc. To set the stage for our other articles we felt it best to introduce with an overview of what a gas fired boiler and electric operated boiler are so that you have a solid foundation to begin your complete research. Please follow along belong to learn the fundamentals of hydronic heating equipment and domestic hot water heating.
About Gas Boilers and Electric Boilers
Gas operated boilers are gas fired appliances with an internal heat exchanger that holds, heats and circulates water for the purpose of hydronic heating. A gas boiler is often used in conjunction with baseboard heaters, unit heaters or radiant heat systems. There are many manufacturers and many different types of boilers available on the market today. The most difficult aspect of understanding a boiler system for consumers is often what features, benefits and statistics are most valuable to their own situation. Stay tuned for all the boiler reviews you seek, until then read a bit on the operating information and parts I.D. section so you can better understand your hydronic heating system.
Gas Boiler Parts I.D.
As a note the above basic diagram applies for gas boilers and applies to electric powered boilers as well (less gas associated parts). We will offer a second diagram dedicated strictly to electric boilers, yet will omit the redundant parts.
Gas Boiler Terms Defined
Heat Exchanger – A heater exchanger is simply a device for exchanging heat from one source to another. This is often achieved with a metal tank and hollow core or combination of tubing and piping that winds through or around the heat source. ie. a gas operated boiler often has chambers that hold water with hollow cores for the fire/gas to travel through and exchange heat into the water.
Boiler Gas Valve and Burner Controls – Simply the device(s) responsible for the heating of the water within the boiler. May be a manual thermostatic control on older style boilers or a computer control module for a more modern high efficiency boiler. Many older boilers used a part known as a aqua state relay, which is a device that senses the water temperature in the boiler and cycles the gas valve on and off based on that temperature. (compare it to the thermostat, simply opens and closes to control temperature based upon a specific set point)
Gas Inlet – The point at which gas is supplied to the unit. Ensure a proper shut off is installed and accessible.
Draft Hood – A hood designed to improve the draft of a chimney. This is no longer a installed nor required device on high efficiency boilers that use pvc for venting, as new boilers have draft blower motors to force exhaust outdoors.
Water supply and Return lines – These are the points at which hot water exists the boiler and cycles through the heat emitting devices within the hot water heating system. ie. baseboard heaters, hyrdonic units, radiant heat
Temperature and Pressure Contols – These devices are simple mechanical or electrical devices that are installed to ensure your system is operating safely. ie. the aquastat relay mentioned above, pressure relief valves, back flow preventers, pressure reducing / feed valve
Drain – The lowest point in the system in which water is drained from . Often only used for repair or maintenance (to take pressure off the system)
Burners – The long tubular devices that carry the gas for ignition. Many new high efficiency boilers have cone or circular burners that are internally installed in the heat exchanger.
Zoning Control – These devices are simply the circulating pumps, zone valves or other electronically controlled devices that assist in the zoning the temperature of your hyrdronic system. Essentially dedicated valves or pumps that only allow flow to specific areas if the appropriate areas thermostat is calling for heat.
Condensate Drain – This is a very small often pvc drain that is responsible for draining the condensate from the boiler. Only required on high efficiency boilers.
How does an Electric Boiler work?
In essence an electric boiler has the same components as the gas fired boiler listed above. The major differences can be seen in the picture below.
If this picture were taken with the cover on and standing from a few feet away, it would like similar to the diagram of the gas boiler shown above. With the cover off this electric fired boiler it is clear now there are no gas burners, gas valve and the heat exchanger is quite different. An electric operated boiler is essentially an oversized electric hot water tank. It requires a very significant amount of amperage to operate. An electric powered boiler heats the water with with a electrical component known as a element. It looks very similar to a hot water heater element, in fact you can compare it to the filament in a light bulb. Simply a very resistant piece of metal that when energized glows red hot and thereby heats the surrounding water.
Advantages to an Electric Boiler
The primary advantage to an electric boiler is that they are considered 100% efficient (as there is no vent leading outdoors as in a gas fired boiler). With no outdoor vent there is no exhaust heat lost to the outdoors, therefore all the energy that is put into a electric energized boiler is input into the water that will be used throughout your hydronic heating system. Additionally, if your located in an area with exceptionally high natural gas or propane prices an electric operated boiler may be the most economical means of heating for your home. There are many areas that electric rates are far superior to the lp, fuel oil or natural gas rates. Other benefits include fewer moving or mechanical parts. This results in a longer life for the equipment and typically longer warranties. Contrarily, there are more electronic components on a electric boiler versus a gas operated boiler, hence electric malfunctions have a higher percentage of occurrence. One final thing to consider when deciding on a gas boiler or electric boiler is the overall price. A high efficiency boiler that is sized to heat the average sized home is roughly $3200, however an electric generated boiler of the same size is roughly $2000. As you can see there is quite a significant difference between the two types of boilers.
Why a Boiler or Hot water heating system at all?
A hot water heating system aka hydronic heating system is an advantageous system primarily due to comfort. As many of you know, forced air heating systems are known for their ability to create drafts and blow dust around a home. Although big steps have been made in terms of controlling forced air systems, they still are inferior to well balanced hyrdonic heating system that is powered with a high efficiency boiler (gas or electric). As I mentioned the primary reason is due to comfort. A hot water heating system circulates water along the outside walls of a home and thereby stops many of the cold drafts felt with other systems. It’s a simple concept if you heat the outside wall (where the cold infiltrates) the cold drafts are reduced significantly. Additionally a hydronic system can be designed to balance with extreme precision so all parts of the conditioned space are within 1 degree of one another. This is achieved with baseboard heaters, radiant panels, radiant floor heat and even fan operated hydronic heating units.
Of course efficiency is a great reason to invest in a hot water heating system as well. Considering there are many high efficiency boilers that exceed 95% AFUE, with the industry leaders topping 98% AFUE ratings it is pretty hard to find another system that can beat that. Many gas fired boilers are energy star approved and qualify for federal, state and even utility rebates / incentives. Another great fact about hot water heating is how easy the system is to zone. In less than a couple of hours an old hydronic heating system can be easily converted into independent zones that heat different areas of the house. So now you only have to condition the rooms you actually use. Of course there are zoning options with a forced air system but they are very expensive and one has to be very careful in regards to proper air flow. (to prevent heat exchanger damage or freezing of the a/c system) Top all this with the added equity into your property and you have a brand new boiler and hydronic heating system that is affordable to install, easy to zone and inexpensive to operate. (with optimal comfort as well!) So why wait? Check out the other areas of the site for reviews, tips and information.
Closing Thoughts on Gas Boilers and Electric Boilers
Regardless of which type of boiler you may be researching take the time to consider some of the variables involved in a new hydronic heating system. To start ensure you use a qualified, experienced and reputable contractor. After all you are investing a large amount of money into this new hot water heating system and it will only perform as well as the installation was completed. A simple oversight such as an incorrect fitting in a wrong place can completely hinder the heating ability of a hydronic boiler system. (picture a gallon of water trying to be forced through a straw….a pretty slow and restricted process)
Also keep in mind there may now be a pvc vent protruding from the side of your house. Typically it is pretty easy to hide this but there are certain installations that make it impossible to hide the vent pipe (and don’t plant shrubs around them as the exhaust will only kill the shrubs). Also know that your new high efficiency boiler will need a drain for the condensate formed within the heat exchanger. If you don’t have a floor drain near by a simple condensate pump can be used to pump to the nearest drain area. Finally know that routing of new heating zones can be a difficult process if being installed in an already finished space. You need to ensure your contractor is completely aware of your plans for the addition of baseboard heaters and zoning controls.
Domestic Hot Water Heating:
A Guide to Tankless Water Heaters and Hot Water Tanks
As many of you know the term “hot water heating” applies not only to your hydronic heating system, but also your domestic hot water that is utilized within your home for the purpose of bathing, cleaning and etc. Although we rarely consider what goes into actually heating our how water we are often infuriated if something fails or the quantity runs short. Additionally, we have all experienced the scalded hides when someone flushes the toilet or starts the washing machine while we are in the shower! This guide is designed to inform you of the various types of equipment used to heat your domestic hot water with the associated features, benefits and advantages of each. Specifically we are discussing tankless hot water heaters, traditional hot water tanks and indirect hot water heaters.
Tankless Water Heater Reviews and Information
As you you can see a tankless water heater is a somewhat simple appliance that is capable of supply endless hot water to your property. As opposed to a tank type of hot water heater, a tankless will not run short on hot water as you use it. There is no tank to deplete, it simply heats as you use the hot water. As you can imagine it does take a pretty significant burner to be able to heat cold water up to temperature that quickly. There are many manufacturers of tankless water heaters and many have very dependable and reputable histories. There are few things you must know if you are considering purchasing this type of appliance and I hope this tankless water heater review will help to assist you in this process. Key points to consider:
Gas Line – Most all on demand water heaters require a 3/4″ gas line to be immediately available. If it is not consider that an additional installation cost so that you may have trouble free operation.
Venting – The vents on many on demand tankless heaters vent out the sidewall of your home or basement. This will take some consideration for placement and concealment of those vents.
Delayed hot water – Despite the great improvements in tankless water heating appliances there is still a delay in the hot water reaching the intended faucet. Logically so as the unit must sense water flow, prepurge old gases, ignite, ramp up to temperature and send the water through the hot water line. A traditional is already hot and ready for immediate use. Thus, a on demand water heater is not a instantaneous hot water heater as was marketed in the very beginning stages of the tankless heater emergence. Note: this can be fixed with a recirculating pump, to be covered later.
Maintenance – Although great products that are superior in efficiency they do require some maintenance. ie. softening of water, cleaning of filters and condensate drains…etc.
Efficiency – A traditional hot water tank is roughly 70% efficiency at best and this is new straight out of the box! Many of the on demand or tankless water heaters exceed 97% efficiency. That is great news for your hot water bill!
Hot Water Heater Reviews: Traditional Tank’s
A traditional hot water tank is a slowing but surely dying technology. In fact the U.S. is the only country left that truly uses hot water tanks. Most modern countries utilize a tankless water heater. Why? Mostly due to the inefficiencies and space requirements. A brand new hot water tank is typically only 60-70% efficient. This means almost half the one you spend on hot water is going right up and out the chimney. Consider this, have you every heard your hot water tank heating water when nobody is actually using it? Yes you have because it has to maintain a hot water temperature all day long regardless of if even 1 drop is used.
To further worsen things the hot water tank has a gaping hollow hole up the center. This is where the burner creates its flame to heat the water in the tank. Unfortunately, due to the chimney effect the hot water tank is continuously giving off heat to the outdoors even when the burner is off. As you can see they are pretty terrible in terms of being efficient or even economical. Despite these facts many are still installed, serviced and maintained throughout the U.S. They are certainly cheaper in regards to initial installation costs. Although this figure is rising due to new regulations imposed upon traditional style hot water tanks. A 40gal gas hot water tank is roughly $500 to $600! One benefit that I will say for a typical hot water tank is the immediate availability of hot water to the faucet. Instead of a 30″ + delay water exists the tank immediately at the set point temperature. As noted above a tankless water heater has to go through a somewhat delaying cycle before getting the hot water to the appropriate faucet. (although all hot water heaters must dump the cold water that was sitting in the hot water line)
Indirect Hot Water Tanks
An indirect hot water tank is essentially a traditional hot water tank less gas vavles, burners and chimney. So basically that leaves a insulated storage tank, which means you get much better efficiency. This is like a hybrid version between a hot water tank and tankless hot water heater. The heat source for a indirect hot water tank is a boiler. The domestic hot water is supplied by this “indirect hot water tank” by circulating hot water form the boiler through an internal coil in the tank. (as seen above in the picture) Many indirect tank come with lifetime replacement warranties! This is because there are literally no moving parts, simply an insulated tank. Additionally many of these tank are insulated so well they loose only 1F of heat from the stored water per day. So as you can imagine you get great efficiency, instant hot water and one less piece of equipment to break down in your home. The drawback is you really must have or intend to install a boiler for your hydronic heating system. It really doesn’t make sense to install a boiler for the sole purpose of domestic hot water.
Indirect hot water tanks come in all shapes and sizes. The typical tank is a 40 gallon tank as this will serve most households very well. A indirect water tank has a much faster recovery rate than a typical hot water tank as well. Most traditional tanks have burners that at most have an output of 40k btu’s per hour compared to the 100k + that can be tied into a indirect hot water tank. Hence this type of system can recover the used hot water at a much quicker rate. The primary drawback to an indirect tank is cost. Logic would say with fewer parts and a simpler design they would be much less expensive, however they are actually much more expensive. I’m not sure if this is to cover the lifetime warranty expenses or simply a luxury tax but most indirect hot water tanks retail at $1200 to $1500.
Final thoughts on Hot Water Heating
As you can see there are many types of systems and equipment in the how water heating industry. This enables flexible and efficient installations with economically running equipment. Compare this to a forced air system, it takes 10×20 ductwork to carry the same amount of heat that a small 3/4″ pipe can carry! It’s pretty amazing in terms of compact heating capabilities. The market trends at the moment seem to be highlighting radiant heat and tankless hot water heaters. Radiant heat is an amazing heat source that feels like sunlight all around you. In fact that’s what the sun is is radiant heat. Just recall a time of stepping into the sun from a shaded area and this the feeling of a in floor radiant heat system. Tankless hot water heaters are emerging due to their sheer efficiency and space saving attributes. Not to mention if a leak occurs you don’t have to worry about 40gal of hot water on your floor. (many tankless appliances can detect a leak and shut itself down) I hope I have answered some of the basic questions that are often wondered about hot water and hydronic heating. Please leave your comments, questions or concerns.