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Boilers And Furnaces: What’s The Difference?

boiler vs. furnace massachusetts

If you ask many people how their home is heated, they will usually say they have a furnace. But that’s not necessarily true: If your home has radiators or baseboard heating (or even radiant floor heating), you have a boiler.

What are some of the differences between the two? Let’s take a look.


A boiler is the key heating component in a hydronic (hot water) system. In a hydronic system, water is distributed via a circulator through your boiler’s combustion chamber, then through a series of pipes to heat baseboards or radiators throughout your home. The water is eventually recycled back to the boiler to be used again.

A boiler can also be associated with a steam-based system, which works similarly to a hydronic system except that it forces steam rather than hot water through pipes (no circulators are needed). In both systems, an automatic cut-off shuts down the boiler if water levels drop too low to prevent damage.


A furnace is the central component in a forced air system. Powered by propane or heating oil, the furnace first heats a volume of air; a blower then distributes the heated air through a duct system where it is released through vents or registers on floors, walls or ceilings.

Besides heat, the ductwork that connects your furnace to your living space can also provide a channel for cool air (via a central air conditioner). Ductwork can also distribute water vapor (with the help of a whole house humidifier) and can clean the air in your home if paired with a whole house air purifier or air cleaner.

Whatever heating equipment you have, be sure to maintain it!

Whether you have a furnace or a boiler, your heating system requires regular annual maintenance from a heating expert to keep it operating at its best. If you haven’t scheduled heating service yet, contact us today – before the cold weather really hits us here in northern Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts!

For expert service on your oil- or propane-fired furnace or boiler, trust the pros at W.H. Riley & Son. Contact us today to learn more!