Water Heaters and Boilers: Learn The Difference

Homeowners who have very little plumbing experience may think a water heater and boiler are the same thing. Both of these devices share the same function, which is heating up water in a home. Despite sharing this similarity, they accomplish it in very different ways. It’s essential that every homeowner knows the differences between a boiler and water heater and that’s what we aim to accomplish here.

Continue reading to learn the differences between a boiler and water heater.

Water Heaters

A water heater does what its name suggests. Everyone uses this water for many things such as showering, washing the dishes, cleaning their hands and doing their laundry. Using the cold water from a pipe, a water heater heats it up and then distributes it throughout the house.

How do Water Heaters Work?

Despite having only one objective, there are two types of water heaters that you can have: tanked and tankless water heaters. There are technically four types of waters, but we’ll get more into that in a little bit. As for the two main types, the first one we’ll talk about are tanked water heaters.

Tanked water heaters are considered to be the traditional water heaters. Basically, it takes water and heats it up using either gas or electricity. After the water has been properly heated, it is then stored within the tank and only comes out when you turn it on with an appliance like the shower or washing machine. The actual temperature of the water depends on what you set your faucet to, so the hot water will often mix with cold water.

Tankless water heaters operate a bit differently. The most notable difference is that they don’t require a tank to function. As a result, the water is heated instantly as soon you turn on your faucet. Furthermore, a tankless water heater will continue to heat up the water for however long you keep it running.

Now let’s go into more detail about the other two types. These types include solar-powered water heaters and a heat pump hybrid water heater. Solar-powered water heaters are just as cut and dry as tanked water heaters with the only difference being that they are powered by the sunlight instead of electricity. Heat pump hybrids, on the other hand, are much different.

For starters, water heater hybrids use are very energy efficient as it can use heat from both the air and the ground. However, there’s one major drawback. These hybrids will have little to no effect in cold areas. Make sure to only use these in warm places.


The name “boiler” isn’t exactly accurate as the device doesn’t boil the water. Instead, it turns the water into steam. Unlike water heaters, which can only warm up water, boilers have multiple functions. Aside from being able to heat up water, a boiler has the potential to heat up your entire house, which makes it a pseudo-HVAC unit, and can generate power. Similar to water heaters, there are multiple types of boilers and can be tanked or tankless.

Here is a list of the available types of boilers:

System Boilers

System boilers don’t exactly need a tank, but it does contain something called a hot water cylinder. However, system boilers have a limit on how much hot water it can hold. Granted, this does depend on how big the cylinder is.

Conventional Boilers

Conventional boilers contain both a hot water cylinder and a tank. Due to this, it’s going to need more space than your average boiler. These boilers are an absolute must if you have a big house because the likelihood of multiple faucets being used is high.

Combination Boilers

Combi boilers can both heat up water and your home. These boilers don’t have nor require a cylinder or water tank to function, so they don’t usually need that much space. It’s also worth mentioning that they give unlimited hot water, however, they can run up your utilities, so be careful.

Condensing Boilers

This is a bit tricky as these boilers aren’t exactly a type of boiler. They’re more along the lines of an add-on that your boiler can have. It makes your boilers more energy efficient due to their ability of retaining heat.

Regardless of what boiler you have, it’s important to keep them maintained. Parker Plumbing recommends to check your water levels on a monthly basis, make sure the vents and flues are kept clean and keep any moving parts lubricated.

Now that you know what the differences between boilers and water heaters are, it’s time to choose. Although the choice is ultimately yours, remember to keep this information in mind and determine what would benefit you most.

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