What Are Heater, Furnace, and Boiler

A significant number of households in the United States have a central heating system. However, not all types of central heating systems are the same.

The common types of heating systems installed in homes today include furnaces, heaters, and boilers. People think that the difference between the three is just semantics. Sure, these heating systems keep the room warm, but the way it generates the warm air differ. 

Knowing the differences between these heating systems will help you with new heater installation. So, what are the differences? It would help if you continued reading the article to find out.


The word “heater” is an extensive term to describe various devices that produce and emanate heat. Some of these include:

  • Space heaters
  • Fire
  • Hand-warmers 
  • Electric blankets

Space heaters 

are portable heating devices that are in place when the central heating system in a building is not enough. These heaters are a cost-effective solution if only one room needs heating. Space heaters come in several different designs and can run on electricity, propane, natural gas, or kerosene.

Anything capable of producing and distributing heat to a controlled area falls under the heater category in simpler terms. Your central heater in your house is an appliance responsible for blowing warm air throughout your home to ensure that all spaces have even heat and comfortable. By definition, a heater is any device that heats an area, and a furnace perfectly fits the bill. Simply put, a furnace is essentially a heater, just as boilers are in this category.


Furnaces work by moving heated air through ducts that deliver the warm air to your rooms throughout the house by-way-of air registers or grills. This type of heating system is most commonly called a ducted warm-air or forced warm-air distribution system. It runs off of electricity, natural gas, or fuel oil.

Central heating with a furnace is an idea that is already centuries old. One of the betimes forms of this idea is bought to life by the Romans and was called a hypocaust. It is under-floor heating that uses fire in one corner of a basement with the exhaust venting through flues in the walls to chimneys. This type of heating system is only useful in stone or brick homes. Though of great use, it was also hazardous because of the risk of fire and suffocation.

Although most houses may have a furnace, the question comes down to which exact type of furnace a specific home uses. There are three types of modern household furnaces: a gas furnace, an oil furnace, and an electric furnace. A key feature common to these different furnaces in the furnace ducts is the hot air throughout the household area.

Gas furnaces 

use natural gas to deliver heat to a house. A gas furnace kicks in once the house thermostat indicates that a given room temperature has dropped below a specified preset level. The thermostat is one of the more essential furnace parts because it provides the furnace’s signal to start the warming process. Once the gas furnace receives the signaling, it delivers natural gas to the burners inside the combustion chamber. This process involves the creation of heat that warms the air. The resulting hot air flows into the house rooms through the ducts, thus providing the heat for people to stay warm and comfortable.

An oil furnace 

operates with the same general principle as the gas furnaces. It also requires the use of a thermostat to send signals that will activate the furnace. There is a difference in the heat source; instead of natural gas, it generates from oil-like propane. The chances are likely that if someone refers to a propane furnace, they are talking about an oil furnace.

An electric furnace

 is distinct from the furnaces mentioned above because of its form and energy source. An electric furnace has a motorized fan located at its base that takes in cool air and forwards it into a chamber with electric heating coils. These electrical furnace parts heat the cool air so that the furnace ducts can transfer it out. Ideally, there are three layers of loops that the air goes through before channeled out by a furnace duct. Each layer increases the air’s temperature. More and more houses are switching to the electric furnace because they come with higher quality electric thermostats that can self-regulate the heating process.


A boiler does what its name implies–boil water. Water is to boil in a hot water tank; then distribution happens via pipes as hot water or steam towards radiators or baseboard heaters in rooms throughout the house. Boilers are radiant heat systems, heating pipes that heat the air around them (radiate heat).

Most boilers use electricity, oil, or natural gas. Other boilers use alternative fuels, including wood, corn pellets, and other renewable energy sources. 

Boilers are well-known for their efficiency–they are closed-loop systems. The water that goes out to heat the house returns to the hot water tank to be heated again. Since the water is already reasonably hot, it takes little heat to bring it back to a boil. Boilers are hydronic heating systems, meaning they transfer heat by circulating water. A boiler can also be utilized as your home’s water heater, provide hot water for your kitchen, bathrooms, and even clothes washing, as well as for other forms of heating. Boiler heat doesn’t require ductwork and is often in older homes.

Choosing the suitable type of heating system for your home is crucial. Numerous factors come along the process, including energy efficiency, the size of your residence, the climate you live in, repair costs, and much more. It is essential to look at how each system works to determine which suits your needs the most. We at Blue Sky Heating and Air, LLC are willing to assist you and give your our expert advice! Give us a call today at (512 ) 222-6666.

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