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Heat pump vs boiler—Should you leave your boiler behind?

Boilers have been around a long time. But is it time to upgrade to an energy-efficient heat pump?

Boilers have been around a long time. But is it time to upgrade to an energy-efficient heat pump?

When it comes to heating your home, there are many options to choose from.

It can be an overwhelming research project to figure out what’s best for your house and local climate. In this blog post, we’ll help you compare two: the cold climate heat pump to the traditional boiler.

We’ll go over the pros and cons of each option—in plain language—so that you can make an informed and stress-free decision for your situation.

Here’s what you’ll cover:

If you’re just now hearing about cold climate heat pumps, you’re not alone.

The high-efficiency heat pump has been increasing in popularity in recent years—and for good reason: It provides amazing comfort in the winter using a fraction of the energy usage of a boiler. Here’s how the two are fundamentally different:

  • A heat pump operates by extracting heat from the outside air and transferring it inside your home.
  • A traditional boiler, on the other hand, uses natural gas, propane, or heating oil to create heat which is then circulated through your home’s pipes.

Simple, right? Well, not exactly. Knowing how heat pumps and boilers work doesn’t necessarily tell you which will work better in your house. For that, it’s helpful to get input from the experts.

It’s time to really dig in and take a look at heat pumps vs boilers.

(But quick heads up: We’re huge heat pump fans—and especially for winter use. We’ll explain why in this guide, but we like to call them the Tesla of HVAC for a reason.)

Let’s start with the most familiar option…

The pros and cons of heating your house with a boiler

First, a quick word on how boiler technology works. There are two types.

A boiler either heats up water until it turns into steam—and that steam then circulates through your home’s pipes to deliver heat, often via radiators—or it heats up water and circulates it through pipes in your home (1). 

Boilers use all different kinds of fuels—in the U.S., most use gas or oil—and are an older technology, though they aren’t as popular as they used to be.

In fact, 60% of all boilers in the U.S are found in the Northeast only (2).

Fun fact: There are 8 million boilers in the U.S., with the majority of them found in the Northeast.

EIA.gov

So, why would you want a boiler in your house, especially as opposed to a heat pump? Here are some of the advantages.

(Learn more about home heating system types and when to replace your existing heating system.)

Advantages of boilers

  • Assuming your radiators and distribution pipes are in good condition, it’s much less expensive to install a new boiler than a heat pump. 
  • Boilers are tried-and-true technology that many homeowners are familiar with
  • Some folks just prefer the feel of radiant heat through a radiator—it’s a fairly distinctive feel
  • A boiler can also provide hot water—no need for an additional external water heater
  • Boilers can use multiple fuel sources, like electricity, gas, or oil
  • Boilers can last a long time with proper care—15 years or more (5)

On the other hand, there are some significant disadvantages of boilers.

new boiler system for home heating installed on a grey wall

Disadvantages of boilers

  • Boilers are significantly less efficient than heat pumps, so the ongoing energy costs will be higher
  • Boilers carry the risk of fire and explosion (these don’t happen very often, but they do happen)
  • They’re slow! It can take a while for a boiler to change the temperature in your house once you adjust the thermostat
  • Heating your home with a boiler can be very uneven
  • Depending on the fuel used, boilers can be an indoor air quality hazard
  • Boilers can be pretty noisy, especially if there’s something wrong
  • Boiler technology is becoming increasingly outdated (it’s over 200 years old), and repairs can be expensive if something goes wrong
  • The average cost to replace a boiler is about $8,000—and the costs get even higher if you have to replace radiators in your home as well (3, 4). This is just to replace one system and doesn’t include air conditioning.
  • If a boiler is older (or has a fault or leak you don’t know about), it can be the cause of water damage to your house
  • Boilers are only as good as their distribution pipes and radiators. If these are in poor condition they can cause energy waste and an uncomfortable home.
  • Boilers are a completely separate system—if you want air conditioning, you’ll need to purchase and maintain a separate HVAC appliance (as well as separate ductwork!)

In summary: Boilers are an older technology that can provide adequate heat if they’re maintained well. But they’re not nearly as efficient as more modern options and they carry risks.

Okay! Let’s look at the competition: high-performance heat pumps.

Cold climate heat pump—pros and cons

Heat pumps work very differently than boilers—to put it mildly.

A heat pump works by extracting heat from the outside air and transferring it inside your home.

In the winter, that means taking heat from the cold air and using it to warm up your house.

And in the summer, a heat pump can actually remove heat from your house and transfer it outside. Check out this short video below to get a better idea of how heat pumps work.

The advantage of this technology is that a heat pump can provide both heating and cooling for your home using one simple, unified system. You don’t need a boiler and an air conditioner—just a heat pump. 

A heat pump will also dehumidify your air as well as filter it for impurities—which your boiler and radiators definitely can’t do. Heat pumps are really a 4-in-1 technology! 

(Learn more about whole house heat pump systems here.)

Another advantage is that mini-split heat pumps don’t need ductwork, so there’s no need to install a ducted system if you’re replacing an existing boiler.

This kind of heat pump also provides room-by-room temperature control, which is a huge help if you’re upgrading your HVAC because you’re trying to heat a large, old house.

There are plenty more advantages to choosing heat pumps instead of boilers. Here are a few:

Advantages of cold climate heat pumps

  • Heat pumps are significantly more efficient than boilers, so you’ll cut energy waste big time
  • Heat pumps are an all-in-one system—heating, cooling, air filtration, dehumidifier
  • Heat pumps provide beautifully clean, fresh air (with zero smell and zero risk of carbon monoxide poisoning!)
  • Heat pumps don’t require any fuel other than electricity, so you don’t have to worry about gas or oil delivery
  • They’re very quiet—you probably won’t even know your heat pump is running
  • Heat pumps don’t require ductwork and are low maintenance (and you won’t need to maintain a radiator and steam pipe system or underfloor heating)
  • Mini-split heat pumps provide room-by-room temperature control, so you can stop arguing over the thermostat
  • Many people love the way heat pumps heat a home—with a constant flow of fresh-feeling warm air
  • Heat pumps are safe to operate with no risk of explosion

Basically, heat pumps are a terrific technology—the Tesla of HVAC. They just have a few drawbacks:

Disadvantages of cold climate heat pumps

  • If you boiler also provides hot water, you’ll likely need a separate water heater (although heat pump water heaters are a super-efficient option).
  • If your climate is extremely cold—like, regularly well below -13 degrees—you might need to supplement your heat pump with backup electric heat or by leaving your old boiler in place. If you leave your boiler in place, these types of installs are sometimes called “dual-fuel heat pump packages,” and they’re more efficient than relying on your traditional boiler heating alone. (See what temperature a heat pump stops working here.)
  • Heat pumps can be less expensive to operate and maintain over time since they’re more efficient, but they are definitely more expensive to install. In fact, the cost of installing a heat pump is about the same as installing a furnace and an air conditioning system at the same time.

A big caveat on that final point, though! If your home qualifies, you can get your heat pump installed for no upfront cost.

heat pump

Is a heat pump better than a boiler?

We think so, but there’s no easy answer to that question, because the best HVAC system for your home depends on a number of factors specific to your situation.

However, in general, Sealed has found that most people are better off with a heat pump—that’s why they’re the only HVAC system we install.

Heat pumps provide amazingly even, consistent heat while using far less energy than a boiler! (And, remember, heat pumps don’t come with the risk of explosion.)

Can a heat pump heat a whole house?

Absolutely. A heat pump can provide heating (and cooling!) for an entire house, no problem. In fact, that’s one of the big advantages of a heat pump: The evenly distributed heat means that you’re not going to have any “cold spots” in your home, like you might with a boiler. (Learn more about whole house heat pump systems.)

Is a heat pump cheaper than gas or oil?

In many cases, a heat pump is cheaper to run than oil boilers! And by far, a heat pump is the most efficient way to heat your home. Heat pumps use electricity to move heat from one place to another, and they do that job with incredible efficiency.

In fact, a heat pump is up to 3x more efficient than traditional boiler systems (6).

That said, the costs of different fuel sources vary depending on where you live and geopolitical factors (like switching from gas to electric heat)—so it’s always worth doing a little extra research. (Read why energy prices are going up to learn more.)

Cold climate heat pump vs boiler—the final verdict

All of this to answer the most important question: Is a heat pump or a boiler better for your situation?

We’re big believers in customization here—every home energy makeover we do is completely custom—so we think the right choice for you depends completely on your house, your local climate, and your personal preferences.

We’re always happy to talk it through with you—free of charge. Call us at 888-985-7481.

That said, here are a few guidelines we hope will be helpful as you make this decision:

A boiler might be better for you if one or more of the following apply…

  • You want to keep your initial installation costs as low as possible
  • You’re boiler’s distribution system and radiators are in tip top shape and don’t need to be replaced
  • You want a system that can heat your home and provide hot water
  • You’re ready to pay the possible higher energy costs associated with a lower-efficiency HVAC system
  • You want to keep your initial installation costs as low as possible
  • You want a system that can heat your home and provide hot water
  • You’re ready to pay the higher energy costs associated with a lower-efficiency HVAC system
  • You don’t mind paying for extra maintenance or repairs (or you enjoy DIY-ing your HVAC!)
  • You’re not too concerned about your house’s indoor air quality
  • There’s no need for air conditioning in your climate (or you don’t mind paying for and maintaining a separate air conditioning system)
  • Your house doesn’t qualify to get a heat pump installed for no upfront cost

A cold climate heat pump might be better for you if one or more of the following apply…

  • You want the best and most efficient HVAC option on the market—and you’re willing to pay more money initially to make that happen (or your house qualifies to get a heat pump at zero upfront cost)
  • You don’t want to think about HVAC—you just want the simplest system that works the best!
  • You have no interest in maintaining multiple HVAC systems and would prefer all-in-one system for heating, cooling, and improving air quality
  • Consistent and even heat is important to you
  • You like quiet and want an HVAC system that’s as silent as possible
  • Your existing piping and radiators are in poor condition and need to be replaced 
  • Installing new ductwork for isn’t possible or desirable in your home
  • Ductwork, piping, and radiators aren’t possible or desirable in your home
  • You have a large, old home that’s tricky to heat evenly
  • You want precise, room-by-room temperature control
  • You’re concerned about air quality and want the healthiest environment possible
  • Your house qualifies to get a heat pump installed for no upfront cost

That’s a lot to think about, so—for what it’s worth—here’s where we’ll throw in our opinion:

After years of being in the HVAC and home performance business, and after talking with countless homeowners, we’ve found that most people are better off (and happier!) with a heat pump. 

In addition to the obvious benefits of a heat pump—simplicity, efficiency, better indoor air quality, etc.—there’s just something about the way it makes a home feel.

81% say their home comfort has improved by replacing their fossil fuel heaters with heat pumps.

Cool Products 2022 consumer analysis
clean, bright bedroom with natural light and new heat pump mini split AC

Heat pumps are a real life upgrade. They provide wonderfully even and non-stuffy heating (and cooling!) throughout your home, they’re hassle-free to maintain, and if you choose a ductless mini-split option, you can even control the temperature of each area of your home separately.

If your experience is like those of countless other homeowners, once you get used to the heat pump life, you’ll never want to go back to a boiler. (In fact, you may even laugh at the thought…)

Get a heat pump installed for ZERO upfront cost

If you’re intrigued by the possibility of a heat pump—but nervous about what that might cost you—rest assured: You’re not alone. The initial cost of heat pump installation is the biggest reason why heat pumps aren’t in more homes right now.

But there’s a solution to that challenge: If your house qualifies, you can get a heat pump installed for no initial cost. And current utility and state energy rebates along with new energy-efficient financial incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act could provide some extra help, too.

Here’s how it works: Sealed will install your heat pump (and any other energy upgrades you may need, such as air sealing and insulation). You’ll pay us back over time, at a rate based on the energy you save per month as a result of the work. And if you don’t save energy? We don’t get paid.

It’s a straightforward plan that our customers love, and we think you’ll be happy with it, too.

If I don’t have to spend any extra money to get a huge improvement to my home, it’s just a no brainer at that point.

Scott. R, Sealed customer

See if your home qualifies for a Sealed home energy makeover. It only takes 2 minutes.

(We can also help you understand what energy upgrade rebates apply to your project.)

Common questions about heat pumps vs boilers

Use the list below to skip ahead as needed.

Don’t see your question answered here? Call us.

We’re here to help you understand if switching from a boiler to a heat pump is right for your situation.

Is a heat pump cheaper than a boiler?

A heat pump is often more expensive to install than a boiler (though, if your house qualifies, you can get a heat pump for no upfront cost), but the monthly energy use and maintenance of a heat pump can be much less expensive than a boiler over time.

Can a heat pump replace a boiler?

Definitely! A heat pump can provide better and more even heating than a boiler—and in most cases, a heat pump can do it more efficiently.

The only time you might not be able to replace your boiler with a heat pump is if you live in an extremely cold climate (think Arctic-level cold with temperatures well below -13 degrees all winter).

In this kind of climate, you may need to keep your boiler for supplemental back up during extreme temperatures (hello, polar vortex!).

But don’t worry, this is pretty rare! Modern cold climate heat pumps can handle just about anything winter can throw their way, and they’re used efficiently in Maine, Minnesota, and even Switzerland—all places that aren’t known for mild, Florida-like winters.

Do heat pumps work with radiators?

It’s possible, but not easy! There are potentially ways to connect a heat pump to an existing radiator system. (7) That said, in the vast majority of cases, it’s a much more efficient—and overall better—heating and cooling experience to upgrade to a ductless mini-split heat pump system, which will allow you to control the temperature of each area of your home separately.

This way, you’re not heating areas of your home that you’re not using! (Which is wasted energy—and money.)

Do you need a boiler with a heat pump?

Nope, that’s the beauty of a heat pump! A heat pump can be the sole heating and cooling system for your home—no boiler required.

(Though, as we mentioned above, if you live in an extremely cold climate, you may prefer to keep your boiler as a supplemental heating system to support the heat pump on the most frigid days. But if cold climate heat pumps can work excellently as solo home heaters in Norway, Finland, and Minnesota, they can keep your home feeling warm and cozy all winter long, too. Most homes don’t require a dual system.)

A high-performance heat pump replaces a boiler in full, runs on clean energy, and makes your home feel amazing year-round.

Is a heat pump electric or gas? 

Heat pumps run on electricity, which is one of the reasons they don’t smell and are the best HVAC system if you’re concerned about air quality.

Heat pump vs gas boiler—which is best?

Most people are better off with a heat pump instead of a gas boiler. Heat pump heating efficiency blows even the newest most-efficient gas boilers out of the water!

Heat pumps provide amazingly even, consistent heat for far less energy than a boiler. (And, unlike gas boilers, heat pumps don’t come with the risk of explosion or carbon monoxide poisoning!)

Air source heat pump vs oil boiler—which is best?

Oil boilers are expensive to run,  even more expensive to repair—and a pain to fuel! Plus, they’re not nearly as efficient as heat pumps. Ultimately, we’ve found that most homeowners will be much happier with a heat pump than an oil boiler!

Ready to get a quote on your heat pump project?

At Sealed, we can help you convert from an oil or gas boiler to a high-performance heat pump at no upfront cost.

Take the quick (and fun!) quiz to see if your house qualifies to work with Sealed.




September 16, 2022