Steam Boilers vs. Hot Water Boilers

steam boiler

Today, there are many different types of heating systems that can heat your home. One of the most traditional systems is a boiler system, which uses water to create heat for your home. There are two types of boilers available; here, we dive into the difference between a steam boiler and a hot water boiler.

How They Work

Both of these types of boilers can use gas, electricity, or oil for power. In addition, they both use hot water as their main heat source. How they create heat, however, is what sets them apart:

A steam boiler works to heat water to a boiling point in order to create steam. After this, the steam travels through a network of pipes to the radiators around your home. A hot water boiler, on the other hand, heats water just until it’s hot enough. It then pushes the hot water through a similar network of pipes to the radiators. When the steam condenses or the water cools, it travels back to the boiler and is reheated.

Energy Usage

Both steam boilers and hot water boilers offer energy efficiency, but in different ways. A steam boiler uses more energy to boil the water, but uses less energy during the transfer of heat. A hot water boiler uses less energy to create hot water, but more energy during the transfer of heat. Because steam boilers are so efficient at heat transfer, they’re often used in extreme levels of cold or in old or under-insulated homes. Many commercial and industrial buildings also use steam boilers.

Many of today’s hot water boilers are considered more efficient than steam because they have pumps for circulation. However, you can still find some steam boilers that are just as (or more) efficient than hot water. Each boiler’s efficiency depends on its manufacturer, heat source, size, and more.

Accessory Parts

As with any heating system, steam boilers and hot water boilers vary in the number of accessory parts they need. As we mentioned above, a hot water boiler uses a pump to circulate the hot water around your home and back to the system. A steam boiler, however, doesn’t need a pump because steam naturally fills the pipes and naturally returns to the system (via gravity). Hot water boilers also require several other accessory parts in order to operate:

  • Water temperature regulator
  • Water pressure regulator
  • Check valve
  • Automatic or manual bleeders
  • Expansion tank
  • Circulator

If any of these parts fail or malfunction, they can add onto the maintenance costs of your hot water boiler. When you compare the boilers, this should be considered.


Because these systems are both boilers, they tend to cost around the same price to install. When you’re trying to decide between a steam boiler and a hot water boiler, you’ll need to consider the cost of your fuel (gas, electricity, oil, etc.), the cost of the system, possible tax credits, and other details.

Are you interested in a steam boiler or hot water boiler for your home? Talk to our heating experts today. We can help you decide between the two.

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