Difference Between a Heater, Furnace, and Boiler

Let’s take a look at the definitions of heaters, furnaces, and boilers, and how they actually work.

Heaters (The Basics)
 
Defining the term heater is quite tricky. A heater is really just a catch all term for a device that heats up an environment. Central heating as we know it today got its start in the Roman Empire. The Romans would have an underground source of combustion which would be distributed by holes in the ground and pipes along the walls. After the fall of their civilization, western heating technologies reverted to more primitive fireplaces for nearly a thousand years.
 
Central heating units tend to have a location for the heating device, be it in a machine room or attic or basement, where the heat is created and distributed throughout the building. These are quite common in most houses, apartment complexes, and commercial buildings. Modern central heating systems are efficient enough that they typically won’t require additional energy-wasting localized or space heaters.
 
A central heating system uses some form of energy combustion or release, be it from a furnace or furnace and boiler combination. What are furnaces and boilers? Essentially, a furnace or boiler is the mechanism that produces the heat that your central heating system will then distribute to keep your home warm. A central heating system without a furnace and/or boiler wouldn’t be much of a heating system at all.

Furnaces (Giant Boxes of Fire)
 
Furnaces get their name from the Greek word “fornax,” which means oven. The first furnaces were stone or clay structures that used coal and/or wood to create intense heat. These furnaces were primarily used for ceramic work, such as with kilns, and smelting ore to create metal objects, tools, and materials. They are still the primary appliance in industrial metal production. Industrial furnaces are, simply put, cages for raging fires that are hot enough to melt stone, and sometimes, like the image above, look like something built to haunt small children.
 
Eventually the furnace, with its heavily concentrated combustion in a box, would be applied to the home as a more efficient form of heating, versus stuffing open fire underneath flooring.
 
Modern day home furnaces tend to run off gas or electricity or induction (a reaction of electricity and metal to create heat). They are much safer and contained than their older counterparts, are the cornerstone for most modern central heating units, producing high amounts of heat that feed into a ventilation system and flow throughout all of the connected rooms.
 
Small furnaces, usually electrical, are often attached to boilers and water heaters to apply the necessary energy in order to give us hot showers and scalding sink faucets, or even to circulate heat from the boiler to heat our home.

Furnaces (Giant Boxes of Fire)
 
Furnaces get their name from the Greek word “fornax,” which means oven. The first furnaces were stone or clay structures that used coal and/or wood to create intense heat. These furnaces were primarily used for ceramic work, such as with kilns, and smelting ore to create metal objects, tools, and materials. They are still the primary appliance in industrial metal production. Industrial furnaces are, simply put, cages for raging fires that are hot enough to melt stone, and sometimes, like the image above, look like something built to haunt small children.
 
Eventually the furnace, with its heavily concentrated combustion in a box, would be applied to the home as a more efficient form of heating, versus stuffing open fire underneath flooring.
 
Modern day home furnaces tend to run off gas or electricity or induction (a reaction of electricity and metal to create heat). They are much safer and contained than their older counterparts, are the cornerstone for most modern central heating units, producing high amounts of heat that feed into a ventilation system and flow throughout all of the connected rooms.
 
Small furnaces, usually electrical, are often attached to boilers and water heaters to apply the necessary energy in order to give us hot showers and scalding sink faucets, or even to circulate heat from the boiler to heat our home.

Heaters, Furnaces, And Boilers are all connected
 
If a heater is a broad term for the mechanism applied to heat a home or business, then a furnace and boiler are the specific appliances installed to accomplish that goal. Most homes have a boiler and a furnace to some degree. The furnace is the primary source of central heat, pumping hot air into every room and kicking the cold to the wayside. The boiler is supplying the hot water for morning wake-up showers and scrubbing pots clean. They function on different processes, but require each other to provide the comforts we have all become accustomed to. The question of if a furnace or boiler is better for heating really comes down to the age of the building and personal preference. In the end, all that matters is that we’re able to be comfortable in whatever building we’re in and not freezing, and thanks to the evolution of the heating industry.

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