All About Boilers: What Wisconsin Homeowners Need To Know


Boilers are one of the most efficient methods of home heating available on the market, so it’s no wonder why they remain one of the most popular heating options for Wisconsin homeowners. In fact, boilers are one of the oldest forms of heating, and this remarkable technology owes much of its success to innovation made during pivotal points of American history.

A Brief History of Boilers And Why They’re Popular In Wisconsin

The history of boilers spans all the way back to the early industrial age, where they were originally used to power trains and ships. Innovations in boiler technology were made throughout the Industrial Revolution, with a notable leap in efficiency occurring during World War II with the rise of “tube boilers,” which helped speed up the rate at which water could be converted to steam.

Within the last several decades, contemporary condensing boilers have become popular due to their increased efficiency and output. Condensing boilers use modern technology to efficiently consume heat that is generated from fuel sources like oil or gas.

The mechanism behind boilers is remarkably simple: the boiler unit heats up water, which is then piped through your home. The heated water or steam travels via radiators or a radiant floor system, where the heat is dispersed. The heat generated by a boiler is passed through pipes, not ducts, which helps prevent heat loss (a common problem with faulty or older ductwork).

There are several types of boilers including oil, gas or electric boilers, and each offers unique advantages in terms of fuel efficiency. Many homes in Washington and Ozaukee County utilize boiler heating systems because they offer a great deal of energy efficiency, which saves homeowners considerable sums throughout our long, bitter winters.

Understanding The Different Types of Boilers

There are five main types of boilers, each using a different type of fuel or in some cases, a different style of heat exchanger. Oil and natural gas boilers are often found in rural areas, whereas electric and hot water boilers are more commonly found in urban homes.

The most common types of boilers are:

Electric boiler

Often considered more environmentally friendly than gas or oil boilers, electric boilers are highly efficient and tend to be quieter units. While electric boilers can save you money on fuel, they won’t work during a power outage, which may be a serious concern for some homeowners.

Natural gas boiler

Natural gas boilers are typically connected to your home’s gas line, but in the case of rural properties that are not connected to public gas lines, you may need an external propane tank. Gas boilers monitor and regulate fuel usage through gauges, which can help keep costs down (as long as the gauges are properly maintained and configured to maximize efficiency).

Hot water boiler

Don’t confuse hot water boilers with hot water heaters! Though they function in similar ways, they do not serve the same purpose. Hot water heaters heat the water used for washing clothes, taking showers and serve other day to day appliance functions. Hot water boilers, on the other hand, heat and circulate water through pipes in your home, which radiates outward and heats each room.

Oil boiler

Oil boilers are commonly found in rural areas that have unreliable access to electricity, or limited access to natural gas. Oil boilers are not the most energy efficient units, and environmentally-conscious homeowners may be concerned about the negative impact of using oil fuels.

Condensing boiler

Condensing boilers are the newest style of boiler, and are highly sought after for their energy efficiency and smaller size. These boilers utilize two heat exchangers: one that heats water that is sent to your home’s radiators, and a second exchanger that reheats the water that is sent back to the boiler.

How To Tell When You Need Boiler Repair or Boiler Replacement

One of the greatest advantages of boiler heating systems is that they are incredibly long lasting if they are properly maintained. Many homes have boilers that have been in use for decades! Newer boilers, such as condensing boilers, have only been on the market for about 20 years, so it’s difficult to estimate how long a newer unit may last.

Regardless of the type of boiler you have, there are steps you can take to monitor the health of your boiler, and signs to look out for that may point to needing boiler repair.

If you’ve noticed any of these issues, your boiler may be in need of repair or replacement:

Lack of heat

This could point to several issues that may or may not be linked to your boiler. If you cannot get heat in your home, you may have a thermostat problem, loss of water level in the boiler, failure of boiler valves or circulation pumps, or a number of other issues that need professional attention.

Low water pressure

Be careful not to confuse low water pressure in your home appliances with low water pressure in your boiler. If your shower or sink has low water pressure, you likely have an issue with your hot water heater or other plumbing problem. If you notice it’s difficult to heat your home, or it’s heating unevenly, you may have low water pressure in your boiler. This will need to be diagnosed by a boiler service tech.

The pilot light won’t stay lit

If you have a gas boiler, your thermocouple may be shutting off the gas supply to your boiler. If you notice the pilot light is out and you can’t get it to ignite, play it safe and call a boiler technician to help--gas is too dangerous to “mess with” on your own!

Unusual noises coming from the boiler

While certain types of boilers are noisier than others (electric boilers being among the quietest units), all boilers should be relatively silent. If you hear rumbling, gurgling or whistling coming from your boiler, there may be an obstruction or mineral build up that needs to be repaired by an HVAC technician.

What to do if you have questions about your boiler

If you suspect that your boiler may be on the fritz, or if it’s been years since your last tune up, it’s time to call the experts at Jackson Hardware Heating & A/C. We service all boiler types and brands, and we’re available 24/7 to assist with emergency repairs. Even if you’re not ready to make a purchase, call us! We never charge for advice, and our knowledgeable staff can often help determine the next step to take over the phone--free of charge. We just think it’s the right thing to do! Call us today at 262-677-3477 for no-pressure, no-strings-attached help.

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