The Great Debate: Steam or Hot Water Boiler?

Boilers are an intrinsic part of many facilities, aiding in certain operations, preserving and protecting sensitive materials and equipment, and ensuring the comfort and health of building occupants. Steam boilers were the old standby for many years. Lately, however, many outfits have been swapping out their old steam boilers for newer hot water units. This can be a smart choice, but is it always the best way to go? Frankly, there is no definitive “yes” or “no” answer. You have to carefully consider each type of boiler in the context of certain key categories and weigh that against the needs of your facility and operations.

Generally speaking, hot water boilers run more efficiently than traditional steam boilers. This is mostly due to their lower combustion temperature, which requires less energy consumption to achieve. Unlike steam boilers, they don’t have to produce high enough temperatures to boil the water. Of course, actual efficiency levels can vary from model to model — and even older steam boilers can be retrofitted to perform more efficiently than some hot water models. This is why it’s important to research individual models, as well as upgrade options available for your existing system, rather than making a major purchasing decision based on general advice.

Parts and Accessories
Another important factor to consider is what kind of parts and accessories will be required — both initially and over time — to keep your system at peak performance. Because of their simpler engineering, steam boilers require far fewer parts than hot water boilers. Hot water heaters use pumps, valves, and other componentry that may eventually need to be repaired or replaced. On the other hand, steam boilers do tend to require more intensive regular maintenance than modern hot water units.

The initial cost for both hot water boilers and steam boilers varies widely, and one type is not necessarily more expensive than the other. Merely choosing a couple of units to compare at random probably won’t provide a relevant comparison. It’s best to consult a professional to figure out your exact heating needs and find the unit type and model that will give you the best return on your investment. Another part of figuring out the value of a heating unit is taking into account how long it is likely to last. While high-quality units might cost more initially, they often pay dividends in the form of enhanced efficiency and by lasting longer before needing repairs or replacement.

Heating Needs
You’ll also need to think about what kind of heat requirements a particular system has, and whether your facility can feasibly provide it. For instance, hot water boilers usually peak at a temperature of 180 to 200 degrees, while steam boilers must reach at least 212 degrees — and run much hotter in some cases. Since different heating points are required to run each type, consider the available power supply when deciding which unit will work best for your operations.

The boiler setup that works best for one facility may not be the right answer for another; it’s imperative to have a trusted expert assess your individual needs to help you make the best choice for you. Whether you’re in the market for a new system, or want to know if your current system is fulfilling its potential, Willbanks Contractor Support can provide comprehensive support and service. From installation to maintenance to fast help in an emergency, you can count on the skilled professionals at Willbanks.