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Boiler vs. Water Heater: What’s The Difference?

By 25 January 2021January 6th, 2023Winnipeg plumbers

You’re walking through the basement of a building – maybe it’s your house, maybe it’s a small business. You notice that there’s a tank down there – a powered tank that seems to be heating water. 


Is it a boiler? Is it a water heater? Is there any real difference between the two?


Good questions. Let’s answer them:


What is a water heater?

Water heaters are sometimes referred to as hot water heaters – but that’s a bit like calling a toaster a toast toaster. That’s redundant, so let’s just call them water heaters.


These appliances heat water specifically to provide you with hot water. Whether you’re taking a shower or running your dishwasher, your water heater is what’s keeping things nice and toasty.


Water heaters come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, but there are two broad varieties on the market right now: tank water heaters and tankless water heaters.


Tank water heaters are the most common – they store large quantities of water that they continually heat. They tend to cost less than tankless heaters, but they’re also less energy-efficient. This is the type of water heater you might sometimes hear someone call a boiler.


Tankless water heaters would never be mistaken for a boiler, because they don’t store water – they heat it on demand. 


What is a boiler?

Boilers are very similar to tank water heaters, in that they store water in a large tank and heat it up for your use. The major difference is that most of the time, when people are talking about boilers, they’re talking about appliances that are used to heat a building.


There are a variety of different types of boilers, but they all have tanks. Some boilers will simultaneously heat your building and provide you with hot water – these are known as combination, or “combi” boilers. 


To add to the confusion, some people will call tank water heaters that don’t heat your home boilers. That means when someone says they have a boiler, they might mean that they have a tank water heater, a boiler that just heats their home, or a combi boiler. For the most part, however, a boiler means an appliance that uses hot water to heat your home/business.


Finally, the word “boiler” implies that water is, well, being boiled. This is rarely the case – you don’t need to heat water to its boiling point to generate steam – which is all steam boilers need to heat your building. That’s because technically it’s not even steam (that is, it’s not water that has turned to its gaseous form) – it’s more like a fine mist under pressure.


The more you know

Now that you know the difference between boilers and water heaters, you can properly assess which one you need. Looking for hot water tanks in Winnipeg? Get in touch with Clean Line Plumbing. We’ve also got great information on tankless heaters, and we can advise you on whether or not going tankless is a better solution for your home and/or business.

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