Caring for high efficiency boilers

High efficiency boilers – why maintenance can be expensive“High efficiency” is all the rage. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about heating and cooling equipment, furnaces or automobiles. People want to get the most out of what they’re paying for. So why does maintenance for a high efficiency boiler cost so much?

High efficiency boilers need regular maintenance

Marketers use “efficiency” as a synonym for “saving money.” It’s true – you can save money by improving the efficiency of just about any device. Briefly, efficiency is a comparison of what you put into something versus what you get out of it. When you can reduce your input but increase your output, you gain efficiency. On the other hand, when you put a lot in and don’t get much out, your efficiency suffers.

The same is true with boilers. You burn fuel, and you expect to get a certain amount of heat out. High efficiency boilers specialize in producing a lot of heat while consuming less fuel. The trick to maintaining high efficiency is regular maintenance. But regular maintenance can be expensive. Maintenance on a high efficiency boiler can be even more expensive – but why?

Boilers might perform the same service in your home that a furnace or other heating system does, but they’re not the same thing. “High efficiency” generally means that the item – whatever it is – will have a premium price tag. High efficiency furnaces and water heaters, for example, may cost 30%-50% more than a similar piece of equipment that doesn’t sport the “high efficiency” label.

A high efficiency boiler might cost twice as much as a non-HE boiler. You can trace back some of the increased cost to design and manufacturing changes. You can also chalk some of the increased cost up to the limited number of manufacturers of high-efficiency boiler equipment. Scarcity makes the price of anything go up.

High efficiency boilers and the total cost of ownership

The higher price to purchase and install a high efficiency boiler is definitely offset by its operating costs. High efficiency boilers can achieve 85%-95% efficiency during the middle of winter. The boiler returns the vast majority of the fuel to you as heat, and that’s what you want!

The disadvantage is that high efficiency devices require a lot of maintenance. Corrosion affects a high-efficiency boiler in the same way it affects lower-efficiency equipment. The design of the boiler might actually impair the operation of the heat exchanger, resulting in higher maintenance costs. A new boiler may also not play well with other components of your heating system, causing either a reduction in efficiency or increased maintenance costs.

High efficiency boilers also have much higher water flow rates than conventional boilers do. To maintain proper operation, the pump must be sized correctly to meet the boiler’s need for a higher water flow rate.

In addition, regular maintenance for a high efficiency boiler includes changing out the parts that either wear out through use, or that become unsuitable for use when a technician disassembles the combustion chamber.

One way to think about the cost of high-efficiency boilers is in terms of your total cost of ownership (TCO). Boilers have fixed costs – purchase, installation, maintenance – and ongoing costs – the cost of fuel to operate the boiler. Depending upon your fuel source and the efficiency of your boiler, your operating costs could make up the majority of your total annual or lifetime costs. By keeping your operating costs low, you’ll come out ahead.

Your high efficiency boiler could replace your water heater

Another thing to keep in mind is that your boiler can also provide your domestic hot water. If you have a boiler and also a separate water heater, you could potentially save money by having your boiler take over the water heating duties. Eliminating the conventional water heater will reduce your overall utility costs.

If you’d like more information about high efficiency boilers, boiler maintenance or configuring your boiler to provide hot water for your taps, please give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating at (617) 288-2911.

Photo Credit: Weil McLain