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Top 5 Homeowner Concerns About Boilers Explained

Scott Dylan Westerlund
Updated December 21, 2021
A woman washing her hands in the kitchen sink
Photo: Cultura Creative / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Sometimes you can fix a broken boiler by adding water

  • A host of problems can lead to "noisy boiler" syndrome

  • The older the boiler, the less efficient it is

  • You can replace your old boiler with one of the same types fairly easily

  • Installing a new boiler calls for a licensed professional

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An issue with your boiler won't just boil over on its own. You need to know what's normal, what's not, and what requires a call to a technician. Take a look at the top five homeowner concerns about boilers in basements.

1. What's Wrong With My Boiler If Not All of the Radiation Is Heating?

This points to a few potential snags. First, check if you're low on water. Adding some water could do the trick. If you have a steam boiler, another possibility is that your pump isn't circulating due to a faulty trap or your supply valve is off.

2. Why Is My Boiler Noisy?

When a steam boiler overfills, your boiler will make a sound. Pros commonly refer to that sound as “water hammer” because when steam hits the water, it sounds like someone hitting the pipes with a sledgehammer.

There's actually a long list of "boiler symphony" causes. Here's a cheat sheet of the common sounds your basement broiler may make:

  • Vibrating: Loose brackets

  • Banging: Faulty thermostat or debris buildup (in which case you would need a power flush)

  • Gurgling: Trapped air in the system, low water pressure, or a frozen pipe

  • Whistling: Limescale buildup on the heat exchanger, especially if you have hot water

  • Banging or tapping: Overheating or loose piping

The irony is that noisy boilers often keep secrets. It often takes detective work from a boiler pro to find the source.

3. Is My Boiler Energy Efficient?

A professional adjusting the boiler settings
Photo: stokkete / Adobe Stock

Boiler heating systems cost more to install, but they ultimately lower fuel costs. Newer boiler systems are good for your budget, good for the environment, and safe to use in your home.

Modern boilers offer ultra-high efficiency because they warm water and distribute heat via radiators throughout your home instead of just warming the air and sending it through ducts.

Ultimately, boiler efficiency comes down to age and model type. Generally speaking, the older your boiler, the less efficient it is. If you installed a broiler within the last 20 years, it's probably around 98% efficient when operating properly. (This is good!)

You don't just have to guess about your boiler's efficiency. Have a technician come in to check combustion efficiency to get your score.

4. How Hard Is It to Replace a Boiler?

The fastest, easiest method for getting a new boiler is the like-for-like swap. This means you're replacing your current boiler with the same boiler type. While a simple swap often only takes a day, system upgrades and boiler relocations can take several days. 

First, have an HVAC contractor suggest whether you can repair your basement boiler as most noises can be fixed. If a replacement is necessary, use these factors to determine the right model:

  • Locally available fuel sources (oil, gas, liquid propane, electric, or wood boilers)

  • Home size (how many BTU’s will keep your home warm and toasty)

  • Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) ratings

  • Model-specific maintenance needs

5. Who Can Install a New Boiler? Do You Need to Be Licensed?

You’ll need a licensed professional to install a boiler in most cities and states. Specific requirements vary by state, but you’ll need a heating or plumbing specialist experienced in boiler systems and the permits required for installation. The truth is that you would never want to leave this job in the hands of an unlicensed person.

Lastly, installing a boiler isn't a one-person job. Boilers weigh between 500 and 800 pounds, and you'll need a qualified crew to maneuver them.

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