Asking how long a boiler should last is a lot like asking how long a car will last. Does it receive proper maintenance with regular oil changes? How many miles is it driven each year? What kind of engine does it have?
As with most questions, there’s no simple answer. However, by examining the main factors that determine boiler longevity, or lifecycle, can go a long way to simplify the answer.
To begin, understand that conventional cast iron boilers like the U.S. Boiler Company Series 2, X2, MPO-IQ, ESC and ES2 will generally outlast high efficiency, condensing boilers. This holds true across all boiler brands.
This is simply the nature of all machinery. Higher performance typically yields a shorter lifecycle. It’s like comparing the diesel engine in a semi-truck to the gasoline engine in a sports car. The truck engine will last for a lot more miles because it’s built with heavier components and operates at lower RPM.
Boilers are no different.
How long should a cast iron water or steam boiler last?
When properly installed and maintained, homeowners can roughly expect a conventional cast iron water boiler to last 20 or more years.
There are plenty of examples of cast iron boilers lasting more than 50 years, but this is far from typical.
Cast iron steam boilers may have a shorter lifespan. This is primarily due to outside factors like water quality and whether the pipes and radiators in the home are leak free. Corrosive water conditions in steam boilers can be handled with proper water conditioning, but if the system is leaking steam, the water level will need continuous replacement, thus the effectiveness of water conditioning will be continuously compromised.
How long should a high efficiency, condensing boiler last?
High efficiency gas boilers, like U.S. Boiler Company’s Alpine, K2 and Aspen, have an expected lifecycle of 15 or more years when properly installed and maintained.
Nonetheless, beyond the type of boiler installed, there are many factors that impact the length of time that the unit will be in service.
The importance of proper annual maintenance conducted by a professional heating technician cannot be overlooked.
All machinery needs to be maintained. Specific to boiler systems, heat exchangers need to be cleaned annually to reduce corrosion of the heat exchanger. This is also important for the operating efficiency of a boiler. The cleaner the heat exchanger, the less energy needed to heat the home.
While a technician is servicing a boiler, they’ll also check for any small leaks throughout the system, check the boiler control for errors, and be sure that the boiler is running as intended.
It’s extremely critical that the boiler is installed correctly to begin with. Hiring a professional, licensed heating contractor is worth every penny.
While a boiler’s job is to create heat, it is not immune to errors that can be made throughout the attached piping system. Correct placement of circulators, zone valves, expansion tanks and venting is vital for the longevity of a boiler and heating system.
If components of the heating system are not installed correctly, the boiler cannot operate as intended by the manufacturer. In fact, most boiler repairs and issues are a direct result of improper installation. A boiler that is not installed correctly will not last as long as one that is.
Selecting a boiler that is properly sized for the needs of the home is also critical to longevity. Many of the boilers installed in the United States are too large for the spaces that they are heating. This happens less frequently than it did in the past, but it’s still an issue. More often than not, an oversized boiler is the result of an installer that did not complete a comprehensive heat loss calculation.
A boiler that is too large for the home will “short cycle,” meaning that if will fire up and shut off quite frequently. Firing up and shutting down quickly is much harder on the unit than simply running for long periods of time, and results in unnecessary wear and tear.
Imagine two drivers in two different cars driving down the highway. The first driver (properly sized boiler) sets the cruise control to 65 MPH. The second driver (oversized boiler) alternates between flooring the accelerator and reaching 120 MPH, and stomping on the brake pedal to come back to a standstill. Both vehicles arrive at the destination at the same time, but driver number two has used far more fuel and put more wear on the vehicle than driver number one.
Length of heating season
A boiler installed in Maryland is likely to last longer than the same boiler installed in Alaska. Longer, colder winters mean more runtime over the course of a single year.
Compare a vehicle owner who drives 15,000 miles each year to one that only drives 7,500 miles. The second driver will likely get more years out of the same car. This comparison is one reason that there is no hard-and-fast rule for how long a boiler will last.
You get what you pay for. A quality boiler is assembled with better components and a higher level of attention to detail.
The best boiler manufacturers are also committed to properly training the contractors who install them. All of this lends itself to providing heating systems that will operate efficiently for a long time. Rest assured that a boiler system is the longest lasting, most comfortable way to heat your home. Then, give careful consideration to the boiler you purchase and who you hire to install it. Boiler systems are a sizeable investment, so take the decision seriously!
When you have selected a heating contractor, explain to them what is most important to you, and trust them to determine what heating equipment will be best suited for your home heating system.