When to replace your boiler: Sure signs it’s time to upgrade

Wondering if it’s time to kick your old boiler out of the house? Find out in this troubleshooting guide.

Wondering if it’s time to kick your old boiler out of the house? Find out in this troubleshooting guide.

Replacing any form of HVAC is a big decision, but boilers are so different from the other kinds of home heating technology that the prospect of a boiler replacement can be especially intimidating.

Is it really worth it? Especially when a boiler repair technician is a phone call away?

In this guide, we’ll outline the sure signs that it’s time for an upgrade—as well as the indications that you’d be better off repairing your boiler for now.

Ready to get started? Here’s the definitive guide on whether to repair or replace your boiler.

Table of contents:

How long do boilers last?

First, let’s talk about lifespan. How long will your boiler last?

In truth, boilers can last a long time—anywhere from 15 to 20 years (1). 

But getting your boiler all the way to the end of its advertised lifespan depends on two big factors:

  1. Proper maintenance of the boiler. Has your boiler been maintained at least once a year by a qualified technician? If not, it’s time to start—if your boiler isn’t well-maintained, it probably has some unseen issues that could shorten its lifespan. (By the way, if you don’t have the maintenance records from the previous owner, that’s an ominous sign.)
  2. A well-insulated and air-sealed house. Insulation and air sealing are crucial components of your house’s thermal boundary—the part of your house that keeps warm air inside and cold air outside in winter. If your house can’t keep warm air inside, your boiler will need to consistently work overtime to keep things comfortable. And that can drastically shorten its life.

By the way, insulation, duct sealing, and air sealing are important for any home heating system, not just boilers. 

By properly insulating and air sealing your home, you can extend the life of your HVAC by years!

(Learn more about how long HVAC systems last)

Ultimately, the short answer to the question, “At what age should a boiler be replaced?” is about 15 years.

That’s the average lifespan.

One important thing to note here: The lifespan of your boiler is just the amount of time before it stops working completely. 

But boilers usually act up or are unpleasant to live with (and lose efficiency) long before they technically die. 

In other words, it’s a rare boiler that doesn’t send some signs that it’s about to break down!

What are those signs?

Signs that you need to repair or replace your boiler 

Ah! The questions of the hour: When should I replace the boiler? and How do I know if my boiler needs replacing? 

Here are the 10 telltale symptoms not to ignore:

  1. The cost to run your boiler keeps going up
  2. You’re always adjusting the thermostat
  3. Your boiler is short-cycling
  4. Your boiler is making strange noises
  5. It’s leaking water or steam
  6. It takes a long time for your radiators to heat up
  7. Your pilot light is always going out
  8. Your boiler smells funny
  9. You don’t feel well in your own home
  10. It’s getting up in age

The cost to run your boiler keeps going up

If you’ve repaired your boiler three times in the last year, it’s probably at the end of its life. Older boilers have a habit of breaking—a lot. And that can get expensive.

Likewise, if you’ve noticed that your boiler’s energy use keeps going up, that’s another big signal it’s time for a change. 

All HVAC systems lose efficiency as they age, but if your boiler’s energy use is really starting to climb… it’s time for an upgrade.

(By the way, make sure you’re looking at energy use—not your overall bill amount. Energy costs are increasing in general, so everyone’s bills are going up. For more on this, read Why is my heating bill so high?)

You’re always adjusting the thermostat

You really shouldn’t have to babysit your boiler to stay comfortable. And if you’ve been living with your boiler for a while, you know how it’s supposed to feel. 

So if you find yourself constantly adjusting the thermostat—and your boiler can’t seem to maintain a comfortable temperature—something’s up.

(Also check this one off if you also have hot and cold areas in the house. A properly-functioning boiler system should heat your home evenly—no ifs, ands, or buts.)

Your boiler is short-cycling

If your boiler is short-cycling, that means it’s turning on and off way more frequently than it should. 

This puts a lot of strain on the system, and can eventually lead to a complete breakdown.

(Learn more about why your heater is short-cycling—including fixes and diagnostic tips.)

Your boiler is making strange noises

Boilers usually operate pretty quietly—so if yours is making strange gurgling, banging, hissing, or otherwise supernatural-sounding noises, that’s definitely not normal! 

These sounds are usually indicative of major problems inside the boiler itself, so it’s best to call in a technician sooner rather than later. 

For a fun read, check out Sudden cold air in room: Is it ghosts or drafts in my house?

It’s leaking water (or steam)

A boiler leak is never a good sign. If you see water or steam coming from anywhere around your boiler, it’s time to call an HVAC professional.

These leaks can cause serious water damage, and they can also mean trouble inside the boiler itself

It takes a long time for your radiators to heat up

If your boiler is taking longer and longer to heat up your radiator, that’s a pretty clear sign it’s on its last legs. 

When boilers get old, they often have trouble heating up water—which means your radiators will take longer to do their job.

Your pilot light is always going out

If the pilot light on your boiler is always going out, that’s a sign the system isn’t burning fuel properly. 

This can lead to all sorts of problems—including a dangerous build-up of carbon monoxide. So if you’re having trouble with your pilot light, it’s best to call in a technician immediately.

It’s making a strange smell

If your boiler is making a strange smell, take action immediately—especially if it smells something like rotten eggs (2).

That sulfury, foul smell can indicate a gas leak, which is incredibly dangerous. So if you notice a gross odor coming from your boiler, leave the house and call in a technician right away.

You regularly don’t feel well in your own home

A malfunctioning boiler can be a health hazard. If you or your family members start feeling ill more frequently when you’re at home, and the symptoms go away when you leave, it could be your boiler. 

Carbon monoxide is a dangerous odorless gas that can build up in your home if your boiler is malfunctioning. 

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. If you think you might be experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning—that’s an emergency. Get out of your home immediately and call 911.

(And then, you know, replace your boiler with a healthier home heating system type.)

It’s getting too old—older than 15 years

If your boiler is more than 15 years old… that’s old. And it’s time to start thinking about replacing it. 

Even if it’s been working fine up until now, boilers have a lifespan—and once yours reaches the end of that lifespan… well, it’ll be heating your house on borrowed time.

Fair warning: Boilers have the extremely bad habit of breaking down on the coldest day of the year, which, at best, causes great discomfort and strife in your household, and at worst can be downright dangerous. 

Even worse? If you wait until your boiler breaks down to fix it, you’ll be in an emergency situation—which means you won’t have the time you need to make an informed, reasonable choice about your next HVAC system.

Don’t wait until an emergency to replace your aging boiler. That’s the kind of decision you will regret (and regret hard).

But what if your boiler isn’t so old? 

Well, let’s think this through, because in some cases repair really is the better option. Let’s go through the main considerations.

Should you repair your boiler or replace it?

When you’re thinking about the boiler repair vs. replacement conundrum, it can help to divide the considerations into the four main categories: 

  1. Economy
  2. Function
  3. Safety
  4. Comfort

Here’s a straightforward look at all four:

Economy: What’s the total cost to repair vs replace your boiler?

On the surface, this seems like a fairly simple idea: How much will it cost to repair your boiler vs. how much will it cost to replace it with something else? Most people pick the least costly option and are done with it.

Unfortunately, the economics of repair vs. replacement aren’t so straightforward. 

Sure, repairing your boiler (again) might cost you less out-of-pocket right now—but an underperforming boiler can cost you a lot of money in the long term (especially if your boiler is already close to the end of its lifetime).

As you might already have experienced with your boiler, one repair leads to another and another and—before you know it—you’re facing a full replacement anyway. Ugh.

One more thought to consider, too: The cost of home heating energy is increasing—significantly—especially if you use fossil fuels like natural gas, heating oil, or propane. 

So you’ll want to consider your boiler’s efficiency (or lack thereof!) when making your decision whether to repair or replace. 

The fact is, an underperforming boiler can drastically increase your energy usage—in fact, it’s one of the most common reasons behind energy waste in your homes.

So while it may not seem intuitive, the difference between the energy usage of an old, inefficient boiler system and a new HVAC technology (such as the ultra-modern heat pump) is so significant that replacing your boiler might make more financial sense than you think.

A new high-efficiency boiler can run you as much as $11,000. And that’s just for the appliance!

Forbes Home

How much do boiler repairs cost?

A good question.

In general, you can expect to pay a professional at least a few hundred dollars to fix your boiler—the average repair cost is between $150–$700 (3). And if you need to replace any major parts, that can quickly add up to a bill of a few thousand dollars.

Overall, your boiler repair costs will depend on what goes wrong, who fixes it, and how old your boiler is (older boilers often need specialty parts that take a while to order—if they’re even available anymore!)

That’s repair. What do new boilers cost?

What is the average cost to replace a boiler?

The cost to purchase and install a new boiler varies depending on where you are in the country. But in general, a new standard boiler (on its own) can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $7,500, while a high-efficiency boiler can run you as much as $11,000 (4).

And that’s just for the appliance itself. (After that, you’ll need to add in installation costs, which can fluctuate a lot but can cost thousands of dollars depending on the condition of your current radiator system.)

Function: How well does your boiler work?

Let’s talk about function. How well is your boiler doing its job?

That’s a broad question, so another way of asking it is this: Before you were inspired to Google around for this article, how well did your boiler work? 

Did it heat your home perfectly evenly? Or were there cold and warm spots throughout your home? 

Could it heat on demand—or did it take forever to warm up your house? Did your visitors or kids (or even your pets) ever complain of chilly bedrooms or a stuffy living room?

In short, before you default to repairing your boiler to its normal working condition, you should ask yourself whether “normal working condition” was actually working for you.

If it was, great!

If not, it’s time to seriously consider replacing your boiler with an HVAC system that can actually keep you comfortable. (Spoiler: We suggest a cold-climate heat pump. And you can get one for no upfront cost with Sealed if your house qualifies.)

Safety: Do you have peace of mind using your current boiler?

The risks of carbon monoxide poisoning or explosion are certainly nothing to sneeze at. 

And while many malfunctioning boilers aren’t dangerous—in most cases, a faulty boiler will shut itself off before a tragedy happens—safety is a significant concern that you shouldn’t overlook.

Quick word, here: This isn’t an invitation to panic. 

If you’ve got a newer boiler that you regularly maintain—and you don’t mind a slightly increased safety risk—replacement might not be the right choice for you (especially if nothing’s wrong with your boiler right now).

But if you’ve got an older boiler and the safety risks bother you, well… peace of mind is worth the investment.

Comfort: Does your boiler make it easy to feel good in your home?

Comfort is one of those terms that can be defined a thousand different ways. 

One way to think about it simply is this: Your house should feel great. Every room. In every season. All the time. 

If any part of your house is cold, or drafty, or just never feels comfortable, there’s something wrong with your HVAC system—or there’s a problematic combination of an insufficient thermal boundary and HVAC issues.

The other way to think of comfort is just convenience. Everyone deserves a home that feels good to live in. Zone-by-zone temperature control makes life simpler (and cuts down on energy waste and family arguments over the thermostat). 

And having an HVAC system that you don’t have to think or worry about? Priceless.

(Well, almost! But with Sealed, you can get a new, super-efficient HVAC system at no upfront cost.)

This is important to call out—because lots of people feel that if their boiler isn’t dangerous and if it’s working okay, it’s probably not worth the cost to replace it. 

We beg to differ. 

Not being willing to live with uneven, inconsistent heating or other comfort issues—or wanting to upgrade to 21st century conveniences and efficiency—are very, very good reasons to consider replacing a boiler.

Repair vs. replace boiler—A decision-making cheat-sheet!

That was so much information. 

So let’s cut through the haze with some handy bullet point lists, shall we?

Here are some guidelines that can help you think clearly about your decision:

You may be better off repairing your boiler if all of the below apply…

  • If your boiler is less than 15 years old
  • If it’s heating your home evenly
  • If it’s burning fuel cleanly, with no smells
  • If it’s been well-maintained throughout its lifetime (we recommend scanning and digitally storing any maintenance records from previous owners—paper records have a bad habit of running away!)
  • If any needed repairs are relatively minor (and if the cost of repairs is less than 50% the cost of a replacement heating system)
  • If you prefer radiator heat and don’t need modern conveniences like zone-by-zone temperature control
  • If you’re taking proactive steps to increase your boiler’s lifespan by upgrading your home’s insulation (and making sure your whole house is air-sealed properly)

But you might be better off replacing your boiler if…

  • It’s more than 15 years old 
  • You’re constantly calling the technician for repairs
  • Your home is never quite warm enough—or doesn’t warm evenly
  • The boiler is making strange noises or smells
  • You live in a large, old house that’s tricky to heat
  • If your utility bills are high (or getting higher!)
  • You’re concerned about carbon monoxide (or if someone in your house has a medical condition that makes clean air a priority)
  • Your radiator system is outdated or in need of repair
  • You want more energy-efficient heating
  • It’s important to you to convert from gas to electric heat
  • If you’re just uncomfortable with the age or condition of the boiler
  • If you’re renovating your home anyway (trust us—if you’re going to go through the dust and hassle, it’s better to do it only once)

Why heat pumps are the best boiler replacement

What can you replace a boiler with? Well, the science is in, and there’s a clear winner when it comes to the best replacement for boilers: The cold weather heat pump.

(Get a heat pump vs. boiler comparison here.)

We won’t wax too eloquent on heat pumps in this article—you can get full information at our Ultimate Guide to Heat Pumps.

 But here, in brief, is why you should consider a heat pump for your boiler replacement:

  • They’re the super-efficient HVAC system that can both heat and cool your home—no need for a separate air conditioner
  • They use way less energy to heat your home than traditional HVAC heaters do (they’re up to 3 times more efficient than traditional HVAC technology)
  • They’re flexible—and mini-split heat pumps don’t require ductwork
  • They work well in cold climates (Find out: What temperature does a heat pump stop working?)
  • They can last up to 25 years in some climates if your house is well-insulated and sealed
  • Some models offer room-by-room temperature control
  • They don’t smell—and they heat your home with fresh and constantly circulating air
  • There’s no risk of carbon monoxide poisoning or explosion (enough said)

81% say their home comfort has improved by replacing their fossil fuel heaters with heat pumps.

Cool Products 2022 consumer analysis
illustration of old heating systems in basement vs. new heat pump heater in living area

Essentially, having a heat pump will drastically simplify your home’s HVAC situation—while also ensuring you have the best heater and AC on the market—which makes for less maintenance and greater peace of mind.

A heat pump is pretty much the Tesla of HVAC

It’ll make your home’s HVAC situation way simpler and more manageable. In short? It’s not just a home upgrade—it’s a life upgrade.

You could cut up to 50% of your energy use when getting high-performance insulation, professional air sealing, and heat pump HVAC upgrades with Sealed. Learn how.

How much does a heat pump cost?

A professionally installed whole-house heat pump system starts between $25,000 and $35,000 for a Sealed-optimized cold climate model. Remember, heat pumps are like installing a brand-new super-efficient heating system and top-of-the-line air conditioning system at the same time. 

However, your heat pump costs will vary based on a few factors:

  • The size of your home
  • If your home is already well-insulated and air sealed
  • The type of heat pump HVAC equipment you install
  • If you have ductwork and if it’s in good condition
  • Your location and average installation costs in your area

Heat pumps can be really pricey, and that’s why they’re not in more homes right now. But they’re the most efficient way to heat your home. The best way to know what it will cost you is to get a no-obligation quote.

There’s good news, though: If you’re ready to pull the trigger on a boiler upgrade, you can get a heat pump for NO upfront cost if your house qualifies. 

Curious? Read on.

Replace your boiler with a heat pump for $0 upfront

Interested in getting a heat pump to replace your boiler? That’s a fantastic choice. 

And if you work with Sealed, you won’t have to worry about the process at all—because we take care of everything from start to finish:

  • We hire the professionals
  • We’ll create a custom plan for your home (tailored to your preferences)
  • We negotiate pricing with local expert contractors on your behalf
  • We’ll match your project with any available local energy rebates or incentives—to make sure you can really benefit from any of the work that’s done

All you need to do? Enjoy your newly-comfy house (and a worry-free HVAC system).

If I don’t have to spend any extra money to get a huge improvement to my home, it’s just a no brainer at that point.

Scott. R, Sealed customer

One more thing to note: A Sealed home makeover isn’t only about HVAC upgrades. 

In fact, it’s possible your home doesn’t even need new HVAC—maybe it just needs to be properly air sealed and insulated. 

If that’s the case, we’ll let you know—and we’ll design the plan accordingly. No paying for work you don’t need.

And if we don’t reduce your energy waste at home? We’ll take the hit—not you.

It only takes two minutes to see if your house qualifies.

December 9, 2022