Resources // Boiler Maintenance

A Guide to Steam and Hot Water Boilers 


Written By: Haley Richards, Marketing & Events Coordinator

Boilers play a crucial role in various industries, providing a reliable source of heat and energy. Among the several types of boilers, steam and hot water boilers are widely used due to their efficiency and versatility.  

Cleaver-Brooks Clearfire-H Steam Firetube Boiler v Cleaver-Brooks Switchfire Hydronic Condensing Boiler 

Steam vs Hot Water Boilers 

  • Steam Boilers: Steam boilers generate steam by heating water to its boiling point. The steam produced can be used for a wide range of applications, including power generation, heating, and industrial processes. Steam boilers are commonly found in power plants, refineries, and manufacturing facilities. *See Diagram A 

Diagram A – Steam boiler heating process. Diagram from Haley Richards, Marketing & Events Coordinator at PBBS Equipment Corporation 

  • Hot Water Boilers: Unlike steam boilers, hot water boilers use water to transfer heat. They heat the water to a specific temperature and then distribute it throughout a building or facility for space heating or domestic hot water purposes. Hot water boilers are prevalent in residential, commercial, and institutional settings. *See Diagram B 

Diagram B – Hot water boiler heating process. Diagram from Haley Richards, Marketing & Events Coordinator at PBBS Equipment Corporation 

Key Differences 

  • Pressure: Steam boilers operate under high pressure, typically above 15 psi, while hot water boilers operate at lower pressures, usually below 160 psi. 
  • Temperature: Steam boilers produce steam at temperatures above 212°F (100°C), whereas hot water boilers provide water at temperatures typically between 120°F (49°C) and 180°F (82°C). 
  • System Design: Steam boiler systems require additional components such as steam traps, condensate return systems, and pressure regulators. Hot water boiler systems are simpler, consisting of pumps, valves, and radiators or fan coil units. 
Cleaver-Brooks ClearFire-H Steam boiler start-up completed by a PBBS Service Technician in Green Bay, Wisconsin


  • Steam Boilers: With their ability to generate high-pressure steam, steam boilers are utilized in various industrial applications. They are commonly used in power generation plants, where steam turbines convert the energy into electricity. Additionally, steam boilers find applications in the food and beverage industry, manufacturing facilities, chemical processing plants, and hospitals. 
  • Hot Water Boilers: Hot water boilers are primarily used for space heating in residential buildings, commercial offices, hotels, and hospitals. They also provide hot water for domestic use in kitchens and bathrooms. In some cases, hot water boilers are integrated with radiant floor heating systems or used for industrial processes requiring heated water. 

Considerations for Boiler Selection 

There is a lot to consider when choosing the right boiler for you and your needs. Here is a breakdown of everything that should be considered when doing so: 

  • Efficiency: When selecting a boiler, consider its energy efficiency rating. High-efficiency boilers can significantly reduce fuel consumption and operating costs. 

Cleaver-Brooks ClearFire-LC Hydronic Condensing Boilers 

  • Fuel Type: Determine the most suitable fuel type based on availability, cost, and environmental considerations. Common options include natural gas, oil, coal, and biomass. 
  • Sizing: Properly size the boiler to meet the heating demands of the application. Undersized boilers may struggle to deliver sufficient heat, while oversized boilers can lead to inefficiencies and excessive fuel consumption. An experienced PBBS technician can size your boiler for you
  • Maintenance: Regular maintenance is crucial to ensure optimal performance and extend the lifespan of the boiler. Follow manufacturer recommendations for maintenance schedules and consider professional servicing

Steam and hot water boilers are vital components in various industries and applications. Understanding their differences, applications, and key considerations can help in selecting the appropriate boiler system for your specific needs. Whether it’s generating steam for power generation or providing hot water for space heating, these boilers play a crucial role in keeping everything running smoothly. 

 Contact PBBS Equipment today to receive a review of your current building and system. We can provide dependable expertise during the initial review process to provide solid financial direction and next steps for your heating or process needs.  

boiler room gauge

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