Direct Vent vs Power Vent Water Heaters: The Differences That Matter

With so many products available in the market, it can get pretty overwhelming to arrive at a decision, especially if you are shopping for spec-heavy electrical items such as water heaters. Many variations and brands are providing you with various features from which you can select what you need.

But, one dilemma remains. Should you select a direct vent unit or a power vent unit? If you haven’t considered it yet, we present all the facts and the pros and cons of each system to make an informed choice.

For some homes, it may be possible that there is already a direct vent unit in place, or some cases, because of the location of the water heater, power vents can be the only feasible option you have. We’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each system in detail in this article.

Difference Between Direct Vent & Power Vent Water Heaters 

Direct Vent Water Heater vs Power Vent Water Heater

Simply put, water heaters require energy in some form to heat the water. For water heaters it is provided through the burning of fuel. The gases produced during combustion have to be released into the atmosphere. There are two possible ways to do this: a direct vent system and a power vent system.

The main difference between the two is that in the direct vent water heating system, the combustion gases are released into the atmosphere via chimneys and exhaust pipes. In contrast, in the power vent system of water heaters, the combustion gases are removed using powered venting fans.

Direct Vent

Power Vent

Mostly used in old homes

Seen in relatively new homes

Uses chimneys and exhausts to remove combustion gases

Uses power-driven fans to remove combustion gases

Has restrictions in terms of placement of the water heater

The water heater can be placed anywhere

Installation cost is lower

Installation costs can be high

There is no need for extra power for direct vent water heater systems as they depend on the chimneys, and the water heating costs can be lower than the power venting systems as they do not require any extra power to perform.

But, this restricts the direct venting water heater placement because the chimney or the vents should have a vertical placement and can’t be placed in locations that don’t have direct access to the chimney. Such problems do not occur in the case of power vent water heating systems and can be placed anywhere in the home.

Direct Vent Water Heaters

Direct Vent Water Heaters

Direct Vent Water heaters use the air outside your home, from the atmosphere, while the exhaust gases and the excess heat created are also vented outside the home using chimneys and vents.

Many direct vent water heaters have special coaxial venting placed to separate the incoming and outgoing air. The venting runs horizontally along with the house and transfers the air outside to prevent the backdrafting of the air. This enables the direct vent system to use a single vent for both processes rather than placing two vents for each.

Direct venting works on the principle that hot air naturally rises more than cold air due to the difference in the buoyancy of the two. The system is vented vertically and hence works very well without the expense of the extra power. This, in turn, reduces the overall operating cost of the water heater.

Let’s sum up the pros and cons of the direct venting water heater system.

Advantages

  • Easy installation procedures and lower initial costs for older homes with a chimney.
  • No extra power is needed in terms of the transfer of air.
  • It doesn’t cause extra noise because of the lesser number of moving parts
  • Lower maintenance cost

Disadvantages

  • It restricts the placement of the water heater as it needs direct access to vents or chimneys.
  • The absence of the required supply of air can lead to incomplete combustion.

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Power Vent Water Heater

Power Vent Water Heater

Power vent water heaters use a power-driven fan or blower that facilitates the transfer of hot air outside the home. This is very useful because it allows the user to place the water heater anywhere in the home without thinking about connecting it to the chimneys.

Using power vents, one can transfer the hot air even through horizontal vents. This is very convenient for modern homes, and one may need complex venting systems to push out the gases. In addition to that, in many homes, such heaters are operated to remove the exhaust gas and increase their home’s safety factor.

The power vent water heaters remove the possibility of the backdraft of air because of the mechanical pressure provided. This decreases the risk of harmful gases like carbon monoxide, which are common byproducts of incomplete combustion to leak out of the vents and causing poisoning.

Most modern homes are built with efficiency in mind. This often puts the placement of water heaters and the possibility of natural venting at a tight spot. For many homes, a power vent heater might be the only option.

But like all good things, power vent water heaters have their disadvantages and drawbacks. The main is using an extra motor that can drive up the total electricity usage and the installation costs.

The extra fan poses another nagging problem which is the noise of the running motor. In most cases, it won’t be an issue, but sometimes if the motor malfunctions, the noise can get amplified through the vents and make life more complicated.

Being dependent on electricity, it cannot operate during power outages and electrical faults.

Let’s sum up the pros and cons of the power vent water heaters.

Advantages

  • Power vent heaters enable the user to place the water heater anywhere in the house without worrying about the natural ventilation of the exhaust gases.
  • Reduced risk of harmful gases leaking out of the vents causing poisoning.
  • It does not require a chimney, and the exhaust gases can be channeled even through PVC pipes.

Disadvantages

  • The initial cost is more than that of the direct vent water heater
  • Maintenance cost is higher due to the presence of additional moving components.
  • Dependent on electricity and won’t function during power outages
  • Can drive up the electricity bill
  • Can pose noise problems due to the vent fan

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What Is Better Direct Vent Water Heater or Power Vent Water Heater? The Verdict

We have seen the difference between the direct vent water heater and power vent water heaters and their advantages and disadvantages. Direct vent water heaters are more suited for older houses with a chimney or adequate venting possibilities. However, keep in mind that the placement of the water heaters is limited for such systems.

Power vented systems are more versatile and can be placed anywhere in the house regardless of the connection to chimneys or availability of vertical vents. But, these power vented water heaters are not as efficient as the direct vent systems as they require additional electrical power to function. This will also result in larger maintenance fees and electricity costs. There is also a possibility of noise ruining your home’s ambiance.

  • Direct vent water heaters are more suited if you have a convenient place for the water heater, which also has connections to vertical vents or a chimney. It can also be used in places where power outages are frequent.
  • Power vent water heaters can be considered for families with a complex or not enough space to place the water heater near available vents. It can also be used if you live in an area with fewer power outages as power vents reduce the risk of poisoning.

The choice between a direct vent heater or a power vent water heater is entirely up to the living conditions and environment of the user. You can consider the pros and cons of each system mentioned above to make an informed decision while installing water heaters in your home.

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