What’s the Difference Between a Direct Vent Water Heater and a Power Vent Water Heater

If you’ve been researching water heaters, you’re probably all too aware of the many different terms that are used when describing them. This is largely due to the fact that there are so many different variations available to the homeowner. It can be quite overwhelming to the first time hot water heater buyer.

One of the most commonly asked questions is “What is the difference between a direct vent water heater and a power vent water heater?”. The answer, as the name implies, is in the how the combustion gases from the burner are vented. Simply put, a direct vent water heater simply direct vents these combustion gases to the atmosphere, whereas a power vent type heater removes them with the aid of a powered venting fan.

In a direct vent water heater, fuel is burned and the heat from this combustion process is used to heat the water. The hot byproducts of combustion, i.e. exhaust gases, are then transferred to the outside of the home via the exhaust pipe or chimney.

Direct venting works because heated air is lighter than cool air and in turn will rise naturally due to the difference in buoyancy between the hot and cold air. This is a nice simple system that works well when the exhaust gases can be vented vertically. No extra power is needed, and in turn the overall hot water heating costs are lower.

A power vent water heater uses a fan or blower to assist in the removal of exhaust gases from the hot water heater. If the water heater is installed in a location that doesn’t have access to a vertical vent or chimney, a power vent water heater may be your only choice. With the use of a fan or blower, exhaust gases can be pushed through horizontal exhaust vent pipes.

The main benefit of a power vent water heater, as was mentioned previously, is the ability to locate the water heater away from a chimney. Or if there is no chimney available, to save money by horizontally venting it to the outside through inexpensive venting pipe instead.

Some of the drawbacks of a power vent water heater versus a direct vent are that the power vent heater will cost more initially due to the extra equipment (fan/blower) needed. Not only that, but you’ll also need to run a power line to the fan. This too will add to the cost.

Another drawback is that the blower portion of the water heater will need electricity to operate. This will increase your hot water heating costs throughout it’s lifetime.

And finally, some people often complain about the sound of the fan running when the hot water heater is operating. While it’s probably only a minor concern, it’s something that should be seriously considered. Proper installation can help to eliminate, or at the very least minimize most of this.

So as you can see, there are a fair amount of differences between these two types of water heaters. Which one is right for you depends mostly upon your situation with respect to access to a vertical vent path or chimney.

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