The Difference Between Direct Vent & Power Vent Water Heaters

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Gas-powered water heaters work on a pretty simple principle—they burn natural gas as fuel to create heat, and that heat brings your water up to the ideal temperature. However, when you burn natural gas like that, it creates exhaust, and exhaust needs to have somewhere it can go to exit your home or else it may fill up with harmful gasses (including carbon monoxide). Thus, gas powered water heaters are vented to the outside world in order to give exhaust a safe and easy way to escape.

Water heater exhaust systems come in two different varieties: direct vents and power vents. While both of these types of vents are used around the country, direct vents are far more common for the average residential home here in Southern California. There are some good reasons for this as well, as each type of vent has its own advantages and disadvantages.

What Is a Direct Vent?

Direct vents work on the simple principle that warm air is lighter than cold air, and thus will rise when uninhibited. Thus, they’re a simple, small vent pipe that extends upward and exits through a small chimney on your rooftop. The warm exhaust-filled air rises, floating upward through this vent pipe until it leaves your home. No moving parts, no extra energy needed. Plain and simple.

What Is a Power Vent?

Power vents, on the other hand, are those which require a small fan to boost the exhaust process, pushing it out a vent pipe usually located somewhere on a wall on the exterior of your home. The biggest advantage to this is that they give you unmatched flexibility—you can put your exhaust duct exit anywhere on the side of your home, including in places that require a 90-degree bend in your exhaust pipe. However, because most homes around the Southern California area are built with ventilation chimneys already in mind, these systems are pretty rare. In fact, one of our plumbers with more than 12 years of experience says he’s seen no more than probably 10 of these systems over that span total, as opposed to multiple direct vent systems each and every day.

Downsides to Direct & Power Vents

When it comes to downsides, direct vents really don’t have many. They operate purely on laws of physics, which means they don’t need any moving parts or extra energy. You’ll almost never have to replace or repair the chimney on a direct-vent system, barring a strange thing like your vent becoming clogged by debris like leaves or small animals.

Power vents have further downsides. Because they require a blower fan, they also require a motor and that requires energy. Blower fans create noise, which can bother some people, particularly as the fan and motor begin to age. And likewise you’ll also have to replace this motor every several years or so, as they do eventually wear out. Likewise, installing one of these systems generally requires more skill, and the addition of moving parts makes them more expensive as well. We advise customers to avoid these options unless absolutely necessary.

And yes, there are times when these systems are necessary, notably when there is no clear ventilation path for your water heater. This is the most common in multi-family residential buildings like condos and apartment complexes, where bottom or middle-floor units may not have a direct upward path for your water heater to vent through.

Do you need help with your water heater? Call Dutton Plumbing at (844) 811-5449 today to request a repair or new installation!