Homeowners today have plenty of options to consider when purchasing a new water heater. From tankless models with energy-efficient designs to tank-style models with integrated smart technology, there's truly a water heater for every need.
As you search for the right water heater, one factor you may not be considering yet is whether a direct vent or power vent unit is right for you. If you're not thinking about this distinction, you absolutely should be. Keep reading to learn why.
What is a Power Vent Water Heater?
Gas water heaters require venting to remove harmful combustion gases from your house. The two most popular venting configurations are direct vent and power vent. A power vent water heater utilizes an electric blower fan to push the exhaust gases through vent pipes.
Another difference is the type of venting that's required for these heaters. Power venting heaters are installed with inexpensive PVC piping rather than metal venting.
There are many advantages to using a power vent water heater, but the ability to install your heater anywhere is arguably the biggest. Since these type of water heaters do not require vertical venting, a power vent water heater can remove the gases through a horizontal vent. In some situations, a horizontal vent may be your only option.
In addition, many home owners use these heaters to simply improve the removal of exhaust and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with the added layer of safety. Since a power vent water heater eliminates the potential for backdraft, they greatly lower the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, although it is not totally eliminated.
Energy savings is another benefit. Power vent water heaters are more energy efficient, so they require less gas to operate. The lower energy consumption will save you some money, but probably not more than $20 a year, making this an added benefit, but not a deciding factor.
An often overlooked issue is that many newer homes are built with energy efficiency in mind. Because they are "tightly built" it can often be difficult to establish an acceptable natural draft for venting. A power vent water heater can be a good option for this situation.
Unfortunately, there are drawbacks with everything, and a power vent water heater is no exception. To begin with, they are noisy. They don't sound like a mac truck, but you will hear the fan running. This isn't typically an issue if your heater is installed in a basement or other out-of-the-way location, but if it's nearby a living area, you'll most likely know when it's operating.
Another disadvantage is that the fan will need to be plugged into an electrical outlet. If you have a nearby electrical outlet, no problem, but if you don't, you'll need to have one installed.
One thing that many homeowners enjoy about gas water heaters is the fact that the water heater will operate even during a power outage. That's not true with power vent water heaters. If your electrical power is interrupted, your water heater stop working because it won't be able to vent it's gases.
In addition, power vent heaters cost more, between 50 to 75% more than a direct vent heater, and they have a shorter warranty too. In most cases, 6-years would be considered a top-of-the-line warranty.
Power Vent vs. Direct Vent Water Heaters
When shopping for a gas water heater, choosing which type of venting style is a big decision. As we discussed in the above section, there are some very clear advantages and disadvantages to owning a power vent heater.
Although, there are several key differences between power vent and direct vents water heaters, beyond the blower fan that assists with exhaust in a power vent, we need to look at where the combustion (incoming) air is drawn. A direct vent heater draws the combustion air from the atmosphere outside your house; and a power vent heater draws the air from inside.
Where many water heaters use the air for combustion that surrounds the unit, a direct vent water heater draws air from the atmosphere outside of your house. Then, the exhaust gases, as well as excess heat from the process of heating the water, is vented back outside.
Special coaxial venting is used to separate the incoming and outgoing air so that a single vent can be used, rather than two. The venting runs horizontally through the side of the house and pulls and pushes air outside to prevent backdrafting.
A power vent water heater pulls the air required for combustion from the atmosphere surrounding the water heater, and utilizes an electric blower fan on the top of the heater to blow the excess heat and exhaust through the venting to the outside atmosphere.
Installation options are among the strengths of a power vent water heater, because it can be vented vertically or horizontally, and can even use longer vent line. This provides plenty of flexibility when it comes installation.
In addition, a power vent heater uses the heat from the exhaust to heat water, they expel cooler exhaust and therefore are able to utilize PVC piping instead of metal venting.
Some manufacturers offer a hybrid design called a power direct vent water heater, which pulls the incoming air from outside the house and expels the exhaust back outside. Typically the same blower fan is used for both incoming and outgoing air. This is an excellent option if your water heater needs to be installed in an area that lacks sufficient air for combustion.
Can You Convert Regular Water Heaters to Power Vent Water Heaters?
Although technically possible, we highly recommend NOT retrofitting a regular heater to a power vent system. Attempting to convert a regular heater will almost certainly void your water heater warranty. Even worse, it may void your home warranty, or should you experience a serious malfunction, it may even cause an issue with an insurance claim.
Most premium manufacturers, such as Rheem and A.O. Smith sell power vent water heaters, and it would be in your best interest to purchase a heater that is designed for this type of venting instead of attempting to do a retrofit.
Changing the way a water heater vents it's exhaust is asking the heater to perform in a way that it was not designed to operate. This is not a DYI project, and if you are still seriously considering retrofitting your heater, please contact a professional water heater installer to discuss your options. The safety of your family is not worth saving a few dollars!
What's the Best Power Vent Water Heater?
If you're ready to invest in a power vent water heater, there's plenty of options. Most manufacturers have power vent heaters in their water heater line-up. Here are a few of the best on the market right now.
A.O. Smith 50-Gallon ProMax Power Vent
The A.O. Smith GPVL-50 ProMax Power Vent 50-gallon gas water heater is an excellent choice. It's hard to go wrong with an A.O. Smith heater, and this water heater is no exception. It utilizes a state-of-the-art electronic gas control, Dynaclean II dip tube, and 2-inch thick environmentally friendly insulation to improve energy efficiency. One unique feature of the GPVL-50 ProMax is the 3-position rotatable blower which gives you plenty of flexibility.
A.O. Smith GPVL-50 ProMax Power Vent
Rheem 50-Gallon Power Vent Water Heater
The PROG50-42N 50-gallon power vent water heater by Rheem has an energy efficiency rating of .67 and delivers an impressive first hour rating (FHR) of up to 87-gallons, which is a solid performance for a 50-gallon tank.
It utilizes a low Knox design, eco-friendly burner and electronic gas control. Rheem is a well respected, premium manufacturer and this is an excellent choice if you're in the market for a 50-gallon water heater.
Rheem 50-Gallon Water Heater
American Standard Tankless Natural Gas Water Heater
The American Standard TCWH199S-AS-NG is a tankless natural gas power vent water heater. It features an impressive 96% efficiency rating as well as a durable design with two heat exchangers built out of 304-grade stainless steel. It's competitively priced for a gas tankless heater, and with proper care and maintenance should be able to achieve a 20+ year service life.
American Standard Tankless
How Much Does a Power Vent Water Heater Cost?
Since power vent heaters feature more components than their direct vent counterparts, they are typically more expensive. As a rule of thumb, you can expect to pay between $300 to $600 more for the power vent water heater itself, but you'll also spend more in installation.
Keep in mind, if you don't have an electrical outlet near the water heater, you'll need to have one installed which will also add to the installation price.
Ultimately, your costs will be determined by the type of water heater you choose. Since power venting refers to how the exhaust gases are removed from the surrounding atmosphere of the water heater, and not a particular style of heater. You can find power vented water heaters in both tank-style and tankless models.
Quality tankless water heaters are typically more expensive than tank-style systems, but there are manufacturers that sell lower cost units. A good example of a budget-friendly power vent tankless is Eccotemp FVI112-LP, which is a great option if you need a water heater for a vacation home, small home, or any other low use environment.
Are They Hard to Install?
Generally speaking, a power vent water heater is easier to install than other natural draft or direct draft type heaters. Since power venting doesn't rely on the natural buoyancy of hot air, the vent pipes don't need to go upwards. And because a fan is used to remove the exhaust gases outside, the venting can actually run horizontally, making them easier to install.
Instead of metal venting, PVC piping is used which is less expensive and much easier to assemble. The reason PVC piping can be used is because the fan blows cooler air and dilutes the hot exhaust gases. Since the end result is cooler and diluted exhaust, PVC piping is more than capable of handling the venting.
There are two installation factors you need to be aware of which are especially unique to power vented water heaters. First, you'll need to have a standard electrical outlet near the water heater so you can power the blower fan.
The second consideration is that there is enough ventilation available to provide make-up air. The fan will be pulling and air from the atmosphere surrounding the water heater, there needs to be enough ventilation to replace the air that the fan draws.
Even though power vent heaters are easier to install, you should check with your local building department to see if you'll need a permit. If you hire a professional plumber to do the work for you, this will be part of the installation process.
Get Help Installing Your Power Vent Water Heater
Your water heater is one of the most important appliances in your home. If you've decided to purchase a new power vent water heater, it's important that you install it correctly. Failing to do so could cause you endless headaches down the line.
With that in mind, consider reaching out to a plumbing professional to complete the installation process for you. They'll have the expertise needed to ensure that your power vent water heater is set up to work for years to come.