Are Direct Vent Water Heaters Reliable?

kc270November 8, 2012

I am considering a direct vent water heater. I currently have a model that has the blower on top, I am interested in a direct vent water heater without the blower.

If you have a non-blower direct vent water heater, do you have issues with the pilot light going out. A search of the internet found a few instances of this, and I am trying to determine if it is typical for these types of units. Especially since mine would be venting out of a west facing wall, the direction from which most of our winds and weather comes.

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"do you have issues with the pilot light going out."
Usually means the house is back drafting badly or the draft hood was omitted.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 1:17PM
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Do you mean a more traditional type of water heater, with a flue, or something else? The power vent type you have is the more modern sort, usually use a plastic vent pipe, but require electricity to operate.

Mine is an old-school flue/B-vent type, and works without electricity. The pilot light has gone out once or twice when it's been windy. I've also seen evidence of some back-drafting but again, I think only during high wind. It has the draft hood, correctly installed. I've done the candle test to ensure it draws correctly, the flame pulls towards the draft hood.

My b-vent is a split type, the furnace uses it as well. Vent goes out through the roof.

Had the house >6 years, replaced the HW heater +- 3 years ago, I think the pilot's gone out once or twice, as I said.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 6:19PM
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Thanks for the information Brickeyee.

alan_s_thefirst - I've found there are three types of water heaters:

Atmospheric: vents to a chimney such as the one you described

Direct Vent: similar to atmospheric except it is designed to work without a chimney. It has piping for intake and exhaust that goes horizontally through an exterior wall.

Power Vent: like an atmospheric water heater except it has a blower mounted on the top. When the heater runs, the blower exhausts the fumes either vertically or horizontally to the exterior of the building. Because of the blower, it gives you some flexibility in where it can be installed, vs the atmospheric, which needs a chimney, or the direct vent, which must be next to an exterior wall.

And I guess I should mention there are high efficiency condensing water heaters and tankless units, but I am not considering either one.

Apparently the atmospheric and the power vent are the most commonly installed water heaters these days. I got a quote from a plumber for a new 50 gallon gas fired water tank with installation: $2100 for a direct vent model, $1400 for a power vent unit. The direct vent model would require 4 weeks between order and delivery, too.

My home does not have a chimney, and I would prefer that my next water heater not have the blower motor just to eliminate the noise and the fan. Plus, there is a durability factor with the blower. My 12 year old A.0. Smith water heater had the blower fail after six years of service. It was easy enough to replace, but it cost nearly $300.

Anyway, thanks sharing your experiences with pilot lights and what might cause them to extinquish.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 12:18AM
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Interesting. I wonder if they're more efficient than the traditional? I haven't seen them here in Canada, I don't know if they're allowed in new construction.

I like the fact they draw their own combustion air. In a sense, though, you're taking a step backwards, technology-wise, but I understand your reasons. That $300 you spent (for a new blower I assume) would almost pay for a whole new traditional heater.

Unless you're in an area prone to high winds, I don't think you'd find the pilot a big issue. They have built-in piezo ignition, so they're easy to light. After a few years the thermocouple may fail, which will mean it won't stay lit. They're not expensive, available most places and reasonably easy to fit.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 1:54AM
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I did end up getting a 50 gallon Bradford White direct vent water heater installed. Pros over the power vent unit are:

It is silent vs. the noise of the power vent fan
No fan to possibly wear out and require replacing
It does not require electricity to operate - you still have hot water if the power goes out


More expensive than standard atmospheric vent or power vent models
Requires a 6" hole in the side of the house to accomodate the larger combined intake and exhaust vent
Exhaust vent on the side of the house is larger than a typical vent
The exterior vent is very hot to the touch when the heater is producing hot water (however the ductwork leading from the heater through the wall is barely lukewarm because of the way the ductwork is designed)

I've only had the direct vent heater for about a week, but as of now I am happy to be rid of the noise created by the previous heater's exhaust fan. In a larger home where the heater can be isolated, the power vent unit's fan noise might not be an issue, but even then, if you are outdoors or have a window open near where the heater vent is located, you will hear the fairly loud fan.

Hope this information is useful to anyone else who is researching water heaters and stumbles across this thread.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 5:02AM
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