Solar Pool Heaters: Everything You Need to Know

swimming pool with solar heaters

Charlie Hardcastle

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Having a swimming pool in your own backyard can be a blessing, but you need to be aware that it also comes with a lot of maintenance-related tasks and expenses. Aside from cleaning it up on a regular basis and draining the water ahead of the off-season, you’ll also have to resolve the question of heating up your pool. After all, what good is a swimming pool if you can’t use it when the temperature drops by a little bit? 

Nowadays, there are plenty of pool heating options available out there. One alternative, relatively new approach is getting a solar pool heater. Not only is it one of the most environmentally friendly ways to heat your pool on cloudy days, but it also comes with a whole host of other benefits. In this article, we’ll go over solar pool heating in detail, compare it to other methods, as well as give you a rundown of what you can gain by switching to pool solar panels. 

Is Solar Pool Heating for You?

Getting a solar heater for pool use might seem like an over-the-top solution for such a trivial issue as being able to dip into the water comfortably on a colder day, but it makes a lot of sense in the long run. If you already own solar panels, it is a no-brainer. The only thing you’ll have to do is set up the infrastructure necessary for the proper functioning of your pool heating system. 

You should also consider it even if solar pool heating would be your first foray into solar energy. First of all, getting your first solar collectors may prompt you to get more and use them for other purposes around the house. Secondly, it’s a renewable source of energy, meaning that you’ll reduce your reliance on polluting energy sources, if only by a little bit. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, using a solar heater for pool purposes is the most effective way to increase your pool water’s temperature. 

Later on in this article, we’ll describe the technicalities of solar pool heaters, as well as how exactly they can save you loads of money every year. Before that, it might be worth it to look into circumstances in which a solar power installation may not be the best of ideas.

When to Reconsider Getting a Solar Pool Heater

The efficiency of any solar power setup depends on the amount of solar energy that reaches your house. The ideal areas for solar heaters are those where the weather remains sunny and warm for the majority of the year, such as the Southwestern United States. If you live in California, Arizona, or Nevada, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t heat your pool with energy coming directly from the sun. 

If you don’t live in the Southwest, don’t bring yourself down. A solar-powered pool heater may still come in handy in places with intense summers and relatively warm spring and fall seasons. You just need to keep in mind that you’re going to need larger panels to accommodate for the reduced sunlight. 

East Coast residents will find solar heaters the least useful due to the weather and solar collector size requirements. Another thing to keep in mind is that the swimming season in places like the Hamptons lasts only about 2-4 months per year, so the solar heating infrastructure may not bring a worthy return on investment. 

How Does a Solar Pool Heater Work?

Any functional solar pool heating system is composed of four crucial elements: 

  • Solar collector (panel): These are the panels that collect and transform solar energy into heat. Your pool water gets circulated through them in order to be heated. 
  • Filter: On the way to the collector, the pool water goes through the filter to remove any debris before getting passed on to collectors. 
  • Flow control valve: It can be manual or automatic, and its purpose is to divert the water through the solar collector. In case of a system malfunction, your first course of action would be to turn the valve and stop the water flow. 
  • Pump: The pump “pushes” the pool water through the pipe system, giving it enough momentum to travel from the pool through the filters and collectors and back. 

As you can see, the mechanics of a solar pool heater system are quite simple and straightforward. The most expensive and time-consuming part of the entire process is definitely setting it up. The purchase and installation of a solar heater for pool usage can cost anywhere between $2,500 and $4,000. It may seem overly expensive at first, especially when compared to the setup costs of gas or electric heat pumps. 

However, once you factor in the price of the energy required to power these other pool heating methods, you’ll be able to start seeing major savings as early as two years into using solar heating. Additionally, sun-powered pool heaters tend to last much longer than the alternatives. 

The Benefits of Solar Heating

The advantages of having a solar pool heater go beyond the obvious perks of being able to heat up your swimming pool on disappointingly cold days.

Cost-Effectiveness

Solar pool heating is by far the most cost-effective method of them all. The average annual operating cost of this kind of setup amounts to just $75! Compared to the $850 for electric pumps and $1,700 for gas heating, the savings speak for themselves!

Energy Independence

If you buy your solar pool heater for cash without any kind of a loan, you’ll rid yourself of any kind of middlemen that stand between you and the power needed to heat up your swimming pool—no more elevated utility bills, too. On top of that, you’ll be able to rest easy knowing that you’re using green energy to keep the pool warm.

Property Value Boost

This advantage gets omitted quite frequently in the debate around the best pool heating systems, but it’s a big one. Given the cost-effectiveness and sturdiness of solar pool heating systems, they can actually hike up the value of a property that comes equipped with that kind of a setup. After all, the buyer will be spared tens of thousands of dollars in utility costs for the years to come! This is definitely something to keep in mind should you ever find yourself wanting or needing to sell your house in the future.

Increase the Efficiency of Your Solar Pool Heater

Although the energy efficiency of using a solar heater for pool water should be clear to you by now, there are a couple of extra things you could do to get the most out of this heating system. 

  • Use pool covers. Installing a pool cover is a relatively cheap endeavor, and yet it radically reduces the energy use of pool heating. As pool water loses most of its warmth at night, deploying an insulating cover over it every evening will allow you to keep the water temperature higher than it would be if you left it wide open for the night. 
  • Manage your pool temperature. Regularly checking up on your pool water’s temperature with a thermometer is another practice you should implement. It will let you know precisely for how long you need to keep the heater running, preventing unnecessary energy use. 
  • Use your solar heater to cool down your swimming pool. It may seem counterintuitive, but your solar installation can actually be used to cool down your pool water, as well! If you live in a hot climate, you can run the water through your solar collectors at night during peak summer months. Since they don’t pick up any sunlight then, the sheer movement will bring the temperature down to a pleasant coolness right before your morning dip. 

Other Pool Heating Options

While it definitely comes with the most additional benefits, solar is not the only way to go about keeping your swimming pool warm when the sun just doesn’t cut it. Alongside harnessing the energy of the sun, the most popular options are gas pool heaters and heat pumps.

Gas Pool Heaters

Using gas to heat up the water in your swimming pool is by far the most popular method on the market. But is it the best one? The answer depends on the prices of natural gas in your area, as well as the size of your pool and the heater model itself. 

If you own a small pool and don’t rely on heating it on a daily basis, you might just get away with a small gas heater. Getting the pump and necessary equipment by itself is very cheap (even with the better, more energy-efficient models). As you can probably guess, the bulk of the price you’ll pay for a gas heating system for your pool will be reflected in your utility bills. 

With pools larger than the size of a pond, using a gas heater can jack up your bills by thousands of dollars. On average, an American household pays around $1,700 per year for heating up the pool with natural gas or propane. Not too long ago, these prices were something to be expected if you owned a heated swimming pool. However, as more homeowners began building pools in their backyards, the increased demand for heating was met with new, innovative solutions that achieved the same results, all the while being much less costly. 

Electric Heat Pumps 

The rise of electric heat pumps paved the way for affordable pool heating. They heat pools by drawing in the outside air and pumping it into the water. As a result, they don’t need to rely on utilizing natural gas or propane to release the warmth into your swimming pool. By using electricity as their primary source of power, getting a heat pump instead of a gas heater can cut your pool heating costs by over 50%.

The savings are definitely a perk, but they don’t mean that electric pool heating doesn’t come without its drawbacks. The biggest one is that they’re only really effective when the temperature outside stays above 45-50ºF. Any colder than that, and the air they draw into the pool will not be warm enough to result in the desired effect.

The Bottom Line

A swimming pool without a functional heating system means limiting yourself to using it for only a couple of weeks per year (or months, depending on where you live). Although they may seem quite expensive at first, the benefits of solar pool heaters far outweigh their disadvantages. The fortune you’ll save on utility bills is one thing. Another perk is the fact that you won’t have to rely on an energy provider to keep the prices stable in order to keep your pool heater affordable. Finally, any kind of solar infrastructure can increase the prestige and value of your property – just ask any real estate agent! 

Hopefully, this article has cleared any doubts and questions you might have had with regard to the use of solar power in pool heating systems. Equipped with this knowledge and the information about alternative options, you will be able to make the right decision for your household.

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