Solar Pool Heater Buyers Guide

This year is bringing a huge surge in the number of people who are interested in buying a solar pool heater for their swimming pools. The advantages are obvious: in these days of high energy prices, the operating cost is virtually nil, it is relatively easy to install yourself and it’s environmentally friendly. Add to that the fact that any pool heater will increase your swim season by at least one half and you have a recipe for pool success.

First, let’s take a quick look at a solar energy diagram to see how solar pool heaters work.

Solar Energy Diagram

Solar Energy Diagram

In general, your existing pool pump pushes cold water from the pool through the black solar heater tubes that absorb the sun’s heat and transfer it to the cooler water as it passes through. The warmed water is then pumped back into the pool. As you can see, the concept is very simple and environmentally sound. Click here to see a solar heater plumbing diagram.

You, like many others, may have questions about solar pool heaters. For example:

  • Is a solar pool heater right for your location, climate and type of swimming pool?
  • What types of solar pool heaters are available and which one is right for your pool?
  • How long will a solar pool heater last?
  • What accessories will you need with a solar pool heater?

Let’s examine some answers to these questions.

Is a solar pool heater right for your location, climate and type of swimming pool?

If you live in a climate that has mostly sunny days and if you have a large area of your roof or yard that gets eight or more hours of sunshine per day then a solar pool heater could be right for you. Whether you have an in ground pool or an above ground pool, there is a model that will work for your pool.

What types of solar pool heaters are available and which one is right for your pool?

Solar heaters are available in a number of configurations for both in ground and above ground pools. Your choice will depend on the type of pool you have, the amount of space you have available and the orientation of that space to the sun.

Solar panels can be mounted on your roof (south-facing is best), on the ground or on panels along the side of your above ground pool (again, a south-facing orientation is best). Roof mounted solar panels, like the ones from Enersol work best for in ground pools. Mounting panels on the ground, along the side of the pool or a fence can be a good solution for above ground pools. SunGrabber is a popular choice for above ground pools.

The rule of thumb for how many solar panels you require is: the surface area of the panels should equal the surface area of your pool.

Also available are solar coils that require less space and can be “daisy-chained” to achieve the amount of heat you require. These can be laid on the ground or on a nearby roof in a sunny spot.

Another option is the liquid solar blanket, available in several formats. Basically, the liquid blanket is a thin layer of invisible, environmentally friendly liquid that covers the surface of the pool, trapping heat and preventing evaporation. Liquid solar blankets are biodegradable and will not affect your pool’s chemistry mix. The advantage of a liquid solar blanket is that it is relatively inexpensive to purchase, requires no “installation” and does not require any space outside the pool. The drawback is that the liquid film degrades over time and with use and must be replenished frequently.

How long will a solar pool heater last?

Solar panels, like those from Enersol and SunGrabber carry warranties of ten to fifteen years, so you can expect a long life from this type of heater if you maintain it properly.

Solar coils, carry a one year warranty and are subject to size and pressure restrictions on the pool pump. By choosing carefully and maintaining the coils according to manufacturers recommendations you should be able to get several years use from them.

Liquid solar blankets, as mentioned before, are biodegradable, so they must be replenished on a regular basis. There are several devices available to automatically dispense the liquid when it gets low, but these must also be checked and refilled on a regular basis.

What accessories will you need with a solar pool heater?

Regardless of the type of solar pool heater you decide on, it is highly recommended that you also use a solar blanket to help retain the heat that is gained during the daylight hours. Solar heaters heat the water slowly, only a few degrees per day, so preventing evaporation and heat loss is critical to the effectiveness of a solar pool heating system.

Solar blankets are available in large sheets sized to fit your pool. You will want to consider having a solar blanket reel to help prevent snags and tears when removing these blankets. Solar rings are smaller and are held together by magnets placed into the edges of the rings. These can be removed one at a time, but it is usually necessary to get into the water to remove all of the rings.

If you decide on a roof mounted heater, you may need an auxiliary pump to help lift the water to the roof. You will also want to install an automatic thermostat that measures the temperature differential between the pool water and the water in the solar heater. When the temperature differential reaches the set level, the thermostat opens a valve to circulate the heated water to the pool. When the water temperature is equalized, the valve closes to prevent circulating cooler water back to the pool.

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