Solar Swimming Pool Heater : How It Works

Taking a swim in your pool can be a great way to cool off after a hot day. Less relaxing is repairing a broken pool heater or paying expensive bills to keep your pool warm.

Depending on your pool and location, solar heaters can be a cleaner and cheaper way to keep you pool heated & ready for relaxing. In fact, most solar heaters have low annual operating costs and many are more efficient than traditional heaters.

What is a Solar Pool Heater?

Solar pool heaters use the sun’s energy to pump water through your filter and a series of solar collectors — devices where the water is warmed in tubular panels by the sun — and then back into the pool. Solar collectors are often installed on roofs, though they can be placed anywhere with sufficient sunlight. In hotter climates or warm summer months, they can also serve a double purpose by cooling down the pool by routing water through the collectors during the night.

Solar pool heater unglazed

There are two variations of solar heaters: unglazed and glazed.

  • Unglazed solar collectors are often cheaper because they are not “glazed” with a glass covering and use durable plastic or rubble. Their technology is similar to how a garden hose in the sun will eventually heat up and pass that thermal energy onto the water inside.
  • Glazed solar collectors often use copper tubing with a glass covering. These upgrades make them more efficient, but that efficiency makes them more expensive. In addition to heating your pool, glazed solar collectors can also be used to heat the water you use indoors all year.

In addition to the solar collectors, many solar pool heating systems also include manual or automated sensors and flow control valves. If the pool is sufficiently heated, water from the solar collectors can be diverted and water from the pool will still be filtered but won’t enter the collectors.

Solar Pool Heater Cost

Solar pool heaters and installation often costs between $3,000 to $4,000. While the upfront cost of a solar heater can be a bit higher than alternatives, they require very little upkeep and have no associated fuel costs. According to the Department of Energy, they “typically last longer than gas and heat pump pool heaters.” In fact, most properly installed, high quality solar heaters will last up to 20 years.

While the payback period for most solar heaters is between 1.5 to 7 years, the actual time will depend on a variety of factors including:

  • The size of your pool
  • How hot you like to keep your pool
  • The cost of electricity in your area
  • The amount of sun you get in your area
  • How much your roof is shaded
  • Orientation of the solar collectors

Solar Pool Heater System Sizing

According to Swim University’s “Three Quarters Rule,” you’ll need enough solar collectors to cover about three quarters of the surface of your pool. For example, a standard pool size is 15 X 30 feet, or 450 square feet. Your solar collectors’ surface area would thus need to be around 338 square feet. However, if you plan to use your pool all year, you’ll probably want to plan on bumping up from three quarters to 100% coverage. For this example, you would need 450 square feet of solar collector surface area.

Best Solar Pool Heaters

There are a variety of solar pool heaters on the market but finding the best heater will always depend on the specifics of your home and pool.

If you’re already considering going solar, adding a rooftop solar photovoltaic system in addition to a solar collectors can be a great way to consolidate projects. In fact, many installers will install both PV panels and solar collectors.

Solar Pool Heater versus Solar PV Panels

Depending on your home’s roof size, you may not have enough space to accommodate both a solar pool heater and solar panels to power your home. If this situation arises, you’ll need to do a cost-benefit analysis of which system will provide you with greater savings over time.

In general, we’d recommend pairing an efficient electric pool heater and pump with your solar PV. That way, you can power everything with solar and will likely have the best savings. The added electrical needs from the electric pool heater and pump will add only 3-5 solar panels to the system.

Our energy experts are ready to guide you through the solar process no matter what you’re looking for, so you can start relaxing and saving money on heating your pool!

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