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Harness the Sun: A Guide to Solar Pool Heaters

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

Harnessing the power of the sun to warm your pool is an excellent way to save money and reduce your carbon footprint. Solar pool heaters are a popular choice for homeowners who want to enjoy their pool year-round without breaking the bank. In this guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about solar pool heaters, how they work, and why they're a smart investment for any pool owner.

Looking for the most effective and efficient pool heaters this year? Check out our roundup of the best pool heaters of 2023.


Solar pool heaters use the sun's energy to heat your pool water, making them an eco-friendly and cost-effective alternative to traditional pool heating methods. These systems are easy to install and require little maintenance, making them an excellent choice for homeowners who want to reduce their energy bills and enjoy their pool throughout the year.


In this guide, we'll explore the different types of solar pool heaters, how they work, and the benefits they offer. Whether you're looking to upgrade your existing pool or install a new one, this guide will provide you with all the information you need to make an informed decision.


Understanding Solar Pool Heaters


Solar Collectors


Solar pool heaters use solar collectors to harness sunlight and heat the water in your pool. These collectors are typically installed on a roof or other location with sufficient sunlight. The collectors contain a series of tubular panels where the water is warmed by the sun's energy. Once warmed, the water is circulated back into the pool.


The surface area of the collectors for your solar pool heating system needs to be at least 50% of the surface area of your pool. For example, a 16 foot by 32 foot pool would have 512 square feet of surface area, so you would need at least 256 square feet of solar collectors.


Harnessing Sunlight


Solar pool heating systems use the sun's energy to pump water through the collectors and filter, warming the water before it is returned to the pool. The system typically includes a solar collector, pump, filter, and flow control valve. The pump circulates water from the pool through the filter and solar collector, where it is warmed by the sun's energy. The warmed water is then returned to the pool.


Solar pool heating systems are cost-effective and environmentally friendly. They can save you money on pool heating costs and extend your swimming season. A solar pool heating system usually costs between $2,500 and $4,000 to buy and install, and provides a payback of between 1 and 7 years, depending on your local fuel costs and available solar resource. They also typically last longer than gas and heat pump pool heaters.


Overall, solar pool heaters are a great investment for anyone looking to extend their swimming season and save money on pool heating costs. By harnessing the power of the sun, you can enjoy a warm pool without harming the environment or breaking the bank.


woman in pool

For those who prefer a hands-on approach, our DIY pool heater installation guide provides step-by-step instructions to get your pool heater up and running.


Types of Solar Pool Heaters


There are three main types of solar pool heaters: glazed collectors, unglazed collectors, and evacuated tube collectors. Each type has its own unique characteristics and benefits.


Glazed Collectors


Glazed collectors are made of glass or plastic and have a metal or plastic frame. They are more expensive than unglazed collectors but are also more efficient. Glazed collectors are best suited for areas with colder climates as they can withstand freezing temperatures. They are also more durable and can last up to 20 years.


Unglazed Collectors


Unglazed collectors are made of heavy-duty rubber or plastic and are less expensive than glazed collectors. They are best suited for areas with warm climates as they are less efficient in colder temperatures. Unglazed collectors are also less durable and have a shorter lifespan of around 10 years.


Evacuated Tube Collectors


Evacuated tube collectors are the most efficient type of solar pool heater. They are made up of several glass tubes that are connected to a manifold. The tubes are vacuum-sealed and filled with a heat transfer fluid. They are best suited for areas with colder climates as they can withstand freezing temperatures. Evacuated tube collectors are also the most expensive and have the longest lifespan of up to 30 years.


Some popular solar pool heaters in the market are SunHeater S120U Universal Solar Pool Heater, Fafco Pool Papa Bear Economy Heating System, and Smart Pool S601 Sun Heater High-Density Solar Heater. When choosing a solar pool heater, it is important to consider the climate in your area, the size of your pool, and your budget.


In summary, glazed collectors are more efficient and durable but are more expensive, unglazed collectors are less expensive but less efficient and durable, and evacuated tube collectors are the most efficient and durable but also the most expensive.


Before investing in a pool heater, it's important to understand the costs involved. Our article on pool heater costs breaks down what you need to know.


Installation Process


Installing a solar pool heater can be a great investment that pays off in the long run. Here is a brief overview of the installation process.


Choosing the Right Location


Before you begin installing your solar pool heater, it is important to choose the right location. Solar collectors require direct sunlight for a significant portion of the day, so it is crucial to select a location that is not shaded by trees or buildings. Ideally, the solar collectors should face south to capture the most sunlight.


When choosing the location, you will also need to consider the available roof space or ground area. You will need sufficient space to install the solar collectors, either on your roof or in your yard. If you are unsure of how many panels you need, a basic guideline is to have enough panels to cover an area at least half the size of the pool.


Installation Kits and Tools


Most solar pool heater installation kits come with everything you need to get started. However, you may need additional tools depending on your specific installation. Here are some common tools you may need:

  • Drill

  • Screwdriver

  • Saw

  • Caulk gun

  • Wire cutters

  • Pipe cutter

  • Wrench

In addition to the tools, you will need to purchase a roof rack if you plan to install the solar collectors on your roof. The roof rack is used to secure the solar collectors to the roof and prevent them from shifting or falling.


Overall, installing a solar pool heater is a fairly straightforward process that can be completed by a DIY enthusiast. However, if you are not comfortable with the installation process, it is recommended that you hire a professional to ensure that everything is installed correctly.


Operation of Solar Pool Heaters


Pump and Valve


Solar pool heaters use a pump and valve to circulate water from the pool through the solar collector, where it is heated by the sun, and then back into the pool. The pump and valve are controlled by a solar controller, which monitors the temperature of the water in the solar collector and turns the pump on and off as needed.


Filter and Water Pump


Before the water is pumped through the solar collector, it passes through a filter to remove debris. The filter is an important component of the system because it helps to prevent clogs in the solar collector and keeps the water clean. A water pump is also used to circulate the water through the filter and the solar collector.


Solar Controller


The solar controller is the brain of the solar pool heating system. It monitors the temperature of the water in the solar collector and turns the pump and valve on and off as needed to maintain the desired temperature. The solar controller can also be used to adjust the flow rate of the water through the solar collector, which can help to optimize the performance of the system.


Recirculation


The recirculation of the water through the solar collector is a key component of the solar pool heating system. As the water is heated by the sun, it is recirculated back into the pool, where it raises the temperature of the entire pool. The recirculation process continues until the desired temperature is reached, at which point the solar controller will turn off the pump and valve.


In summary, solar pool heaters use a pump, valve, filter, water pump, flow control valve, solar controller, and recirculation to heat the pool water using the power of the sun. By harnessing the sun's energy, solar pool heaters are an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way to keep your pool warm and comfortable.


Factors to Consider


laying in swimming pool

For those who prefer a hands-on approach, our DIY pool heater installation guide provides step-by-step instructions to get your pool heater up and running.


When it comes to installing a solar pool heater, there are several factors to consider to ensure that you get the most out of your investment. Here are some of the most important factors to keep in mind:


Climate and Sun Exposure


The amount of sunlight your pool receives is a critical factor in determining the effectiveness of your solar pool heater. If you live in an area with a lot of cloud cover or limited sun exposure, a solar pool heater may not be the best option for you. On the other hand, if you live in an area with a lot of sun exposure, a solar pool heater can be a highly effective and cost-efficient way to heat your pool.


Pool and System Size


The size of your pool and the size of your solar pool heating system are also important factors to consider. Generally, the larger your pool, the larger your solar pool heating system will need to be in order to effectively heat your pool. It's important to choose a system that is appropriately sized for your pool to ensure that it can heat your pool to a comfortable temperature.


Collector Efficiency


The efficiency of your solar pool heating system's collectors is another important factor to consider. The more efficient your collectors are, the less energy they will need to heat your pool. High-quality collectors can be more expensive, but they can also save you money in the long run by reducing your energy costs.


Solar Radiation


Solar radiation is the amount of energy that is absorbed by your solar pool heating system's collectors. The more solar radiation your collectors receive, the more energy they will be able to generate. The orientation of your collectors, the angle at which they are installed, and the amount of shading they receive can all impact the amount of solar radiation they receive.


In addition to these factors, you should also consider the size of your pool, the size of your solar pool heating system, and the amount of roof space you have available for your collectors. By carefully considering these factors, you can choose a solar pool heating system that is perfectly suited to your needs and will provide you with years of cost-efficient pool heating.


Cost and Savings



Initial Costs and Investment


Solar pool heaters are a cost-effective and energy-efficient way to heat your pool. The initial cost of installing a solar pool heater is usually between $2,500 and $7,000, depending on the size of your pool and the type of system you choose. According to the Department of Energy, a solar pool heating system usually costs between $2,500 and $4,000 to buy and install.


The initial cost of installing a solar pool heater may seem high, but it is a smart investment that can pay off in the long run. Solar pool heaters typically last longer than gas and heat pump pool heaters, and they require less maintenance. Additionally, a solar pool heater can increase the value of your home.


Energy Bills and Rates


One of the biggest benefits of a solar pool heater is the cost savings on energy bills. Solar pool heaters use the sun's energy to heat your pool, which means you don't have to rely on expensive electricity or gas to keep your pool warm. According to SolarReviews, installing a solar-powered swimming pool heater can help pool owners save money on heating costs.


The cost savings on energy bills will depend on the size of your pool, your location, and the cost of electricity or gas in your area. However, most pool owners can expect to see a significant reduction in their energy bills after installing a solar pool heater.


Financial and Tax Considerations


In addition to the cost savings on energy bills, there are also financial and tax considerations to keep in mind when installing a solar pool heater. Some states and local governments offer incentives, rebates, or tax credits for installing a solar pool heater.


For example, according to ConsumerAffairs, the upfront cost of a solar water heater is $2,500 to $4,000, and there are low annual operating costs. Before installing a solar water heater, you need to consider factors such as the financial and tax implications.

It is important to do your research and speak with a professional to understand the financial and tax implications of installing a solar pool heater. With the right planning and budget, installing a solar pool heater can be a smart investment that pays off in the long run.


Benefits of Solar Pool Heaters


poolside hotel

Solar pool heaters offer various benefits, including durability, environmental impact, and year-round use.


Durability and Value


Solar pool heaters are known for their durability, and they last longer than gas and heat pump pool heaters. They require minimal maintenance and have a longer lifespan, making them a valuable investment in the long run. Additionally, solar pool heaters are cost-competitive with both gas and heat pump pool heaters, and they have very low annual operating costs.


Environmental Impact


Solar pool heaters are environmentally friendly and eco-friendly. They harness the sun's energy, which reduces the carbon footprint and greenhouse gases. Solar pool heaters are an excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint and contribute to a cleaner environment.


Year-Round Use


Solar pool heaters can be used year-round, and they can warm your pool to a comfortable temperature. They are highly efficient and can work even on cloudy days. Solar pool heaters are an excellent investment for those who want to enjoy their pool year-round while reducing their environmental impact.


In summary, solar pool heaters are an excellent investment for those looking for a durable, eco-friendly pool heating solution that can be used year-round. They offer a range of benefits, including low operating costs, minimal maintenance, and a reduced carbon footprint.


Choosing the Best Solar Pool Heater


When it comes to choosing the best solar pool heater, there are a few factors to consider. In this section, we will discuss the considerations for homeowners, different manufacturers and models, and additional features and accessories.


Considerations for Homeowners


Before purchasing a solar pool heater, homeowners should consider the size of their pool and the amount of sunlight it receives. The surface area of the pool, as well as the glass covering, can affect the amount of heat that is absorbed by the solar collector. Additionally, using a pool cover can help retain heat and reduce evaporation.


Homeowners should also consider the type of pool they have, whether it is an in-ground or above-ground pool. Different solar pool heaters may be more suitable for one type of pool over another.


Different Manufacturers and Models


There are various solar pool heaters on the market, each with its own unique features and benefits. Some popular manufacturers include Sunheater, Fafco, and SmartPool. Homeowners should do their research and compare different models to find the best fit for their needs.


One factor to consider is the type of solar collector used. Flat plate collectors and solar mats are common options that are relatively affordable and easy to install. Copper tubing and aluminum plates are also used in some models.


Additional Features and Accessories


Some solar pool heaters come with additional features and accessories that can enhance their performance. For example, sensors can be used to monitor the temperature of the pool and adjust the solar heating system accordingly. Ultraviolet (UV) light can also be used to help sterilize the water.


Homeowners may also want to consider investing in a solar blanket or pool heat pump to further reduce pool heating costs. It's important to note that while solar pool heaters can be more expensive upfront, they can save homeowners money in the long run compared to traditional heaters that rely on fossil fuels or electricity.


In conclusion, choosing the best solar pool heater requires careful consideration of factors such as pool size, sunlight exposure, and manufacturer/model features. By doing their research and weighing the pros and cons of different options, homeowners can find a solar pool heater that is both cost-effective and energy-efficient.


Frequently Asked Questions


How many solar panels do I need to heat my pool?


The number of solar panels you need to heat your pool depends on various factors such as the size of your pool, the location, and the weather conditions. According to Solar.com, a general rule of thumb is that you need one solar panel for every 100 square feet of pool surface area. However, it is best to consult with a professional to determine the exact number of solar panels required for your specific pool.


Can a solar pool heater work in the shade?


Solar pool heaters work best when they are exposed to direct sunlight. However, they can still work in the shade, although their efficiency may be reduced. According to ConsumerAffairs, solar pool heaters can still function at 50% efficiency when installed in a shaded area. It is recommended to install solar pool heaters in areas that receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.


What is the difference between a solar pool cover and a solar pool heater?


A solar pool cover is a large sheet of plastic that is placed over the surface of the pool to help retain heat. It is designed to trap the sun's heat and prevent it from escaping the pool. On the other hand, a solar pool heater is a device that uses the sun's energy to heat the water in the pool. It works by pumping water through a series of solar collectors where it is warmed by the sun and then circulated back into the pool. While both options can help heat your pool, a solar pool heater is a more efficient and effective way to warm up your pool water.


How do I install a SunHeater Solar pool Heater?


Installing a SunHeater Solar pool Heater is a straightforward process that can be done in a few simple steps. First, you will need to select the location where you want to install the solar collectors. Then, you will need to connect the collectors to the pool's existing pump and filter system. Finally, you will need to install the control valve and connect the solar collectors to the pool return line. For more detailed instructions, refer to the SunHeater Solar pool Heater installation manual.


Why is my FAFCO Solar Pool Heater not working?


If your FAFCO Solar Pool Heater is not working, there could be several reasons why. Some common issues include a clogged filter, low water flow, or a malfunctioning valve. It is best to consult with a professional to diagnose and fix the problem. You can also refer to the FAFCO Solar Pool Heater troubleshooting guide for more information.



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