by Rob Cox, February 15, 2011
How to Easily Install an Inground Pool Solar Pool Heater
If you have ever thought about installing solar panels on your pool, and wondered if you could do it yourself, this article is for you. You can't install solar panels yourself, you need helpers, or at least one. We'll discuss roof installation of solar panels, the most common method for inground pools, but we will also discuss alternate locations for the solar panels, such as ground, fence or rack.
In addition to the placement and securing of solar panels for your pool, there's a good bit of plumbing that takes place to connect the solar system to the filter system, so we'll tackle that subject as well. Finally, most solar pool heaters for inground pools will incorporate a solar controller, which will manage the water temperature with sensors and a thermostat. We will show you how easy it is to install a pool solar controller. We are most experienced in installing Enersol Solar Pool Heaters, but these techniques will apply to most any other solar pool heater manufacturer.
Location of your Solar Panels
The best location is a southern exposure. During the peak of summer, the sun is mostly vertical in the sky, and during the shoulder seasons it drops toward the southern horizon. It is rare to have complete open sky available, but if you have a good Southwest or Southeast exposure, for half the day (5-6 hrs), you can gain enough heat to add 10-15 degrees to your pool. If you have an irregular roof, like the one shown in the picture, It is possible to install sections of panels on different sections of the roof.
The second consideration for location is how far it is from the pump and filter. Ideally, the filter system is located next to the house, and the directly under the ideal panel location. This is not always the case. It is not uncommon that the filter system is located far away from the house, in an effort towards pump noise abatement. In such cases, a trench can be dug, around the pool and over to the house. This will add several hundred dollars in pipe and several more in labor, but it can be done. There will also be a small amount of heat loss in long underground pipes coming from the solar system.
In such cases, you may consider mounting the solar panels on the ground, or even better, install panels on a triangular rack, which pitches the panels at a 45 degree angle to the sun, considered optimal. This rack can be free standing or it could be attached to a fence, on the southern facing side. Panels can also be hung vertically or laid directly on the ground, if required.
Installing Enersol Solar Panels on the Roof
First of all, be safe. Use proper safety gear and common sense when you're on the roof.
Plumbing in your Solar Pool Heater
1. Install the 3 way valve: Now that the panels are secured on the roof, it's time to connect the pool water supply. On the pool return line (after the filter, but before any return side manifold or valves to control flow to pool or spa), select a section of pipe that will allow installation of a 3 way Jandy valve. This valve will divert water up to the panels when solar heat is called for, and bypasses the solar panels when it is not.
2. Strap pipes to the house: One pipe takes water up to the panel, and one pipe brings water back down. it is helpful to paint the pipes the color of the house before mounting them, if this is a concern. Use pipe brackets to secure the pipes to the house in a permanent fashion. If your roof line has an eave, or an overhang, as most do - you will use 45's and 90's to wrap around the transition as tightly as possible.
3. Connect plumbing to the Solar Panels: We bring the pipe from the filter to the bottom right corner of the Solar Array or Panels. The exit pipe comes out of the upper left. Keep the pipe tight against the solar panels, and make as short of a run as possible. Painting the pipes black looks better and helps absorb a bit more heat. Painting pvc pipe and fittings also protects them from UV rays.
Before you begin the plumbing, draw a diagram so that you make sure to buy enough pipe and also have enough couplings, 45's and 90's. Buy an extra of each fitting, and don't be 1 foot short of pipe! You will also need a can of pvc pipe cleaner and a fresh pint of pvc glue. And a hacksaw to cut the pipe to proper lengths. Pipe and fittings can be purchased at your local Home Depot, or you can visit our pool plumbing supplies section. 20 ft pvc pipe sections can be found at plumbing supply or pool supply distributors. Another item you will need to reconnect the pipe coming from the solar panels is a Tee fitting and a one way check valve to prevent water from going backwards or cycling. Go here for Jandy valves and Jandy check valves.
To install solar panels on a rack, the best method I know is using pressure treated 2x4's and 4'x8' sheets of plywood. These can accomodate 2'x20 aboveground pool solar panels, or can be used for the Enersol 8 foot panels. Create 3 triangular frames with the 2x4's, and screw the plywood on. Each additional plywood can adjoin to it's neighbor. For added strength, screw onto the side of a building or fence. Fairly easy and cheap alternative to installing the panels on the roof. Especially useful for shaded roofs or when the pool equipment is located far away from any building that would be suitable.
Installing a Pool Solar Controller
Solar controllers are super easy to install, and are a recommended option. The controller uses 2 sensors, one in the water pipe and one up on the panels. Sensing a proper differential, when conditions are right, and the thermostat knob is turned up, a signal will open the 3 way valve automatically, and reverses when conditions are not optimal, or the panels aren't hot enough. All items needed are included in the box: 3way valve, Solar Controller, Valve Actuator and Temperature Sensors.
And that's really all there is to it! 2 people can install a complete in ground pool solar system in a day.