My DIY Solar Pool Heater Project in 5 Steps
by Kristen Swope, April 20, 2011
As a wife to a man who’s a swimming enthusiast and a mom to a 5-year old girl who is simply pool crazy, you can just imagine what a downer cold weather could be to an outdoor swimming pool, and to the people who want to jump right in and swim whenever they feel like it. During freezing days, the pool is out of bounds, and my husband and daughter get quite restless indoors.
It’s a good thing that someone pointed us in the direction of solar pool heaters, which is infinitely more appealing than their gas and heat pump counterparts. For one thing, solar pool heaters are more cost-efficient and eco-friendly. For another, it can be a budget easy, do-it-yourself project that involves relatively just a little plumbing and basic wiring. At this point, I’m going to admit that I have no mean skills at plumbing and wiring, and so I let my husband take over the tasks with some help from our local pool guy.
Prior to building, we first had to search for the best location within our property to install the panels and get maximum solar energy. We considered our roof, at first, because it’s pretty high and can get ample heat for the panels, but we had neither the time nor inclination to secure a permit from the city government about installing things on our roof as per local building codes. Most communities do not have this restriction Eventually, we settled upon the cemented path between our backyard garden and the pool, because our pool guy explained that the solar tubes can easily pick up reflected heat from the cement.
Based on close observation and not-so-exasperated explaining from both of them during construction, I deduced that a DIY solar heater can be broken down into 5 steps.
- Fashion the reflectors and panels from materials found in your home. In our case, we wanted to go DIY all the way with the solar pool heater project, and ready-made small solar panels can cost more than a hundred dollars. Above ground pools like ours aren't very big, but we were told that it can retain heat much longer than an above ground one with the help of a solar pool cover. We ended up cutting a length of excess stormwater PVC pipe in half, and then coating it with chrome paint. After that, the guys cut some black plastic landscape tubing into around 80-inch lengths and assembled them with the reflector into panels using hardware joiners. We came up with five solar panels in total.
- Lay the panels in a strategic location to catch maximum solar energy. As I mentioned, the roof is the best bet to place solar panels because of the unhindered heating, but in our case we had to permit, plus half the roof sun is blocked by trees in our side yard. Instead, we placed them on the cement path close to the pool at a slanting angle. Our pool guy also explained that the lower the solar panels are to the ground, the less pressure it puts on the pump head. We ended up with panels at a 25-degree angle to our pool and facing the sun full-on.
- Connect the tubing to a submersible pump. I don't think our pump / filter combo is powerful enough to pump up to the roof. No problem, because we are using a small submersible pump, the kind used as a winter pool cover pump. After connecting the pump to the flexible panel pipe, John, my husband, dropped the pump into the water.
- Turn on the valve and test for possible leaks. The guys turned on the valve to test the flow of water, and for possible leaks. The water came at a trickle at first, but upon checking, we discovered a sharp bend in the pipe and fixed it. The water flowed much faster after that. My pool guy had us choose a small pump, because if the water flows too fast through the panels, it will produce less heat. He wanted 3-5gpm flow rate.
- Keep checking the pool water temperature within a week. Apparently, it’s too much to ask for pool water to heat up right away even on a nice spring day. I was advised to keep checking the pool water every day for a week, and I noticed an increase in heat by a few degrees as early as the following day. To further encourage heat retention, I used an old solar pool blanket to keep the heat from escaping come night-time.
So far, so good for our little DIY solar pool heater project, and we only spent a little over $200 including maintenance costs (cleaning filters so as not to overwork the pump is a must). We’ve been swimming in noticeably warmer pool water thanks to our handy little solar pool heater, and my husband couldn’t be prouder!
Mom, Wife, Swimming Pool Enthusiast