by Mark Garcia October 03, 2016
Just as there are several ways to heat your home, there are many swimming pool heating options available. Gas heaters, Electric heat pumps or Solar heaters can all be used to add heat to the pool water, from 5° to 25° (F), depending on the size and effectiveness of the heater.
The best choice for you depends upon your climate, your desired temperature increase of the water (5°, 15°, 25°?), and your budget for installation and for operation. Gas heaters are the best performers, but also the most expensive to operate. Heat pumps are cheap to operate, but expensive to buy. Solar heaters are free to operate, and cheap to buy, but have some limitations.
Let's explore each of the 3 ways to heat a pool in more detail, to give you a better understanding of your pool heating options.
Cost to Buy: Gas pool heaters, propane or natural, cost $1500-$2000 for inground pools, and $800 to $1200 for aboveground pool heaters.
Cost to Install: Cost to install a gas heater, where none has existed before, can be expensive if the gas meter or propane tanks are located far away. Prices range from $500-$2500. First you need a suitable concrete base to place the heater, next to the pool filter. Then a buried gas line is run from the gas meter to the pool heater, or from the propane tanks to the heater. Gas meters may need to be upsized to handle the higher gas demand. Gas contractors must do the gas connection to the heater for safety. Plumbing involves cutting the pipe after the filter and routing the water in and out of the heater. Digital or electronic gas heaters also need a power supply, usually provided by the pump timeclock or GFCI outlet. Inground pool gas heaters also require bonding, or a pigtail connection to the bare #8 copper wire that connects the other pool equipment.
Cost to Run: Although natural gas prices have plunged in recent years (while propane costs have increased slightly), the cost to run a gas heater is the highest among all 3 ways to heat a pool. In the shoulder months, or the months on either end of the season, the cost to maintain 80° could be $500 per month, with $250 per month during pool season. Your mileage may vary - the average cost to run a gas heater depends on several factors, chief among is whether or not a pool cover is used, but also on outside air temperature, wind speeds, rain and the size or surface area of your pool.
Cost to Repair: Of all the 3 ways to heat a pool, gas pool heaters are the most temperamental. They usually run for 5-6 years without missing a beat, but as components begin to wear, they will usually need heater parts in their advanced years, or may become unreliable. Most gas pool heater owners may face 1 or 2 bills in the $400-$800 range before replacing the heater in the 10-15 year range.
Cost to Buy: Pool heat pumps cost around $2000 for aboveground models (50-75K BTU) and about $3500 for inground models (95-150K BTU).
Cost to Install: Cost to install a pool heat pump, where none has existed before, can be expensive if the main home breaker panel is located far away from the heat pump. Prices range from $500-$2500. First you need a suitable concrete base to place the heater, next to the pool filter. Then a buried electric line is run from the home breaker panel to a subpanel for the heat pump, which requires a 30-50 amp breaker. An electrician must do the power connection to the heater for safety. Plumbing involves cutting the pipe after the filter and routing the water in and out of the heater. Inground pool heat pumps also require bonding, or a pigtail connection to the bare #8 copper wire that connects the other pool equipment.
Cost to Run: Pool heat pumps operate on electricity, used to rotate the fan, and operate the compressor. In colder weather they must work harder and run longer, to maintain heat, and won't work at all in outside temperatures below 50 degrees F. However, they are still very inexpensive to operate, usually just a few dollars per day. In the shoulder months (colder months), they may cost up to $200 per month to run, but during pool season, costs for an average inground pool are under $100 per month. Your mileage may vary - the average cost to run a gas heater depends on several factors, chief among is whether or not a pool cover is used, but also on outside air temperature, wind speeds, rain and the size or surface area of your pool.
Cost to Repair: Pool heat pumps are, in my experience, more reliable than gas pool heaters, requiring fewer repairs over time, but as with any appliance placed outdoors, problems can occur. Capacitors and circuit boards, or compressors can fail. Like a household a/c unit, and like a gas pool heater, heat pump lifespans range from 10-15 years, although some may last longer with good upkeep.
Cost to Buy: Solar pool heaters for aboveground pools average $700 for a good set-up, and for inground pools, $2000 will buy you a decent system.
Cost to Install: Most solar systems are DIY installed in 1-2 days, or over a weekend. If you were to hire a handyman to install the system, it may cost $500 for aboveground panels mounted on a wood rack, and $1200 for an inground system mounted on a nearby roof. A southern exposure works best, with 6-8 hours of unobstructed daily sun. Supplies needed include plumbing pipe and fittings to connect the solar panels to the pool return line, and a 3-way valve to divert water to the solar panels. A solar controller is recommended for best results, which allows you to set a thermostat, and it will automatically divert water to the solar panels, only when conditions are right.
Cost to Run: Free! Well, you do have to operate your pool pump, to push the water through the solar panels, but maybe you were doing that anyway. And if you use the solar controller, highly recommended for inground solar systems, there are a few pennies spent to power the wall mounted controller unit.
Cost to Fix: Not much repairs needed for a solar system, they are fairly mechanical, and are almost trouble free. Ironically, the thing that does in most solar pool heaters is the sun. After 10-15 years, the plastics used in PE solar panels will breakdown, and leaks can occur, which can be repaired. If you use a solar controller, sensors and valve actuators may also develop problems as they age.
Solar blankets, which float on the pool surface, are the cheapest way to add 5-10° to the pool, and also help retain heat put into the pool by other means. Solar Rings or squares work the same way, but are less effective than using one contiguous solar cover. Liquid solar blanket does not add heat to the pool, but helps reduce evaporative heat loss.
Thanks for Reading!