Swimming Pool Blog

Solar Pool Heaters - Pros & Cons

Solar Pool Heaters: Pro & Con
by Rob Cox, August 17, 2012

Solar Pool Heaters: Pro & Con

solar pool heating

PRO: Solar Pool Heaters

Solar pool heating is such a simple set-up, I often wonder why more people don't make the move to solar heaters. Long gone are the days of expensive solar pool panels, made of glass and copper, requiring professional installation. Solar pool heaters can be installed in 1 day, and begin heating your pool immediately.

Solar Pool Heaters are Affordable!

Also long gone are the days when solar heaters cost more than twice what a gas pool heater costs. A complete set-up for a 16x32 inground pool will cost under $2000, and nearly half that amount for a 24 ft. round aboveground pool. And that includes a Solar Controller system! Price is no longer an objection to installing a solar pool heater.

Solar Pool Heaters are Eco-Friendly!

Many pool owners are concerned about the environment these days, and for good reason. Fossil fuel production has detrimental effects on the environment and the emissions from Natural gas or Propane pool heaters have caused several states such as Texas and California to place severe restrictions on the sale and use of gas pool heaters. Gas pool heaters produce noxious emissions, which can be dangerous. Carbon Monoxide poisoning killed tennis star Vitas Gerulaitis, when fumes from a pool heater overcame him while he slept.

Solar Pool Heaters are low Maintenance!

Solar pool heaters, as opposed to gas pool heaters, are extremely low maintenance. I should say No Maintenance. Gas heaters, on the other hand, are some of the most troublesome appliances on the pool equipment pad. They should run fine for a few years, no problem. But after that, you can expect problems from rain, rodents and rust. Diagnosis and repairs to gas heaters aren't cheap, and after the 1 year warranty is up, you can expect to pay big bucks for a pool heater that has short cycles, sooting and problems with wiring and circuit boards.

Solar Pool Heaters are Durable and Reliable!

Solar pool heaters, on the other hand - have no internal wiring, no controls, no circuits and no moving parts. They don't rust, and they can last twice as long as gas pool heater,which usually gives up the ghost around the ten year mark. Solar pool  heaters are ultra reliable, because there's really nothing to break or wear out. Ironically, after decades of service, the sun, which has given such a huge amount of free heat to the solar panel, will begin to break down the material, and small, yet repairable leaks are possible.

Solar Pool Heaters are easy to install!solar pool heater installation is easy!

Much easier than gas pool heaters, which require the disciplines of plumbing, electric and gas, therefore requiring qualified personnel who charge hundreds of dollars per hour. Solar pool heaters are the perfect DIY Saturday project. Just secure the panels to the roof or rack with the included hardware, and connect some plumbing pipes and 90's from the pool return line, after the filter, in and out of the panel. You'll need a ladder, a hacksaw, simple hand tools and the plumbing supplies, which you can buy at any home store. Full instructions are included of course, and with our superb technical support, you can call anyone of us here, even on Saturday, if you have questions.

Solar Heat is Free!

Finally, the operational cost of solar pool heaters is zip, zilch, zero. Gas heaters can cost a pool owner $200 per month on average - but the sun? Still free, last time I checked, and even our crafty legislators have not figured out how to tax the sun's rays. Quite the opposite in fact. To encourage solar heat production in the U.S., many states and utilities are offering rebates and incentives to home owners that install solar heating equipment. Check your local utility website for details.


CON: Solar Pool Heaters

To be fair, let's give equal time to those who may have an objection to using solar heating for warming the pool. Hard to believe, but there are pool owners that would not consider solar, based on these following reasons.

Solar Panels are Ugly!

Some people say... that solar panels are ugly. I guess that's because their roof is so attractive, and they must spend a lot of time admiring it. It's a hard point to argue against with some people who prefer the appearance of their roof shingles to a thin black mat. I would wager that most people who install solar panels would soon forget to even look at them. "Well, OK, but my neighbors would have to look at them...". I would again wager that most neighbors would think your solar panels are quite nifty, and you are a great friend of the earth, and the neighborhood, for installing a solar pool heater.

I have no Space to Mount Solar Panels!

For maximum solar heating benefit, you should have enough solar panels to equal about 50% of the square footage of your pool. A 16x32 pool (512 sq ft) should have about 260 sq ft. of solar panels. We have panels in 10 ft and 20 ft lengths, 4 foot wide. For our example 16x32 pool, this would equate to 3-4 of the 20 ft panels or 6-7 of the 10 ft panels. True, not everyone has a convenient roof available, near the pool equipment, that faces a southerly direction. For those who lack this much roof area, consider building a gazebo over a patio area, or constructing a solar panel rack somewhere on the property. I have seen solar racks attached to the back of property fences, using 2x4's and plywood (for those that think solar pool panels are ugly). In some cases, available space is a valid argument, but for many who say that they have no space, there are inventive ways around the issue.

Solar Panels don't heat as well as Gas Heaters!

Well now, that's just a bald faced lie, and don't you believe it! Solar pool heaters will surprise you with the amount of heat that can be generated. If you have an attached spa, you can heat the spa to 104 degrees in nearly the same amount of time as a gas pool heater. Solar heaters can produce the same amount of BTU's as a gas heater, and no matter where you are in North America, you can have 85 degree water - in April, with a properly sized solar pool heater. It's true that the output from a solar heater is greatly reduced when it's cloudy and rainy, I'll admit that - but how many rainy days do you have in the summer? Most areas of the country can count on at least partial sun 75% of the time, and that's more than enough to keep the water nice and toasty.

Solar Panels heat output is hard to control!

That argument held water 20 years ago, but nowadays, solar pool heaters are installed with a Solar Controller system that allows you to set a desired temperature, (just like a gas heater). Sensors are placed in the water line and at the roof line, and when conditions are optimal for solar heat, a valve opens automatically and sends your pool water up to the solar panels. When the desired temperature is reached, the valve again turns to bypass your solar panels, until the temperature drops below your set temperature. In fact, you can even use your solar pool heater to cool the pool water down, during the hottest part of the summer, when your pool water may become too warm. Just run the solar heater during cool nights and the panels will absorb the water temperature, and give it up to the cooler night time air. Try to do that with your gas pool heater!

In conclusion, we have heard all the benefits and objections to heating your pool with solar panels. I have tried to remain fair and balanced, but you may have noticed my editorial slant toward solar pool heaters. I can't hide it - I like solar pool heating! Check out our full line of solar pool panels for aboveground and inground pools.