Solar Powered Pool Heaters

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A solar powered pool heater produces warm and inviting water temperatures using free energy from the sun and is arguably the smartest thing you can do to increase the enjoyment of your pool. In some cases it will add months to your pool season and for other pool owners it will provide year round comfort. It's a cheap alternative to heating your pool and can reduce your monthly heating costs if used to supplement an existing electric or gas heater. 

solar powered pool heater

Whether you live in Arizona, Alberta or Australia you can take advantage of energy from the sun to heat your pool. In fact you can convert energy from from the sun into heat energy anywhere that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. The energy will vary depending on your geographic location but there are ways to determine solar efficiency based on factors including sunlight hours and panel angle.  

We'll go over everything you need to know to make an educated decision about installing a solar system to heat your pool. We'll take a look at how a solar powered pool heater works, the number of panels required, panel size, pump requirements and solar efficiency so you can make an informed decision about purchasing the best solar powered pool heater.


How a Solar Pool Heater Works

Water is diverted from the main pool system and into the solar collector panels. This occurs when the pool requires heating and can be done manually or automatically with the use of a controller, sensor and automated valve. The water sits in the panels for a period of time absorbing heat, depending on the amount of solar energy from the sun. 

The water that has been heated by the sun is returned to the pool and replaced by fresh water from the pool. This cycle can be repeated as often as every 45 minutes resulting in a gradual increase in temperature over time until the desired set temperature is reached. You can expect the water temperature in your pool to increase 1℉ in as little as one cycle with sufficient sunlight energy. 


Solar Powered Pool Heater Plumbing Diagram

This basic solar powered pool heater plumbing diagram outlines how a solar system works. It's easy to see how the panels and pvc plumbing can be spliced into an existing system with a couple 3-way valves that can be automated with an automated solar controller. 

solar powered pool heater plumbing diagram

Solar Powered Pool Heater System

The following are parts that make up a solar powered pool heater system that are designed to be simple and easy to use. They take time to install but in the long run they are definitely worth the initial investment of time and money. You can expect to recuperate the costs of the heating system in as little as one to two seasons.

Solar Collector Panels

The panels are constructed of high quality materials that are designed to withstand extreme temperatures. The black tubing design allows them to be easily handled during installation and lends itself to more surface area to absorb the suns energy. They have freeze protection for cold weather climates and UV light inhibitors for constant ultraviolet light conditions. 

The panels can be pieced together in a series and are limited only by the amount of space you have. Adding a panel or two for increased heating energy can be done quite easily by a handy pool owner. 

Installation Kit

An installation kit is a necessity and it's important to do your homework before purchasing one. The first thing you should do is double check which parts are included in the main solar powered pool heater package. The packages are often sold with very basic parts to keep costs down since customers will often need multiple solar panels. 

The second consideration for purchasing an installation kit is the plumbing system of your pool. A panel location 50 feet from your pool will require more plumbing and materials than a panel location 10 feet from your pool. This includes 3-way valves, diverter valves, adapters, caps or clamps. It can be more affordable to visit your local hardware store especially if you are making numerous custom alterations. 

The final consideration is to determine where you will be installing the solar panels. You will need to weigh the advantages of location and solar efficiency for your specific pool application. Your options include mounting the panels on your roof, a custom hanging rack, fence or ground area, and each one will require specific installation hardware. 

Automated Solar Controller

A solar powered pool heater control system adds the convenience of automation and hassle free operation. A controller maximizes solar heat collection with precise temperature readings that are relayed from the sensors. The controller will automatically open and close the valves that allow water in and out of the solar collector panels by activating your pool pump system. 

The increased efficiency and hands off operation make solar automation controllers a very attractive option. You can count on automatic temperature control of your pool water even if it needs to be cooled, by circulating cool water into your pool at night when the ambient temperature is cooler than the water. 

Pool Pump

The pump is relied on to push water into the solar system plumbing and solar collector panels. This could be a big task especially if you have added several feet of plumbing, elbows and elevation changes that are common on rooftop installations. The question becomes whether or not you need to upgrade to a higher powered pump or a variable speed pump. 

We often talk about the cost advantages of variable speed pumps and if you'd like more information about pool pump sizing you can find it by following the link. We recommend a high powered variable speed pump to ensure heating efficiency of your solar powered pool heater while reducing your electrical costs to operate the pump. 

Pool Filter

Your existing pool filter should be capable of handling a solar powered pool heater assuming it is sized properly for your pool. There may be a slight increase in demand on the filter if your system is operating more frequently during times of heating or cooling. Keep this in mind as your filter may require backwashing or cleaning more often during these times. 


How Many Solar Panels Do I Need?

The easiest way to calculate the amount of solar panels you need to adequately heat your pool is to measure the surface square footage of your pool. The following calculation and the manufacturers recommended amount of panels will give you a really good idea of how many panels you need. 

Square Footage Calculation

The first step is to determine the total surface square footage of your pool by multiplying the length by the width (rectangle pools) or the radius (circular above ground pools). This calculation doesn't take into account volume or gallonage of your pool and is simply the surface dimensions. 

Pool A
15 × 30 foot Rectangle pool
15 (length) × 30 (width) = 450 square feet

Pool B
20 foot Round pool
10² (radius²) × 3.14 (pi) = 314 square feet 

After you have determined the surface area of your pool you will have a rough estimate of how many square feet of solar collector panels you will need to heat your pool. The total surface area of your solar panels should equal 50-75% of the total surface area of your pool

Pool A
450 × 50﹪ = 225
450 × 75﹪ = 338
Pool A will require between 225-338 square feet of solar panels.

Pool B
314 × 50﹪ = 157
314 × 75﹪ = 236
Pool B will require between 157-236 square feet of solar panels. 

We can now figure out a range of how many panels we need to operate out solar powered pool heater for our example pools. The most common size panels are 24 and 80 square feet so we simply divide that into our above ranges. 

Pool A
2-4 solar panels 80 square feet in size.
10-14 solar panels 24 square feet in size.

Pool B
2-3 solar panels 80 square feet in size.
6-10 solar panels 24 square feet in size. 

You now have a rough estimate of how many solar panels you need for your solar powered pool heater to heat your pool. You can always estimate low and add panels down the road if you find that you require more heating energy. 


Solar Powered Pool Heater Cost

The cost to purchase and install a solar powered pool heater ends up being a deterrent for some pool owners. It requires an upfront investment that might be hard to justify if you don't understand the short and long term savings. The cost will vary depending on how big your pool is, where you live and how efficient your panels are.

Pool Type

15' x 30' Inground Pool
20' Above Ground Pool

Solar Panels

$400-$800
$400-$600

Installation Kit

$50-$100
$50-$100

Automation

$300
$300

We can see using the above table that a rough estimate of the cost to install a solar powered pool heater system for these pools will range between $750-$1,200. If your pool is smaller, larger or you have unique factors affecting your solar efficiency, you can expect to pay accordingly. 

This is a very rough estimate but you can see how it's appealing for owners that will be supplementing a pool heat pump or completely replacing an existing gas or electric pool heater. It's very common for pool owners that switch to solar heating to recoup the cost of the heater in the first season because it's free to operate all season long!


Solar Panel Efficiency

The efficiency of your solar powered pool heater can be affected by a number of factors that are as unique as your own pool. The money you spend on a new system will be worth every penny if you maximize the efficiency of the panels. Let's take a look at how location, tilt, environment and sunlight hours can affect solar heating efficiency. 

Solar Panel Location

Establishing the best location for the solar powered pool heater panels is the most important part of installing the system. Improper placement can greatly reduce the heaters efficiency and ultimately lead to wasting time and money that could be prevented with a bit of planning ahead of time.

The best places to mount the panels is anywhere near your pool that gets plenty of sun. It might sound simple but it can be tricky to find a place to fit 400 square feet of panels that's level, receives a lot of sunlight and isn't obstructed by shadows throughout the day. The most common places to mount the solar collector panels is on the roof of a house but if that isn't an option you might consider a custom built rack, fence or on the ground. 

Solar Panel Tilt 

The optimal tilt of the solar panels is based on the latitude of your geographic region. You simply tilt the panels at an angel equal to the latitude, or as close as possible. The closer you get to the right tilt, the higher the efficiency of the solar panels. 

In addition to the tilt towards the equator you should optimize the panels for maximum sun throughout the day. If you can't have the panels oriented directly south (USA and Canada) or north (Australia) try to get as close as possible. The efficiency will decrease slightly as you orient the panels away from the equator. 

If you find that you have no choice but to tilt or orient the panels with lower efficiency, you can make up for this by adding more panels that will increase the square footage.

Canada
USA
Australia

50°- 60° Tilt
30°- 50° Tilt
10°- 40° Tilt 

South Orientation
South Orientation
North Orientation

Environment

The environment and weather around your pool plays a role in overall heater efficiency. If you've lived in your home for a number of years you probably have an idea of trends in weather like fog, rain and cloud cover. You also want to make sure that you aren't installing the panels in an area that's shadowed by a tree, tall building or something similar. 

Sunlight Hours

The ultimate goal is to expose the panels to direct sunlight for as long as possible. This will result in the highest efficiency, water heating up faster, extending your pool season and reducing the amount of panels you need to do it. If you are supplementing your existing electric or gas pool heater, increased efficiency will result in lower heating costs. 


Best Solar Powered Pool Heaters

The best solar powered pool heaters on the market today apply the latest technology in the solar industry to residential pool heating. They come with everything you need to get started for basic do-it-yourself installations including easy to follow instructions. You can count on years of free heat and a more comfortable swim in warm and inviting water temperatures. 

The SunQuest solar pool heater complete system can be used for both inground and above ground pools. It comes with a roof mounting kit for easy do-it-yourself installation. It features a state of the art design that allows increased circulation that will reduce work on your pump and increase temperature efficiency. 

The SmartPool solar heating system for inground pools comes in large 80 square feet polypropylene heat collector panels. It's the most affordable solar powered pool heater on the market and is backed by a 4 year limited warranty. The installation kit and automation controller are sold separately. 

If you are in the market for an above ground solar pool heater you will be pleased to know that most kits can be used for both inground and above ground interchangeably. They work exactly the same way and should come with adapters for your convenience. If you need additional installation parts contact the dealer or visit your local hardware store. 


Winterizing Solar Pool Heaters

Getting your solar powered pool heater ready for winter is essential to preventing cracks or other damage during sub zero temperatures. Winterizing is relatively easy and can be carried out by a handy pool owner. The goal is to remove all water from the plumbing and collector panels and can be carried out during your regular pool winterizing or closing.

Allow water to drain from a low sitting drain, ball valve or check valve and if you suspect there is still water in the system, blow the water out with forced air. This can be done with a blower or compressor with attachment. If you aren't comfortable doing this yourself we recommend contacting a pool service professional who is certified in pool closing and winterizing. 

A solar powered pool heater will allow you to open your pool earlier and close it later and in some cases you will be able to enjoy your pool year round. In addition, you will save money in the long run and be doing your part to reduce environmental pollution. 


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