As an in-ground pool owner, it always seems the season ends far earlier than it ever should. Or, even worse, trapped in an endless, bitterly cold winter, the pool season feels a lifetime away.

No doubt, you’ve faced one of those two scenarios before. To ensure you get the most out of your backyard oasis, its time you installed a pool heater.

Most of us have thought quite a bit about adding a pool heater to our setup and extending the pool season on both ends of the calendar. Unfortunately, in-ground pool heater cost has kept us from taking the plunge and enjoying our investment year round.

Thankfully, the marketplace has a lot of options and many different types of heaters to meet the needs of your in-ground pool.

Types of Pool Heaters for In-ground Pools

Let’s start by taking a look at the four main types of heaters for in-ground pools.

Electric Resistance Pool Heater

Often the best option for any climate, an electric resistance pool heater is excellent for even heating. Because it uses a heated element to warm up the water, this option is also best for colder climates.

Upfront unit costs are typically on the lower end versus other options. Installation price tends to fall in the middle tier of all heater types but can run high based on the setup. Day to day costs can be steep depending on how hard the unit needs to work.

Better for smaller pools, when evaluating this option, you’ll also need to measure how often the unit needs to run to get your optimal temperature.

Electric Pool Heat Pump

In the same family as the basic electric pool heater, the electric heat pump utilizes ambient air to heat your pool’s water.

Pool heat pump costs are slightly higher, but the day-to-day operation will be friendly to your budget. The main drawback you’ll face with a heat pump is when heating a pool in colder climates. If the outside temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, it will be ineffective.

Propane Gas Heater

Heating with propane (and natural gas) was once a standard method for in-ground pools but has become less popular due to rising fuel prices. Unit and installation though are typically well below that of the other heater types.

Aside from the high monthly cost, these tend to be better at quickly heating up your pool. So if you don’t use your pool as much, but want it warmed up at a moment’s notice, the propane gas heater is always a viable choice.

Solar Pool Heater

Quickly becoming a popular option, solar pool heaters are the most expensive systems to install. The upside, however, is that they cost absolutely nothing to run.

By taking in the sun’s rays, panels then transfer that energy to the water in your pool. This method can be slow to heat your pool, but it’s hard to argue with the long-term costs.

Factors that Impact Pool Heater Cost

Several considerations are necessary when looking at the overall money that goes into installing and running an in-ground pool heater.

The numbers we use below are average estimates and do not wholly take into account significant swings in energy prices.

Additionally, pool size and where you live are the next most prominent factors. Larger pools will need bigger heating units and will take more energy to warm up.

In colder climates, your heater may need to run longer to reach your preferred temperature. You should also be mindful of weather extremes. Are there a lot of rainy days? Is it windy more often than not?

Finally, you will need to honestly assess how often you plan to use your pool heater. Differing usage may justify a costlier installation for lower long-term costs, or the opposite may be true.

Either way, ensure you understand what you need and want in a pool heater, and what you’re willing to spend.

Pool Heater Costs

Now that you have an overview of each heater type and the factors to consider when shopping for your new system let’s delve a bit more into the actual pool heater costs.

Electric Resistance Pool Heater

Fast to heat, and great in all climates, particularly cold weather areas, the electric pool heater is a good, all-around option for sporadically heating, smaller in-ground pools.

Electric pool heater costs, however, can run hot and cold.

The initial costs for this heater class are very attractive. You can find the majority for less than $2,000.

Installation can run high. Depending on the specific setup, your install costs hinge on the amount of wiring and circuit work that is needed. In most cases, this can add from $500 to over $1,000 to your initial investment.

The real concern comes in when you start looking at the monthly expense it requires to run one of these units.

Because the water circulates over a heating element, this heating method requires a lot of electricity.

Just how much is a lot?

In most cases, you can see monthly operating costs from $300 up to $750, depending on the pool size and how much you need to run the heater.

Assuming you already have monthly maintenance costs of around $225, running a resistance heater for an average of three months a year will put your yearly operating total above $4,000.

Electric Heat Pump

By using the air to heat your pool water, electric heat pump use has grown over the past few years.

And rightfully so.

Clean and efficient, the heat pump is an ideal choice when you want to hang onto summer a bit longer. However, to purchase and install a heat pump, you will face a much higher upfront cost than the resistance or gas based systems.

The units themselves can run anywhere from $2,000 on the low end to close to $4,000 or more for top models.

Much like the resistance heater, the installation will also run on the high side due to wiring and breaker needs. It’s not uncommon for the install to reach $1,000.

The payoff, however, comes when you look at your monthly operating numbers. Since it uses a renewable energy source for part of the warming process, your electricity cost is far lower.

In most instances, a typical monthly run is between $50 and $200.

Using our $225 overall monthly maintenance cost as a baseline, using your heat pump for three months a year brings your annual operating expenses to around $3,000.

Propane Gas Heater

Typically, the propane gas heater is the most common method to heat pools. They work fast and provide a measure of temperature control that other heating processes do not.

Though with propane gas heater costs, you may lose some of that control long-term.

Initially, a propane heater is the cheapest to purchase. You can find excellent units for less than $1,500, and some really good options come in at well under $1,000.

The installation will come in on the lower end of the spectrum as well. Most installs top out under $1,000, especially if you can tie into an existing gas line from your house.

However, the savings end when you get to the monthly expense.

It’s not uncommon for propane pool heater costs to start at $300 per month. The top of the range can see you spending upwards of $500.

Adding that to your yearly maintenance average of $2,700, and you’re closing in on $4,000 a year to operate your pool.

Solar Heaters

As we touched on earlier solar heating uses the sun to up the temperature of your in-ground pool. Installed panels capture the energy and use the collected heat to warm the water.

Of all the pool heater types, the solar option is definitely the Jekyll and Hyde of the marketplace.

The initial investment can be enormous. Small systems will start at $3,000 and quickly work their way up from there. Including installation, expect to pay around $5,000 to $6,000 when the final bill is due.

Once you get over the initial sticker shock, the benefits are clear when you assess the monthly energy cost of $0.

You read that right, zero dollars.

As with the heat pump, you use an abundant, renewable energy source as your central heating method. On top of that, the on-going maintenance is minimal.

Though not for everyone, with the solar heater you keep your monthly operating cost squarely focused on the maintenance of your pool.

Conclusion

One of the main reasons a lot of us invest in a pool, particularly one of the in-ground variety, is we love being outside and taking advantage of the endless joy a pool can give us. It seems a bit counter to our investment when most of us use our pool for less than half of the year.

When shopping for a pool heater, it’s essential to remember your goals and accurately assess how different factors impact your overall needs.  After that, it becomes far easier to determine your pool heater costs and what best fits your pocketbook, both in the beginning and long-term.

We all want the keep the pool party going as long as possible. A pool heater is one of the best decisions you can make to ensure that party is year round.

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