As a pool owner, the two toughest times of year is covering up your oasis at the end of summer and riding out long winter months until you can dive back into your backyard escape.

A pool heater is undoubtedly the next investment you need to make.

But what if you don’t want to add yet another monthly expense to your pool budget?

Or you’re not keen on another bulky add-on that has the shelf life of an iPhone?

And maybe you’re the type to not mind a little initial investment to say you’re doing your part to help the environment.

A solar pool heater may be precisely what you’re looking for to keep your pool open year round.

Solar Pool Heaters vs. Other Heaters

While there are several different types of pool heaters on the market today – electric resistance, heat pump, natural gas or propane – very few can offer the monthly cost savings benefits of a solar heating system.

The one that comes closest, the heat pump, carries an operating price tag of up to $200 per month.

The resistance and gas options are at the mercy of fluctuating energy and fuel costs, which means less certainty. Just because you can heat your pool for $200 a month today, doesn’t mean it’ll be that same cost year after year.

With a solar heater, there are higher upfront costs involved, but long-term your system can pay for itself many times over by costing absolutely nothing each month.

Additionally, the lifespan of a solar heating system far exceeds that of the other options. Electric based heaters, including the heat pump, might get you a little over ten years in use. Gas heaters even less.

A solar pool heating system can last you 15 to 20 years, meaning in the span of owning one sun-powered option, you might be shopping for your third propane based system.

Another comparison point is the speed of heating. Granted it’s not nearly as fast as the resistance or gas based models.  A solar heater is, however, on par with the heat pump, which also uses a renewable source (ambient air) for its heating.

For the average pool owner though, the solar option will get the water temperature where it needs to be in short enough order. A little extra patience is more than worth a few hundred dollars every month.

Some also contend that the solar option doesn’t work at night. Valid if you plan on doing a lot of nighttime swimming, but it’s important to evaluate how much you dive in after the sun goes down.

Once you take it all into account, your future with a solar option looks pretty bright.

How does a Solar Pool Heater Work

By the sun, of course!

Though it is a bit more detailed than that, it’s not nearly as complicated as one would expect.

The process involves converting sunlight to energy, which in turn heats the water in your pool.  A solar pool heating system consists of four things:

  • Solar Collector: Pool water is circulated through this device and is heated by the sun.
  • Filter: Removes debris from the water prior to it being pushed through to the solar collector.
  • Pump: Circulates water through the entire system.
  • Flow Control Valve: Diverts the flow of water to the solar collector. Can be done manually or automatically.

In essence, the system is a big loop. Water is pulled from the pool, circulates through the collector for heating, and then returns to the pool a comfortable temperature.

Higher end systems will include controls and sensors for flow and temperature, but all run under the same basic principles.

Types of Solar Pool Heaters

Solar pool heating systems come in a couple of different variations. While the filter, pump, and control all remain similar; the solar collector has two distinct types for you to choose from based on needs and location.

Unglazed Solar Collector

An unglazed solar collector consists of ultraviolet (UV) treated plastic or heavy-duty rubber. These are a cheaper alternative to the pricier glazed option.

These are usually better for milder climates when you won’t need to heat your pool in sub-freezing temperatures.

Glazed Solar Collector

A glazed solar collector is assembled using an aluminum plate covered with copper tubing. The plates are then housed in a tempered glass casing, which is what increases the price point from the unglazed version.

More efficient than their counterparts, the glazed system is better in colder climates. Designed for year round use the glazed options can also be utilized to heat your homes hot water.

Considerations When Shopping for a Solar Pool Heater

The most significant drawback to a solar pool heater is the initial cost. While some heaters can be steep, running upwards of $5,000 or more, a little homework on your end can ensure a system that’s right for your budget.

As we’ve pointed out, the other side of that coin is zero on-going costs.

Other items to be mindful of when decided to purchase a solar based system include:

Pool Size

This should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway, get the right system for your size pool.

Underestimating how much water needs heating can be a huge mistake. You do not want to drop a large chunk of change on your heater only to then be left floating around in a lukewarm pool of water.

Conversely, there’s no need to make a sizeable investment that covers a vast backyard paradise when all you need to heat is a small lap pool.

Climate

If you live in a place that barely sees the sun, a solar heating system may not be for you. The obvious aside, make sure you can get the most from the heating system you choose. A solar pool heating system will continue to capture the sun’s heat on partly to mostly cloudy days, though it’s effectiveness will be diminished.

As we pointed out a little earlier, a glazed system may be better for colder areas and year-round needs, whereas the unglazed version is more appropriate the further south you travel. Either way, it is essential to consider which system is optimal for your location.

Installation Area

Not as apparent as some other considerations, whether or not your home and pool area can take on solar heating should be near the top of your review list.

Although many people consider solar power cool and techy, others view it as bulky and unattractive. Make sure you are okay with an array of solar panels sitting on your roof or in your yard.

The surrounding physical area should also be thoroughly assessed. A solar pool heater will be less efficient if your pool area is shaded or doesn’t receive an optimal amount of sunlight.

Solar Pool Covers

If you’re not quite ready to fully invest in a full solar pool heating system (or any heating system, for that matter), there are a few far less expensive options that you should consider.

Bubble Solar Covers (Solar Blanket)

Akin to something resembling plastic bubble wrap, a bubble solar cover, or solar blanket, works by trapping heat and moisture that would otherwise escape causing your pool to lose warmth and water.

In the offseason, the solar blanket covers can also capture and retain enough heat to increase the water temperature for some unscheduled swimming. These covers have been shown to reduce overall evaporation by close to 90%.

Costs for the solar blanket can vary but usually start around $100 for a basic version.

Solar Rings

Similar to a water lily pad floating on a lake, solar rings can add a colorful and useful touch to your pool. Like the blanket, solar rings trap heat and moisture to help keep pool water in and maintain its temperature.

Solar rings will be less efficient due to their round shape, which will leave gaps in coverage allowing some evaporation. Understandably, there is a drop-off in effectiveness to around 50%.

However, for the cost (and style) conscience they can be a viable alternative. Individual pricing starts at $25, but can be purchased in sets starting around $100 if necessary.

Liquid Solar Covers

Certainly more high-tech then the previous two options, a liquid solar cover is actually a solution that you pour into your pool which in turn creates a thin, invisible layer to reduce evaporation loss.

Though not as efficient with water loss limited to around 40%, the convenience is unmatched. Safe for all types of pools, the liquid cover even works while your pool is in use. Plus you don’t have to worry about removal when its time to swim.

The liquid solar cover is also far cheaper, starting a low as $10 to $15 and increasing up to $50 per container.

Conclusion

A solar pool heater may not be for everybody. But that doesn’t mean it’s not for you. As we’ve shown, by answering some questions about what you need and want out of a pool heater you may find the solar option is a no-brainer.

And sure, it costs a little more than other pool heaters to purchase and install, but what you get in return can make all the difference.

Zero monthly costs and minimal, if any, maintenance over a 20-plus year lifespan.

Not too shabby.

Doing your part to be environmentally friendly.

Even better.

By making a prudent upfront investment, you will reap long-term benefits as you lounge in your beautiful; sun-warmed pool.

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