Having a swimming pool at home is one of the simplest and most rewarding pleasures anyone can have. The joy of a quick dip, the family fun, the swimming -- the pool is a refreshing sanctuary right outside your house. But there's no excuse for not being sustainable.
Pools take up a lot of resources, and if mismanaged, they can take even more resources. It's always a good idea to be friendly to your environment (and your pocket). For people who want a heated pool, a solar pool heater is the way to go.
A swimming pool can be a luxury, but you can manage it efficiently. Quite frankly, there are simple and efficient solutions that you'd be silly to overlook. From my experience, having a solar pool heater is one of them. Here are some of the best solar pool heaters I think would be worth considering and what to look out for.
Comparing the best cheap solar pool heaters
It's not that there aren't that many products on the market. There are. But this isn't a really mature industry. It's not something teeming and booming with big, international brands. A lot of the time, however, local producers seem to dominate the market. There aren't all that many established brands. Local producers can be great, but they can also be a big gamble. Here, I'll only focus on large, established products.
However, we don't delve into any professional-grade products where you break the bank and need a professional for installation. Everything that's here you can install and use by yourself.
Solar domes should work well. They really should. The physics of the structure is better and there's some neat technology. The spiraling hose, the greenhouse effect, it all points toward efficiency. But many dome heaters simply underdeliver.
This one seems to get the job done, at least for smaller pools. It's easy to install and fit. You will need a pumping system for it but it's simple to attach and once you do, it's plug-and-play. You can find guides on YouTube and how to set it all up. While it can gather heat from all angles, it's pretty important that you point it toward the sun to improve efficiency.
I didn't find any leaks with it, but it does seem that the heating is not as impressive as you'd expect. To be honest, if you don't already have a pumping system, this wouldn't be my first recommendation. If you do, and your pool is small, it's good.
If you're thinking of something simple that doesn't need anything complex system to heat your pool, this is it. The material is very good quality and seems to withstand the weather excellently, and although it doesn't really work for larger pools, it's excellent for smaller ones. It's not the best solar pool heater, but it's an honest and straightforward product.
I also like that FAFCO is probably one of the most established players in the solar pool heater market, and they take customer support seriously. They're very courteous and helpful, and while you shouldn't have any serious issues with the product (because it's simple and sturdy), they're a company you can usually rely on.
Of course, you can stack multiple units for a bigger pool. I haven't tried this myself but there's no reason why it shouldn't work.
If you want a serious, powerful solar pool heater, the Smart Pool S601 is the option I'd recommend. The quality is good, the build is solid, and it can definitely heat your pool by several degrees. Ideally, though, you need a roof to install them, and it will be a bit of work. Nothing super complex or something that you can't do on your own, but you'll probably spend a couple of hours installing them. You can just hire a contractor to do it for you otherwise.
The instructions from the manufacturer could be better, and they also sell an installation kit, but you can get everything from your local hardware store and you should be good to go. I suggest tying the panels down firmly. After you tie them down firmly, tie them down even firmer. If your area is prone to the wind, it can cause damage and leakage.
Overall, this can end up saving a lot of money on your pool heating. However, I can foresee this needing some maintenance. Ideally, install this if you don't have a lot of wind in your area.
This is probably the best solar pool heater I'd recommend the most, especially if you're unsure what to get. If you position it in a place with plenty of solar exposure, you get a lot of bang for your buck. Plus, although the build seems flimsy at first glance, it's surprisingly robust.
In terms of value for money, it's probably the best product on this list. It won't heat up a larger pool, but for an inflatable one, or a smaller proper pool, you should feel a difference. Plus, it's super easy to install and you shouldn't have any issues with it.
The system does come with a pump, which is an excellent bonus. You don't really need anything else, you can install it out of the box. However, if you have a larger pump around, you may want to try it as well, as I feel that the product could do with a slightly bigger pump.
Why get a solar pool heater?
A swimming pool is an excellent addition to any home. Swimming pools, on the other hand, can be a big energy consumer, especially if you want your water warm. This is especially true if you don't reside in a particularly hot place. Pool heaters have traditionally used gas or electricity to heat the water, which can result in big energy expenses.
A solar pool heater, on the other hand, uses the sun's plentiful energy to warm your pool. There's no electricity involved because solar energy directly heats the water, so even if you're not technically able (I'm really not), you should be able to DIY them.
Solar pool heaters function by circulating pool water through solar collectors, which are warmed by the sun. This method is not only efficient, but it is also environmentally friendly because it decreases your carbon impact. Furthermore, solar pool heaters can extend your swimming season, allowing you to enjoy your pool for an extended period of time.
So basically, you'd get a solar pool heater to keep your water warmer, use the pool for longer, save money on heating, and be more sustainable. It's a pretty good deal when you consider all of that.
What to look for when buying a solar pool heater?
If you're considering investing in a solar pool heater, don't just rush in. You can read every buying guide in the world, but it only works when you consider your particular situation. Here's what you should take into account before you buy a heater:
- Size of your pool: The size of your pool is an important factor when selecting a solar pool heater. Larger pools may require more or larger solar panels to effectively increase the water temperature.
- Climate: Your local climate is another important consideration. If you live in an area with abundant sunshine, a solar pool heater can be a highly effective solution. In less sunny climates, you might need a larger system or a backup heater for cloudy days.
- Solar collector efficiency: Not all solar collectors are created equal. Look for systems with high-efficiency collectors to ensure you get the most heat production for your investment.
- Quality and durability: The quality of the materials used in the heater and its durability are crucial, as the system will be exposed to various weather conditions. A high-quality, durable system will last longer and require less maintenance.
- Budget: No one likes to spend a lot of money, but a solar pool heater is an investment for a longer time. Sometimes, the cost-effective option may not be the cheapest -- but again, it depends on your particular situation.
- Other systems you use: Does your pool have a roof or a cover? Do you use a pump, and how big is it? Things like this are important to consider as they are variables that affect your product.
- What type of solar pool heater you want: there are three main types of heaters (we'll get to that in a moment): solar mats, solar panels, and solar domes. All have different characteristics.
A properly sized and efficient heater can raise your pool's temperature by several degrees. In many cases, we're talking a difference of 8 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit on average days (5-10 degrees Celsius). Of course, this is all an approximation. In most cases, you'll get lesser results on most days, but the heating should still be noticeable and reliable.
What do the experts say?
Although the development of solar pool heaters can be traced back to the 1970s, there has been surprisingly little research in this field. In fact, I found only one scientific review modeling thermal transfer. This review highlights that local variability is insufficiently studied when it comes to heating systems.
"The energy consumption of swimming pool facilities is affected by many factors, such as location, climate, and operating time. Current surveys for collecting data about the energy consumption of swimming pool facilities are limited. More surveys or simulation studies should be conducted to investigate this," the researchers from the City University of Hong Kong conclude.
A separate study carried out in Australia found that if "all systems in Australia were operated under optimal conditions, annually 180 GWh of electricity consumption and 150 kilotonnes of CO2 emissions could be avoided." That's almost 9% of the total electricity consumption of the state of Rhode Island.
Some studies focused on the engineering side of solar pool heaters, while others looked at how the systems could be improved through algorithms. In a 2018 paper, researchers from Brazil discussed how to assess whether such a solar system would be cost-effective. "Trade-off curves helps define a solution based on the willingness to pay for a specific comfort level," the team wrote. However, ultimately, this also depends on where you're based and what your local climate is.
Technical analyses can be difficult to assess for regular consumers, and unfortunately, most producers don't really explain the details of what their technology is based on. It's hard to assess whether producers are truly up to date with the latest developments in the field or not. Ultimately, if you want to buy a cheaper system, this is probably not as important. But if you want to splurge on a heater, make sure you at least get in contact with the producer beforehand and ask them.
Types of solar pool heaters
There are three main types:
1. Solar heating mats
These are basically above-the-ground heaters that can be installed on any flat surface. They're cheap but they gather the Sun's heat pretty inefficiently, so you can expect modest increases in temperature. However, you can install multiple mats and connect them for better results. If you have a small/inflatable pool, this is probably what you should go for.
2. Solar domes
As the name implies, these systems are essentially a dome. Under the dome, there's a long pipe that spirals around itself. The pipe is black and the dome is transparent. This enables the pipe to gather sun rays from all angles and creates a greenhouse effect. Solar domes can heat up to about 15 cubic meters of water, or they can produce less heating in a big pool.
3. Solar panels
These are pretty similar to solar water heaters, and they're the most reliable solution for a pool heater (provided that you have enough sun). They can heat pools of any size if they're big enough. However, they're also more costly and can be tricky to manage -- but they offer the best results.
I can't say which one of them is best. Yet again, it all depends on your particular setting, your climate, your pool, and so on. But in general, the bigger the pool, the more potent of a heater you need.
Solar pool heaters FAQ
A solar pool heater is a system that uses the sun's energy to heat your swimming pool. It typically involves a solar collector, through which pool water is circulated and heated by the sun.
A solar pool heater works by circulating water from your pool through solar collectors where it is heated by the sun. The warmed water then returns to the pool, raising the overall temperature.
The time it takes for a solar pool heater to heat a pool varies depending on factors like the size of the pool, the size and efficiency of the heater, and the amount of sunlight available. On average, it can take between 24 to 72 hours to heat a pool.
The cost of solar pool heaters can vary widely based on the size of the heater, the type of pool, and the specific brand and model. On average, they can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.
While solar pool heaters are less effective on cloudy days due to less sunlight, some systems have backup heating elements that can be used when sunlight is limited.
With proper maintenance, a solar pool heater can last between 15 to 20 years, making it a long-term investment for your pool.
While some solar pool heaters are designed for easy installation, it's recommended to hire a professional for the installation process to ensure it is done correctly and safely.
Solar pool heaters are considered to be very efficient as they convert most of the sun's energy directly into heat for your pool. However, their efficiency can be influenced by factors such as the amount of sunlight they receive and the outside temperature.
Solar pool heaters can work in cold climates, but their effectiveness will be reduced due to less sunlight and lower ambient temperatures. In such cases, a backup heating system may be necessary.
The main benefits of solar pool heaters are that they can save you money on energy costs, they're environmentally friendly, and they can extend your swimming season by keeping your pool warm even during cooler months.
The bottom line when it comes to solar pool heaters
Solar pool heaters are an efficient, eco-friendly solution for warming your pool. While there are initial costs associated with buying and installing the system, the savings on energy costs over time can make it a worthwhile investment. Plus, by reducing your reliance on traditional energy sources, you're contributing to a healthier, more sustainable planet.