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Nothing says summer quite like a dip in the pool. Swimming pool heaters can keep your summer fun going well into the night or months into the colder seasons. But gas and electric heaters can be costly to run month to month. Thankfully, they are not your only options. You can use a cheap and quality solar swimming pool heater panel system to keep enjoying the warm water.
The best solar pool heaters are efficient and low-cost alternatives to other forms of pool heating. They use various means to absorb sunlight and use it to heat the water. Top brands include Intex, SunHeater, SunQuest, and XtremepowerUS. We have reviewed fifteen plus solar pool heaters and picked the top five rated solar panel kits to heat your above ground or in ground swimming pools.
This article will discuss the benefits of solar swimming pool heaters, how they work in ground and above the ground swimming pools , and why you should have one. Then I will take you through a list of the best solar pool heaters for above and in ground pools. All of these solar pool heater systems can be installed without hassle. So, you can build your own solar swimming pool heating system.
To help you make the most informed decision you can, I’ve broken the solar swimming pool heaters into four groups and listed only the best models from each category. Here are my picks for the best solar pool heaters.
1.The SunHeater Pool Heating System – Best Large Flat Plate Collector
|Product Name||The SunHeater Pool Heating System|
|Heating Effectiveness||Raises water temperature by 6 to 10 degrees|
|Product Dimensions||240” x 27.5” x 16 inches|
|Pool Size||31’ round or 18’ x 36’ pools|
|Heater Type||Flat Plate Collector|
|Best Suited For||In Ground Pools & Above Ground Pools|
The SunHeater Pool Heating System Review
If you have the room to spare, flat plate collectors are some of the most effective solar pool heaters you can buy. Their wide surface area allows them to collect more heat from the sun than other solar heaters and will enable you to warm your pool faster. Works well for both in ground and above the ground swimming pools.
Recommended Use: This heating system is versatile enough to tackle any job you have in mind, but it is ideal for use with outdoor pools. Its flexibility and general ease of installation allow you to try it in different locations to see what works best for you. And, if you decide to shuffle things around in your yard, you are not locked into whatever position you chose.
This quality SunHeater product is my top pick in this category and is one of Amazon’s top solar heaters for a good reason. Extremely light-weight at just one pound, its ease of use lets you set it up however you want it, wherever you need it.
A pair of polypropylene panels, the SunHeater can be laid across the ground or on a roof. Because this heating system is two twenty-foot panels, I recommend using this on a roof or other elevated surface if possible. Keeping the Sunheater on the ground in an empty section of your yard is a perfectly viable option, but I imagine you can think of a better use for eighty square feet of space.
Should you choose to mount this solar heater on an elevated surface, remember that it needs as much time in the sun as possible. You will have the best results if there are no trees or other tall obstructions that shade this area for extended portions of the day.
2. The Intex Solar Heating Mat – Best Small Flat Plate Collector
|Product Name||The Intex Solar Heating Mat|
|Material||Heavy Duty Plastic|
|Heating Effectiveness||Raises water temperature by 5 to 9 degrees|
|Product Dimensions||4’ x 4’ feet square|
|Pool Size||11’ by 11’ or 8,000-gallon pools|
|Heater Type||Flat Plate Collector|
|Designed For||Above Ground Swimming Pools|
The Intex Solar Heating Mat Review
Whether you lack the space or do not like the aesthetic of wide black panels running the length of your property, larger flat plate collectors are not the solution for everyone. Smaller units offer a less commanding profile and are easier to stow away when not in use.
Recommended Use: These systems are designed for use with smaller above-ground pools, but they can service larger pools by purchasing multiple units. Avoid using this unit if you live in a frigid climate as the heater may have trouble overcoming the chill.
My favorite among all the heaters I reviewed, the Intex solar heating mat, is Amazon’s number one best-seller. This heating mat is also foldable to allow for easy storage. When you need it, the mat has an easy plug-n-play design. Just connect to your filter pump, and you are finished.
3. Doheny’s Solar Dome Heating System w/ Bypass Kit – Domed Batch Water Heater
|Product Name||Doheny’s Solar Dome Heating System w/ Bypass Kit|
|Heating Effectiveness||Raises water temperature by up to 10 degrees|
|Product Dimensions||28” x 28” x 12” inches|
|Weight||Product Information Unavailable|
|Pool Size||5,000-gallon pools|
|Heater Type||Batch Water Heater|
|Uses||Above Ground Swimming Pools|
Doheny’s Solar Dome Heating System Review
These are among the smallest solar pool heaters available, and you can place them around your property without their drawing attention to themselves. These heaters can be connected in sequence, making it easy to upscale for a larger pool or just to heat your water faster.
Recommended Use: Per unit, these heaters are most effective for small pools and amounts of water of 5,000 gallons or less. However, by sequencing multiple heaters, you can warm much larger pools.
Among the batch heaters on this list, the Doheny Solar Dome stands out for its efficiency, as it punches above its weight class. The batch heater achieves performance closer to a flat plate collector and backs double the heating power of similar models.
4. The Solar Sun Rings Pool Water Heater – Cheapest Pool Water Heater
|Product Name||The Solar Sun Rings Pool Water Heater|
|Heating Effectiveness||Heating performance varies significantly due to sunlight and ambient temperature|
|Product Dimensions||5’ feet diameter|
|Pool Size||Small pools|
|Heater Type||Modified Flat Plate Collector|
Solar Sun Rings bring us a pool heater that is in a class all its own with an exciting take on the standard flat plate collector design. A completely passive system, these inflatable disks are made with two layers of UV resistant vinyl. The top layer is transparent, and sunlight passes through it to the blue layer below, where much of the heat is trapped. That warmth is then transferred directly to your pool.
Recommended Use: With no setup or installation beyond inflating the disk and tossing it onto the water, the solar sun rings are the least complicated heaters to use on this list. They become more effective when covering more of your pool’s surface area, so it is a good idea to invest in enough of them to cover a sizable portion of your pool.
As an added benefit, the disks form a barrier like a pool cover and help to trap heat in your pool, keeping it warmer for longer.
5. Beluga Pool Solutions 1652 Solar Heating Device – Honorable Mention:
The Beluga Pool Solutions 1652 Solar Heating Device is a bit different than the heating systems listed above. Incredibly simple to use, this device works by attaching it to a black rubber garden hose and leaving that hose coiled in direct sunlight. The rubber acts as a solar collector, and the water from your faucet is heated as it passes through.
Your results may vary widely, and you may find the device to be a poor choice for mid to large-sized pools. However, this is an excellent buy for people who have a small pool and young children. Warmer water on demand is sure to be a hit with little ones who like to splash around.
The Best Accessories for Solar Pool Heaters
- Solar Pool Covers – The best thing you can buy to compliment your solar swimming pool heater is a solar pool cover like the Solar Cover 1200 Series Heat Retaining Blanket. These swimming pool covers trap the warmth you have built up in your pool, and they keep you from needing to start over again the next day. They are perfect when the weather starts to get colder, but you just are not ready to let your taste of summer go.
- Chlorine – For regular swimming pool maintenance, cleaning agents like chlorine and bromine are a must. With above-ground pools that lack the built-in cleaning systems of larger in-ground pools, go for inventions like the US Pool Supply Pool & Spa Floating Chlorine & Bromine Chemical Dispenser. The collapsable dispenser drops one-inch tablets into the pool to keep things clean and sanitary with little effort on your part.
- Automatic Pool Cleaners – Another vital tool for the above-ground pool is a pool cleaner. Being able to heat your pool will not mean much to your friends if you invite them to wade through a nasty lukewarm swamp. Automatic cleaners, like the Intex Automatic Pool Cleaner, will save you time and embarrassment.
- Pool Filter Cartridges – Robotic assistants are excellent to have, but you do not want to evict your guests while your scuba-Roomba gets to work. Grab an Intex Krystal Clear Cartridge Filter Pump for your swimming pool’s filtration system. These must-have items keep your water fresh and clean all day while you enjoy it to keep the party going longer.
- Patio Heaters – Your solar pool heater works like a dream, and you are enjoying a swim well into October. The only problem is it cannot do anything about the chilly fall air. Patio heaters like the Garden Treasures Stainless Steel Patio Heater, number one bestseller on Amazon.com, are here to save the day. Keep your dignity as you dry off in comfort and warmth instead of fleeing your pool in a teeth-chattering panic.
- Grills – It is not a pool party until you break out the grill, so bring your A-game with the Blackstone 4 Burner Grill Griddle Station, also a top-rated Amazon product. A quality grill is a sure-fire hit for an outdoor get-together and another way to make the most of your poolside fun.
- Bug Zapper – The only ones that are enjoying all that extra time at the pool as much as you are would be the ones treating you like a snack bar. Fight back with weapons like the HEMIUA Pro Mosquito Killer, another number pick from Amazon. Safe and highly effective, this bug zapper will keep pests from sucking the life out of your good time.
What Are Solar Swimming Pool Heaters?
When you mention solar power, most people imagine shiny black solar panels. Most solar technologies use solar collectors, like the crystalline structure of solar panels, to convert solar energy into electricity that provides power to homes or small devices. You can see this technology in everything from large generators to simple palm-sized calculators.
Solar pool heaters work a bit differently. For many of these heaters, the technology behind them is relatively simple. Sometimes a series of black tubing is enough to warm water by several degrees. All heaters use energy collectors to gather heat from the sun and transfer it to the water that passes through them.
While all solar pool heaters do the same thing at their heart, some are more efficient than others. These tools can range from simple thin black plates to complex combinations of metal and vacuum-sealed tubes. The kind you will want will largely depend on your budget and the amount of water you want to heat.
Why Choose Solar Swimming Pool Heaters Over Gas And Electric?
At first glance, the choice may not be obvious. Gas and electric pool heaters can function in temperatures just as low as the best solar heaters, without the same price tag up-front. But where the price of solar heating can be higher at the start, the other methods are far more expensive as time marches on.
In some states, the most efficient gas swimming pool heaters can cost thousands of dollars to operate for as little as two months. Electric heaters can be almost as bad, and propane is much worse. This is where solar pool heaters shine. After installation, the cost to operate these units drops to zero dollars. The price of gas and electricity can vary widely depending on the region you live in, but the sun is free no matter where you are.
Because there are no ongoing costs associated with solar heating, it pays for itself in just a few months. In fact, you may find it to be the most affordable option before the end of the first year, and solar heating systems can last for five years or more.
Is A Solar Pool Heater Worth it?
Like many solar technologies, solar pool heaters require an initial upfront investment that quickly pays for itself over time. Honestly, if you have spent the time and money to install a pool on your property, or if you have decided to buy or rent a property that features one, then your pool is an investment. These heaters will make your water more comfortable for longer, and that lets you get more out of your pool by adding months of usable time every year.
The best solar pool heater for you will depend on factors like the size of your pool, the amount of sunlight your property gets, and very significantly, the amount of space you have available.
Your biggest concern will be whether your property can make effective use of a solar heating system. Your location needs to get a lot of direct sunlight. Maybe not year-round but certainly during the months that you will want to use it.
Have you ever noticed the black or silver panels on the roofs of some homes and businesses? It is common to mount solar collectors on the roof to capture as much direct sunlight as possible. In the United States, your collectors need to face south to best track the path of the sun.
Another thing to consider is the climate where you live. How hot or cold it generally is throughout the year is an essential factor in choosing the right heating system, as is the season you most want to use your pool if you hope to enjoy a warm swim in the winter that will narrow down your choices.
How Do Solar Pool Heaters Work?
Solar pool heaters use various mediums to capture and collect the warmth from solar energy. They use that energy to raise the water’s temperature that flows through tubes connected to them and back into your pool.
Batch Water Heaters
Also called Integral Collector Storage, or ICS, batch solar water heaters were invented over a hundred years ago and are the most straightforward heaters on this list. They generally consist of a water storage unit inside a glass box. Cold water flows into the storage unit, which is then heated by the sun and flows out the other side.
ICS systems are popular thanks to their low cost and the simplicity of their design. They do not require pumps, power, or any mechanical parts, making maintenance effortless and inexpensive. However, they do have drawbacks. Water collection tanks may need to be large to be sufficient for a pool, and the weight can be a concern if you plan to mount them on a roof.
If temperatures will drop below freezing in colder months, then draining the tank will be necessary. Otherwise, the expansion of frozen water can seriously damage the unit. That said, their ease of construction makes it possible to build one on your own, and you can even use one to supply your home with free hot water. Check out this video to see how:
Flat Plate Collectors
Simply put, a flat plate collector is a thin sheet made of plastic. These plates generally sit under a sheet of glass and on top of a series of narrow water pipes collecting heat from the sun. The flowing water is warmed as it passes over the heated plate.
Many variations on this design include those made of metals like copper and aluminum or those made with simple black tubing under glass. There are even sandwich designs featuring two rippled plates where the water runs through the channels between them.
These solar systems tend to be light-weight, making them easily roof-mounted. And their relatively low cost, coupled with the fact that they can heat water quickly, make them a popular heating choice. The downside is that they can only increase water temperature by a few degrees, so they are not nearly as effective in colder climates or the winter months.
Evacuated Tube Collector
Evacuated tube collectors are a complex active solar technology. They use vacuum-sealed glass tubes and metal rods to capture solar energy and fluid, like solar glycol, to transfer the heat to the pool water.
An ETC solar heaters’ design allows them to trap heat from the sun more efficiently than other methods. That is because heat cannot cross the vacuum barrier and leech back out into the environment. There are several variations of this technology, including models that have doubled glass walls and those that heat the water directly rather than through heat transfer.
The advantage of ETC technology is that it can achieve heats much higher than other forms of solar heating. When coupled with solar glycol for heat transfer, this allows for use in all but the coldest climates. However, these strengths are a double-edged sword. Evacuated tube collectors are much more expensive than other solar heaters, with complicated installation and a higher cost of maintenance in the event of damage. Additionally, the high temperatures they can reach may lead to overheating in warmer seasons and climates.
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Other Frequently Asked Questions:
What is the best place for a solar pool heater?
Solar collectors should always be placed where they can gather the most sunlight. Your exact placement will depend largely on the layout of your home or yard, but it’s important to have them where they will have an unobstructed view of the sky all day.
Can you use a solar pool heater at night?
Yes, technically. Many solar heaters have insulated back-up tanks that hold water heated during the day for use at night or if the sky is overcast. And, even though the solar collector may not work after the sun goes down, you can still heat your pool before it gets dark. The water can hold its warmth for several hours, depending on weather and general air temperature.
Can a solar pool heater make my water colder?
The unfortunate answer to this question is, yes, it can. It’s important to remember that these heaters need full sunlight to be effective. If placed incorrectly, the heater will do the opposite of what you intended. When using a solar pool heater, never put it in an area that will be shaded for an extended period.
Heat only moves in one direction: from a hotter place to a colder place. The sun transfers its heat to your pool heater, which then transfers it to the water flowing through it. But, if left out of sunlight, the pool heater can cool down significantly, even becoming cold to the touch.
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This heat transfer process is called thermal conduction. Water traveling through the heating system can lose its heat through this same process if it is warmer than the pool heater. The cooling will continue until the water is just as cold as the system it flows through.
Can you use solar heating for small pools?
Absolutely. Many people can, and do, use solar heaters for small pools. A common choice is the flat plate collector because of its light-weight. You can use solar heating for virtually any sized pool, provided that you have enough solar collectors to meet your heating needs.
What kind of maintenance do solar pool heaters need?
Generally speaking, aside from repair in the event of damage, solar heaters only require maintenance to prepare for winter so that water does not freeze in the collection tanks and parts are not damaged by the cold.
What is the environmental impact of a solar heater?
One of the most significant benefits of solar technology is a reduced carbon footprint. Solar heaters give off no emissions and produce no waste, either directly or indirectly, by pulling gas or electric energy from your home.
Do I need another kind of heater as a back-up for my solar heater to use when there is no sun?
Solar pool heaters are generally designed to be stand-alone heating sources. Many include built-in insulated tanks to hold extra heated water specifically for use at night or at times when it is very overcast. Some models do, however, come with small gas or electric back-up heaters of their own.
You should be able to use your pool, and using one of the best solar pool heaters will help you do just that. While there may be many factors to consider, there is a perfect solar heater for everyone. Which one is yours?
- Energy.gov: Solar Swimming Pool Heaters
- Energy.gov: Gas Swimming Pool Heaters
- Michigan.gov: RSPEC Fact Sheet: Energy Smart Management – Heat Pump Pool Heaters
- Stanford.edu: US Solar Water Heating
- Wikipedia.org: Solar thermal collector
- Wikipedia.org: Active solar
- Sciencedirect.com: Evacuated Tube Collector
Summary of the Article
- 1.The SunHeater Pool Heating System – Best Large Flat Plate Collector
- 2. The Intex Solar Heating Mat – Best Small Flat Plate Collector
- 3. Doheny’s Solar Dome Heating System w/ Bypass Kit – Domed Batch Water Heater
- 4. The Solar Sun Rings Pool Water Heater – Cheapest Pool Water Heater
- 5. Beluga Pool Solutions 1652 Solar Heating Device – Honorable Mention:
- The Best Accessories for Solar Pool Heaters
- What Are Solar Swimming Pool Heaters?
- Why Choose Solar Swimming Pool Heaters Over Gas And Electric?
- Is A Solar Pool Heater Worth it?
- How Do Solar Pool Heaters Work?
- Other Frequently Asked Questions:
- What is the best place for a solar pool heater?
- Can you use a solar pool heater at night?
- Can a solar pool heater make my water colder?
- Can you use solar heating for small pools?
- What kind of maintenance do solar pool heaters need?
- What is the environmental impact of a solar heater?
- Do I need another kind of heater as a back-up for my solar heater to use when there is no sun?