Heating your pool can be a big headache when it comes to cost and maintenance. I recently converted over to solar heating and the difference is incredible! There are so many reasons why solar pool heating is more worthwhile than traditional heating systems.
Is solar pool heating worth it? The long term savings in utilities coupled with the ease of maintenance over time are worth the initial cost of installation. In most cases, these systems will pay for themselves over the course of two to three years.
Sound too good to be true? Once you learn a little more about how solar pool heating works, the only question you’ll be asking yourself is why you waited so long to utilize one!
How do Solar Pool Heaters Work?
Before we go into the benefits of solar heating your pool, let’s take a quick look at how solar heaters work. According to energy.gov, there are several components to a solar pool heater. These parts, along with a brief description, are:
- Solar Collector – circulates your pool water so it can be heated by the sun
- Filter – removes debris from the water before pumping it through the collector
- Pump – circulates the water through the filter and collecter, then back into the pool
- Flow control valve – an automatic or manual device that sends water through the solar collector
Basically, the pool water is pumped through the filter into the solar collector to be heated before sending it back to the pool. The collector can be used to cool the water as well in hot climates by circulating the water at night during the height of summer. The flow control value can be used to regulate the flow of the water once the desired temperature is reached.
In warmer weather environments unglazed collectors are used. They are called unglazed because they don’t have a glass covering to collect heat. Instead, they use industrial-grade rubber or plastic.
Glazed panels are only used in colder climates since they have to work harder to heat the water in below-freezing temperatures. There are other options to use instead of unglazed solar collectors, like evacuated tube solar thermal systems, flat plate solar thermal systems and thermodynamic panels. All of these options are used in the United States.
Are Solar Heaters Effective?
Now that we have a basic understanding of how solar heaters work, the next question is how effective they are? There are two main things that need to be considered in the answer:
First, look to see what the collector’s thermal performance rating is. The rating is measured by BTU per square foot per day. The higher the number, the higher the efficiency of the heater. Higher efficiency will not only reduce the operating costs, but it may even reduce the size of the collector needed.
The other determining factor for how effective the heater will be is the climate you live in. If you install galvanized solar panels, you’ll find better heating on cooler or windy days. In cooler weather climates, the addition of a night time pool cover will greatly reduce the loss of heat overnight as well.
Using both in combination will, of course, help water cooling during prolonged rainy or overcast conditions.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the many benefits of a solar heater versus a traditional pool heating system.
Minimal Disturbance of Your Life
Unlike traditional heating systems, which can take lengthy amounts of time to install, a solar heater requires only a few hours. You won’t have to take days off work to be home for the installation process and you’ll be enjoying your pool faster.
Gas and electric heaters require inground plumbing and power lines that will make it necessary to dig up your lawn, causing the aggravation of having to repair landscaping. This can be rather costly, not to mention time-consuming.
You can even install these systems yourself without the help of a plumber or contractor. All you need is some standard home improvement tools. You’ll also need a few helping hands to lift, arrange, install an secure the panels.
You can be sure the integrity of your lawn will not be jeopardized and you won’t have to tear up existing concrete fixtures or decking.
Reliable Source of Heating
With traditional heating systems, there are many moving parts. When I utilized an electric pool heater, there were a few times that I’d wake up to disaster because a fan or motor gave out in the middle of the night and the water was freezing! By the time I got someone out to fix it all, days of pool time were wasted.
Not only can is it expensive to have someone come out to service your pool, but unexpected expenses such as these can very seriously affect your finances when you take the loss of wages into account. You’ll have to be home when the service technician comes to work on your system.
The parts of a solar heating system are built to stay functional. Even if weather conditions occur causing utility service interruptions, your heater continues to function perfectly. The entire set up is designed to be weatherproof and long-lasting
Virtually No Maintenance Required
We’ve already discussed the lack of moving parts. In addition to that, there’s virtually no regular maintenance required in these systems. Any gas or electric system will require regular maintenance after a few years. There will be short-circuited, dust build-ups in the motors; the list is endless.
Homeowners in the United States spend between $1,200 to $5,000 a year on standard pool maintenance. (source: ygrene.com) Not only are you saving a significant amount of money, but you are doing it without harming the environment.
With a solar heater, there are no engines to break down, no power supply lines to corrode; it’s pure simplicity. The biggest issue you are likely to face is a pipe springing a leak, and that’s a cheap easy fix.
Not only that, but the average solar pool heating panel has a life expectancy of 20 years. In fact, there are solar pool systems that were installed by AMECO in the late 1970’s an 1980’s that are still in use and in working condition today.
All you need to do to maintain your solar heating system is to check your pool’s chemical balance and filtering system and keep galvanized containers clean.
Ease of Use
Today’s solar heating systems are easier than ever to use. There are automatic controls that are both easy to understand and reliable. Simply set the thermostat. That’s it. All you have to do is wait for the sun to shine and heat the pool to your specified temperature.
Solar Panels Won’t Affect Pool Chemistry
When installed correctly, there should be no change in the chemistry of your pool. With the temperature being higher and pool use increased, you might want to increase your chlorine use a bit. Using automatic chlorinators, ozone generators or ionizers can make that a breeze.
How Much Does Solar Pool Heating Cost?
The biggest benefit of using solar heating systems is the cost. The only cost that goes into the system is the purchase and installation, meaning once you set it up, the heat supply doesn’t cost a cent! In many cases, solar systems can be hooked up to the existing pump on your pool, eliminating additional purchases.
According to solarexpert.com, the cost of a solar heater can range from $3,500 to $8,000 with the average system costing about $5,500.
For example, the average cost of a system $5,500 and the average cost to heat a pool with gas is $2,000. In this instance, it would take just a bit under three years for the heating system to pay for itself.
With the average solar panel system lasting up to 20 years, you are looking at roughly 17 years of savings. That adds up to thousands of dollars you get to keep in your pocket each year.
Energy costs are growing increasingly higher and higher every year, making pool ownership costly and full of headaches. According to recent research, it costs United States consumers billions of dollars a year to heat the nation’s 5.7 million swimming pools. Solar-powered heating is a great way to keep enjoying your pool without having to empty your pockets.
That’s not even taking into account the Federal tax credits available for using alternative energy sources. You can deduct up to 30% of the cost of your solar system from your federal income taxes. That’s not even the end of it!
Most states also offer tax credits in addition to the federal, allowing you to deduct up to 40% of your costs! This savings occur without even operating the system a single time! Click here for a complete list of solar rebates and incentives by state.
Even if the initial cost leaves you with sticker shock, there are many creative financing options offered. There really seems to be an option for every budget.
Solar Heaters Can Increase the Time You Use the Pool
A solar heating system can raise the temperature of the water to 15-20 degrees above the outside air in a matter of a few days, faster if used in combination with a solar pool cover.
In pools that are open year-round, even when the outside air temperature is 80 degrees, the water is still too cold to swim in without heating.
It takes a lot of power and energy for a traditional system to warm up and regulate the water. Solar heating works day and night without cycle interruptions to maintain the water temperature. You will find there will be far more consistency in temperature year-round.
Solar Pool Heaters Can be Set up Virtually Anywhere
Most solar heaters are set up on your roof to maximize exposure to the sun. It doesn’t matter what kind of roof you have either. It can be a tile roof, a flat roof… It makes no difference. If there isn’t enough space due to existing structures, the heaters can be installed on the ground as well.
When using a traditional heater, the system needs to be set up on a concrete slab for stability in close proximity to the pool itself. Having the solar heater placed a distance away from the pool itself allows more space for building a deck, sunbathing or entertaining guests.
Dispelling Myths About Solar Heating Your Pool
So far we’ve covered lots of reasons why you would benefit from using a solar pool heating system versus a traditional system. Now let’s go through a few of the myths and clear up any remaining doubt.
Myth #1: Solar Heating Takes Too Long to Heat Up
One of the articles I look at said a solar heater would only heat one degree a day with a maximum of 7 to 8 degrees a week. That is not accurate. The amount of time it takes for a solar system to heat really only depends on how many solar panels you have and the amount of sun exposure in your area.
In some instances, pools can be heated anywhere from 15 to 35 degrees in a day! Of course, in this instance ‘in a day’ is used in the literal sense.
A friend of mine recently used a solar heater to heat her outdoor spa to over 105 degrees! This was achieved in about half an hour, something she was never able to accomplish with her electrical heating system!
Myth #2: Solar Heating Only Adds as Much Heat as the Outside Air Temperature
That’s completely false. Solar heating systems work by converting the sun’s rays into a usable energy force. This has nothing to do with the outside air temperature. In fact, as we’ve discussed previously, even in cooler environments, you can expect a 15 to 20-degree difference in the temperature of the pool water and the outside air.
Typically, solar-based systems will do this just prior to night fall to give your pool a temperature boost before sunset.
Myth #3: Solar Energy Heating Only Works on Days Where the Sun is Shinning
This is inaccurate as well. Sure, the solar system will function best on days with bright, unobstructed sunshine, but it works on an overcast and cloudy days as well.
On a cloudy day, the average solar panel can still produce 10 to 25% of their rated capacity. Ultra-violet light reaches the earth at high levels even on a cloudy day. You know this if you’ve ever gone to the beach on a day when the sun isn’t out and still gotten a sunburn.
There are solar panels being developed that capture ultra-violet rays, but they aren’t widely available yet. (source: Do Cloudy Days Affect Solar Panels?) Even a standard solar panel will generate some power during the daytime.
Even with the reduced production on cloudy days, the benefit is averaged over the span of a year. There will be more sunny days than not, making the long term effectiveness far greater than that of conventional systems.
However, running the solar heater when it’s raining or overcast during cool temperatures isn’t a good idea. It could potentially cool the pool. Other than that, you can count on a solar heating system to maintain water temperatures on cloudy days.
Myth #4: Solar Heating Only Works in Places Like Florida and Arizona.
Again, false! Many of the companies that produce solar panels are in Northern America and Canada. Once more, it depends on the number of panels you are using.
Having lived in Chicago for years, I know what it can be like to live in an environment where the skies are overcast and rain is falling. Despite the unpredictable weather patterns, solar energy is used effectively all over Chicago land.
Even Seattle, Washington utilizes solar power! Making sure you have an adequate number of panels focused in the southern direction, you can still use solar panels to generate enough energy to warrant the switch from traditional systems. If done correctly, you’ll be absolutely shocked by the amount of heat you can produce!
Myth #5: Solar Pool Heaters Are Ugly
I suppose that is all based on perception. There are people who believe that Kate Moss is one of the most beautiful Supermodels of all time. There are others who think she’s unattractive and too skinny. Guess what? Neither group is wrong!
What some see as ugly eye-sores, others see as a thing of absolute beauty. When you look from the point of view belonging to the homeowner who is saving tons and tons of money, those nasty black spots on the roof are more beautiful than anything in the landscape!
Also, panels can be placed out of eyesight on the back of a fence or on top of a pavilion and still be just as effective. With technology constantly advancing, there’s no way to know what they’ll look like in years to come.
So, is Solar Pool Heating Worth it?
We’ve gone over many of the benefits of heating your pool with solar power versus traditional systems. I would say the savings speak for themselves. Still not sure? Contact a local distributor of solar energy to get more info and see if solar pool heating is right for you.
From there they can help determine what kind of set up you’ll need to meet your needs. There are quite a few manufacturers of solar heaters in the United States. Here’s a complete list to get you started.