Spend Less Heating Your Swimming Pool with Solar

I believe it’s comforting to know that no matter where you live on Earth, you get sunlight at least part of the year. And it’s nice that the sunlight can be helpful to the old wallet. Right now, I have spring fever and want to jump into a sparkling swimming pool that’s just the perfect temperature. Heating a swimming pool to that great temp is expensive, but going solar saves money and is more sustainable than other heating methods.

When I started researching solar pool heaters I had many questions, so I decided that the best way to write this post would be to ask questions and then answer them for you! I’m hoping my work will save you some time on your journey to choosing a more efficient and money-saving pool heater.

How much will going solar with pool heating cost?
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, solar pool heating systems usually cost between $3,000 and $4,000 including installation. The systems can greatly reduce swimming pool heating costs, saving you money in the long run. Plus, going solar for pool heating is the most cost-effective use of solar energy in many climates.

Do I have enough sunlight to go solar for pool heating?
The good news here is that you don’t have to live on a tropical island to take advantage of solar pool heating. Solar heating systems use both direct beam and diffuse solar radiation to warm pool water. (Sunlight is diffused or scattered by things in the air like clouds, pollutants and water vapor.) According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a pool site that generally faces south and has unshaded areas may be suitable for solar heating. An installer can perform a solar site analysis for you.

Is solar better than gas or heat pump pool heaters?
Solar pool heaters have very low annual operating costs. While the sun’s energy is free anywhere, a pool owner in Boston would pay about $1,050 to heat an outdoor pool to 80 degrees Fahrenheit with a heat pump and no pool cover between May 1 and August 31. For gas, that operating cost would be about $2,096. (Estimates are from the U.S. Department of Energy. I don’t have a pool owner friend in Boston!)

Solar pool heaters can pay for themselves within a few years and then keep heating without the use of oil or gas, or mechanical parts that may need replacing. Because of their simplicity, solar pool heating systems tend to last longer than gas or heat pump heaters. A solar pool heating system may continue to operate for 10 to 20 years. Gas pool heaters tend to last for only five or more years, while heat pump pool heaters may work for 10 or more years.

How does the pool water get heated with solar energy?
Solar pool heaters typically have four main features: the solar collector, the filter, the pump and the flow control valve. The basic path of the water is pool, filter, solar collector, pool. The pump circulates water through the filter to be cleaned, then through the solar collectors to be heated by the sun. The control valve, which may be manual or automatic, diverts the pool’s water through the solar collector.

What’s a solar collector, and where is it placed?
Put simply, a solar collector is where the heating action takes place. You may be more familiar with the term “solar panel,” and the concept is the same here. Solar panels are associated with electricity, and solar collectors are associated with hot water.

Solar collectors are mounted on the roof or another location near the swimming pool that provides appropriate orientation, exposure and tilt toward the sun. Solar collectors are major players. They do more than just heat water; they can also be used to cool the pool during the hottest months by circulating pool water at night.

How big are solar collectors?
The surface area of your solar collector will equal between 50 and 100 percent of your pool’s surface area. If you live in a cold or cloudy area, the surface area of your solar collector will be greater than what’s required for sunnier areas. However, solar collector area can be decreased in any climate with the use of a pool cover.

What are solar collectors made of?
The choice of material for solar collectors depends on climate and use. Unglazed collectors don’t include a glass covering (or glazing) and usually consist of heavy rubber or plastic that’s treated with a UV light inhibitor to help the system last longer. If you’re only using your outdoor pool when it’s above freezing, the unglazed collector may be the way to go. Unglazed collectors are used often for indoor pools in colder climates.

Glazed collectors are more expensive and are typically made of copper tubing on an aluminum plate with an iron-tempered glass covering. With heat exchangers that transfer fluids, unglazed collectors can absorb sunlight more effectively. Glazed collectors are more efficient in colder weather, and are used year-round in many places. However, unglazed collectors may be more cost-effective if you don’t intend to use your outdoor pool during cold weather.

What happens to solar pool heaters during cold weather?
If you live in an area where temperatures fall below 42 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll have to protect your solar pool heater from freezing by using an antifreeze solution or by draining the collector and piping. Both unglazed and glazed systems must be protected.

What will the neighbors and zoning people think?
While many people, like me, think that solar heating is worth having some solar collectors around, others might feel differently. Make sure you’re in compliance with homeowner’s associations, subdivision covenants, and any ordinances from your local zoning and building enforcement divisions. You’ll likely need a building permit to install a solar water heating system onto an existing building.

Who should install your solar pool heater?
When you’re ready to select a contractor, the Solar Energy Industries Association recommends that you get three or more proposals from experienced contractors, and ask about credentials and licenses. A good solar contractor will consider how the orientation and tilt of your solar collectors will affect the system’s performance. The contractor should also carefully calculate system requirements and collector sizing for your solar pool heater.

Installing a solar heating system for your pool may not be as simple as diving into a refreshing pool on a pretty spring day, but it’s an investment you may be glad you made. While my questions and answers have probably gotten the water slides in your brain flowing, there’s more to learn when it comes to selecting the best energy-efficient pool heater for your particular situation. Before you dive in, spend some time exploring the online Energy Savers guide to pool heating, developed by the U.S. Department of Energy. Now, happy temperature-perfect swimming!

Tim Eyre

One thought on “Spend Less Heating Your Swimming Pool with Solar

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