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Heating Your Pool with Solar: A Beginner’s Guide

solar panels

A solar pool heater keeps your swimming pool pleasantly warm, so you don’t have to enter it by taking a frigid plunge, or by edging into the water, inch by chilly inch. Pool heaters that are powered by electric, natural gas, or propane do the same, which begs the question: between solar-powered, utility-powered, and propane-powered pool heaters, which option is best?

Cost, Product Lifespan, and the Environment

In terms of cost, lifespan, and environmental impact, solar pool heaters are an optimal choice. When the expense of purchase, installation, operation, and maintenance is calculated, solar heaters routinely have the lowest cost of ownership. Their long lifespan of 20 years adds to the value. Pool heating options that use electric or gas can last 10-15 years. As they run, the form of energy they use — or how the energy is produced — gives rise to carbon pollution.

If Solar is Economical, Why the High Price Tag?

If you compare the cost of a solar pool heater to the price of a utility-powered or gas-powered heater of comparable quality and capacity, don’t be surprised to find that the solar model costs thousands of dollars more up front. The reason it ultimately costs less than the other pool heating options is simple: you never spend a dime to power it; the sun powers it long-term, for free.

Residential swimming pools commonly range in size from 10 x 20 ft. to 20 x 40 ft., with an average depth of five to six feet. In a humid subtropical climate, or a temperate climate with mild conditions, a pool of median dimensions costs roughly $2,000 a year to heat with gas. An electric heater can lower the annual cost to about $1,200. Even so, if the electric model lasted 12 years, that’s a $14,400 power supply expense that a solar pool heater would eliminate.

On the high end, solar pool heating options cost around $8,000 for a medium to large pool. The average price is around $5,500. Even if you spend high and buy the costliest brand and model, you stand to save thousands of dollars in ownership cost by using a solar pool heater.

Choosing A Solar Pool Heater: From Decision to Installation

Choosing solar power is a thrifty decision that gives the environment a leg up. But now there are other choices to make, most crucially: what type of equipment to use, the configuration of the installation, whether to DIY or use a contractor, and how to handle maintenance. Square away these four concerns, and you will be ready to kiss the jolt of cold pool water goodbye.

1. Choosing Equipment

As you shop, you’ll probably see small-scale heaters that cost a few hundred dollars, possibly less. Unless you to need heat a concise area, these products are not practical — and installing a fleet of them would be like using only space heaters to warm a spacious home. For maximum efficiency, focus on pool heating options that are scaled to the size of your pool.

Should you get your solar pool heater from the manufacturer or a third-party? Manufacturers generally have lower markups than middlemen, making their prices routinely lower, though not always by much. If an epic bargain awaits, a third-party that has a wide, deep, fast-moving inventory is likely to offer it. These merchants also specialize in offering a variety of brands.

Do Brands Matter?

Every manufacturer has technology that is original enough to be patented. Proprietary elements that enable the most customers to infer the highest level value are a heater’s unique selling points, whether they are the strongest reasons to buy it, or not. As you compare models, don’t confuse refinements with necessities. A great model is one that fits the size of your pool, looks great installed, and warms the water efficiently, thoroughly, and reliably.

The AC-to-DC power conversion ratio of solar power to electricity is more efficient in some models than others, but no brand dominates. Whether you choose a manufacturer or a third party, you’ll select an installation package, or build your own package. Products will indicate the pool dimensions they accommodate. They can also be matched to your pool’s capacity in gallons.

Glazed or Unglazed?

Solar collectors are the part of a solar pool heater installation that converts the sun’s energy into electricity. More commonly known as “solar panels”, the collectors come in two varieties: glazed and unglazed. Glazed collectors have a protective glass cover that overlays the photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert the energy. Unglazed collectors do not have a cover; Instead, they feature a highly durable surface that serves as a protective barrier.

Glazed and unglazed collectors work equally well, but unglazed models usually cost less. Because they absorb sunlight more effectively in cold weather, glazed collectors that feature heat exchangers are ideal for cold climates. Unless a unique aspect of your installation requires the use of glazed collectors, unglazed models are preferable for cost-effectiveness.

2. Installation Configuration

The solar collectors for a pool heater should be located in an area that receives direct sunlight throughout the day. Consequently, the roof of the home that adjoins the pool is an ideal spot. Regardless of where the collectors are placed, they will be wired to transfer electricity directly to the pool heater, which will likely sit in a discreet location near the pool. Alternatively, solar collectors can be mounted on a stand, in an area that’s consistently drenched with sunlight.

The installation consists of just a few elements that are easy to install, with the primary focus being the location of the solar collectors. This brings us to the next consideration for your solar pool heater: should you handle the installation on your own, or hire a contractor?

3. DIY or Contractor?

Because installation doesn’t require a great deal of technical skill, homeowners often decide to handle it on their own. However, elements of the installation that do require skill — such as electrical wiring and positioning the collectors in an ideal location — justify hiring a contractor. Using a contractor is also a good idea because the company will offer a workmanship guarantee, which ensures that installation errors are corrected at no cost to customers.

If you opt for DIY, be exceptionally diligent in following installation instructions, take all the time you need, and contact the manufacturer if you require technical assistance. The last thing you want is a botched job that ends up requiring the services of a contractor anyway.

4. Maintenance Plan

Some manufacturers offer scheduled maintenance, but third-party maintenance can cost quite a bit less. For technical expertise and customer care, manufacturers are the logical choice. However, most solar pool heating options are not high-maintenance installations, and many homeowners end up saving money by performing scheduled maintenance on their own.

Most of the maintenance is performed on the solar pool heater itself, and the maintenance procedures should be clearly outlined in the owner’s manual. If you take some time to become familiar with the operation of the heater, handling your own maintenance is relatively easy.

Conclusion

A solar pool heater is just as efficient as pool heating options than run on electric or gas, but it typically has a lower cost of ownership. Combine this benefit with the fact that solar heaters are the best choice for the environment, and it’s easy to see why many homeowners heat their pools with technology that taps the most dependable energy source of all: the sun.

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