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    Can a Solar Pool Heater do the Job?

    March 19, 2015


    Why not use the sun to heat up your swimming pool? People buy gas heaters and heat pumps to heat their swimming pools, and pay quite a bit of money for natural gas, propane or electricity to heat their pools. Why pay for heat if you can harness the sun’s energy and heat your pool for free?

    In recent years, I have been switching more pool owners over to solar pool heaters. Unless your property is covered in dense trees, it just makes sense to use the sun to heat your pool. And if done correctly, you will have more than enough heat to raise the temperatures 15-30 degrees, depending on how much sun the panels get.

    Did you know solar panels can also be used to cool your pool water down?

    pool-with-solar-panels-in-arizonaMy brother set up a solar pool heater at his home in Arizona. His problem in Arizona is for most of the summer the water will naturally rise to over 100°. During the warm months he runs his solar panels at night. This brings the water temperature down to the 80’s overnight, making for refreshing swims in the early part of the day. During the cooler seasons when the night temps can cool the water down quite a bit, he uses the solar panels during the day to heat up the water to a comfortable 85°. He has a solar controller, so he doesn't even have to think about it, he just sets a thermostat dial, and the temp sensors manage the solar system operation, turning it on or off as needed to maintain the set temperature.

    Solar panels can be installed for in ground pools as well as above ground pools.

    solar-rollThey can be attached to the roof, hung on a rack, hung vertically on a fence and even laid flat on the ground. Solar pool panels come in two different sizes 4'x10' (which is actually 2 panels 2x10 each) and 4'x20' (which is actually 2 panels 2x20 each). You buy the main kit and then you can add additional panels which are sold separately, and connect to each other. Solar pool panels are very easy to install and are very lightweight. They are made from a durable black polyolefin, a polymer with excellent heat absorption properties. Solar pool heater panels are made up of hundreds of small tubes which allows for maximum heat absorption and transfer.

    How a Solar Pool Heater Works

    SOLAR-POOL-HEATER-SYSTEMWhen you turn your filter pump on, it will circulate the water through the panels and back down into the pool. The diverter valve "diverts" some of the water as it leaves the filter and sends it to the solar panels.

    As the water exits the solar panels, a tee fitting reconnects it into the pool return line, after the diverter valve. A one-way check valve is used in between the valve and the tee, to prevent backflow or cycling of the water.

    It's best to locate the panels where they get the most sun (at least 6 hours per day), but also not too far away from the pool equipment pad, so that connecting the plumbing and sensors is easier.

    Booster pumps are not needed with a solar pool heater, although you will notice a higher filter pressure when the solar system is on. I have seen many panels installed on 2-story roofs using the original 1 or 2 hp pool filter pump.

    Inground pool solar systems should install the Solar Controller

    goldline-solar-controller-complete-2Each solar pool heater kit will include a diverter valve. The valve is a 3-way Jandy type valve that you can turn manually to send water to the solar panels, but I recommend the automatic diverter valve used with the solar controller. This will turn the valve automatically, when conditions are best for solar heating, and there is a call for heat from the thermostat.

    The biggest thing to remember with solar heating, is that if the sun is not shining or it is raining or cloudy, you are not heating the water up. With a manual diverter valve, you will have to keep an eye on the weather and run outside all the time to turn the panels on or off.

    With the automatic diverter valve, you set the temperature you want the water to be. If the sun goes in, it will automatically shut the panels down. The automatic diverter will open and close off the panels as needed to maintain the temperature that you want. You do not have to worry about the temperature or the weather outside or remember to shut the panels off at night time.

    The solar controller turns the solar system on/off many times per day, to optimize total heat gain, by turning on the panels only when conditions are optimal, and turning it off when heat gain is reduced, from clouds, shade or night.

    Solar pool panels can raise your water temperature 15-30 degrees

    If done correctly, that is. You want to make sure your square footage of the panels equals at least 50% of the surface of pool for 15°, or install 100% of pool surface area in solar panels to double the heat gain.  When you buy solar pool panels, the most heat you can capture. You want to make sure you can place your panels so they get mostly southern sun and place them as close to your filter/pump as possible. sunshin

    Obviously, you want the sun to be shining on the panels as much as possible. We look for at least 6 hours of unobstructed sunshine. I would recommend using a solar blanket also. If you go out to your pool in the early morning or at night time, you will notice steam coming off your pool, that is actually the heat leaving the pool. If you are working hard to heat the pool, the solar blanket will hold the heat in the pool when you are not swimming.

    Finally, if you have an inground pool, use the solar controller to optimize heat. I once had a customer who opted to save the $350, and install it without the solar controller. Well, he called back months later, saying the solar system (a 50% system) was a piece of #$%&^! We went over some things, and I was able to charm him into buying the controller. 1 week later, he called to thank me, saying that instantly his system began adding nearly double the heat he got before the controller.

    Maintenance is very easy on solar pool panels. Almost non-existent.

    You really do not have to do much during the season. If you live in an area where temperatures drop to freezing, I would recommend draining the panels if you winterize; usually very easy, just pull the plug and let them drain.

    The panels come with a 5 year warranty. For the most part, these panels will last approximately 15 years, before sun and snow begin to break down the material. When the panels start to develop small cracks, the end is near, although the panel tubes can be patched, glued, stented or plugged easily to extend the lifespan.

    There really isn't any regular maintenance to do, a solar pool heater is a simple system with few moving parts.

    How to get started with a solar pool heatersolar-panels-on-pool

    Add up your pool square footage, and select a suitable mounting method and location. You can start with a minimum to cover 50% and add more panels later on if needed. You can even set up separate arrays of panels, on different roof faces, or in different areas. The water will leave one panel and then go through the second panel before returning to the pool.

    With a helper, install the solar panels, connect the plumbing and mount the solar controller and temp sensors. Solar pool heating systems are easily installed in less than a day, with simple hand tools and some plumbing supplies.


    Do Solar Pool Heaters Really Work?

    Solar panels really do work if you have a sunny property, provided that you install enough panels to cover at least 50% of your pool’s surface, but more is always better.

    The solar controller, is in my opinion the best thing to use. I have had other customers that have gone with the manual diverter valve, but once they forget to shut it off one night or two, they always call back an order it. Running it at night will really cool down the water temp.

    Using a solar blanket helps to ensure you are keeping as much heat as possible in your pool. The warmer the pool the longer your swimming season and the more use you will get out of your pool.

    And if you live in an area where the water gets too warm, running the solar panels at night will cool the water during the hotter months.

    Give me a call if you want to talk about adding a solar pool heater to your pool!

    Debbie Farnan
    SPP Pool Expert  

    Blog Author
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