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    Total Cost of Ownership of a Pool Heater

    January 4, 2013

    In this post, we take a look at total cost to own a pool heater. Not just what the heater costs to buy, but what it costs to install, operate and maintain. TOC of swimming pool heaters.

    Types of Pool Heaters

    Solar Heating - Least expensive way to heat your inground swimming pool,  after the initial purchase of the solar heating panels you get free heat from the sun. Panels are mounted on a roof or you can build a rack or pavilion. The solar panels should be mounted where you get the most sunlight during the course of the day. The ideal location would be an unobstructed southern exposure. You can still use solar panels if you do not have a Southern exposure but you should increase the amount of solar panels in order to maintain the same efficiency.

    When heating a pool with solar heating panels the temperature of the water increases slowly; 1-3 degrees per day. A 15-20 degree temperature rise is possible, with warm, sunny weather. During rainy periods, heater output will diminish, until the air temperature climbs higher than the pool temperature.

    Heat Pumps – For inground pools, heat pumps require a 220v dedicated electrical line and depending on the size of the heat pump typically at least a minimum of a 40 amp breaker.  They require a lot of amps to operate, but they are quite efficient, and are very cheap to operate, especially during the summer months.

    Pool heat pumps work in the reverse of an air conditioning unit to transfer heat from the air into your swimming pool water. Warm outside air is drawn over an evaporator coil by a fan, the heat is transferred to your pool water as it runs through the heat exchanger and returns back to the pool warmer.

    With an electric heat pump you can maintain a constant temperature whether it is 6am or 11pm you can always maintain the same temperature. Heat pumps are a great option if you plan on swimming on a daily basis. They are not as quick to heat up, but are 60-80% cheaper to operate than a gas pool heater.

    Gas Heaters – Gas heaters are available in both natural gas and liquid propane. Most gas heaters operate at about 80% efficiency. When sized properly, they can heat the water quite fast, or about 1-3 degrees per hour. If you have an attached spa, next to your pool, gas heaters can heat them up in as little as 15 minutes. The downside is the cost to operate, which varies greatly with temperature rise and whether or not a pool cover is used.

    To heat your pool with a natural gas heater you will need to run a gas line from the meter in the house over to where the pool heater is located. This will need to be buried in a trench, from the meter to the heater. This could cost a few hundred dollars to much more, depending on the length of the gas line.

    Before adding a gas heater, contact your gas company and tell them you want to add a pool heater to your gas service, and tell them the size of heater, in BTU's. They will let you know if they need to upsize your gas meter to handle the additional load.

    For a liquid propane heater you will call your local propane company and they will provide you with the proper size gas tank and gas line. If you only plan on swimming on the weekends or if you would like to do spot heating a gas heater is a great option. With a gas heater you get rapid heat, increases the temperature the quickest compared to solar heating panels or an electric heat pump.

    Installation Costs for each Heater Type

    Installation cost is dependent on different variables such as size of the pool, location of pool equipment, cost per kilowatt hour and geographical location of where you are located. Here's a run down of the steps involved in installing each pool heater type.

    Solar Heaters

    • Mount solar collectors on roof, or construct a rack facing south.
    • Connect PVC pipes from the pool filter, to and back from, the solar panels.
    • Mount Solar Controller (optional, but recommended), install sensors.
    • Most systems can be easily completed by two people in 6 hours.

    Electric Heat Pumps

    • Requires a 220v dedicated electrical line from a 30-60 amp breaker. Should be bonded.
    • Connect pipes to inlet and outlet of heat pump and then back to swimming pool.
    • Total cost is your electrician's time and materials. I paid $700 on my heat pump install.

    Gas Heater

    • Natural gas heaters need a gas line from the gas meter to the pool heater.
    • Propane delivery companies can provide an estimate or cost of installation.
    • PVC pipe from pool filter to inlet and outlet of pool heater and then back to the return line.
    • Connect power into heater to operate control circuits. Heaters should be bonded.

    Operation Costs for each Heater Type

    Solar Heaters: Whatever it is costing you to run the pool pump, which has to be on to push water through the solar panels. The heat itself, of course, is free from the sun.

    Heat Pumps: Depends on your desired pool temperature and how long you need to run your pump and filter in order to maintain the desired temperature.  The amount you pay per kilowatt hour for your electrical will also vary depending on your location.

    Gas Heaters: depends on desired temperature of pool water and starting water temperature.  The time of running pool pump and gas heater will help determine total cost. A rule of thumb is that Gas Heaters consume 1 therm of Gas per 1 hour; per 100,000 BTU’s and LP heaters consume 1 gallon of LPG per hour, per 100,000 BTU’s of heater size.

    Repair Costs for each Heater Type

    Solar Heaters: Typically the least often repaired and at very minimal cost. If you have do develop a panel leak, there are easy ways to repair it. Solar Panels can last 15+ years before, ironically, the sun begins to break down the materials and they become brittle.

    Gas heater: Most gas heaters do not require much maintenance, but much more in comparison to heat pumps or solar heaters. In their latter years of life, replacement of some components are not uncommon. Worst case scenarios are damaged heat exchangers and burner trays. Use of a winter heater cover can help extend their lifespan.

    Heat Pumps: Very reliable, with less circuitry and sensitive components than gas heaters. Worst case scenario on a heat pump is the heat exchanger or compressor failing. Fan bearings can need attention on older models. Newer units are solid state circuitry however, using a heater cover during winter is still a good idea.

    Life Expectancy for each Heater Type

    Many factors affect your heater's lifespan. Heaters or heat pumps that are under a downspout, or buried deep under overhanging vegetation can become damaged from excess moisture. Using a winter cover is a good idea, and also a rodent repellent. Maintaining proper pH and Alkalinity and chlorine levels will help to prevent damage to a heat exchanger. Solar heaters usually have no problems until the harsh sun finally breaks down the polymers in the plastic, at which point leaks begin to develop.

    Solar Heaters: 12-15 years Heat Pumps: 12-15 years Gas heater: 8-12 years

    Ways to Reduce Heating Costs

    You can reduce your heating cost by approximately 30-50% by using a solar blanket or solar fish.  The solar fish are not as efficient but a lot more convenient than a solar blanket. If you do not use a solar blanket, all of the money spent heating the pool will just disappear overnight. A good analogy would be if you have a cup of coffee you keep the lid on and it will stay warm and take the lid off it cools off very quickly; the pool is the same way.

    So, to compute total cost of ownership for a pool heater, in order to know the most cost effective way to heat your pool - you see we have quite a complicated formula! Some pool heaters cost more than others to purchase, some cost more to install, and some cost more to operate. Some are more costly to repair, and some do not last as long as the other pool heater types.

    And one more caveat to consider...how important is On Demand pool heat to you? Gas pool heaters can give consistently quick heating (unless they  need repair). Heat pumps are slower to heat, and do not heat at all when the outside temperature drops below 50 degrees. Solar heaters - same thing; no heat during cold or rainy periods. Gas pool heaters give the most consistent, fastest heating - but they do cost much more to operate than solar heaters or heat pumps.

    Still confused about which heater type will be most effective and economical in the long run? Take a look at our pool heaters available online, or give us a call anytime at 800-983-7665, and we can run over these options with your specific location and situation.  

    Chris Low
    SPP Pool Expert

    Blog Author
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