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    Can a Solar Pool Heater do the Job?

    March 19, 2015

    solar pool heater examples

    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 heat 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 degrees. During the warm months he runs his solar panels at night. This brings the water temperature down to the 80s 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 degrees. 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 pool heater 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 two 2'x10' panels) and 4'x20' (which is actually two 2'x20' panels). 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 extremely 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:

    how a solar pool heater worksWhen 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 two-story roofs using the original 1 or 2 HP pool filter pump.

    Inground pool solar systems should use a solar controller.

    solar pool heat controllerEach solar pool heater kit will include a diverter valve. The valve is a three-way Jandy type valve, which you can turn manually to send water to the solar panels. However, 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. It will automatically optimize total heat gain by turning on the panels only when conditions are optimal. It's turned off when heat gain is reduced, such as from clouds, shade or nighttime.

    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 an increase of 15 degrees, or install 100% of pool surface area in solar panels to double the heat gain. When you use solar pool panels, the goal is to get the most heat you can possibly capture. Make sure to place your panels so they get mostly southern sun, and put them as close to your filter/pump as possible. sunshine

    Obviously, you want the sun to be shining on the panels as much as possible. We look for at least six 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. This is actually heat leaving the water. If you are working hard to heat the pool, a solar blanket will hold the heat in the pool when you are not swimming.

    Finally, if you have an inground pool, use a solar controller to optimize heat. I once had a customer who opted to save the extra cash and install their solar panel without the solar controller. They called back months later, saying the solar system (a 50% system) wasn't working very well. We went over some things, and I was able to talk them into buying the controller. Just a short week later, they called to thank me, saying that their system instantly began adding nearly double the heat as they were getting before installing the controller.

    Maintenance is very easy on solar pool panels...almost nonexistent!

    You really do not have to do much with a solar heating system during pool season. If you live in an area where temperatures drop to freezing, I would recommend draining the panels when winterizing your pool equipment. This is usually very easy; just pull the plug and let them drain completely.

    Solar panels typically 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. However, the panel tubes can be easily patched, glued, stented or plugged to extend the lifespan.

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

    How to get started with a solar pool heater:how solar pool heaters work

    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, using simple hand tools and some plumbing supplies.

    solar thermometer

    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. When it comes to the number of solar panels needed, more is almost always better.

    The solar controller is (in my opinion) the best thing to use. I have had other customers go with the manual diverter valve, but once they forget to shut it off for one or two nights, they always call back and order an automatic controller. Running it at night will really cool down the water temperature in a hurry.

    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 during the summer, running the solar panels at night can help cool the water during the hotter months.

    Give us 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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