Pictured above: Taking a dip in a swimming pool at night is one of the great pleasures of swimming pool ownership, but not if your pool is too cold. A pool heating system doesn’t just increase the number of months you can swim comfortably; it also increases the times of day when swimming in your pool is comfortable.
Have questions about swimming pool heating? Here are the questions we are most often asked. Click on a question to read the answer. Click again to hide the answer. If you don’t see your question answered here, please send us an email with your question and we’ll get back to you with an answer. We try to answer all questions within 24 hours.
How much of the year can we expect to swim if we don’t heat our pool?
A Jacksonville screened pool will typically be at least 80°F or warmer for about three months and may reach 83–85°F from mid-August to early September. Open pools are a bit warmer because the pool surface receives more direct solar energy, and may stay comfortable for an extra month or more.
Generally speaking, you can double the number of days of pool use per year up to 290 days in Northeast Florida.
A lot depends upon how you use your pool and your tolerance for colder temperatures. Residents of northern climates are completely comfortable swimming in 78°F water and this is usually the temperature required for competitive swimming events. On the other hand, Florida residents usually like their pool water a bit warmer; at least 80°F or more. And if you are heating your pool for therapeutic reasons, you will want at least 85°F water and possibly as warm as 90°F.
A screened pool in Central and South Florida will typically be at least 80°F or warmer for about three months and may reach 83–85°F from mid August to early September. Open pools are a bit warmer because the pool surface receives more direct solar energy, and may stay comfortable for an extra month or more.
What are the health benefits of heating my pool?
Doctors and physical therapists regard swimming as a very beneficial form of exercise because it works the entire body without impact stresses on the joints. A heated pool can safeguard your health and contribute to your well-being by allowing you to exercise throughout the year.
And while children love to swim and can often tolerate lower temperatures, pediatricians caution that repeated chilling can make young children more susceptible to respiratory infections. This can also be true for elderly swimmers. A heated pool prevents chilling and problems associated with excessive body heat loss.
Solar Pool Heater Questions
Compared with a gas heater, how long does it usually take for a solar pool heater to pay for itself with savings?
After subtracting the installed cost of a gas heater and propane storage tank, you will usually recoup the additional cost of a solar pool heater within about one year for propane and less than two years in the case of natural gas.
This assumes keeping a pool at least 80°F or so during the spring and fall and at least 76°F or so during the winter, at current fuel costs. An additional financial benefit of solar is that the leading solar pool heating collector panels have useful lives of 20 years or more. Even the highest quality gas heaters have to be replaced every 10 years or so, and the average is probably closer to seven years.
How automatic is a solar pool heater?
Completely. All you do is set your pool pump’s time clock or automation system to run during the daylight hours, then set the solar pool heater’s automatic control temperature indicator to your preferred temperature. The control system takes care of the rest. Sensors compare the temperature at the solar collectors with you pool water temperature. Whenever the solar collector temperature is at least four degrees warmer than your pool water, the control system adjusts a motorized valve to divert pool water through the solar collector panels if your pool is not at the desired temperature.
And even if your pool cannot reach your preferred temperature setting during the coldest winter weather, your pool will always be warmer than a neighbor’s similarly situated unheated pool, without you spending a penny on expensive fuel.
How can I determine what size and type of pool heater is best for me?
Every situation is different and relying upon simple “rules-of-thumb” can lead to unrealistic expectations and unhappy cusotmers. Among the many factors we consider when sizing a pool heater are:
- desired swim season length
- preferred water temperature
- type of pool use (exercise, kids playing, casual dips, etc.)
- therapeutic requirements
- screen enclosures and other direct shading of pool surface
- open space and windbreaks, especially along northwest to northeast exposures
- waterfront location
- distance between pool equipment pad and pool heater
- for solar, availability of sufficient unshaded roof or other installation location
- for solar, direction best available roof area faces
- willingness to use a pool blanket
- ability and willingness to pay increasing energy costs
I keep reading about the pool’s surface area. Why don’t you use the number of gallons in my pool for sizing?
Your pool’s water volume (gallons) does matter, especially if your system is installed during the winter, because the water temperature of an unheated pool during the winter months can be as much as 20 degrees below the desired temperature. In this case, dividing the estimated average daily Btus of heat input from the heating system by the pounds of water in the pool (water weighs 7.5 pounds per gallon) tells us how fast we can bring the pool up to the desired temperature.
On the other hand, in normal operation we are simply trying to replace the two to four degrees of water temperature lost overnight, and most heat loss occurs through evaporation at the pool’s surface. This is why we size pool heating systems in relation to the pool surface area.
How well do solar collectors work during cloudy weather?
A solar pool heating system will typically collect about half the solar energy of a clear, sunny day on an overcast day. If you have ever had the experience of going to the beach on an overcast day and still getting a sunburn, you understand this phenomenon. Clouds block many of the visible wavelengths of sunlight, but much of the heat energy still gets through.
How well will my solar pool heater work during cold weather?
Solar pool heating collectors typically deliver excellent performance in Florida during cold weather because the sky is very clear during winter high pressure waves. On the other hand, increased evaporation from your swimming pool surface can significantly reduce your pool temperature during cold fronts. A pool blanket can help keep the heat from escaping.
How long will it take for my pool to heat up after my installation is completed?
This depends upon what time of your system is installed and will be greatly accelerated if you use a pool blanket to keep the added heat in the pool. For most solar pool heaters and with a pool blanket in place, an unheated pool will usually come up to temperature within three days or so during the spring and fall.
We have an installed pool heater. How can we tell how well the system is working?
Of course, if your next door neighbor’s pool is unheated and has similar site factors (screen enclosure, windbreaks, etc.), you can simply compare water temperatures.
However, if you don’t happen to have such a convenient comparison point, or if you simply want to better understand your pool’s temperature dynamics, the method described below will provide you with a pretty good approximation of what your pool’s current 24-hour average temperature would be without supplemental heat.
- Go to www.Weather.com and enter your zip code into the Local weather search box at the top of the page.
- When the results page for your local weather appears, look in the left column for the list of links for different types of local weather data (“Yesterday,” “Right Now,” “Today,” “Hourly,” etc.). Select “Monthly.”
- Record the daily high and low temperatures for each of the preceding six days. You should have 12 temperature points.
- Calculate the average for the 12 temperatures. The result will be a good estimate of the current day’s temperature of an unheated pool in your locale.
Remember that on a sunny day, a solar heated pool is usually at least three degrees warmer during the afternoon than during the early morning hours.
Also, keep in mind that www.Weather.com often publishes the same weather data for every zip code within a single county or large metropolitan area. However, actual air temperatures within the same county or metro area will vary: a bit warmer in urban surroundings and a bit cooler in rural surroundings. This is called a microclimate difference. You can get a good estimate of any microclimate difference applicable to your pool by comparing the Weather.com current local air temperature for your zip code with an outdoor thermometer reading. Just make sure the sun isn’t shining directly on the thermometer.
Can my solar pool heating system also be used to heat hot water for my home?
No. This requires two different systems. Home water heating water temperatures of 125°F to 140°F call for solar collectors constructed with metals like copper that conduct heat well, and insulation and glass cover plates to keep the heat from being dissipated into the air. Swimming pool solar collectors typically operate at temperatures of just 76°F to 95°F, so they can be constructed of polypropelene plastic and do not require insulation or cover plates.
How long will polypropylene solar collectors last before I need to replace them?
Millions of square feet of polypropylene solar pool heating collector panels have been operating in the field since the late 1970s. You can easily expect 20 to 30 years of service from high quality solar pool collectors.
Should my solar collector panels be removed from the roof if a hurricane is approaching?
No. The mounting systems for all solar collectors approved for installation within Florida are engineered to withstand hurricane windloads. It is not unusual to see completely intact banks of roof-mounted solar panels on a heavily damaged house following a hurricane.
Should I be concerned about roof penetrations? Is it possible that expansion and contraction of the solar collectors over time might cause the roof penetrations to leak?
No. First, polypropylene solar pool heating collectors do indeed expand and contract throughout the day, so our mounting systems are designed to allow the solar collectors to “float” inside the roof mounting straps, free to expand and contract as needed without putting any strain on the mounting hardware or roof penetrations.
Second, conventional sealants can lose elasticity over time. This is not a significant issue for applications like window and bathtub caulking, but the extreme temperatures experienced on a roof surface are a different story. So our roof mounting penetrations are sealed with a special high technology sealant, originally developed for the aerospace industry. This sealant has been proven to maintain its elasticity over several decades.
Will expansion and contraction of the solar panels damage my roof?
No. Solar collector expansion and contraction occurs very slowly. It is not apparent to the naked eye. And such a slow rate of movement has no effect on your roof surface.
Will the heat generated by the black solar panels damage my roof?
No. Quite the opposite. Solar pool heating collectors actually protect the portion of roof they cover because the sun’s energy is being absorbed and carried away by the pool water circulating through the panels. Also, because a bank of solar pool heating collector panels typically covers a fairly large area of roof, it will keep your attic a bit cooler whenever the system is operating.
I’ve heard that the U.S. Department of Energy determined that loose tube collectors are best for pool heating when they selected this type of solar pool heater for the Atlanta Olympic Games. Is this true?
No. This particular system was actually selected to cool the Olympic venue pool.1 The swimming and diving competitions of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games were held at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, which was designed as an outdoor facility in order to increase spectator seating capacity from 2,000 to 15,000. (The Aquatic Center was converted to an indoor facility about five years after the Atlanta Summer Games.)
Pool water temperature for competitive swimming events must be maintained between 25°C and 28°C (77°F and 82.4°F).2 An outdoor pool’s temperature tends to match the 24-hour average air temperature for the preceding week, and Atlanta’s average daily air temperature in late July is 88°F. It isn’t unusual for temperatures to climb into the 90s.
Atlanta’s average July air temperatures meant that the Aquatic Center pool water would be at least 10 degrees too warm for competition. So the primary goal of the architects and engineers was to come up with an effective method of cooling the pool.
Most non-metal solar pool heating collectors, including loose tube designs, radiate energy to a clear night sky at roughly the same rate. However, loose tube collectors have greater convective heat transfer rates than flat plate designs because air is able to flow freely around and between the fluid passageways. (In plain English, “convective” heat transfer for a solar pool heating colllector is heat transfer caused by wind.)
Heat loss caused by air movement around a solar collector is a really bad thing when you’re trying to heat a pool, and the surrounding air is cooler than the water circulating through the collector’s fluid passageways. And even worse when the wind picks up.
On the other hand, higher convective heat transfer is great if your primary goal is to cool a pool at night. Thus, a loose tube heat exchanger design was a perfect choice to cool the Atlanta Olympic pool during the hot Georgia summer.
The manufacturer and dealers of this particular loose tube collector system promote the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center project as their flagship large-scale “solar heating” installation, and often point to the Department of Energy selection process for this project as evidence of the product’s solar heating superiority. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the loose tube collector array installed at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center was specifically designed for cooling. The pool has a steam heat exchange system for primary heating.
A salesman told me that solar collector panels with two-inch header pipes are better than models with 1-1/2 inch headers. Is this true?
No. The argument is that a two-inch solar collector panel header improves efficiency by allowing more water per minute to flow into the fluid passages of the heating surface. While it is true that two-inch pipe has a higher saturation (maximum) flow rate than 1-1/2 inch pipe, a single bank of solar panels is never installed with more than about 480 square feet of total solar collector panel area. (Larger solar systems are broken into multiple panel banks.) Solar panels designed for swimming pool heating temperatures function best at a water flow rate of about 1/10 gallon per square foot of solar panel surface area per minute. So for the best thermal performance, we would never want to flow more than about 48 gallons per minute (1/10 gpm per square foot x 480 square feet) through a single panel bank, regardless of the pipe size. 48 gallons per minute is well below the saturation flow rate of 1-1/2 inch pipe.
Some solar collector panels require larger headers to help offset the increased back pressure created by a secondary plenum chamber (see the next question and answer below). Unfortunately, some of the companies that sell plenum chamber collectors teach their salespeople to compare the costs of 1-1/2 inch and two-inch Schedule 40 PVC pipe at building supply outlets like Home Depot and Lowes, to justify higher prices for their solar pool heaters. But this is a meaningless comparison because headers comprise only a fraction of the material in a solar collector panel.
Is it true that solar collector panels with “flow-balancing” plenum chambers perform better than other solar collector designs?
No. The idea is that flow-balancing plenums—secondary water chambers between a solar collector’s headers and the flow passageways of its heating surface—provide more balanced water flow throughout a bank of solar collector panels, and thus more efficient heat transfer.
But this is a solution to a non-existent problem. A basic rule of fluid hydraulics is that flow rates through parallel pipes connected to the same supply header pipe will change to equalize the pressure through each flow path. In plain English, if the diameters and lengths of the individual parallel flow passages in a solar collector are identical, the flow rates through these passages will be identical. This is always the case in a correctly installed solar pool heating system.
The only practical effect of additional flow restriction in a properly installed solar pool heating system is increased workload for the pump.
Here’s how this idea got started. During the 1970s, a solar collector manufacturer developed a process for heat-welding the small parallel riser tubes of a polypropylene solar collector to the collector’s header pipes. The patented process involved fusing strips of plastic—called flanges in the patent application—along the length of each header pipe, encasing the the ends of the heating surface.3 The flange design cut manufacturing costs by reducing the number of steps needed to attach the heating surface—and its many individual fluid passageways—to the headers. Unfortunately, the new process created a secondary water chamber along the length of each header, which significantly increased flow restriction through the collector.
An old axiom of marketing strategy is that you should find ways to turn your weaknesses into strengths. Someone came up with the idea that the additional flow restriction would ensure that water spread out more evenly among all of the fluid passageways in the solar collector’s heating surface. And so it was that the drawback of substantially increased flow restriction was magically transformed into “flow metering” and “flow balancing.” Clever, but completely unnecessary.
Two major solar pool heater manufacturers use the plenum chamber design in their solar collector panels today. Their dealer salespeople sometimes use the example of house central air conditioning ducts to illustrate the need for a flow-balancing plenum chamber. But this is a poor analogy because there is usually great variation in the length and size of air conditioning ducts branching to the different rooms within a house, so there is indeed a need to balance the air flow between the rooms. This variation does not exist within a bank of solar collector panels.
Heat Pump Pool Heater Questions
Is an electric heat pump less expensive to operate than a gas heater?
Yes. A an electric heat pump pool heater uses a chemical refrigerant, just like the refrigerant in your refrigerator and your home air conditioning system, and a mechanical compressor to produce four to six times more heating energy than the electrical energy required to run the compressor. On average, the electricity to run a swimming pool heat pump costs about one-third of the cost of propane gas; about half the cost of natural gas; and about one-sixth the cost of direct resistance electric heating. (Direct resistance heating with a heating element is sometimes used for small spas, but is impractical for swimming pools. Some affluent homeowners combine a heat pump pool heater to maintain their pool’s temperature during the spring and fall months, with a gas heater to provide an extra boost during the coldest winter weather.
How does a swimming pool heat pump work?
A swimming pool heat pump works just like your home air conditioning heat pump works during the winter heating months. The only difference is that instead of absorbing heat from the outside air into a refrigerant, and then transferring that heat into the indoor air, the refrigerant transfers heat into the swimming pool water. Your home air conditioning heat pump sends the heated refrigerant through a coil inside an air handler, while the swimming pool heat pump has a heat exchanger with two liquid coils in contact with each other—one coil for the refrigerant and the other for the swimming pool water.
How noisy are swimming pool heat pumps?
A swimming pool heat pump has the same noise-generating components as the outdoor compressor and condenser coil unit for your home air conditioning system (compressor motor, condenser fan motor and fan blades), so the outdoor noise level is about the same.
Do some heat pumps use more environmentally safe refrigerant chemicals than others?
Since January 1, 2010, all manufacturers have been required to use more environmentally friendly refrigerants. Most heat pumps today all use the same refrigerant: R-410A.
I have heard that swimming pool heat pumps stop operating once the air temperature falls below a certain point. Is this true?
Yes. Remember that heat pump pool heaters take heat out of the outside air to heat your pool. Once the air temperature falls below about 50°F, a heat pump loses most of its rated efficiency, and most models have automatic shutoff switches that are triggered when air temperature reaches 35–45°F. Heat pumps are an ideal solution for pool owners who want to swim during the winter in between cold fronts when the daytime air temperature is above 60°F or so because they have much greater recovery rate than the typical solar pool heating system. That is, the heat pump can put far more heat into the pool in much less time than a solar pool heating system.
I am considering a heat pump instead of solar so I can avoid having to use a pool blanket. Will a swimming pool heat pump allow me to do this?
A swimming pool heat pump will give you a longer swimming season without the use of a pool blanket than a solar pool heating system. However, as a general rule, you can cut the cost of electricity to run a swimming pool heat pump in half by using a pool blanket at night during cold winter weather. Using a pool blanket at night during the winter months also reduces the heat pump’s recovery time to bring the pool back up to a comfortable temperature after a cold front passes.
How often does the refrigerant in a heat pump pool heater need to be recharged?
Unless a leak develops, the factory charge of refrigerant should last for the life of the unit. If your unit stops heating as a result of low refrigerant pressure, the most likely reason is a leak that will require repair. Most refrigerant leaks result from shipping or handling damage and are readily apparent following installation.
Heat Pump Pool Heater Questions
What is a pool blanket?
The most popular pool blankets are similar to blue plastic air bubble packing material. To increase durability, the pool blanket’s plastic contains UV inhibitors and is two to three times thicker than the plastic used in air bubble packing material.
Do pool blankets work?
Absolutely. Most of your pool’s heat loss occurs through evaporation at the surface. A pool blanket blocks this evaporation, which keeps your pool warmer than a similarly situated pool without a blanket. A pool blanket supercharges the performance of a solar pool heater, and it can reduce the cost of running a gas heater or electric heat pump by more than half.
Most people use pool blankets during the coldest months of the year when a pool’s heat loss is the greatest. A pool blanket can supercharge the effectiveness of solar pool heater during the winter months, when pool surface heat loss is the greatest and the sunshine absorbed by a pool’s surface is reduced. Without a pool blanket in place during the colder months, heat loss at the pool surface is more than a solar pool heater can offset.
Yes, pool blankets can be difficult to handle, especially for freeform swimming pools. You may want to keep this in mind if you are building a pool. A pool blanket reel can make this job easier.
You might also experiment with a patented product called a “liquid pool blanket.” This is a liquid solution that is added to your pool water. The solution forms a thin layer across the pool’s surface that blocks evaporation and heat loss. This solution is completely invisible and non-toxic; in fact, the active ingredient is used in cosmetics and toothpastes. While a liquid pool blanket isn’t as effective as a conventional plastic pool blanket, it is much easier to use and does offer significant savings.
If you are using a conventional pool blanket without a reel, here’s what we recommend:
Avoid an “all or nothing” mentality. start by using the pool blanket at least during the two to three days when a severe cold front passes through, and during the winter months when trying to heat a pool without a pool blanket is like trying to cool your house with all the doors and windows open.
Finally, practice folding and storing your pool blanket with two people. You are more likely to use your pool blanket if you become comfortable handling it.
Will a solar pool blanket heat my pool?
The term “solar” pool blanket is a misnomer. A pool blanket will keep your pool’s temperature higher than an unheated pool but it doesn’t actually “heat” your pool. A pool blanket stops evaporation at the water’s surface. Evaporation is by far the greatest cause of heat loss from a swimming pool. If evaporative heat loss is reduced, an unheated pool will stay warmer longer and less energy will be required to keep a heated pool at a given temperature.
On the other hand, a pool blanket does not help the pool surface absorb more solar enegy. In fact, a blanket actually blocks and reflects a very small amount of the solar energy that would normally be absorbed by the pool surface. But this effect is small and insignificant compared to the pool blanket’s dramatic ability to stop heat loss off the pool surface.
Are there any other benefits to using a pool blanket?
Yes. By blocking evaporation from a pool’s surface, a pool blanket also conserves water and reduces consumption of pool chemicals by 30 to 60 percent. The precise amount naturally depends upon how many hours the cover is in place.
What is the best way to handle and store a pool blanket?
Pool blanket reels offer convenience; however, many pool owners do not want the reel assembly sitting on their pool deck. For a typical residential pool, two people can very easily remove and fold a pool blanket in about two minutes.
To remove the blanket, each person stands at an opposite corner of the same end of the pool. Pull the corners of the blanket out of the pool, then step back and set the blanket down so that about three to four feet of the blanket is overlapping the pool deck. Next, each person should step forward along his or her side of the pool to a point roughly twice the length of the section of blanket resting on the pool deck (six to eight feet). From this point forward, simply repeat the process of pulling six to eight foot sections of the blanket back out of the pool and folding each section accordion-style on the pool deck.
With the blanket folded at one end of the pool, repositioning it on the pool surface takes less than one minute and is a simple matter of each person grabbing a corner of the blanket and walking forward to the far end of the pool.
I tried one of those liquid pool blanket “tropical fish” this winter. It didn’t heat my pool and I ended up with a white residue on my pool walls. What’s going on?
First, as we explain above, a pool blanket does not heat your pool. A pool blanket allows your pool to stay at a higher temperature by stopping heat loss from the water surface, but it will not add heat to your pool. For that, you need a pool heater.
As for the white residue, that’s aluminum salt (see the previous question). If you add Heatsavr® solution to pool water that is colder than 70°F (21°C), the aluminum salt will solidify and collect at the water’s edge. This may also occur if you add too much liquid pool blanket solution in relation to your pool’s surface area. Don’t worry, though. It’s completely harmless, biodegradable, and will go away on its own.
- Rigsby, G.G. “Its Olympic goal is a cool pool,” St. Petersburg Times. March 13, 1996.
- Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA) Rule 2.11.
- United States Patent No. 3,934,323, “Solar heat exchange panel and method of fabrication,” January 27, 1976.
- United States Patent No. 6,943,141, “Process for making a liquid evaporation retardant solution,” September 13, 2005. The Heatsavr® patented mixture of alcohol and aluminum salt is based upon the science of Langmuir monolayers, materials that tend to form into one-molecule thick sheets when spread onto an aqueous surface.