How to Choose a Solar Pool Heater?

By Kami Turky


Getting a solar pool heater is an excellent step toward energy efficiency and a more environmentally friendly way to enjoy your pool.

But when it comes to selecting the right solar pool heater, it’s not just a matter of grabbing the first one you see.

You need to consider factors such as your pool’s type, the pool size, building codes, and the local climate.

So, in this article, I’ll walk you step by step through the process of choosing a solar pool heater that aligns with your needs.

Key Takeaways

  • A solar pool heater harnesses sunlight to warm pools through rooftop or structure-mounted collectors.
  • Pool type influences system choices, with tailored options for complex inground pools and simpler ones for above-ground pools.
  • The available sunlight dictates system type, and adjustable mounts optimize sunlight exposure for better efficiency.
  • The choice of material significantly impacts the solar pool heater’s performance and longevity, influencing its ability to efficiently convert sunlight into heat.
  • Local regulations guide installations, and budget influences choices, but quality should not be compromised.

How Does a Solar Pool Heater Work?

A solar pool heater works by harnessing the sun’s radiant energy and converting it into heat for warming a swimming pool. 

This process begins with the collection of solar energy through solar panels or collectors, often mounted on a roof or nearby structure. 

These panels are designed to absorb the sun’s rays, transforming them into thermal energy.

The next stage involves heating the water. Inside the collectors, a series of tubes or coils contain a special fluid, sometimes even the water itself. 

As the sun’s energy heats this fluid, a thermal exchange process takes place, essentially turning sunlight into a warm bath for your pool.

From here, a pump circulates the pool’s water through a filter and then through the solar collector. In the collector, the warm fluid transfers its heat to the cooler pool water. 

After the pool water has been warmed in the collector, it is sent back into the pool. 

This continuous cycle ensures that the pool water stays at the desired temperature, consistently offering that warm embrace.

To keep things perfectly cozy, a solar controller often monitors the pool’s temperature. 

If the pool reaches the set warmth, the controller diverts the water away from the collector. This regulation keeps the water at just the right temperature, providing comfort without overheating.

Additionally, many solar pool heaters can be paired with existing pool heating systems. 

On cloudy days lacking enough sunshine, these backup systems can take the lead, making sure your pool stays warm no matter what the weather brings. 

What Factors to Consider with Solar Pool Heating Systems?

1. The Pool Type You Have

The pool type affects many key decisions when it comes to choosing a solar pool heating system, as it sets the stage for how the entire system will function. 

In the case of inground pools, the material and design are often more complex and varied, so you need a solar heating system tailored to match these unique features.

For example, an inground pool made from concrete might have a specific shape, size, or depth that requires a unique solar collector arrangement. 

The concrete material can also influence how the solar panels or collectors are mounted, possibly requiring special brackets or supports. 

The thermal properties of the concrete itself may affect how quickly the pool heats, leading you to consider a more powerful or efficient solar heating system.

The inground pools also feature other complexities such as curves, landscaping elements, and possibly varying depths. All these factors add layers of difficulty in choosing the right solar heating system. 

For pools with unique shapes, custom solar collector designs might be necessary, ensuring the perfect fit.

On the other hand, above ground pools generally present an easier installation process.

They are constructed from lighter materials like vinyl or metal, often have more uniform shapes, making the choice of a solar heating system somewhat simpler.

For example, above-ground pools often feature a more standardized shape, like a circle or rectangle. 

So, you’ll only need a basic design for the solar collectors.

This could mean choosing a standard-sized panel that’s pre-made to fit most common above-ground pool shapes, eliminating the need for customized, expensive solutions.

2. The Size of Your Pool

Another factor to consider when choosing a solar pool heating system is the size of your pool.

Generally, the larger the pool, the more water there is to heat, which can demand a more robust and well-designed solar heating system.

For smaller pools, standard solar panels and collectors might suffice. These pools heat up faster and require less energy to maintain the desired temperature. 

In the case of larger pools, though, the situation becomes more intricate. 

More water means more surface area for heat loss, more volume to heat, and potentially more variables to consider like shading and wind exposure. 

Therefore, the design of the solar heating system must be more complex.

For example, you’ll need additional collectors, a more powerful pump, and perhaps a more intricate design of the piping system to make sure that the water heats evenly.

As a general rule, solar pool heating systems are sized anywhere between 50%-100% of a swimming pool’s total surface area. 

This means that a “50% offset” allows you to match 50% of your pool’s surface area with the solar panels’ total surface.

For instance, if your pool’s area stretches 400 square feet, a 50% offset will demand 200 square feet of solar panels for heating. 

This works for small pools with quicker heating requirements and less complexity.

But if your pool is large with more curves and length, or if you’re dealing with significant wind and shading, you may need to hike that offset up. 

An offset of 75% or even a complete 100% may be the way to go. For the 400-square-foot pool, this means you’re looking at 300 to 400 square feet of solar panels.

3. How Much Sun Your Pool Gets

The amount of sunlight your pool gets will determine the type, size, and efficiency of the solar heating system you’ll need. 

In places where sunlight bathes the pool all day long, a simpler system might do the trick. Sun rays, abundant and unrestrained, allow for a straightforward capture and conversion process. 

You don’t have to fuss about aligning the panels or collectors in any fancy way, nor stress over which type of collectors to pick – just go for something robust, yet basic, and you’re good to go.

But say your pool lies in the shadow of a big building for part of the day, or it’s nestled between towering trees – suddenly, things ain’t so simple anymore.

In cases like these, where the sun plays peekaboo with your pool, you’ll need to get crafty with your solar heating system. 

For instance, you’ll need to get adjustable collector mounts that you can tweak and fine-tune to catch sunlight at the right angles. 

You might also need to get more collectors, opting for those that are highly efficient or even tailor-designed to deal with the pesky shadows. 

This could include collectors that are more sensitive to lower light levels, capable of soaking up every last bit of sunlight that breaks through the gaps in the trees or around the edges of buildings.

4. Material & Quality

The material of the solar pool heater determines not only its longevity but also its overall performance and efficiency. 

Most solar panels or collectors are made from materials like copper, aluminum, or even specialized plastics, such as EPDM, polypropylene or polyethylene.

If copper is your choice, expect great heat conduction. However, it might come with a heftier price tag. 

Aluminum, though not as effective in conducting heat, can be more budget-friendly, and it’s known for its resistance to corrosion.

Specialized plastics, on the other hand, present a fascinating blend of durability and efficiency. 

For instance, EPDM can withstand extreme weather conditions and UV rays, and it’s often used in unglazed collectors.

The pipes must be tough and durable too. Materials like stainless steel are often used for the inner workings, providing strength, and a certain smoothness that promotes efficient water flow.

PVC pipes are also an option and are typically chosen for their low price and ease of installation. 

While they may not as durable as stainless steel, they are known for being corrosion-resistant and lightweight.

Mounting systems ain’t something to overlook either. These pieces serve as the backbone for holding collectors or panels, and therefore, they must be staunch and steadfast.

If your pool’s in a place that gets hit by strong winds or severe weather, you’ll want mounting systems made from robust materials like steel or heavy-duty aluminum. 

But if your pool is sheltered and the climate’s more forgiving, lighter materials might do just fine. 

In this case, plastic or lighter metal mounts might save you some coin without sacrificing performance.

5. Installation & Maintenance

When you’re up to the task of selecting a solar pool heating system, the process doesn’t end at simply picking the right one. Installation and maintenance play crucial roles in determining how well the system will perform.

Most solar pool heaters come with DIY installation kits, giving you the option to roll up your sleeves and do the work yourself. 

This might be an appealing choice for those on a budget or with some plumbing and construction know-how. 

But, it ain’t always a walk in the park.

Mistakes in installation can lead to inefficiency, leaks, or worse. If you aren’t too handy with tools, it might be wise to call in the professionals.

As for maintenance, you’ll need to do regular checks, cleaning, and occasional adjustments to keep things running smooth.

You should also consider using specialized cleaning solutions for the panels, perform regular inspections of the pipes for leaks, and keep a watchful eye on the system’s overall performance. 

Every nut, bolt, and valve deserves your attention. And don’t forget to peek at the mounts, connectors, and other hardware that might be hiding behind the scene.

6. Local Regulations and Guidelines

When planning to install a solar pool heating system, you can’t just wing it. Local regulations and guidelines might throw a wrench in your plans if you aren’t careful.

Different regions have their own sets of rules and regulations, from permits to safety codes. 

So, you can’t just start digging and drilling without first checking what’s allowed in your neck of the woods.

In some places, you might need a specific permit for solar installations. In others, there might be restrictions on the size or positioning of the panels.

You’ll also have to consider guidelines for electrical work, plumbing, and possibly even aesthetic considerations if your community has regulations on appearance.

This is why I recommend to better contact local authorities or consider hiring a professional who knows the ins and outs of your area’s regulations. 

They can guide you through the process, ensuring that you’re compliant with all local codes and guidelines.

But if you decide to go it alone, don’t skip the homework. Research, understand, and adhere to the rules to a T.

7. Your Budget

When it comes to solar pool heating, your wallet’s weight will heavily influence the options available to you.

From the type of materials you choose to the size of the system, installation method, and ongoing maintenance, every decision will have a dollar sign attached.

If you’re on the safe side with a generous budget, luxury and efficiency may be within your grasp. 

High-end systems with all the bells and whistles could be yours, and expert installation won’t cause a financial hiccup.

But what if your budget’s tighter? Fear not, for options still abound.

You might opt for less expensive materials, consider DIY installation with a friend or family member who knows a wrench from a screwdriver, or even explore government incentives or rebates that can offset some costs.

But don’t get too thrifty. Quality still matters.

A system that’s too cheap might end up costing more in the long run if it breaks down often or doesn’t heat your pool adequately.

And remember, quality doesn’t always mean pricey. With the right approach, you can enjoy a warm pool without plunging into financial hot water.

8. Warranty

You should always look for a solar pool heater that has some sort of warranty. 

The thing about warranty is that it provides you with a safety net, a promise that the manufacturer stands by their product’s quality and performance. 

It’s like a shield against unexpected malfunctions or defects that could otherwise leave you high and dry.

Warranties can come in various shapes and sizes, much like the solar panels themselves. 

Some might offer a limited warranty that covers specific components for a certain period, while others could provide a more comprehensive package that spans several years.

I personally recommend you never settle for a warranty that offers less than 1 year of comprehensive coverage and a reasonable duration.

In the worst case, you should get at least a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can test and evaluate the solar pool heater’s performance and compatibility with your pool setup.


How Do You Size a Solar Pool Heater?

To size a solar pool heater, you can match 50%-100% of your pool’s surface area to the solar panels’ total surface.

How Do I Know What Size Pool Heater I Need?

To know what size pool heater you need, assess the pool’s surface area, volume, desired temperature, and local climate conditions. Depending on these factors, you might require a larger or smaller heating system.

How Do I Choose a Pool Heater?

To choose a pool heater, you’ll want to consider factors such as your your pool type, your pool’s size, the local climate, and your budget.


As promised, we’ve covered all the essential ground in choosing the right solar pool heater for your specific needs. 

From the nitty-gritty of understanding your pool’s size and type, delving into building codes, and unraveling the local climate’s effect on your choice.

And if you ask for my advice, I’ll recommend that you turn all your appliances toward more sustainable options, not just the pool heater. 

By adopting solar energy where possible, you’re making a significant contribution to the global shift toward greener living.

Do you still have any questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments below. 

Kami Turky

Kami is a solar engineer with nearly a decade of experience in researching, testing, and reviewing various solar products. He has also provided technical consultation to several organizations on the best ways to incorporate solar energy into their operations. When he’s not busy helping others find the best solar solutions, Kami enjoys spending time outdoors, hiking, camping, and exploring the natural wonders of his home state.

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