How to Install a Solar Pool Heater?

By Kami Turky


Solar pool heaters have become an increasingly popular choice for eco-conscious pool owners seeking energy-efficient ways to maintain comfortable water temperatures. 

But how to install these systems for optimal performance? The whole process depends on factors such as your pool size, location, and solar exposure.

In this guide, I’ll navigate you through each installation phase. From above-ground pool systems to inground installations, here’s your roadmap to a warmer, eco-friendly swim.

Key Takeaways

  • To install a solar pool heater, select the appropriate panel size and location, ensuring they fit like puzzle pieces, aligned with pool dimensions.
  • Gather essential parts like panels, sturdy racks, hoses, fittings, and tools, following a guide akin to a cooking recipe.
  • For either above-ground or inground pools, pick a suitable spot, avoiding shadows and considering maintenance access, just like planning a marathon route.
  • To connect panels to the pool pump’s plumbing system, you can use hoses, adapters, and valves, similar to linking arteries to a heart.
  • You can test the system, by observing water flow, noises, and temperature changes, much like giving a new machine a test run.

How to Install a Solar Pool Heater?

a. Solar Heater Installation for Above Ground Pools

1. Choose the Right Solar Panel Size & the Right Spot

When you’re thinking about heating an above-ground pool with solar panels, the first thing you need to figure out is how big the solar panels should be. 

It’s like finding the right piece of a puzzle; you need to make sure everything fits together.

The size of the solar panels depends on your pool’s size. If your pool is big, you’ll need more panels or bigger panels. 

A good rule of thumb is to aim for enough panels to cover at least half the area of the pool

For example, if you have a pool that’s 400 square feet, you’ll want solar panels that can cover around 200 square feet.

The place where you live will also influence the size of the panels. 

If you live in a sunny place, you might get away with smaller panels since there’s plenty of sunlight. 

But if you live where it’s often cloudy, you might need bigger panels to catch enough sun. 

So, you’ll need to find the balance here, considering both the size of your pool and the amount of sunlight in your location.

Another thing to consider is the spot where you’ll put the panels. If the spot is close to the pool, you might need fewer or smaller panels. 

But if it’s farther away, you might need larger ones. That’s because the water might lose some heat on its way from the panels to the pool, and bigger panels can make up for that loss.

2. Gather the Necessary Parts & Tools

After figuring out the size of the solar panels for heating an above-ground pool, the next step involves gathering the necessary parts and tools. 

Here are the essential items you’ll need:

  • Solar Panels: These are the main ingredients. You’ve already figured out the size, so now you’ll need to get as many panels as you need. 
  • Solar Panel Rack: This is like a shelf to put the panels on. You might buy one or make one out of wood. It should be strong enough to hold the panels and at the right angle to catch the sun.
  • Return Hose: This hose takes water from the pool to the panels and back again. It’s like a conveyor belt carrying the heat from the panels to the pool.
  • Fitting & Hose Clamp: These parts connect the hose to the panels and the pool. You’ll want ones that fit just right, like a lock and key.
  • Straps and Clips: These are like little helpers that hold the panels in place on the rack. They make sure the panels don’t slip or fall.
  • Level: This tool helps you make sure the rack is straight. If it’s crooked, the panels might not catch the sun right.
  • Garden Clearing Tools (Rake, Spade): If the spot you picked has grass or plants, you’ll need these tools to clear them away. It’s like clearing the table before setting it for dinner.
  • Basic Tools: Don’t forget basic tools like a screwdriver, hammer, and drill. You might need them to put the rack together or attach things.
  • Instructions or Guide: Sometimes, the panels or rack might come with instructions. These are like a recipe, telling you the steps to follow.

3. Prepare the Pool Pump

The pump’s role in a pool heating system is somewhat akin to the heart within a body; it circulates water, ensuring that warmth from the solar panels gets transferred uniformly throughout the pool.

So, to prepare the pump for this essential function, you’ll need first to switch off the power source to ensure safety. Imagine trying to fix a machine while it’s running – it’s a no-go, and the same rule applies here.

Next, take time to inspect the pump, its connections, and all associated plumbing. 

You can look out for leaks, cracks, or other signs of wear – think of it as a health checkup for your pool’s heart; you want everything in top shape.

After that, locate the return line, the pipeline that sends the water back to the pool. 

You’ll be connecting the hose from the solar panels here, so it needs to be accessible and in good condition. It’s like finding the right arteries to direct the flow of blood.

If there’s a valve on the return line, now’s the time to adjust it. This valve controls the flow of water into the solar panels and must be set just right. 

A diverter valve might be a useful addition if you want to control how much water goes through the solar panels. This is like fine-tuning the circulatory system, allowing you to mix the hot and cold water to the perfect temperature.

Lastly, plan out how everything will connect with the solar panels. 

For instance, lay out hoses and pipes and ensure there will be no hindrance in connections – just like planning the routes for veins and arteries.

4. Install the Solar Panel Rack

After getting the pump ready, it’s time to create a place for your solar panels – imagine the rack as a solid stage for a band; it must be sturdy and set up correctly to ensure a perfect performance.

You’ve already chosen the spot that bathes in sunlight for the most part of the day. 

Now, to build or place your rack, you’ll need to clear away any obstacles that might interfere – it’s like tuning the instruments; everything must be just right.

Then, you can decide whether to build a rack yourself or buy one ready-made. 

If you opt for building, gather all necessary materials, such as wood, brackets, nails, and tools. You’re the conductor here, ensuring all the pieces come together in harmony.

If you’ve opted for a pre-made rack, assembling it according to the instructions is usually pretty straightforward – think of it as setting up the drum set; follow the steps, and it’ll be ready in no time.

Once assembled, secure the rack firmly to the ground – you don’t want a gust of wind knocking over your solar panels.

Finally, check the angle. The panels will perform best if they face south or southeast if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. 

But if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, you’ll want to aim them north or northeast.

5. Mount the Solar Panels

Now that the rack is up and positioned correctly, it’s time to mount the solar panels – think of them as artists ready to take their place on stage.

First, lay the panels on the rack, ensuring that they fit snugly with each other. This alignment is critical, as any gaps or misalignments could reduce the system’s efficiency.

Then, secure the panels using straps or clips. This is a vital step to ensure stability and protection against wind or other environmental factors that could dislodge or damage the panels.

Lastly, after the panels are secured, it is essential to adjust their angles to face the optimal direction for your geographical location, as I previously mentioned.

6. Connect the Solar Panels to the Pool Pump

Since we’re working with an above-ground pool, the task of connecting the solar panels to the pool pump becomes more accessible. 

This ease of access arises from the fact that the pumps for above-ground pools are usually located outside the pool in a convenient spot.

Stat with hooking up the return hose from the inlet header on the solar panel to the pool pump. 

This connection sends the cold water from the pool to the solar panels, where the sun will heat it. 

You can use either PVC pipes or even a garden hose to establish these connections, based on what you have available or what suits your particular setup best.

Then, to send the warmed water back into the pool, plug the return hose from the outlet header on the solar panel into the pool wall outlet. 

This process forms a complete circulation system, where cold water from the pool is sent to the solar panels, warmed by the sun, and then returned to the pool.

7. Test the System

Once everything’s connected, the final step is to test the system. It’s like giving a new machine its first test drive; you want to make sure everything works as planned. 

First, turn on the pool pump and let it run for a couple of hours. Keep a close eye on how the water’s flowing, the sound of the pump, and whether the water in the pool starts to warm up. 

If you notice any leaks or hear any strange noises, shut everything down and double-check your connections. 

But if everything seems fine, you’ve successfully installed a solar heater for your above-ground pool.

b. Solar Heater Installation for Inground Pools

1. Choose the Right Spot

As we now working on an inground pool solar heating system, finding the right spot for the solar panels needs different considerations compared to an above-ground pool.

 Your rooftop might be the first place to look as it generally provides a broad, unobstructed surface that faces the sky. 

However, it’s not the only spot to consider.

In case your rooftop doesn’t suit your needs, you can look for other options. 

For example, you can consider your backyard, a space where you may have ample room to set up a solar array.

But, don’t overlook potential obstacles like tall trees or neighboring buildings. They can cast shadows, cutting off sunlight just like a cloud spoiling a sunny day.

So, if your yard doesn’t fit the profile, think about garden sheds, garage roofs, or even a specially built structure. 

You should also remember that accessibility to the panels for cleaning or adjustments must be a priority as you’ll need to do regular maintenanc.

This will include wiping down the panels to remove dirt and grime, inspecting connections and wiring for wear and tear, adjusting angles to maximize sunlight absorption, and even replacing parts as they age.

Another thing to consider is the distance from the pool. Like a marathon runner, the farther the water has to travel, the more energy it can lose. 

A location closer to the pool can save energy, or a more distant one will require careful insulation to preserve the heat.

Finally, you need to find out local regulations and neighborhood rules that might impact the placement and use of solar panels. 

Some states, municipalities, or homeowner associations may have particular laws, restrictions, or incentives.

2. Gather Your Gear

The gear you need for inground pools can be similar to that required for above-ground pools, but with unique twists. 

Unlike above-ground pools, which often have accessible and straightforward components, inground pools present intricate plumbing designs and structural elements that call for special tools and careful consideration in mounting and connections. 

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Solar Panels: Select panels suitable for your pool size.
  • Solar Rack/Mount: To secure the panels, possibly on the roof or specially built structure.
  • Steel Bolts and Drill: For mounting the rack on rafters.
  • Straps and Clips: To fasten the solar panels.
  • Return Hose, PVC Pipes, and Adapters: For the plumbing connection between the solar panels and the pool.
  • 2 x 3-Way Valve: To control water flow.
  • Insulation Materials: If the location is far from the pool, for preserving the heat.
  • Tools for Regular Maintenance: Including items for wiping down panels, inspecting connections, adjusting angles

3. Secure the Mounts

Since we’ll be using heavy-duty solar panels for this inground pool system, securing the mounts becomes a task requiring exact attention. 

Begin with the pinpointing of the precise area that will support the weight and size of the panels.

 Once you’ve got the perfect spot, find the rafters or other supporting structures beneath and mark where the mounts must be placed, ensuring a proper interval between each for even spacing. 

Next up, grab a sturdy drill and make the necessary holes into the supporting structure, aligning with your marks. 

Fasten the mounts into place using robust steel bolts to provide a foundation that will remain stable for years to come. 

If you’re concerned about the elements having their way with your work, consider applying a high-quality sealer around the holes, preventing potential leaks and adding a layer of defense against weather-related wear. 

4. Attach the Solar Panels

After we’ve secured the mounts with precision, no you can connect the solar panels, a task that demands care and attention.

First, you’ve got to position your solar rack or mount on the secured mounts, and then lock it in place using steel bolts. 

Take your time here; make sure it’s perfectly level, so that your solar panels will soak up as much sun as they can. 

Next, you’ll be handling the solar panels themselves, a job best done with the assistance of a friend, as they’re heavy and awkward to handle on your own. 

Lay them on the prepared rack. Strap them down, clip them into place, allowing a room for the thermal expansion that’ll happen as they warm up. 

Then, grab your toolkit; tweak and twist until they’re just so. Test those connections – make sure they’re tight and won’t slip or slide in a gust of wind or under the pressures of a scorching hot day.

5. Connect the Solar Panels to the Pool Plumbing (Inlet)

After the panels are all set and ready to work their magic, it’s high time to marry them to your pool’s plumbing system.

First off, you’ll want to identify the inlet, where the water comes into the solar panels. You can usually find this marked on the panel or in the instructions that came with your setup.

Now grab your PVC pipes, adapters, and those 2 x 3-Way Valves; it’s time to connect.

First, join the bottom inlet header of the solar panels to one of the 2 x 3-Way Valves by using your PVC pipes. 

This valve, be it automatic or manual, controls the water flow to and from the solar heater, acting as a gatekeeper for the system.

From this valve, create a connection to the pool’s existing filter with the pipe. 

If necessary, you can use adapters to lengthen the pipes, depending on the distance between your pool pump and solar heater.

6. Connect the Solar Panels to the Pool Plumbing (Outlet)

With the inlet connections set, now you’ve got to focus on the outlet, where the warm water exits the solar panels and makes its way back to the pool. 

Here’s the twist: you’re going to make connections from the outlet header located at the top of the solar panels.

First, grab the other 3-Way Valve and use it to connect the end of the pipe from the outlet header. 

Secure this connection, as it’s a vital part of the system that sends the heated water back into the pool, full of sun-warmed goodness.

Next, connect the pipe from the valve directly to the poolensuring that the fitting is snug and leak-free.

7. Test the System

To test the system, first, you need to begin with a comprehensive inspection of all connections. 

This means turning on the pool pump and opening the 3-way valves, which control the water’s flow.

Next, observe the water as it flows from the pool through the solar heater and back into the pool. 

This part of the process requires a close eye, as you’ll be on the lookout for any leaks, strange noises, or unexpected behavior within the system.

The goal in this step is to see the water flow smoothly and notice the temperature rise as it passes through the solar panels. 

If you encounter any problems, don’t fret; shut the pump, close the valves, and carefully recheck your connections.

If you still have issues, I’d recommend to consult the installation guidelines provided by the manufacturer or even call in professional help if needed.

After a successful test, the system is ready for use. Now you can look forward to many enjoyable days ahead in your warm, sun-heated pool.


How to Install Solar Heater?

To install a solar heater, choose panel size and location aligned with pool dimensions, and follow a guide like a cooking recipe.

Where Should Solar Pool Heaters Be Placed?

Solar pool heaters should be placed where they receive optimal sunlight, facing south or southeast in the Northern Hemisphere, and north or northeast in the Southern Hemisphere.

How Long Does It Take to Install a Solar Pool Heater?

It takes around a day or two, to install a solar pool heater depending on complexity and setup.


As promised, we’ve covered the comprehensive process of installing a solar pool heater. 

From selecting the right solar panel size and ideal installation spots to preparing your pool pump and mounting the solar panels, we’ve delved into the details of both above-ground and inground pool systems.

And if you ask for my advice, I’d recommend switching all your appliances, where feasible, to solar-powered ones. 

This goes beyond just heating your pool efficiently—it’s about embracing a sustainable lifestyle that benefits both your wallet and the planet.

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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