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Solar Pool Heating: Cost, Installation, and How Solar Pool Heaters Work

Solar pool heater collecting solar energy

Pools are an important part of Australian culture, and are also a major source of energy consumption. Between heating, filtering, and cleaning, pools use a lot of energy to keep them maintained. If you want to reduce the amount of energy your pool consumes, you might be interested in a solar pool heater, which utilizes the heat of the sun to warm your pool through renewable energy. Find out everything you need to know about solar pool heaters, including how they work, their cost, and installation, by reading more below.

How do solar pool heaters work?

Solar pool heaters are a relatively simple home appliance. A solar collector traps the sun’s energy, which heats pool water circulated through pipes. Most solar pool heaters also include:

  • A filter to remove debris before water is pumped through the solar collector
  • A pump to circulate the water
  • A flow control value that diverts pool water through the solar collector

Water is pumped through the filter and then sent through the solar collectors attached to the roof of your house. The water is heated, and sent back to the pool. A flow control valve is also often included, and if the pool water is similar to the temperature of the solar collectors, the water will simply bypass the heating element and be sent back into the pool after getting filtered. For particularly hot climates, the solar collectors can also be used at night to cool the pool water.

What are solar pool heaters made of?

Solar pool heaters can be divided into two types: glazed and unglazed. Both of these types of solar collectors have their benefits and drawbacks and choosing the right type of system will depend on where you live, and how much you hope to use your pool. Your solar retailer will be able to help you choose the best option for your lifestyle.

 Unglazed solar collectors: Unglazed collectors are generally made of a heavy-duty rubber or plastic material, treated with an ultraviolet light inhibitor. Since they’re unglazed, meaning they don’t include a glass covering, they are less expensive than glazed collectors but also less energy efficient. If you’re only using your pool when temperatures are above freezing, unglazed solar collectors are more cost-effective.

 Glazed solar collectors: Glazed collectors are made up of an aluminium plate and copper pipes covered with a glass covering. These systems are more complex and require more, expensive, materials which increases the cost of the system. The glazed solar collectors capture solar heat more efficiently than unglazed systems, and can be used year-round in colder climates, and for indoor pools.

Solar pool heater efficiency rating

Like other home appliances, solar pool heaters come with efficiency ratings. High efficiency solar collectors might be more expensive upfront, but will often reduce your running costs and take up less space in order to heat your pool.

Solar pool heaters are rated on the solar collectors thermal performance rating, which is measured in British thermal units (Btu) per square foot per day or megajoules (MJ) per square meter per day. The higher the number, the higher the efficiency of the system. It is important to note that the efficiency of two solar collectors can be considered roughly the same if the ratings are within 25Btu per square foot per day of each other.

Solar pool heater cost

Solar pool heating system cost depends on a number of factors including the type of system (glazed or unglazed), the size of your pool, and the efficiency of the system. In general, a solar pool heating system could cost you $3,000 up to over $6,000 for the panels, plus installation costs. While this might be an expensive upfront investment, the amount saved by no longer using gas or electricity to heat your pool could mean the system pays for itself in 2-7 years, and solar pool heating systems generally have a longer life expectancy (10-20 years) than gas or electric models.

How to install a solar pool heater

If you’re interested in a solar pool heater, your best bet is to find an accredited solar installer. Before purchasing a solar pool heating system, you should speak with your accredited retailer and determine the following:

  1. How much sun your rooftop gets (also known as your home’s solar resource)
  2. The correct system size needed to efficiently heat your pool
  3. The best position, orientation, and tilt for the collector
  4. Different types of systems and their costs
  5. Local regulation regarding solar energy systems

Once your solar pool heating system is installed, with proper maintenance, it should last you 10-20 years while traditional electric and gas pool heating systems have a lifespan of 5-10 years.

Benefits and drawbacks of solar pool heating systems

While a solar pool heater has many advantages as a green energy source, including lower energy consumption and cost, it isn’t for everyone. The upfront cost of a solar pool heater can be a lot more than traditional pool heating systems, and not every home is suitable for solar collectors. If the roof isn’t the right pitch or position, or there is a lot of shade from trees or buildings, solar pool heating might not be possible. In addition, if you don’t live somewhere that gets lots of sun, your pool might not get as warm as you like.

Advantages and disadvantages of solar pool heaters
Pros of solar pool heaters Cons of solar pool heaters
  • Extend your swimming season without using additional electricity or gas
  • Lower running costs
  • Longer lifespan than traditional pool heaters
  • Greener and more environmentally friendly
  • High upfront cost
  • Less predictable results depend on the weather
  • Takes longer to heat your pool
  • Might not be suitable for all homes depending on location and the building

How much will a solar pool heater warm my pool?

A solar pool heater’s effectiveness really depends on a number of factors; where you live, how much sun your roof gets, the size of your pool, and the weather all affect how effective your solar pool heater will be. In general, it could take up to two weeks to heat your pool to 28 degrees Celsius but this is a broad range, with My Perfect Pool saying your pool could be heated in three days if you live in Brisbane, but over a week in Melbourne.

Factors that affect how quickly your solar pool heater warms you pool include:

  • Insulation and pool covers: Proper pool insulation, with a pool cover, can retain at least 75% of its heat
  • Roof construction material and colour: Dark coloured roofs, and roofs made of metal will heat more efficiently than tile or slate
  • Size of your solar collector: Solar collector area should be at least 80%, ideally 100%, of the size of your pool area
  • Direction the solar collectors are facing: Ideally, collectors should face north but 45º east or west will not have a significant impact on heating


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