Swimming is certainly one of the most beneficial cardiovascular exercises, according to doctors and physical therapists. It is low-impact yet increases stamina, strengthens muscles, and builds cardiovascular fitness. It is also a fantastic form of exercise for everyone – young and old, and in-between.
The best way to take advantage of these health benefits is by keeping the water pleasantly warm through pool heating. If you properly heat your swimming pool, it’s possible for everyone to use it for exercise, and you extend the hours the pool can be used. In fact, pool heating can also extend the season for enjoying your pool. A heated pool eliminates the possibility of young kids and elderly swimmers from suffering from chilling. It also enhances the therapeutic benefits of swimming and relaxation.
But, of course, heating your pool can mean significant electricity or fuel costs. A highly cost-effective and environment-friendly option would be installing a solar water heater for your pool. It is cost-competitive and incurs significantly lower annual costs. It is also considered a viable choice for most climates. So, if you’re thinking of tapping into this technology for your swimming pool heating needs, keep reading.
How do solar pool heaters work?
Solar pool heating systems usually comprise a solar collector, filter, pump, and a flow control valve.
Solar collector systems
The collector is the device where pool water to be heated by the sun is circulated. Solar collectors come in a variety of materials, and the type you choose depends on the use you intend it for.
An unglazed collector system, for example, is great for when you plan on using your pool when temperatures are above freezing. This type of solar collector doesn’t have a glass covering or glazing. It is usually made of heavy-duty plastic or rubber that has been treated with a UV light inhibitor to protect and extend the life of the panels.
The simple design and inexpensive parts of an unglazed collector system mean it is generally more affordable than glazed collectors. Unglazed systems also work well for indoor pools in cold climates. The system need only be designed to drain back to the swimming pool when it is not in use.
Glazed collector systems, on the other hand, comprise copper tubing on an aluminium plate. The plate is covered with iron-tempered glass – which is the reason why they are more expensive than the unglazed variety.
However, the main advantage with glazed collector systems (with heat exchangers and transfer fluids) is that during colder weather, they can capture solar heat more efficiently than unglazed types.
This also means that glazed collector systems are useful the whole year-round in most climates. They can also be utilised for heating domestic hot water as well as your pool.
Whichever type you choose, both glazed and unglazed collector systems require freeze protection so they can be used during the cold season.
There are two main types of solar collectors available in New Zealand:
These are semi-rigid solar panels typically made from polypropylene. Unlike the more flexible strip or ribbon system, panel collector systems are generally more durable. In fact, under ideal conditions, the best solar pool heating panel collectors can last anywhere between 20 and 30 years while retaining 80 per cent of their production capacity. They come highly recommended for steep roofs, and since they are not only glued to the roof, they are also suitable for houses in locations that are prone to strong winds. They are also cockatoo-proof. Moreover, some advanced panel controllers utilising copper, aluminium, or vacuum-sealed glass contained within the panels can greatly accelerate solar-water heat exchange, making them even more energy-efficient.
Ribbon or strip collectors
Also referred to as soft collectors, strip collectors can be made of plastic or PVC nitrite, or rubber. They are very flexible so they can be easily installed even on oddly-shaped surfaces. They consist of a series of tubes bonded to the roof with a strong adhesive. They are positioned horizontally, thereby allowing pool water to run through them while being heated by the sun and even with heat coming from the roof. Solar strip collectors are also fairly durable, with some manufacturers offering 10-year warranties.
Pumps, valves, and filters
To ensure that all debris is removed from the water, the pool pump circulates water through the filter. It then passes through a diverter or flow control valve that sends the water through the solar collectors where it is heated. The heated water then passes through the chlorination system and then goes back into the pool as warm water.
Some solar pool heaters have sensors aside from a manual or automatic valve that diverts water through the solar collectors. This happens when the collector temperature is several degrees higher than the pool temperature. But if the collector temperature is the same as that of the water in the pool, filtered water bypasses the collectors and is returned to the pool.
Solar heating system costs
Buying a solar pool heating system and getting it installed can cost you approximately between $3,000 and $5,000. Do note, however, that the price of the system and installation work required are based on your pool size as well as the level of sophistication of the solar pool heating system you want. System kits range in price from $1,000 to $5,000, while the cost of installation ranges from $500 to $2,500.
But the great thing about getting solar heating for your swimming pool is that the majority of the costs are upfront. Once the system is up and running, using it for your pool needs may cost you less than a dollar per day.
For a fair idea of how big an impact the upfront and running costs of solar heating can have on your budget, consider the following comparison with other pool heating options based on an average four-metre by eight-metre rectangular pool:
Solar heating system
- Price : $2,500
- Installation Cost : $1,300
- Annual Running Cost : $100 to $200
- Median 10 Year Cost : $5,300
Electrical heating system
- Price : $5,800
- Installation Cost : $400
- Annual Running Cost : $250 to $750
- Median 10 Year Cost : $11,450
Gas heating system
- Price : $2,700
- Installation Cost : $200
- Annual Running Cost : $500 to $1,500 (natural gas)
- Annual Running Cost : $700 to $2,100 (LPG)
- Median 10-Year Cost : $12,900 (natural gas)
- Median 10-Year Cost : $16,900 (LPG)
Based on the above estimates, it’s quite clear that the initial outlay for a solar heating system is a little higher than that of a gas heating system. Overall, however, when it comes to the yearly running costs, solar heating wins hands-down over both electrical and gas heating systems. Moreover, you can easily recoup your initial investment in a relatively shorter period of time.
Where to put a solar heater for your pool
One of the first key considerations regarding solar heating for pools is identifying the best place for its setup. You need to ensure there is sufficient space for it and that the location you choose has maximum sun exposure for the best part of the year. Ideally, the spot you choose should be adjacent to the pump.
Of course, when it comes to solar collectors, the usual and most obvious choice would be the rooftop. When setting up the collectors, they should be positioned in such a way that they receive solar energy all day long. During the summer, for example, tilting the collectors to a 10 to 15-degree angle is considered optimal.
Wherever you decide to put them, the most important thing to consider is ensuring they are strategically placed. This way, they can absorb the greatest amount of heat from the sun daily. Aside from the rooftop, solar collectors can also be installed on the ground, fixed to your fencing, etc. Always consider maximum sun exposure, and make sure the structure the collectors are attached to or set on is sturdy enough to hold the collectors and the water that’s being heated.
Another good thing about solar collectors like solar panels is that you can use them to cool the water during hot and humid, or balmy days. By keeping the solar panels active at night, you can use the temperature they absorb to cool your pool the next day when it’s hot.
Before installing your solar water heating system, be sure to check local building codes and regulations regarding it. If you will be working with a contractor, this is something they would already be familiar with, so they can take care of the necessary documentation for you.
Solar pool heating installation and maintenance
Installing a solar pool heater
Now, you may be wondering, if installing a solar pool heating system can be a do-it-yourself venture, especially if you purchase a home kit. However, we strongly advise you against going the DIY route because of the following reasons:
- Roof work is inherently risky.
- By doing the work yourself, you also risk voiding equipment warranties.
- There are fewer product options for DIY-ers than for professional installers.
- You will still need to hire an electrician to ensure the proper connection of equipment.
- Incorrect installation can affect the durability and efficiency of a solar pool heating system, so you may end up wasting potential savings.
Factors such as the location, solar resource, climate, local building regulations, and code requirements as well as safety issues, need to be considered prior to installation. So, it’s always better for a professional and qualified solar thermal systems contractor to do the installation work for you.
Pool heater maintenance
Your contractor should also be able to advise you on how to properly maintain the system, although solar collectors require minimal maintenance. As long as the pool’s chemical balance and filtering system are running efficiently and periodically maintained, your solar water heating system should serve you for years to come.
Moreover, you can be a better-informed pool owner by making sure you read the owner’s manual. This way, you can adhere to maintenance and safety requirements that can impact the performance of your system. If you live in a dry region, for example, glazed collectors may need to be cleaned since rainwater may not adequately provide a natural rinse.
Tips on choosing a solar pool heating installation company
In choosing your solar pool heating system contractor, make sure you consider the following things:
- Do your research, and make a list of potential installers.
- Ask about their experience in the installation and maintenance of the type of system you have chosen.
- Check if they have the appropriate state licence as plumbing and or solar pool heating contractors.
- Take your time and get quotes from your prospective contractors.
- Be sure to meet your chosen contractor before hiring them.
- Check what kind of warranty they offer and if they give extended warranties. A 10-year warranty is pretty standard, so check the fine print. For example, what happens if cockatoos, possums, and other vermin chew into the pipes?
- Ask for a list of past customers who are willing to share their experiences with the company.
- Check their website for testimonials and or customer reviews.
- Find out if there are any reviews about the company in independent online review sites.
Also, when you meet with your potential contractors, be sure to ask the following questions:
- How long have you been installing and maintaining solar pool heating systems?
- Which areas have you covered?
- How many installations have you done?
- Are we going to sign a contract?
- After installation, will you explain the components of my system?
- How do you calculate the size of the system I need?
- Do you hire subcontractors? If so, how do you vet or train them?
Get the most out of solar pool heating
To get the most value from your solar pool heating system investment, consider the following tips:
- Don’t keep your system turned on when you don’t need it.
- During the summer or swimming season, run your system for an hour a day. This will keep the system sanitised while also ensuring that any gunk or build-up is flushed out. However, if you already have a solar controller, this will be taken care of automatically.
- Get solar collector cleaning and maintenance done by professionals. The same goes for any valve or tube related splits or damage.
For the most part, however, solar pool heating systems require very little maintenance.
So, when it comes to deciding on whether or not to utilise solar pool heating, the answer should come pretty quickly. With the information shared above, you know exactly what you’re throwing yourself into.