Solar Pool Heaters: an Overview

Wondering about your options for a solar pool heater?

If you love your pool and want to use it more of the year, but don’t want the expense of using fuel to heat it, you may want to consider a solar pool heater.

Swimming pool solar heaters use the energy of the sun to warm your pool’s water. The way a solar heater works is by channeling water through your pool’s pump to the heater. The heater is a mesh of tiny, black rubber or plastic tubes that hold your pool water and maximize the amount of surface area receiving the sun’s heat. The sun heats the water and it is recirculated into your pool, warming it. Other devices such as timers and control valves can regulate your desired temperature and only run water through your filter during daylight hours. In the US, solar can extend your use of your pool to year-round in southern climates and extend it significantly if you live in a cold climate like the northeast.

Swimming Pool Solar Heater
CC flickr photo courtesy of Phil Wiffen

Solar-powered pool heaters work best for residential swimming pools and for customers who are comfortable with their temperature ranging from 75-85 degrees F. There are different varieties, depending on whether your pool is above- or in-ground, your pool’s size, your desired range of temperature and what you’re willing to pay. Solar heaters for in-ground pools have to be larger to accommodate the greater volume of water that has to circulate through them. Mounting them on a roof is not uncommon. In this case, a south-facing roof to install your heater is necessary.

Heaters for above-ground pools are easy to set up. Either laid flat or mounted at an angle facing south and close to your pool, they can raise your above-ground pool’s temperature by as much as ten degrees. Typical dimensions for solar heater panels are 4 feet by 20 feet. They can be quite cost-effective, considering the cost of a gas heater and gas for heating your pool. Mat-style above-ground solar heaters usually retail for about $250. Cheaper options are available, but you don’t want to sacrifice quality or effectiveness. Shop around.

Another style of above-ground solar pool heater is a dome-style heater. It works in the same fashion as a mat-style heater, but has a compact design. Aquaquik sells a dome-style heater that is about 30 inches square and 15 inches high. Again, your pool’s pump channels the water through the heater.

More complicated systems may require a contractor to install them, but there are many options for heaters that you can install yourself. Above-ground systems usually require some short lengths of hose and clamps, the kind you’d find at any pool store. Some small hand-tools may be required. While using your heater, if your water is at an agreeable temperature and you don’t want it heated further, you can choose to disable your heater by turning your pump off, or you can install a control valve that simply keeps water from being channeled through your heater.

You can install a solar heater system for an in-ground pool, but it will take a bit more work and the help of a friend. You’ll need to get the heater panels up on your roof, install them, run pipes from your pump to the heaters and then from your panels, back to the pool. You may also wish to install control valves or thermal sensors to regulate your pool’s temperature. The good news is that, while more involved, it can be done. Here’s a good article from to help you get started.

The downside of a swimming pool solar heater is that during inclement weather when there’s a lot of cloud cover, your pool won’t gain much heat. It seems like a minor inconvenience when you consider that after installation, there’s no fuel consumption. Your only operating costs will be running your pump. But, theoretically, you could power that with solar, too.

Solar Pool Heater Brands



Horizon Ventures Inc





DIY Solar Pool Heater Instructions

Don’t want to buy a commercial brand and prefer to build a solar pool heater yourself? Here are a few good links to get you started.

Build It Solar has a terrific page covering all aspects of DIY solar pool heating.

Green Terra Firma also covers the subject, and recommends a solar pool cover as the cheapest option to get you started.

DIY Life has instructions for a passive solar pool heater that you can build in just one day, possibly.

Do you already have a solar pool heater? Did you build it yourself, or buy a commercial one? What results are you getting? Leave a comment and let us know!