While a backyard pool can be refreshing on a hot summer day, water that’s too cold can be downright shocking. Getting a pool to a comfortable temperature can be a challenge, especially in early summer or if the pool happens to be in a shady spot. Fortunately, there are solar pool heaters that can warm up chilly waters and end the shivering.
Unlike a pool heat pump that uses electricity, these heaters consist of large panels that sit on the ground or mount to the roof of a house. Water is pumped through a webwork of channels that run through each panel, warming it with the heat of the sun before it’s pumped back into the pool.
Since these solar pool heaters require no electricity and can be installed by a DIYer, they are also an economical means of warming up a frigid pool. This guide describes important features to consider when shopping for a solar pool heater and includes details about some of the best solar pool heaters on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: Smart Pool S601 Sun Heater High-Density Solar Heater
- RUNNER-UP: Fafco 10028 Universal Solar Panel Heating Kit
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Goplus Solar Dome Swimming Pool Heater
- BEST FOR ABOVE-GROUND: Game 4721 SolarPRO Curve Pool Heater
- MOST VERSATILE: SunHeater S120U Universal Solar Pool Heater
- EASIEST INSTALLATION: Intex Solar Mat for Above Ground Swimming Pools
- BEST FOR INGROUND: XtremepowerUS Solar Pool Sun Heater Panel
- BEST FLOATING: Solar Sun Rings Pool Circular Solar Cover Heaters
How We Chose the Best Solar Pool Heaters
We used several criteria while reviewing dozens of solar pool heaters for our list. Since the surface area of a solar pool heater determines its ability to warm water, we chose only large models with 40 or more square feet of surface area for our inground pool selections. We selected more compact stand-alone models for our above-ground pool categories. We also leaned toward solar pool heaters that can be daisy-chained together to expand their heating ability.
Durability is also key, so we selected models that can hold up to constant exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light as well as severe heat and cold. Finally, a solar pool heater that is relatively easy to install is preferred by many, so we stuck with those that can easily integrate with a pool’s existing pump system while being easy to mount to a roof or a rack.
Our Top Picks
The list below includes some of the top inground and above-ground pool heater options. These models are capable of warming pools by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit and can be installed by a capable DIYer.
With its ability to heat a pool by 6 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, this solar pool heating system from Smart Pool is one of the most effective solutions for warming up a cold pool. The Smart Pool system consists of a 20-foot-long by 4-foot-wide polypropylene panel, which is 80 square feet of coverage.
The system uses the pool’s existing water pump to move water through a series of tubes in the panels. The tubes heat the water as it passes through before pumping it back into the pool. While the system is effective, it does require the purchase of a separate installation kit to mount it to the roof.
- Size: 20 feet long by 4 feet wide
- Type: Flat plate
- Installation: Roof or rack
- Large surface area for inground and above-ground pools
- Installs in an inconspicuous location on the roof or a rack
- Uses pool’s existing pump to circulate water through the heater
- Installation kit is sold separately at an additional cost
Get the Smart Pool solar pool heater at Amazon or In The Swim.
With its large surface area, this solar panel heating kit from Fafco is capable of warming a lot of water. Designed to serve as an above-ground pool heater, the 24-foot-long by 4-foot-wide set of panels produces enough heat to raise a pool’s water temperature up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Installation is easy as the heating kit can lie flat on the ground or be mounted to a rack. Similar to other flat-plate solar heaters, it works by warming water as it is pumped through a series of channels that weave through the panel. The Fafco system also includes a conveniently integrated valve that bypasses the solar panel on cloudy days or when warming is not needed.
- Size: 24 feet long by 4 feet wide
- Type: Flat plate
- Installation: Ground or rack
- Large surface area capable of raising a pool’s water temperature up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit
- Bypass valve can shut off warming cells after the pool reaches the desired temperature
- Easy-to-install design allows it to be mounted on the ground or a rack
- Does not include a mounting rack, which is sold separately
Get the Fafco solar pool heater at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Target.
Most solar pool heaters require a lot of space to effectively heat water, making them an unsightly addition to your yard or roof. At just 22.5 inches long by 22.5 inches wide by 8.5 inches high, this dome-style model is a compact option for above-ground swimming pools. It consists of coils that wrap in a spiral shape on the inside of the dome. The clear plastic cover traps heat inside the dome, heating the water as it flows through the coils.
Like other solar heaters, it connects to a standard pool filter. This system is also expandable, allowing you to add multiple domes to increase its heating power.
- Size: 22.5 inches long by 22.5 inches wide by 8.5 inches high
- Type: Dome-shaped flat-plate solar heater
- Installation: Freestanding
- Small size makes it less conspicuous than other solar pool heaters
- Adjustable legs allow you to adjust the heater for maximum sun exposure
- Durable, rigid, hard-plastic construction resists rain and harmful UV rays
- Not as much heating ability as solar pool heaters with more surface area
Get the Goplus solar pool heater at Amazon.
With its freestanding design, this curved model is ideal as a pool heater for an above-ground pool. It features a rigid, curved shape with two adjustable legs that allow you to angle it toward the sun for maximum effect. Using a standard above-ground pool water pump, water is circulated through the network of channels built into the heating panel where it is warmed before returning to the pool.
The pool heater is capable of warming an 8,000-gallon pool by 5 degrees Fahrenheit in about 4 days. It is just 44.88 inches long by 27.56 inches wide, making it a more compact option than larger systems that must be mounted on a roof. This system is also expandable; hook multiple heaters together for more warming power.
- Size: 44.88 inches long by 27.56 inches wide
- Type: Flat plate
- Installation: Freestanding
- Compact size makes this solar heater ideal for smaller above-ground pools
- Can be expanded for larger above-ground pools by connecting additional panels
- Adjustable legs allow you to aim it toward the sun
- Works slowly, warming water over a period of days
Get the Game solar pool heater at Amazon or Marina Pool, Spa & Patio.
With its ability to mount just about anywhere, this solar pool heater is one of the most versatile options for warming a cool pool. It consists of a 20-foot-long by 2-foot-wide strip of polypropylene with multiple channels woven through it. The heater works with a pool pump, which forces water through the channels where it is warmed by the sun before being directed back into the pool.
This model can be used with both inground and above-ground pools and can be installed on a roof, a rack, the ground, or even a fence. With its 40-square-foot surface area, it’s capable of raising the temperature in a 15-foot round pool or 12-by-18-foot oval pool between 6 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Additional SunHeater pool heaters can be added to the system to heat larger pools.
- Size: 20 feet long by 2 feet wide
- Type: Flat plate
- Installation: Ground, roof, or rack
- Versatile design allows it to work with inground and above-ground pools
- Can be set up in multiple locations including the ground, the roof, a rack, or a fence
- Large surface area makes it capable of raising water temperature by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit
- Significantly more expensive that similarly designed solar pool heaters
Get the SunHeater solar pool heater at Amazon.
Intex swimming pools are some of the easiest backyard above-ground pools to set up, and the swimming pool heater that goes with them isn’t any different. Intex’s solar mat connects between an Intex pool pump and pool intake. The black mat sits on the ground adjacent to the pool, soaking up heat from the sun and transferring it to the water flowing through it.
The mats are capable of creating moderate heat increases of between 3 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Multiple mats can be linked together for larger Intex pools. Two mats are suitable for pumps with a flow rate of up to 330 gallons per hour, and up to six can be linked together for larger pumps with a flow rate of up to 1,500 gallons per hour.
- Size: 47.25 inches long by 47.25 inches wide
- Type: Flat mat
- Installation: Ground
- Easy to install and add additional mats on Intex above-ground pools
- Can daisy-chain multiple mats together to suit the size of the pool and pump
- A more affordable alternative to other solar pool heater options
- Only heats water moderately, raising the temperature just 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit
- Some customers complain that the pump struggles to pull water through the mats
Get the Intex solar pool heater at Amazon or The Home Depot.
This inground and above-ground pool heater from XtremepowerUS consists of two 20-foot-long by 2-foot-wide lightweight polypropylene panels that install onto the roof of a home and connect to the pool pump. The panels, which can be installed on the ground or the roof, absorb heat from the sun and then warm the water as it circulates through them.
This system is customizable, allowing you to add the number of panels required to heat the size pool you have. A single panel is enough to heat a pool with up to 257 square feet of surface area. While the kit is made from durable materials, XtremepowerUS advises customers to roll up the panels for storage during the offseason, which can be difficult if they’re mounted on the roof.
- Size: 20 feet long by 2 feet wide
- Type: Flat mat
- Installation: Installs on the roof
- Rooftop installation makes it less conspicuous than ground-installed options
- Additional panels can be added to suit various pool sizes
- Lightweight polypropylene design makes them easy to install on a roof
- Must be removed each offseason to prevent wear and tear over the winter
Get the XtremepowerUS solar pool heater at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Target.
These solar sun rings are one of the easiest ways to warm up a pool as they don’t involve the pool’s pump or plumbing. Each ring in this pack of six measures 60 inches in diameter and consists of two layers of vinyl. To install, simply place each floating ring in the pool. The top layer directs the sun’s rays onto the bottom blue layer of vinyl, which collects about 50 percent of the sun’s light and converts it to heat. The remaining sunlight then filters through the rings into the water.
To work effectively, the pool should have one ring for every 50 square feet of pool surface area; six magnets around each ring allows them to attach together. When rings cover the entire surface area of the pool, they can raise the water temperature by a few degrees Fahrenheit. At night, the rings work like a solar cover, helping the pool retain the heat it collected throughout the day.
- Size: 60 inches in diameter
- Type: Solar ring
- Installation: On pool surface
- Easy to install and remove as the rings don’t use the pool’s plumbing
- Only effective for raising the water temperature by a few degrees Fahrenheit
- Easy to customize to suit the size of the pool
- Some customers have complained that the pool heaters are not good quality
- Must be removed from the water every time the pool is in use
Get the Solar Sun Ring solar pool heater at Amazon or The Home Depot.
What to Consider When Choosing a Solar Pool Heater
There are a number of crucial factors to consider when shopping for the best solar pool heater, including pool size and type as well as each heater’s durability and installation method. Ahead, learn more about these and other important attributes of solar pool heaters.
Whether you are looking for a pool heater for above-ground pool use or one for an inground pool is one factor that can help narrow the field of options. Solar pool heaters are designed for either inground or above-ground pools, and some can work with both types. A small freestanding solar pool heater may be all that’s needed to adequately heat a small above-ground pool, while a large inground pool may demand a large solar heater that mounts to the roof of a home.
Since solar pool heaters work by attaching to the pool’s existing pump, it’s important to purchase one that is rated to work with the pool type. Most pool pumps are designed to work with either inground or above-ground pools but not with both types. Most inground pools use 2-inch fittings, while most above-ground pools use 1.25- to 1.5-inch fittings.
Types of Solar Pool Heaters
Another way to narrow down the search for a pool heater is to decide which type of solar pool heater is best suited for the pool. Solar pool heaters come in three different types: flat plate, evacuated tube, and batch collectors.
- Flat plate: This type represents the most common solar-heating option for pools. A flat-plate collector consists of a large flat sheet of black polypropylene or hard plastic that absorbs the sun’s heat. The panels are typically mounted to the roof of a home or a rack on the ground. Some also come as freestanding units that are supported by a frame with a clear plastic or glass top and legs that allow you to adjust the heater’s angle.The panels are connected to the pool’s pump via plumbing and tubes. Water is pumped through channels that run through each panel, heating the water as it circulates through before it is sent back to the pool.
- Evacuated tube: Evacuated tube consists of parallel rows of glass tubes that contain a metal heat pipe that’s attached to a fin, which absorbs heat from the sun. The fin then transfers heat to fluid in a metal collection tube and warms it. This type gets its name from the glass tubes, which are vacuums since the air has been evacuated from them.
- Batch: A batch collector consists of a water tank or tubes placed inside an insulated box. Water in the tank or tubes is heated by the sun before being recirculated back to the pool.
Since it takes more energy to heat a larger pool than a smaller one, it’s vital that the solar pool heating system is large enough to capably warm the amount of water in the pool. Typically, the surface area of the solar pool heater should equal 50 to 100 percent of the surface area of the pool to effectively warm it.
Pools located in regions where it’s cooler or cloudier require a surface area that is closer to 100 percent of the pool’s surface area, while a smaller system will suffice for warmer and sunnier climates. Solar pool heaters with larger surface areas are better able to extend the pool season by keeping the pool water warm even through early fall.
Mounting Type and Installation
Solar pool heaters come in a variety of mounting options. Small models consist of rigid square-shaped or round frames, which can either be mounted to a roof or installed as a stand-alone unit. Many rigid solar pool heaters have adjustable legs that allow you to position the panel to absorb as much sunlight as possible.
Large solar pool heaters consist of panels that must be mounted to a structure, which is typically either a rack that sits on the ground or the roof of a home. Most large solar pool heaters require buyers to purchase installation kits and racks separately, which can add to the overall cost.
Temperature and Efficiency
A solar pool heater’s ability to raise the temperature of the water is dependent on a variety of factors, including the heater’s surface area as well as how many hours of direct sunlight the heater receives on a daily basis. On a cloudy day, a solar heater will have no effect on a pool’s water temperature.
Usually, a heater’s ability to affect the temperature of the pool water depends on the size of its surface area. When sized properly, a solar water heater can warm the temperature of a pool by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit over a period of several days. To get the most out of a solar pool heater, it’s a good idea to also invest in a pool cover to prevent heat loss at night.
Material and Durability
If you’re wondering, “How much is a solar pool heater?” it’s important to factor in the durability of the materials and design. Most solar pool heaters consist of black polypropylene, which does an excellent job of absorbing the sun’s heat. Polypropylene is also flexible and fairly lightweight, which makes it easier for a DIYer to mount it to a roof than a large rigid solar panel.
Although polypropylene is impervious to water, the material is susceptible to damage from UV light. For that reason, quality solar pool heaters use polypropylene treated with a stabilizer that protects it from the harmful effects of UV rays. This protective layer gives it an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years.
Smaller stand-alone models designed to sit on the ground consist of plastic or polypropylene tubing encased in a weather-resistant box with a metal frame and glass or translucent plastic cover.
All solar pool heaters need to be cleaned regularly to prevent debris from collecting around or on top of them. It’s also important to drain a solar pool heater before freezing temperatures arrive in the fall or winter to prevent damaging the tubes.
If you’re wondering how a solar pool heater works or whether it can keep a pool warm in cold weather, then read on for answers to these and other commonly asked questions about these devices.
Q. How do solar pool heaters work?
A solar pool heater consists of a large dark-colored panel that can absorb the heat of the sun. These panels have a series of channels and two valve openings. The openings are connected to the pool pump, which sends water through these channels. As the water flows through, it’s warmed by the sun before exiting through the panel and returning to the pool.
Q. What are the benefits of solar pool heaters?
A solar pool heater can warm pool water by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit without using any electricity.
Q. How many solar panels does it take to heat a swimming pool?
The number of solar panels you need to heat your pool depends on the size of the swimming pool. Generally, a solar panel’s surface area should be at least 60 percent of the pool’s surface area to adequately warm it.
Q. What size of tubing is good for a solar pool heater?
Unless the pool pump uses small-diameter plumbing, use 2-inch plumbing tubing for a solar pool heater, as that’s the standard size for most pool pumps.
Q. Are solar-heated pools warm in winter?
Solar pool heaters can generally heat pool water by up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit beyond its normal temperature. Unless you live in a warmer climate, such as Florida, pool water can drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the wintertime, which is beyond a solar pool heater’s ability to warm it to a comfortable temperature.
Q. How long does pool solar heating last?
Most solar pool heaters will last for 10 to 15 years before the material begins to break down due to damaging UV rays and exposure to extreme temperatures.
Q. How do I keep my solar pool heater from freezing?
To keep your solar pool heater from freezing in the wintertime, make sure to completely drain it in the fall when it’s time to winterize your pool.
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