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A General Guide to Pool Heating Options September 18, 2012 04:24 PM


This time of year, most pool owners are groping for just about anything they can get their hands on that will help them keep their pools warm and extend their swimming season a couple extra months in spite of fast-approaching chillier temperatures. Whether it’s natural gas or propane pool heaters, electric pool heaters, solar blankets and solar covers or installing a solar heating system, the options are the same for both above ground pool owners and in ground pool owners.

Knowing your options — Gas, Electric or Solar pool heaters

Gas pool heaters, electric heat pumps and solar pool covers all come in a wide variety of makes and models with the capabilities and options to fit both your budget and your pool heating needs. Gas pool heaters have been the staple in colder climates for some time. But recently with the rising costs of propane and natural gas, as well as advances in electric heat pump technology, more pool owners are choosing pool heat pumps. There’s no clear-cut, right or wrong answer. How you heat your swimming pool depends on many factors — cost of installation, pool usage patterns, the size of your pool, required maintenance, and your climate just to name a few. To help you decide on which method would work best for you, here are a few pool heater basics.

Gas pool heaters

With a gas pool heater you’ll need to decide between running it on natural gas or liquid propane. For that reason, you’ll want to pay attention to the availability and the price of gas in your area. Also, if you select propane, remember you will have to refill and hook up the propane tank on a regular basis.

Because of the speed at which a gas pool heater can heat pool water, they make a good choice if your above ground pool is used less frequently, say on weekends or only a couple times a week. In these cases, you’ll only need to run a gas heater when you use the pool. If you fire up a gas pool heater in the morning you can be enjoying a warm pool later that afternoon. And while it may actually cost you more to run the gas heater, your overall cost won’t be that significant because you’ll be running the gas heater less frequently.

Also, as mentioned earlier, gas pool heaters represent a better option if you live in a colder climate. Typically, a pool heat pump will not heat a swimming pool nearly as well as a natural gas heater during the colder months.

Electric pool heat pumps

But for pool owners in the southern part of the country, an electronic heat pump can be a reliable year around solution. Electric heat pumps are also a good option if your swimming pool gets continuous use with people coming and going numerous times a week. With high-use pools it’s difficult to always plan ahead every time you want to swim. In such instances, a heat pump would be operating continuously to maintain an even flow of warm water in order to raise the pool temperature. The lower operating costs of an electric heat pump are ideal for these usage patterns. If you were to ever use a gas pool heater in this way it would most likely become cost prohibitive. Typically, electric heat pumps are more expensive up front, but their value increases the more a pool is used — over the long run heating a pool at nearly half the cost of a gas pool heater.

Solar pool heaters

Lastly, solar pool heaters — solar covers, blankets, and panels — offer a "green" pool heating option. For this reason solar pool heating options have been growing in popularity as of late. Solar heating solutions allow for year-round swimming seasons in warmer climates, but if used alone in the colder climates they may extend the swimming season only minimally. When using solar heaters for above ground pools, it is wise to consider the unpredictability of the weather, and realize that during stretches of inclement weather the pool temperature may be below your desired level.

Solar pool heaters convert the heat and energy from the sun to heat the pool water. Solar pool panels are modular and can either be located on a rooftop or on the ground, allowing for a variety of configurations. While solar pool heating systems can be fairly expensive up front, they have nearly zero cost of operation. Add to that the longevity and minimal maintenance, and you can see why solar units are catching on across the country. We suggest using a quality solar blanket with a pool heater in order to save money, energy and maximize efficiency.

Before selecting a pool heater know your pool

When deciding how to heat your pool it's important to understand the size of the pool. Since the main job of any pool heater is to heat the pool water at a faster rate than heat is escaping from the surface, you’ll need a heater large enough to heat the surface area of your pool. Then, once the ideal temperature has been reached, your pool heater only needs to run enough to compensate for the lost heat.

The more surface area your pool contains the more power your pool heater will require. Here are a few common pool types and some typical surface area calculations:

  • Radius of round pools (1/2 diameter) x radius x 3.14
  • Rectangular pools length x width
  • Oval pools 1/2 length x 1/2 width x 3.14
  • Rectangular pools w/ rounded ends length x width x 0.8
  • Kidney-shaped pools length x width x 0.75

 Gas pool heaters — a few general safety tips

Combining pressurized water, combustible fuels as well as electricity; gas pool heaters are the most potentially dangerous piece of equipment associated with your pool. They’re also the most common and most complicated. Care and caution should always be exercised when working with these pool heaters. In fact, whether your gas pool heater requires repairs or not, you should have a qualified technician check your heating system annually.

Checking gas pool heaters for leaks

First and foremost, if you have any concerns about the safety of a gas pool heater, you should close it down immediately and contact a licensed technician to arrange an inspection. The main priority when it comes to maintaining a gas pool heater is to check for any gas leaks. You can check pipes for any leakages by spraying a water and soap solution around the pipe joints, connections or fittings. If you see bubbles, the pipes have a leak and the pipes will require immediate repair. In such cases, never use the heater until the pipes are replaced or repaired by the qualified personnel.

While both Natural gas and Propane are naturally odorless, there are occasions when gas companies will add chemicals to the gas to give it a sulfuric smell, like rotten eggs. If you smell gas, call your gas company immediately and report the leak. Also, Propane is heavier than Natural gas and has been known to collect on the floor of a heater. For this reason, propane pool heaters are more likely to have an explosive episode than natural gas heaters.

Gas pool heaters and carbon monoxide

If you notice a smell similar to strong exhaust fumes around a gas pool heater there is a good chance that you may be inhaling unsafe levels of carbon monoxide. Proper installation and ventilation are crucial in order to reduce carbon monoxide levels:

  • Never enclose a gas pool heater that is intended for outdoor use
  • Try not to place a pool heater beneath or near any windows or doors
  • If your pool heater is beneath a window consider moving it or covering the window, it doesn’t take long to fill a room with dangerous levels of carbon monoxide
  • If your gas pool heater must be installed indoors exhaust venting must be attached to the heater
  • Maintain all exhaust fans and ducts to ensure they’re clear of dust, debris or any other obstructions
  • If your pool heater is inside a shed, or worse yet, in the basement, be sure to install carbon monoxide detectors

It’s worth repeating, you should always exercise care and caution when working with gas pool heaters. In fact, it’s always best to have a qualified technician check your pool heating system annually. A technician will check for proper combustion, ventilation, carbon monoxide levels and more to ensure proper pool heater operation. In turn, ensuring pool owners enjoy a warm pool and an extended swimming season no matter what the temperature is outside.