How to Use Solar Panels to Heat a Pool

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Are you getting the most use out of your swimming pool, or is your swimming season just too short? Would you like to be able to enjoy your pool on those warm days when the sun is beautiful but the water is too cold to get in? The obvious answer is to heat your pool, but pool heaters use fossil fuels to generate heat. Solar panels, on the other hand, allow you to heat your pool water without environmental concerns.

Things You'll Need

  • Diverter valves to direct the flow of water to solar collector panels
  • ABS pipe
  • Unglazed solar heating panels
  • Consider how a solar-powered pool heater works. Your existing pool plumbing pulls the water out of the pool, pumps it through the filter for cleaning and then pumps it back into the pool, where the cycle begins again. A solar pool heating system is installed in the middle of the existing system. Beyond the filter, new pipes are installed that carry the water to the solar panel, where it is heated by the sun's rays and passed back into the existing plumbing to return to the pool. Deciding whether solar heating will work for you requires you (or your contractor) to:

  • Determine your home's solar resource. Unfortunately, not all locations can accommodate a solar pool heater. While an unshaded area facing due south is best, an area with southeast or southwest exposure that receives a good deal of sun during the day may also provide an option. Some locations just don't get enough sun.

  • Determine the size of your solar heating requirement. In simple terms, your solar heating panels should equal at least 50 percent of the square footage of your pool's surface. The amount you want to heat the water (temperature rise) will also affect how large an area you need to cover with the panels.

  • Solar panels used for pool heating are usually unglazed (not covered with glass), which makes them less expensive than the glazed panels used for electricity generation. Solar panels for pool heating are commonly made of heavy rubber or dark plastic treated with ultraviolet (UV) inhibitors to help prolong their life.

  • The solar panels can be installed on any unshaded smooth surface. While most people put the solar panels on a roof, any open space close to the pool's plumbing is acceptable.

  • Consider the size of your existing pool pump. Pool pumps are generally sized to accommodate the regular water flow. A larger pump may be required to pump the pool water all the way up to the roof and the solar collector panels.

  • Install diverter valves in the plumbing to control the flow of water to and from the solar panels. The sun can actually make the water too warm, so you must be able to control whether the water passes through the heating panels or not.

Tips & Warnings

  • Before installing a solar heating system, check your local building codes and zoning regulations. A building permit and inspection may be required in your area.
  • If you are concerned with a specific temperature increase, calculation of solar resource capability and solar heating capacity might best be left to experienced solar contractors. However, if you just want to add warm water to your pool, you could simply divert the pool water flow through black ABS pipe coiled on the roof and then back into the existing plumbing to return to the pool.
  • During hot spells, running your pool water through the solar panels after dark can actually lower the temperature of the pool water.
  • If you live where temperatures fall below freezing, be sure to drain all the water out of the solar panels as part of your pool winterizing routine.

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