Types of Solar Pool Heaters

David Zinck
swimming pool

Educating yourself on the different kinds of solar pool heaters is a wise step to take before deciding on a new system. There are many models to choose from and a wide range of prices depending on the type, size, and location of your pool.

Evacuated Tube Collectors (ETCs)

ETC systems are one of most expensive options and are well-suited for large, indoor pool applications. A series of vacuum tubes absorb heat from the sun. This heat is transmitted to a circulating antifreeze solution and transferred to the pool water indirectly through a heat exchanger.

Pros

You'll find these the biggest selling points of ETC systems:

  • ETCs are more efficient than other systems.
  • They are suitable for areas that experience below freezing temperatures.

Cons

However, there are few downsides to ETCs:

  • ETC arrangements can cost more than $6,000 to meet the needs of a large pool.
  • They are more complicated in design and installation than some other systems.
  • They are heavy and may require a building permit before roof installation.

Options to Purchase

The Northern Lights SPH5 ETC is sold as a complete system, including mounting brackets, circulating pump, heat exchanger, and controller. It will heat a pool up to 500 square feet - larger pools need additional collectors. It's priced around $7,300.

SunMaxx Solar offers ETC units from their website. You can use their "Pool Panel Calculator" to estimate the square footage of the panels needed for your pool and request a quote for an installed system.

Polymer Systems

Rubber, plastic, PVC, polystyrene, polypropylene, and polyethylene are all examples of polymer materials that make up the anatomy of many unglazed pool heaters. They are available in mat and coil configurations. Many are designed for small, above ground pools, although certain models can heat large, in ground pools.

Pros

A few pros of this type of system include:

  • Inexpensive models are available.
  • Many are easy to install.
  • Several designs are suitable for mounting on the ground close to the pool.

Cons

Like all systems, these do have a couple downsides.

  • Some units are not suited for large pools.
  • Many models are not suitable for below freezing temperatures and require seasonal draining.

Options to Purchase

The Fafco Bear 4'x20' unit can heat up to an 18'x24' above ground pool. It can be mounted on a roof or on the ground. It costs around $400.

The Palram HG1070 Solar Aquadome Grand Heater can be used for above ground or in ground pools. Connecting multiple units together enables heating of large pools. It's priced less than $300.

Flat Plate Collectors

A flat plate collector consists of a sheet of copper or aluminum which has been painted black, with copper tubes that carry liquid across the plate to collect the sun's heat. Glazed and unglazed units are available.

Glazed units are installed inside an insulated box and covered with a sheet of glass. They are commonly used to heat indoor pools. Unglazed flat plate collectors are more suited to seasonal, outdoor pools.

Pros

A couple of the best parts of owning a flat plate collector heater include:

  • They are less expensive than ETC systems.
  • Glazed units can be used for indoor pools and below freezing applications.

Cons

Downsides to flat plate collectors include:

  • These units are more suited to warmer, sunnier climates.
  • Unglazed units are susceptible to freezing and may need draining in winter.

Options to Purchase

Along with the ETC units, SunMaxx Solar also offers flat plate collectors. Use the same form you used to do your calculations for the ETC system and get a custom quote.

Solar Direct offers a wide range of solar water heating equipment, including glazed flat plate collectors. Depending on the model you select, pricing can range from around $3,000 to over $5,000.

Integral Collector Storage (ICS)

Sometimes called "batch" heaters, ICS systems are similar in design to flat plate systems. They combine collector tubes and hot water storage tanks inside one insulated, glass-covered box.

According to Alternative Energy Tutorials, ICS heaters are "the most common home-made solar hot water heating devices as they can be easily constructed using large diameter copper, plastic tubing, or an old copper water cylinder inside a wooden box."

Pros

Pick up this type of heater if you're looking for a model that is:

  • Uncomplicated and reliable
  • Easy to install

Cons

Unfortunately, there are a few negatives to this heater, too.

  • It can freeze in cold temperatures, so may need to be seasonally drained.
  • ICS heaters can be heavy, requiring proper roof structure support.

Options to Purchase

Solar Direct offers the Copperheart CP-40 with package options you can customize from their website. Select the mounting surface and hardware, and decide whether you want to add flashing and optional transport pipe with insulation for additional fees. Pricing starts upwards of $3,500+.

SunEarth Copperheart ICS solar heaters are available through their website where you can contact them for a quote on your specific needs. You can view their specification sheets and installation information on their website.

Choose Your Pool Heater Carefully

Using the sun as an alternative energy source is environmentally friendly, can significantly reduce costs, and is competitive in pricing to other types of pool heaters. Choose your new pool heater carefully, ensuring the system suits your situation, is designed for your climate, and is sized correctly for your pool. If you plan to buy a larger pool in the future, think about buying a system that can be easily expanded. Consider the complexity of certain systems if you plan to do the installation yourself.

Types of Solar Pool Heaters