The Best Swimming Pool Heaters in 2023 [Electric, Gas, & Solar]
How can you swim in your pool even during freezing weather? Using a pool heater is the answer. This equipment will keep the water at an ideal temperature even when the weather is colder than you prefer. But, like with many appliances or devices, picking the right kind requires a bit of research and planning. You’ll need to consider several factors to determine the one that will suit your needs, and, of course, your budget.
Several pool heater options exist in the market. These heaters use various fuel sources, such as gas, propane, solar, and electric, and each has its pros and cons. When it comes to versatility and efficiency, electric pool heaters top the list.
But how can you ensure that you get the pool heater that’s best for you? We’ve come up with this guide to help in your selection process.
What is a Pool Heater?
Who wouldn’t enjoy a refreshing dip in the pool during a sweltering summer day? However, this fun activity may lose its appeal come wintertime. To avail of the same pleasure year-round, you can use a pool heater. As its name implies, a pool heater heats the water in a pool to make it comfortable for swimming, even if the weather makes the water cooler than what the human body can tolerate.
Pool heaters do the job by taking the water from the pool and placing it in a heating tank. The heated water goes back into the pool, thus keeping the temperature at an even keel even if the outside environment is cooler than what you would like. In short, pool heaters create the perfect swimming condition through the year’s different seasons.
An electric heater, also known as a heat pump, uses a pump to suck air from outside the pool. It runs this sun-warmed air through an air evaporator coil that turns it into a warm gas, which gets hotter after compression. The hot gas warms the cold pool water to a comfortable temperature.
Gas heaters work almost the same way although they need a different fuel source.
Using your pool throughout the year is a convenience that comes at a price. Expect to spend over a thousand dollars at the minimum for a pool heater. How much you need to shell out depends on the type of pool heater you choose.
The price of an electric pool heater or heat pump ranges between $1,500 and $5,000. That doesn’t include the installation cost. The expenses involved with installing the pool heater hinge on whether you already have electrical service equipment around the pool area or if you made provisions for one when you built the house.
If you have electrical service already in place around the pool, the cost to install a pool heater should be between $300 and $500. The expenses will increase if you need to place an electrical service. Also, you’ll have to consider how many kWhs using the electric pool in warming the pool water will add to your monthly power consumption, which will naturally increase your energy bill.
Heating an average-sized pool with a heat pump can cost about $27 a month if you operate it every day for 3 hours.
We mentioned that an electric pool heater or heat pump has an advantage when it comes to energy efficiency and versatility. No wonder many pool owners opt for this type of pool heater.
Here are some of the benefits of getting this type of pool heater.
An electric pool heater typically costs less than a solar or gas heater while having the same heating capacity as its counterparts. It’s the more energy-efficient option for keeping small pools and spas at a comfortable temperature than gas heaters. As such, it can offer substantial savings when it comes to your energy expenses.
Heat pumps work best in warming the pool water in areas with warmer climates. They’re also ideal for homeowners who use the pool often. Those who live in places with cold temperatures may find it more expensive to use a heat pump to bring the water to the ideal swimming temperature.
An electric pool heater or heat pump is considered the most reliable heat source for your pool. Rain, wind, and extremes in temperature can affect the operation of gas pool heaters, while solar heaters need direct sunlight to operate efficiently.
Electric heaters or heat pumps don’t have these drawbacks so you can use them in any season of the year, regardless of the weather conditions.
A heat pump is the simplest pool heater type to install. An electric pool heater can be located outdoors or in a shed with minimal ventilation as it doesn’t emit harmful gasses. Some models can even be set indoors. These don’t need to be vented outside, unlike gas heaters.
The installation of heat pumps can be tackled as a DIY project in many instances. However, if the electrical requirements of a heat pump exceed the current capacity of your home, a licensed electrician should make the changes that will accommodate the power needs of the equipment.
Most energy suppliers are shifting away from environmentally damaging ways of generating electricity. To lessen the harmful emissions that get into the atmosphere, electricity providers are supplying energy from renewable sources, such as hydro and solar power. In such instances, your heat pump produces no carbon dioxide, allowing you to lower your carbon footprint.
Ease of Maintenance
Gas heaters rely on propane tanks and a gas line, which ensure adequate gas flow throughout the entire unit. This means you’ll have to be vigilant about maintenance for your gas heater to function correctly.
Meanwhile, with heat pumps, you only need to keep them clean and make sure the water’s flowing when it comes to maintenance. That and a yearly inspection by a licensed pool contractor will help reduce overall maintenance costs and prolong the unit’s lifespan.
You can expect your electric heater or heat pump to provide 10 to 15 years of reliable service.
Types of Pool Heaters
Basically, pool heaters have the same goal – keeping the water temperature comfortable. However, they don’t all work the same way. How they heat the water depends on their energy source. Let’s see what the different types of poll heaters are.
Solar Pool Heater
Solar heaters use the sun’s rays as their heat source. They work best in warm climates with plenty of sunny days. So if you live in an area where warm, sunny days are the norm, using solar is an energy-efficient way to keep the water temperature at an optimum level. However, solar panels are less effective in producing the needed energy in cold climates.
Electric Pool Heater [Heat Pumps]
A pool heat pump uses electricity. This is the most common option when it comes to heating pools. It’s also an energy-efficient choice because it doesn’t generate heat but instead uses the ambient air temperature to warm the water in a pool.
Gas Pool Heater
A gas heater relies on natural gas or propane as a fuel source. It’s an excellent option if you have an accessible gas line near your pool. It has a higher price tag than an electric or solar heater but produces heat faster than its 2 counterparts.
A gas heater is the more effective type of pool heater in colder climates. Also, unlike a heat pump or solar heater, it can maintain the water temperature regardless of the weather.
How Do They Work?
Because they rely on different sources of energy, the various types of pool heaters also have varying ways of heating the pool water. Let’s see how they get the job done.
Solar Pool Heater
A solar pool heater uses the sun’s energy to heat the water in the pool. Solar heating captures the sun’s radiant energy to heat the thermal panels, which, in turn, warm the pool water. As such, opting for this type of heater requires the installation of solar panels.
Just like the photovoltaic panels you install on the roof, solar energy collectors absorb the energy from the sun to produce heat. These solar energy collectors have tubes inside where the water from the pool circulates and soaks up the heat. The heated water then goes back to the pool.
Electric Pool Heater [Heat Pumps]
Electric heat pumps work the same way as the heat pump for your home. Using electricity as its power source, the heat pump uses the ambient air temperature to heat the water. It draws the air in and circulates it through an outer evaporator air coil. The liquid refrigerant in the coil absorbs the heat from the air and turns it into gas. This warm gas passes through the compressor, which increases the heat. The hot gas transfers the heat to the pool water.
Heat pumps are the more energy-efficient options when it comes to pool heating.
Gas Pool Heater
A gas heater for your pool requires propane or natural gas to operate. It works by circulating the water from the pool through a filter and then to the heater. The gas that burns in the unit’s combustion chamber produces heat that gets transferred to the water, which then goes back into the swimming pool.
Pool heaters that run on gas can heat the water faster than solar heaters or heat pumps. However, they cost more to operate than the 2 mentioned heater types.
Factors To Consider Before Buying a Pool Heater
Like most equipment or appliances, not one type of pool heater will fit everyone’s needs. What works for you can be a poor fit for someone else, as several factors can affect individual choices. It’s best if you look into these considerations before purchasing a heater for your pool.
The climate in your area and the length of your swim season should factor into your choice of the heater. If you live in a warm environment, any type of heater will do. But for those in regions with cooler temperatures or where the sun doesn’t shine most days, a gas heater could be a better choice.
The ambient air temperature outdoors and the amount of sunlight your area receives will affect the performance of your pool heater. For example, a heat pump needs an air temperature of over 50 degrees F, while a solar-powered one requires a lot of sunlight for optimum performance.
The size of your pool will dictate the size of the pool heater you need. Heating a large pool will require a pool heater with a higher British Thermal Unit (BTU) power than a small pool or pool/spa combination.
BTU is a measure of the heater’s capacity to heat water, and 1 BTU is the amount of energy it takes to warm 1 pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. In general, 50K BTU works well for a 13,000-gallon pool.
You can install multiple solar panels if you want to use a solar heater for a large pool. By using several PV panels, you can keep the water at the ideal temperature. However, if your pool holds over 18,000 gallons, consider a heat pump or a gas-powered heater.
You’ll also need to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each heater type to determine which will tailor-fit your requirements.
Heaters come in various sizes. So depending on what type and size you choose, you may need a lot of area for its installation site. Measuring the area to ensure you have enough space is critical.
A gas heater is larger than a heat pump or electric heater. It often has to be located next to the pool or in a housing close by because it needs to be connected to the pool’s pump and water filter system.
An electric heater or heat pump can be half the size of a gas-powered model. But like a gas heater, it has to be situated next to the pool or near the pump and water filter.
Solar heaters take up the most room, and their installation requires some planning. You can place the heater near the pool, on the roof, or deck.
Casings around the equipment protect it from impact damage, water, temperature changes, and the like. The casing is insulated to keep the water warm as it flows back to the pool. Fortunately, the heater casing won’t impact the aesthetics of the pool area as it’s designed to blend in rather than stick out like a sore thumb.
Solar heaters don’t require casings because the panels are spread out to allow them to absorb as much sun as possible.
The plastic or foam insulation in heaters directs the heat they produce into the water as it flows through. Properly insulating the heaters will help maintain the water temperature without the heater having to work so hard, thus leading to lower energy costs.
Some heater types are more challenging to install than their counterparts. Among the 3 kinds, gas heaters are the most difficult to manage as they require both gas and electrical connections. This is not a DIY project and often needs the services of a professional installer.
Although the installation process for an electric heater is less complex than a gas-powered one, it’s best to hire a professional to do the job as well. Connecting the piping for the water flow is probably a breeze for DIY experts, but an electrician should see to the electrical connections. The proximity of the equipment to the water increases the risks of electrocution.
Installing solar heaters takes time, but the project can be tackled by non-professionals.
Winterization refers to the process of getting the pool and its various components ready for the dips in temperature during the winter. It involves keeping the brackets, filters, hoses, and other parts protected from the frigid temperature to ensure they’ll function properly in the coming pool season.
To winterize the pool and heater, disconnect power sources and hoses, remove the water and store the equipment in a dry location. Use a wet vac or leaf blower to dry the heater completely. However, winterizing the solar panels on the roof can be challenging if you have a solar heater.
Like most equipment, the heater requires regular maintenance to extend its lifespan. This involves cleaning the unit and repairing it when needed. No matter the type of heater, have it inspected by a professional annually. If you use it year-round, consider having it checked twice a year.
A heat pump typically lasts longer than gas and solar heaters.
Gas heaters can heat a pool quickly and suit homeowners who use their pool regularly. They typically have faster warm-up times than solar or electric heaters. Aside from the type of heater, the size of the unit, the pool size, and the climate will determine how long it takes to warm the water.
Solar heaters take the longest to heat the water. They’ll need a few days to bring the water to the ideal temperature for swimming. Electric heaters take about 24 to 72 hours, while gas heaters can heat the pool in just a couple of hours.
Best Pool Heaters in the Market
Fortunately, you won’t run out of options regardless of the type of heater you want, as there are plenty of different models on the market. However, the wide selection can also make it challenging to pick the one you need. Here are our recommendations to help narrow down your choices.
Gas Pool Heaters
Gas heaters work best for those who want to heat their pool quickly. They may cost more to operate, but newer models have become more energy-efficient.
1.) Raypak Digital Cupro-Nickel Propane 266k BTU Pool Heater
Though less budget-friendly than other heaters, this model more than makes up for the price premium as it’s built to last. Its unique pagoda design allows the heater to remain effective during high winds and downdrafts.
The Raypak Digital Cupro-Nickel Propane 266k BTU not only lasts long but it’s easy to operate as well. The heater’s built-in Microprocessor Controlled Thermostat lets you set the pool’s temperature at the touch of a button.
2.) Pentair MasterTemp 125 Low NOx Pool Heater
This high-efficiency and low emissions model is the most sold model on the market. And for good reasons. The price is one. Purchasing a Pentair MasterTemp 125 won’t break the bank.
This heater generates 266,000 BTUs from its natural gas burner. These go through a copper heat exchanger to provide ample heating for inground or above-ground pools of about 20,000 gallons or less.
The Pentair MasterTemp 125 comes with a two-year warranty and is certified for indoor and outdoor installation.
Electric Pool Heaters
This heater type is typically more energy-efficient than its gas counterpart, so it’s for those who want to keep their energy costs at a minimum. However, it takes longer to heat the water.
1.) Hayward HeatPro Heat Pump
The Hayward HeatPro best suits those with small pools and spas. Its 50,000 BTU output is just enough for small pools. The model boasts a titanium heat exchanger, a programmable timer, and digital controls that make it energy-efficient and easy to operate.
With its low-noise fan, the Hayward HeatPro promises quiet operation, making it suitable for interior installations.
2.) FibroPool FH055 Swimming Pool Heater Pump
A very capable heat pump, the FibroPool FH055 produces 55,000 BTUs of warming for above-ground pools of up to 13,500 gallons and inground pools of less than 10,000 gallons. It features a titanium heat exchanger and a Copeland brand compressor for long-lasting performance. Moreover, this model works with any type of pool, including saltwater ones.
Solar Pool Heaters
When it comes to eco-friendliness, solar pool heaters top the list as they heat the water without emitting gasses that harm the environment.
1.) Smart Pool’s Solar Pool Heater
The Smart Pool’s Solar Pool Heater keeps your water warm with its polypropylene heat collector. This model features 80 square feet of solar panels. The solar panel array that measures 4 feet wide x 20 feet long can raise the pool water by up to 15 degrees F.
2.) SunHeater Solar Pool Heater
If you’re looking for a solar pool heater that’s easy to install, the SunHeater is an excellent option. It can go into the roof, fence, rack, or ground and uses the existing pool pump.
The SunHeater’s patented web design ensures maximum exposure to the sun’s rays and can raise the water temperature to around 6 to 10 degrees F.
Is it Cheaper to Heat a Pool with Gas or Electric?
Several factors can affect the costs of heating a swimming pool. These include the price of the fuel source, the average temperature in the area, the size of the pool, and also that of the heater. On average, operating a gas heater costs about $200 to $400 a month. Meanwhile, electric pumps cost less, about $100 to $200 a month.
Is an Electric Pool Heater Worth It?
Electric pool heaters may come with a higher sticker price than gas-powered ones. However, they often have much lower operating costs. They also typically last longer than gas heaters, which means you’ll save money in the long run if you opt for an electric heater.
Are Electric Pool Heaters Expensive to Run?
The costs to run an electric swimming pool heater depend on a few factors. These include the climate in your area, the size, and type of pool that you have, and where you would like to place the appliance. But when it comes to heating options, they’re considered the most efficient ones as they can heat the water at the least cost compared to gas or solar-powered heaters.
What is the Cheapest Way to Heat a Swimming Pool?
Using a heat pump is the cheapest way to heat a swimming pool. It adds only about $100 to $200 a month to your electricity bill to run this type of heater as compared with the running cost of a gas heater for the same period, which is $200 to $400 a month.
Using a heater to keep the water in your swimming pool warm no matter the outside temperature helps extend your pool season. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend much money to enjoy the convenience of dipping into your pool any time you like.
Several types and models of heaters exist on the market, each with pros and cons. Check out each kind to determine which will make your swim season fun and comfy without impacting your budget significantly.