How to use free energy from the sun to heat your swimming pool
By Colleen Simmons
The vast majority of us spend the greater part of winter anticipating the warmer temperatures of summer—and all the outdoor activities that come along with them. As a pool owner you especially crave the infinite summer. While year-round warmth is not truly attainable, there are ways for you to get closer to that goal and extend the swimming season as long as possible through the use of solar heating.
What is solar heating?
A solar heating system harnesses the power of the sun to increase and maintain the temperature of pool water. Heat is collected through an array of solar panels installed in an area that receives consistent sunlight. There are several varieties of solar heating systems currently on the market, with minor differences between each. However, they all achieve the same outcome—a warm, enjoyable pool temperature.
Pool water is automatically pushed through the existing plumbing and filtered by your pool’s pump and is redirected to travel through black solar collector panels. These panels absorb heat-energy from the sun and transfers it to the water before it flows back into your pool through the return line. On a sunny day, solar pool heating can typically raise your pool water temperature roughly 10 degrees higher than a non-heated pool.
Since most systems are effectively installed on rooftops, a clip design system offers you the most versatility as it allows for custom sizing that can easily navigate around roof vents and/or skylight windows. Additionally, the use of breathable rubber panelling allows moisture from your roof to escape to prevent undesirable rotting.
The benefits of solar heating
In a recovering economy, everyone is clipping coupons and looking for ways to save money. Given our massive consumption of energy, heating systems should be amongst the first to undergo some cost-cutting changes. Many pool owners use natural gas heaters, which are frequently operated to provide ‘spot heating.’ This method involves heating the pool for only short periods of time (e.g. a weekend) as opposed to consistently. This method can be costly, not only due to the rising cost of fuel, but also because of how quickly your pool loses heat, whereby spot heating is required more often.
Solar pool heating operates similarly to a standard heater’s ‘maintenance mode,’ which means that it constantly provides heat to maintain your desired pool water temperature. Since its primary fuel is the sun, a solar heating system allows you to extend your swimming season up to four weeks, without the added costs of using a standard heating method for a longer period of time.
Additionally, solar heating systems do not emit pollution, are a source of renewable energy and require little maintenance. These innovations have also catapulted several Canadian government-funded rebate programs such as the EcoEnergy for Buildings and Houses and EcoEnergy for Renewable Heat incentives (www.ecoenergy.gc.ca), which offer varying financial rebates—depending on the size and performance of your pool—and if you decide to install a Canadian Standards Association (CSA) approved solar pool heating system.
The size and volume of your pool will dictate the amount of solar collectors your installation will require, so it’s a good idea to be armed with this information when shopping around (e.g. a 6.1 x 6.1 m [20 x 20 ft] pool would require five boxes of 3-m [10-ft] panels, or roughly six boxes of 2.4-m [8-ft] panels). Remember, in relation to how many collectors your installation will need, you will also have to consider how much roof space they will occupy. Otherwise, you may have to consider custom-sized panels or a ground layout, which requires building an insulated mounting rack.
Whether installed on your roof or a ground layout, keep in mind, the panels need to be located in a place that receives maximum sun exposure; ideally south, southwest or west. Most installations only take a few hours to complete when performed by a professional. If you would rather ‘do-it-yourself’ using the instruction manual, it may take a little more time and you will need basic tools such as a ladder, caulking gun, socket driver, water plumb pliers and hack saw. It’s also a good idea to use polyvinyl chloride (PVC) piping to complete the plumbing aspects of your solar heater installation, as it contains ultraviolet (UV) inhibitors that won’t break down when exposed to the sun.
Don’t ignore warranties, either. Despite the durability of most panels, they are not completely immune to leaks and other complications. A repair kit may not always suffice, but an extended warranty will and for much longer than the average three- to five-year standard warranty.
A final note on solar heating
Many pool owners hesitate on investing in a solar heating system due to the upfront costs. However, the payoff is immediate and far surpasses the anxiety of keeping up with the fluctuating cost of fuel. Whether you decide to take on a solar installation yourself, or with the help of a professional, you can rest (and swim) assured you’ve made a healthy choice for both your pocketbook and the environment.
Colleen Simmons is president and team manager for Enersol Solar Products in Campbellville, Ont. She has more than 10 years of solar pool heating experience in her family-owned and operated business. For more information visit www.enersol.com.