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Is there anything better than taking a dip in your very own swimming pool? Well, actually, if it’s not heated, then yes.
Testing the temperature on your above ground pool can feel like you're dipping your toes through a crack in Arctic ice… the solution? An above ground pool heater, of course.
Though the problem with these bits of gear is that they’re insanely power-hungry — We’re talking 4000 watts per hour for a standard 100,000 BTU heat pump!
So you’re left with two options. You could, a. Freeze your buns off, or b. Go broke swimming in a pool as warm as a bath. But what if I told you there was a third option, one that kept you warm and off the streets?
Option c. is a solar heater for your above ground pool. Drawing free, clean energy from the sun, these magnificent pumps save you big bucks on the energy bill while simultaneously keeping the frostbite at bay, and I’ve shortlisted the very best of them below!
Best Solar Above Ground Pool Heater: Reviews
OUR TOP PICK
The SunHeater S220 utilizes flat-panel tubing and a single, high-efficiency collector to take all that lovely sun and inject it directly into your above ground pool.
I tested it in my 24-foot round pool and started noticing a difference in temperature after only a couple of hours, although it did take about two days to reach its potential.
I really enjoyed the fact that it’s designed to work with an existing pump, eliminating the money and hassle involved with buying and installing a new pump, and all the necessary plumbing fixtures were included.
The panel seems well made too, with just enough flex to allow them to expand and contract as temperatures soar and dip, ensuring a long service life.
The one caveat here is that it’s not compatible with powerful pumps, so you may need to buy a smaller one to get this heater up and running.
- Efficient solar collectors — Really makes the most of the sunshine
- Easy installation — Works with existing pump (most of the time), making assemble a piece of cake
- Orientation — Flat-lying design gives you more flexibility in terms of mounting
ConsPump issues — Some pumps are too strong for it.
I’ve listed the Game SolarPRO as the best solar heater for small above ground pools, but it’s also the best for any property that’s a little short on space, as it has an impressively small footprint for its output.
Measuring 27.5 x 5.9 x 44.8, the curved design is roughly the size of half a chaise lounge, and as it’s propped up on a surprisingly sturdy stand, it protects any grass it might end up covering by your above ground pool.
The curved profile doesn’t just help to keep this solar heater compact; it actually maximizes heat accumulation, ensuring your pool becomes habitable pronto!
Although, as great as it is, it’s not near enough solar muscle to heat a larger body of water — I’d consider 8000 gallons as the max volume this heater can handle.
It is an expandable system, but it’s not cheap to do so, and you’d need to purchase multiple bypass kits to link them up, which is why I’d choose a more expansive system right off the bat if I was heating a larger pool.
- Build quality — I haven’t a bad word to say about the build. I see it lasting a great many years.
- Small footprint — A saving grace for those who have allocated most yard space to the pool itself.
- Integrated stand — Foldable legs do away with the need for manual mounting.
- Speed of heating — You’re looking at an increase of perhaps a couple of degrees a day over the course of three days.
It may look like fancy bubble wrap, but trust me, this solar blanket can have a seismic impact on the warmth of your above ground pool water.
Those bubbles are actually thermal cells that trap heat on the way in or on the way out, meaning if your pool water is cold, it will warm it, and if it is already warm, and the air is a bit chilly, it will keep it warm.
Made out of a UV-protected polymer, no amount of sun or heat exposure will fast-track deterioration, and as far as I could tell during my tests, it’s incredibly tough on the physical side of things too.
There’s no way it will tear when snagged or anything like that.
Plus, as a simple pool cover, there’s no tricky installation required. Just unravel it on the water’s surface and kick back as the sun gradually warms your water.
It’s also a great evaporation deterrent, meaning your water levels will be stable, and you won’t have to constantly balance the chemical content — hooray!
- Highly efficient — I noted a 7-degree increase in my pool temperature in only 4 hours!
- Evaporation deterrent — Minimizes maintenance requirements of the pool and water
- Build quality — I see this lasting me for years to come.
- No installation — Roll it out and enjoy.
- Pool shape — For round pools only
- Scorch risk — Don’t leave this cover on your lawn, as I found out the hard way that it will scorch grass within minutes.
Here’s another option for the owner of a small above ground pool.
The Kokido Keops Solar Dome takes a unique approach to solar heating.
Remember that mean kid from your childhood that would burn ants using a magnifying glass? Well, this heater follows largely the same principles.
It utilizes a transparent dome to intensify the sunlight that passes through to the coiled tubing beneath, which is where your pool water runs, warming as it goes.
Installation was a walk in the park too, which is always nice, and you can expand with as many solar domes as you need.
According to Kokido, one dome can handle 10,000 gallons of water, but unfortunately, I don’t think it’s quite that powerful.
8000 gallons is more on the money, but I’m still very much enamored by this heater. It’s compact, it’s effective, and it’s relatively affordable!
- Small footprint — Most compact solar heater on the list
- Easy installation — Comes with everything you need and can be completed within an hour
- Price — Great heater if you’re on a budget.
- Heating rate — Works well, but takes a while
Measuring 4” by 10’, the collectors of this solar heating system aren’t that space-friendly, but boy do they give you great bang for your buck!
For a fraction of the cost of my other picks, you get two well-crafted collectors and all the plumbing equipment required to install alongside your existing pump.
Plus, the user guide is well written in plain English.
The collectors can be rolled out and used flat, leaning against something, on a bench or chaise lounge, or indeed mounted on a roof to optimize heating potential — Whatever works best for you.
In terms of efficiency, over the course of one day, I measured a 7-degree increase in water temperature, but doubling up on collectors gets you a 10-degree rise by noon.
And when the winter fully takes hold, and you need to store them, their flexibility makes them easy to pack away and store, which is a big win in my book!
- Price — Best value for money option on the market
- Flexible collectors — Easy to store
- Heating efficiency — More impressive than many more expensive options
- Build quality — Despite the reasonable price, they’re built to last.
- Long collectors — Not great for small spaces
Needless to say, a solar above ground pool heater isn’t exactly an everyday purchase, so picking one that’s suitable for you might be a challenge, but this buyer’s guide will fill you in on all the essentials, ensuring you find the perfect solar heater in no time.
Truth be told, a pool heater is only finishing a job that the air in your area has already started.
The warmer the air, the warmer the base temperature of your pool water will be, thus, the rest of the job becomes a lot easier for a solar heater.
So, if you live in a particularly warm and sunny climate, feel free to buy a smaller heating system and save a few bucks, as anything larger may end up being overkill.
On the other hand, if you live in a relatively cool climate, you’ll need to go big with your heating system, and even then, it might not be enough to bring your water up to a desirable temperature.
For the uninitiated, a solar heater - no matter the size - will only ever be capable of increasing water temperature by about 12 degrees.
The larger your pool is, the more water there is to heat, and the larger the solar heating system you’ll need to achieve that max 12-degree jump in temperature.
The type of above ground pool you have will also play a pivotal role in establishing a baseline temperature.
For instance, a shaded pool is going to be much cooler than an open pool, which itself may never reach the natural temperature of a screened pool. The lower that baseline temp is, the more solar muscle you’re going to need.
Here’s some good news… solar pool heaters are almost always pretty easy to install, but that’s not to say it’s not a time-consuming process.
Still, if you have the drive, a good selection of tools, and of course the space available on your property, setting up your solar pool heater yourself will save you a fair bit.
Unglazed Collectors Vs. Glazed Collectors
Most solar pool heaters use what we call “collectors”, which are essentially just solar panels optimized for this particular application. When it comes to solar collectors, you have two options:
- Unglazed — Unglazed collectors are composed of heavy-duty rubber or plastic paneling treated with a UV light inhibitor to keep them safe while they soak up the sun day after day. They’re the most affordable of the two options, but they don’t generate quite as much heat, meaning you may be waiting longer to take a dip than you’d hoped.
- Glazed — Glazed solar collectors are typically crafted from high-grade materials and components such as copper tubing, aluminum plating, and tempered glass insulation. The quality of the materials and composition of these collectors make them a much more efficient thermal generator, and they, unlike their unglazed counterparts, can be left up year-round.
A Note On Winterization
Solar pool heaters with unglazed collectors hate the cold almost as much as we do, so when Jack Frost rears his ugly mug, you need to be prepared.
The heater must be completely removed from the pump system, and all the collectors and pipes need to be drained.
Once you’re certain all components have been flushed, you need to find a safe, dry place for it to rest until the sun comes back out to play.
If you’re lucky, your pool’s existing pump will be powerful enough to shoot the water through the heating system and back again, but if you’re mounting your collectors on your roof, you may need to bring in some additional help to overcome the gravity at play.
But bear in mind that solar above ground pool heaters will only be compatible with pumps up to a certain horsepower, so making sure your pool pump isn’t too powerful for your prospective solar heater is also essential.
Flat-Lying Vs. Tilted
Some smaller solar collectors may well arrive with a stand of sorts that allows you to tilt the unit towards the sun and optimize thermal potential; however, for larger above ground pools, they likely won’t be enough.
To heat lots of water, you’re definitely better off choosing a system with flat-lying collectors, as they can be mounted anywhere that gets the most sun, such as your rooftop.
You don’t have to stick with a classic solar collector system when shopping for an above ground pool heater.
There are a couple of other options available. Some are essentially just covers that utilize intelligent thermal materials and design to bake the water beneath, while others use interesting dome designs to magnify the sun while simultaneously minimizing heater footprint.
A collector system is the most effective (and most expensive), but don’t discount the alternatives. For smaller pools, they might be all that you need.
Best Solar Above Ground Pool Heater: Frequently Asked Questions
Got time for a flying solar above ground pool heater FAQ session? Fantastic; let’s begin!
Do Solar Heaters Really Work For Above Ground Pools?
Whether a solar heater works for an above ground pool depends entirely on its design.
Some solar pool heaters are built from the ground up for compatibility with standard, in-ground pools exclusively, while others are meant for above ground use only.
There are also some Jack-of-all-trades solar pool heaters out there that can be hooked up to either an above or in-ground pool.
Always be sure to check that a solar pool heater is suitable for the intended application before dedicating yourself to the purchase.
Are Solar Pool Heaters Worth It?
As long as you live in a relatively sunny climate, yes; solar pool heaters are absolutely worth the cost.
If you’ve got a full-blown Olympic-size swimming pool, or you don’t get hot summers, a solar heater may struggle to get the job done on its own, but it can absolutely offset your energy bill when paired with a traditional heater.
Do Floating Solar Pool Heaters Work?
Floating solar pool heaters aren’t always as effective as a full-fat solar heating system in which the water is pumped through collectors and returned to the pool, but they do indeed work.
By magnifying the sunlight into the pool and trapping lots of heat, they will indeed bring the water up to a much more bearable temperature.
How Fast Does Solar Heat A Pool?
The answer to this question depends entirely on the type of solar heater you chose, the climate, and the volume of water in question, but, generally speaking, it will take anywhere between the better part of a day and an entire week.
Which one of the above-ground solar pool heaters on this list did you prefer? I tried my best to include a variety of quality options so there’d be something here for everyone.
Use the info in the buyer’s guide to ascertain how powerful a heating system you require and your calculations should guide you to the perfect heater for you!
Now, what are you waiting for? Pop your swimming gear on and CANNONBALL!