Best Solar Pool Heater: Reviews & Buyers Guide 2020

SUNSOLAR Sungrabber Solar Pool Heater

 

Best Overall

Smartpool S601P SunHeater Solar Heating System

Best for Customized Setups

Fafco Solar Bear Economy Heating System

Fafco Solar Bear Economy Heating System

 

 

Most Reliable

The best solar pool heater based on our research is the SUNSOLAR Sungrabber Solar Pool Heater. It efficiently warms pool water and is a snap to install. The circulation through the pool system is decent to help it stay that way, too. The design is top-notch and built to last.

Using a solar pool heater is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint by using solar for pool heating while keeping the water at the ideal temperature. Advances in technology are evident with products that maximize their surface area to heat water quickly. Installation is typically simple for most pools. You’ll find many items that contain all the necessary hardware.

Our guide will show you how these pool heater systems work with a detailed discussion of all the components of solar pool heaters. We’ll tell you what to look for in a solar pool heater with options for special situations like limited space and in-ground pools. We will also provide some recommendations for the different types available for pool owners.

Let’s dive in!

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The SUNSOLAR Sungrabber Solar Pool Heater is an efficient solar collector that warms the water quickly and gets it back into the pool where you need it. It includes a single panel that measures 20 feet long by 2 feet wide, weighing in at a lightweight 14 pounds. The design is top-notch and optimizes the surface area with a lot of space for capturing solar energy to raise the temperature of the pool water.

You can use it on the ground or in a frame to get the best angle. The heater panel is well-made and durable. Your purchase also includes a free bottle of the manufacturer’s LiquidHeat Solar Blanket. Essentially, it adds a layer of a biodegradable alcohol compound that acts as a pool cover to retain heat and prevent evaporation. It’s a nice perk, even if you have to keep adding it to your pool to get the benefits of using it.

Pros

  • The water circulation through the system is excellent to maintain the temperature of your pool and increase it by several degrees.
  • The panel is lightweight and manageable to handle.
  • It’s a quality product made to last with easy installation.
  • You get a free sample of the company’s LiquidHeat Solar Blanket.

Cons

  • It’s expensive if you need several panels to heat your pool.
The Smartpool S601P SunHeater Solar Heating System is essentially a solar collector that you can use with your existing pump to circulate warmed water into your pool. The polypropylene panel is 4 feet by 20 feet or 80 square feet. You can use it either on in-ground or above-ground pools. The company sells a separate installation kit. However, you may find it easier to use other hardware to install it.The heater does a decent job of warming pools, potentially up to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. You will need a flow control valve to set the flow properly if you don’t have one already. The panels are a standard size so that you can buy one or more to fit your needs for solar heating pool. Overall, the heating system does the job, even if you have to get creative with the setup for some pools.

Pros

  • You can use your existing pool pump to save money on a full installation.
  • You can put the heating panels on the pool or on a rooftop with a matching tubing system.
  • The system will raise the temperature of your water noticeably by several degrees when set up correctly.
  • The manufacturer backs up their product with a four-year, limited warranty for pool heaters solar. Cons:

Cons

  • It is not easy to install and requires other hardware to customize the fit.
  • The panel is a bit unwieldy to handle alone for larger pools.
Fafco Solar Bear Economy Heating SystemThe Fafco Solar Bear Economy Heating System has a similar design as the previous product as a solar collector using your existing pool components. You can place it right next to your pool, on a rooftop, or on the ground. As with any solar product, it’s essential for it to receive enough hours of direct sunlight to work properly. It includes the necessary hardware for most installations for ground pools unless you put on the ground.The polypropylene panel measures 20 feet long and 4 feet wide or 80 square feet. You can use it with both above-ground and in-ground pools. It’s easy to install with the included instructions and hardware. You will need to tilt the collector to get the optimal sun exposure. Overall, it works as described, heating the water by a few degrees to cover overnight temperature loss with solar panel heating.

Pros

  • The system includes an intake valve to monitor the water flow.
  • The product is well-made and one of the better solar pool heaters for pools.
  • It’s easy to install solar panel heating without taking up a lot of space.
  • The panel heats the pool water reliably at up to 5–6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cons

  • There are occasional quality control problems with the leaking of the heater components.


The XtremepowerUS Solar l Heating System is an affordably priced product that does the heavy lifting of solar energy capture. It consists of two 2-foot by 20-foot polypropylene panels, making it easier to handle. You can buy it with or without the diverter kit, depending on the size of your pool pump. The heater installation couldn’t be simpler with attachments for the two panels, which you can add to as needed and are easy to set for most pools.

The collectors are lightweight, yet well-made. Like comparable products, you can install them where it works best for you. While the manufacturer sells a variety of heater accessory parts, you might find it more helpful to go to your local hardware store if you have to do a customized install. Overall, the product delivers the goods and is a decent option for budget-minded buyers in the market for solar pool heaters that are easy to install.

Pros

  • The panels are lightweight and easy to handle.
  • You can get a matching diverter kit to match your existing pool system.
  • It is value-priced for solar heaters for pools.
  • The solar pool heater is easy to install.

Cons

  • Customer service is lacking if you have an issue.


The Sun2Solar Roof Mounted Heating Solar Panel System is another solution for solar capture that you can use on just about anywhere and any type of pool. The two polyolefin panels are 2 feet wide by 20 feet long. They are both durable and flexible. The kit includes extra valves to match the water flow with the setup for pools. We liked having these accessories on hand to make quicker work of the assembly.

The rippled design of the panels maximizes the surface area for optimal performance to warm water by several degrees. Like comparable products, you can buy additional ones to match the size of your above-ground or in-ground pool. The system works as described and will noticeably raise the water temperature. However, you must be careful when assembling the unit to prevent leaks at the connections.

Pros

  • The system includes several additional valves to customize your setup efficiently.
  • The solar pool heaters come with a five-year, limited warranty.
  • The solar panels are durable.
  • Customer service is top-notch.

Cons

  • The roof mounting kit is sold separately.
  • You must use sealant on the connections of the heater, or they will leak.

GAME 4524 SolarPro XB Solar Heater

The GAME 4524 SolarPro XB – Solar Heater is the smallest of the products we reviewed at only 38 inches long by 38 inches wide by 2 inches thick, weighing less than 5 pounds. It’s meant for above-ground pools up to 5,000 gallons. However, you can connect more than one if yours is larger. The smaller surface area means that the heater works slowly, which isn’t unexpected. The GAME 4721 SolarPRO Curve is the larger model if you have a larger pool.

The solar heater connects to your pump and warms the water temperature of the pool as it passes through the tubing within the collector. It relies on radiant heat to get the job done. The easy installation is a piece of cake. It is also value-priced. That said, this product is meant for small pools and works best in climates that are already warm without a large shift in temperature at night.

Pros

  • The heater makes excellent use of space if you don’t have a lot of spare room.
  • The product is well-made and doesn’t leak.
  • It is less obtrusive and easier to use than other ones we reviewed.
  • The solar heater does a decent job of warming the water by a few degrees.

Cons

  • It can take up to eight days to heat your pool, depending on the weather.


The Blue Wave NS110 Solar Blanket serves a dual purpose as both a cover and a solar heater, relying on passive heat transfer to the water. It is for above-ground pools only. The 8-millimeter, poly blanket retains heat and prevents evaporation too, adding to its value. While it’s lightweight, you’ll probably need some help to handle it between uses.

The design is attractive, even if it means putting it off and on every time you use your pool. It’s available in either blue or clear. While it will heat the water, the solar blanket is best for use in warmer climates where the temperatures don’t dip much at night. After all, you’re likely in the pool when it would be at peak efficiency to heat the water. For buyers in those areas, it’s a handy option with other benefits.

Pros

  • The solar blanket is a good-looking product.
  • It is lightweight.
  • The solar heaters come with a three-year warranty.
  • The solar blanket heats the water as described.

Cons

  • The product is a solution for warmer climates only as a heater.

Our Top 7 Picks for the Best Solar Heater for Pool

Best Solar Pool Heater Reviews

You’ll find a variety of options when shopping for a solar pool heater. Many work with your existing pool system and provide a means to collect solar heat using your pump to circulate it. You’ll also find covers, which provide a surface heat and a means to keep the water clean for your pool, whether you have an above-ground or ground pool.

The number of degrees that different products can increase the water temperature of the pools is a common spec. A figure of 5–10 degrees is typical, depending on the size of the unit.

Some products are better suited to above-ground versus in-ground pools, too, although you may see some that can handle both setups. Our roundup includes a selection of what solar heaters available for a variety of uses, whether you have a lot of space or a limited room. You’ll find many heater models that will fit anyone’s price range.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Pool Heater?

Obviously, jumping into a pool filled with cold water isn’t an enjoyable experience. However, it also has negative physical and mental health effects. 

You probably notice that your breathing is more labored and faster. Your body has switched into fast-track mode to circulate blood throughout your system to keep you warm. It may also struggle a bit with the added pressure of the water.

Mentally, you may feel a sense of urgency or panic, depending on how comfortable you are in the water. If it’s really cold, it may affect your judgment until you finally get used to it.

A pool heater minimizes these effects.

However, there are also practical considerations for water quality and maintenance, too. A stable temperature can help keep parasites, algae, and bacteria at bay. When it’s too warm, your pool becomes the perfect storm for them to develop.

That can also add to your maintenance costs since you’ll need to treat it more frequently.

Why You Should Opt for Solar Heaters

Installing a pool isn’t cheap. It can range anywhere from about $2,000 for a no-frills, above-ground option to six figures for some ground pools with all the bells and whistles. And that’s saying nothing about your maintenance costs.

A solar pool heater may cost more at the onset, but it can quickly pay for itself by eliminating the monthly gas or electric bill to maintain it. Bear in mind that it can run you up to 30 percent more for every degree change, depending on where you live. However, the price range makes them more affordable as the technology improves.

Then, there’s the environmental factor to consider.

Let’s face it. A pool is a luxury item. It is enjoyed by 10.4 million households in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), swimming ranks fourth among the most popular American pastimes. 

Therefore, it makes sense to make eco-friendly choices. A solar pool heater fits the bill, perfectly. Some can even warm the water temperature up to 15 degrees. You can use them for ground pools and ones above ground. Installation is easy too.

How Does a Solar Pool Heater Work?

You can approach the installation of a solar pool heater for ground pools in two ways. You can run it using solar power as an energy source, tapping into the solar or photovoltaic (PV) panels supplying the juice for your home. That’s the simplest setup for pool owners. Another way is to have a standalone unit for heating the pool water using your pump. 

A conventional solar power system uses PV panels to capture sunlight as DC. It is, in turn, stored in one or more batteries for on-demand use with a solar controller that manages the charging. An inverter transforms it into AC, which you can then use to run devices and appliances in your home, such as your pool heater.

The panel installation for solar pool heaters is a bit different.

It’s essential to understand that heat is energy, too. It is the essence of solar heaters. It requires a means to capture sunlight, a component known as solar collectors. That’s the business end of it. A pump gets the action going by drawing up the unheated pool water to a filter and then through the tubing connected to the solar collectors where the heat from the sun warms it.

A check valve on the pump keeps the water going in the right direction. Your system may also have a temperature sensor that works in conjunction with a diverter or flow control valve in case the water is already at the desired temperature. Then, the flow will get directed back to the pool and bypass the solar collector tubing.

While solar heaters may sound complicated, most times it’s an easy installation for ground pools.

Solar Collector(s)

This component does two things. It captures the solar energy with PV panels and warms the water temperature directly through a collection of tubes connected to the unit. The size you need is a function of both the seasonal usage of your pool and its surface area. If you only use it part of the year, plan on the total coverage of the solar collectors at 75 percent of the area.

On the other hand, if you enjoy taking a dip year-round in your ground pool, make it 100 percent.

The next thing you need is the length and width to determine the surface area of your in-ground pool, assuming it is a rectangle. The total is simply is derived by multiplying the two.

For a circular pool, the formula is a bit more complicated. It is:

Area = π (radius2) square feet

If you have a pool with a 10-foot radius, the area is:

Area = 3.14 (102) = 314 square feet

As you can see from our examples, we’re talking about a larger space. Instead of a ground-level unit, you’ll find it a smarter choice to install the collectors on your roof so as not to take up precious real estate in your yard, especially if you already have a ground pool. Going back to our seasonal question, you’re looking at either 75 or 100 percent of the calculated figure for pool heater solar.

You have some wiggle room with the tilt and orientation of the pool solar collectors to optimize the energy intake of your heater. Management of these specs depends on your geographical location, local conditions, and seasonal usage of your pool.

The next question is glazed or unglazed. Again, the answer goes back to how you’ll use your pool. Suffice to say that glazed is the wiser option if you’re in a four-season climate with pool use just during the summer months for the optimal protection of the solar heaters.

Pump

You can think of the pool pump as the heart of the system. It’s essential to get one that is adequate for the size of your pool to ensure a decent flow through the solar pool heater and the entire tubing network.

Pool pumps use gallons per minute (GPM), which differs from the one you’d use with a smaller body of water with its gallons per hour (GPH). You’ll need a volume figure that brings depth into the equation. Take that number and divide it by 8 to get your final number. These products will provide this spec. The goal is to balance the volume you need to move with the GPM of your pump.

Our advice is don’t skimp.

Filter

You can think of the pool filter as insurance to protect your investment for the rest of the components, including the water quality of your pool. Regular maintenance will split the workload and help you get the maximum lifespan from the unit.

The pool filter works in conjunction with the horsepower of your pump, balancing it with the pool volume, type, GPM, and micron level. The finer the filtration, the smaller the particles removed down to the bacteria level. However, it comes at a price. You’ll see several options going from budget to deluxe, including:

  • Sand
  • Sand substitutes
  • Cartridges
  • Diatomaceous earth

Other Components

Some solar pool heaters have a flow control valve, either manual or automatic. The more hands-off the system, the easier it is for you to maintain with the added cost to match. Turning off your solar pool heater isn’t a bad thing if you’re going to get long stretches without using it. Water retains heat well, so it may maintain an optimal temperature better than you think, especially with warm ambient temps.

We strongly recommend putting a warranty high on your list of desirable features for solar heaters. Explore the terms carefully to understand your end of the bargain, fully. Some points to check include maintenance, repair costs, shipping for returns, and other conditions. 

Read the fine print.

Of course, we prefer solar pool heaters with easy installation.

Buying Guide for Choosing a Solar Pool Heater

The larger upfront cost and more involved installation make doing your homework an imperative, preliminary step. You can expect to get up to 25 years from a well-maintained system with advances in technology.

Keep that in mind when selecting a pool heater to match the weather demands of your area. Some can maintain the temperature, whereas others can warm it up to 15 degrees for a ground swimming pool.

Things to Consider Before You Buy

You’ll need some information about your location and pool to help you make an informed choice and get the best return on your investment. Things you must research before buying include:

  • Local building codes and regulations
  • Homeowner’s association rules
  • Solar resource for your location
  • Pool heater capacity
  • Energy efficiency
  • Budget

We’ll discuss each one in detail with tips to guide your choice.

Local Building Codes and Regulations

This one is the first phone call you must make since installing a solar pool heater will likely affect your property value. You’ll probably need a building permit at the very least. Other issues you may encounter include compliance with zoning laws and an inspection of the integrity of the system.

Don’t ignore this step.

It’s also a factor with the installation of solar pool heaters. You can products that are easy to set on the ground, which may not require a permit.

Homeowner’s Association Rules

Likewise, your homeowner’s association may have a say in your plans for the installation of a solar pool heater, too, since you’ll be altering the exterior of your home and its grounds. Check the terms of your contract, following up with a phone call if you have any questions.

Solar Resource for Your Location

The solar resource is a measure of the energy capacity of your location based on where you live and the seasonal and climatic changes throughout the year. Generally, the Southwest is the literal hotspot with the highest average daily KWh/m2 per day. Local factors also affect it, such as tree cover, nearby structures, and weather conditions.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) maintains these data with monthly figures to help you plan your solar system. It’s also part of your decision about whether you heat your ground swimming pool all year or just seasonally.

Pool Heater Capacity

The next piece of the puzzle is assessing what you need for a heater. Solar resource is one part of the question. You should also consider the size of your pool, its type, use of a cover, temperature variation, and, most importantly, how warm you want the water.

The recommended range is 78–82 degrees Fahrenheit. If you swim for fitness, opt for the cooler end of the spectrum. Children and seniors should have higher water temperatures. The American Red Cross has specific guidelines for different demographic groups and varying health conditions.

All of these things will point you toward the optimal temperature and, thus, the size of the pool heater. Many solar pool heaters will include a specific volume for pools.

Energy Efficiency of the Best Pool Heater

While these factors may involve a lot of guesswork, there is a way you can get a quantitative measure of what you need for a ground swimming pool that will help your comparison shopping. It involves calculating the system’s energy efficiency.

You’ll need to know three things to get the best solar pool heaters for inground pools. 

First, you must find out how well the solar collectors perform. You’ll see this spec measured in British thermal units (Btus) square foot per day. It’s not unlike what you’d find with other appliances like air conditioners. For solar pool heaters, efficiency goes up with the figure.

Second, you’ll multiply the number of solar panels that your system has, which will vary as we discussed earlier.

Finally, you’ll need the final number of what you put into the entire setup to give you a Btu per day per dollar spent.

The formula you’ll use with these figures is as follows:

(Btu/day times # of collector panels) divided by the total installed cost of the pool system equals 

Btus cost per dollar spent

If your $2,000 system has two panels running on 10,000 Btus, the final calculation is as follows:

(10,000 x 4) ÷ $2,000 = 20 Btu/day per dollar spent

Now, you have a way to look at two comparable systems to see which is suitable for your pool setup, taking into account other specs, features, and factors that can tip the scale one way or another.

Budget for a Pool Heater

This preliminary work is necessary to make an informed choice that can optimize your ROI. After all, that’s the whole point of going solar in the first place, isn’t it?

One of the major obstacles with the widespread adoption of solar power has been the upfront cost. Advances in the technology of solar pool heaters have improved efficiency and lowered your initial investment.

We’d also strongly recommend checking into any incentives or rebates for solar pool heaters that may apply for your purchase. You might find more reasons to make an eco-friendly choice for the solar heated pool.

Final Thoughts About Installing a Solar Pool Heater

The SUNSOLAR Sungrabber Solar Pool Heater is an excellent example of the innovation in the solar power industry with a product that makes maintaining the temperature of your pool efficient and cost-effective with the best pool solar panels. Its simple design belies the fact that the pool heater can warm the water quickly and maintain a comfortable temperature for many seasons of enjoyment with your pool.

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