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Best Solar Pool Heater: 2021 Buyer’s Guide

Energy
Best Solar Pool Heater: 2021 Buyer’s Guide
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During summer, there's really nothing better than diving into a cool, refreshing pool, but once fall and winter roll around, you may be looking for something to keep water temperatures a little higher. Investing in one of the best solar pool heater systems is an energy-efficient way to keep your pool warm year-round.

As you shop, keep in mind that not all solar pool heaters are created equal. What's the best solar pool heater for your home? Consider a few of the top options available in 2021.


5 Best Solar Pool Heaters

As you seek the best solar water heater for your pool, there are a number of factors to consider, including system size, durability, heating strength and overall value. We've reviewed a number of the best solar pool heaters according to these and other criteria. Here are our picks for the best of the best:

Best Solar Pool Heater

Our Award

Above Ground

In-Ground

Buy Now

SunQuest Solar Swimming Pool Heater

Best Overall

Check Price

Fafco Pool Papa Bear Economy Heating System

Best for Above-Ground Pools

Check Price

SunHeater S120U Universal Solar Pool Heater

Best Installation Process

Check Price

SmartPool S601 Pool Solar Heater

Best for In-Ground Pools

Check Price

Sun2Solar Blue Solar Cover

Best Solar Pool Cover

Check Price

Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

Best Overall: SunQuest Solar Swimming Pool Heater

We consider SunQuest's solar swimming pool heater to be top-of-the-line. It's notable for its superior technology, dependable performance and incredible heating efficiency. SunQuest uses professional-grade solar panels to keep your pool nice and warm, circulating water through the panels to ensure a consistent temperature. The SunQuest solar panel kit works with your existing water pump and is available in packages that include connectors, diverters and roof mounting hardware so you have all of the materials you need for easy installation. In fact, customer reviews show this is one of the simplest solar pool heaters to set up, even if you're a solar panel installation novice.

Pros:

  • Professional-grade solar panels ensure optimal water heating
  • Well-reviewed for its reliability and consistency
  • Easy to install
  • Great value
  • Works for both in-ground and above-ground swimming pools

Cons:

  • You may need to invest in multiple panels, especially for larger pools

Why Buy: SunQuest sets a high bar for technology, heating efficiency, ease of use and overall value. It should be on anyone's list of top solar pool heater panels.

$265

Best for Above-Ground Pools: Fafco Pool Papa Bear Economy Heating System

Looking for the best solar pool heater for an above-ground pool? Check out this model from Fafco. (Just to be clear, it does not work with in-ground pools.) You can mount the 24-foot Papa Bear, or the shorter 20-foot Fafco Solar Bear, on your roof, on a nearby rack or even on the ground. Fafco's units collect solar heat and use it to warm water that's pumped through a flexible panel. This water flow allows you to keep the temperature of your pool consistent using only solar power.

Pros:

  • A great option for anyone with an above-ground pool
  • Lots of installation options so you can get maximum exposure to the sun's rays
  • Easy to install

Cons:

  • Not viable for in-ground pools
  • If you install it on the ground or on a rack, you'll need adequate surface area to fit the whole system

Why Buy: If you're looking for the best solar pool heater that's tailor-made for above-ground use, this is your best option by far. If you need an in-ground pool heater, you'll want to keep searching.

$270

Best Installation Process: SunHeater S120U Universal Solar Pool Heater

It's understandable to feel daunted by the prospect of installing your own solar pool heater. The SunHeater solar heating system makes the process as easy as can be. Whether you're installing it beside an in-ground pool, above-ground pool, on your roof or on a rack, this is a very straightforward DIY solar panel system. It also makes use of your existing pool pump, which helps keep the price point relatively low.

Pros:

  • Very basic DIY installation
  • Works for any kind of pool
  • Very efficient in its heating ability, even for large pools

Cons:

  • May not be quite as durable or as long-lasting as others on this list

Why Buy: If you find the prospect of solar installation to be a little bit intimidating, this is a good, basic solar pool heating system to consider.

$279

Best for In-Ground Pools: SmartPool S601 Pool Solar Heater

For a reliable in-ground solar pool heater, SmartPool's S601 is the one to beat. (But note that it doesn't work for above-ground pools.) What impresses most is the system capacity; you'll get 80 square feet of solar paneling, providing direct heat to your pool water. You can raise your water temperature by up to 10 degrees with this unit, which is often all the difference you need.

Pros:

  • Powerful system with ample heating capacity
  • A great option for in-ground swimming pools

Cons:

  • You'll need to buy the installation kit separately
  • Doesn't work for above-ground pools

Why Buy: If you're looking for direct heat for your in-ground swimming pool, SmartPool has you covered. Just be aware that the installation kit needs to be purchased on its own.

$273

Best Solar Pool Cover: Sun2Solar Blue Solar Cover

Here's something a little different: Instead of a solar panel heating system, the Sun2Solar pool cover is more like a solar blanket. It attracts and retains solar energy, heating your pool and helping combat water evaporation. It's a cost-effective way to make your swimming pool a bit more comfortable, and it works with above-ground and in-ground pools alike. One nice part about the design is that it can be trimmed to the exact size of your pool, so it fits nearly all pool types.

Pros:

  • Affordable alternative to a full solar pool heater
  • Retains heat and also minimizes evaporation
  • Can fit to any pool size
  • Stylish appearance

Cons:

Why Buy: If you're not yet ready to install a full solar pool heater system, this heat-retaining cover is a good place to start.

$220

How Do Solar Pool Heater Panels Work?

As you consider installing one of the best solar pool heater systems, it's important to understand that they work a bit differently than your typical home solar system. Generally speaking, when you buy solar panels for your home, they harness the sun's energy and use an inverter to convert the energy into useful electrical current, which is distributed to your home energy panel.

A solar pool heater uses panels to collect the sun's energy as well, but instead of having that current flow to a mechanism in your pool, the pool water is circulated through the solar collection area, ensuring a consistent warming effect. That water is then pumped back into the pool through a hose and a flow control valve. Your panels' sun exposure will determine how warm your pool water can get.

Types of Solar Pool Heaters

One thing to keep in mind is that, like there are multiple types of solar panels, there are multiple types of solar pool heaters. These include flat plate collectors, evacuated tube collectors and batch collectors. Here's an overview:

  • Flat plate collectors have copper tubes connected to flat plate absorbers. They are usually made to fit about 40 gallons of water at a time.
  • Evacuated tube collectors use glass or metal heating tubes, which essentially function like a thermos would.
  • Batch collectors heat and store water in dark tanks or tubes. Water is distributed on demand.

Generally speaking, evacuated tube collectors are the most efficient option. They are also better suited for colder climates. Flat plate collectors are a bit more prone to ambient heat loss, while batch collectors are not compatible with closed-circuit systems.

How Much Does a Solar Pool Heater Cost?

As you shop for the best solar pool heater, it's only natural to wonder about costs. The price point for solar pool heaters can vary considerably, according to a number of different factors, including size, performance, efficiency, materials and more.

When browsing the different options, you'll notice a wide spectrum: You can get a simple heat-retaining cover for as low as $200, whereas a full, professionally installed system may cost $4,000 or more.

Choosing the Best Solar Pool Heater for Your Home

When considering the best solar pool heater for your home, there are a number of factors to keep in mind.

  • Design and size: Do the panels have to go on the roof, or can they be assembled on a rack or on the ground? Is a cover included to help retain heat? Make sure you think about how much space the system will require as well, and look for special features like a temperature sensor, which can help you get the most out of your system.
  • Installation process: Can you install the system on your own, or will you need to hire a pro? Is a full installation kit included, or will you need to buy parts that are sold separately?
  • Budget: Naturally, the cost of solar panels is going to be a big factor when seeking the best solar pool heater for your home.
  • Durability and warranty: Always look for a system that is made with high-quality materials, ensuring its longevity. And make note of any warranties that are included, which can increase your peace of mind.
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