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When you think of solar panels, you may be forgiven for thinking purely in terms of the solar panel arrays that you have on your roof. These are typically designed to collect sunlight in order to generate an electric current that can then be subsequently used to power your various appliances and electrical items.
By using a solar panel array, the average homeowner can save themselves a large amount of energy and thereby spend less money on their bills each month. There are more benefits besides this too though: they can also sell energy back to the grid, they can reduce their carbon footprint and very often they will also benefit from tax breaks and other financial incentives.
When you take all of this into account, switching to solar is a very compelling proposition indeed.
But did you know that this is just one kind of solar panel? There is another kind, which is the kind used to power solar pool heaters. In this post, we will explore what a solar pool heater is, how it works and who it might benefit.
Solar Pool Heaters: The Basics
A solar pool heater is of course a solar panel that is designed specifically to control the temperature of the water in your pool. Unlike a typical solar panel array, generator or battery then, it has one specific purpose and cannot be used to power your fridge or your laptop!
That’s because solar pool heating uses an entirely different mechanism.
A regular solar panel is what we call photovoltaic. This means that it works by using light (hence ‘photo’), which specifically will excite the electrons in the panel. These electrons have been arranged in such a way that when light hits them, it will ‘excite’ them and cause them to move in a line. This is what we call a current.
Photovoltaic panels will then be run into an inverter, which will make sure that they’re able to power your various appliances. And if you have some form of battery or generator, that energy can be stored for later use. If not, then the energy will often be sold back to the grid.
With solar pool heater panels on the other hand, the energy that you collect from the sun comes in the form of heat. This can also be referred to as ‘solar thermal’.
Solar thermal panels don’t involve electricity at all. Rather, they are made up from lots of tiny little tubes that are arranged in order to funnel water around the surface of the panel. Here, they are then able to soak up the heat from the sun, which is then filtered back into the pool in order to heat it back up.
Of course, your pool is a natural solar heater in a way: it naturally collects heat from the sun and the hotter the day, the warmer your pool is likely to be. The problem is that the body of water in your pool is too large and too spread out and it is being constantly cooled by the air and the wind around it. On the other hand, solar thermal panels will rest on your roof where they can soak up the maximum sun and each small amount of water will be heated at a time. What’s more, is that because they are encased, they won’t get passively cooled until they’re back in the water.
Best Solar Heater Reviews
Fafco Solar Bear
Hopefully, Fafco Solar Bear will not prove a faff, nor a fiasco, in order to install!
As it happens, we needed have worried. This option for any above ground solar pool heater is very quick to install and can be used in any home. It’s a single strip of solar panel material that can be placed on the ground next to your pool. It works well and because there are no couplings or connectors it is very easy to use.
SunQuest Solar Pool Heating Panels
If you’re looking for a fully-functional, all-singing solar pool heating option, then the SunQuest Solar Pool Heating Panels are a great choice. These are premium heating panels that are arranged and assembled like any photovoltaic array on your roof top. From there, they can begin raising the temperature of your pool in under an hour. They can be installed yourself and they’re very efficient.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Natural Current NCS3FTHTR Savior 2
Natural current makes a fantastic floating solar heater, which in turn is a great alternative to your regular roof-mounted pool. This works best for above ground pools, but will work in any set-up.
Floating solar heaters are fantastic because they are so easy to use: just turn them on and drop them into the pool tog et started. This one is a well-made product that is a joy to use.
Smartpool S204 Solar Arc
This is a solar pool heater that can easily be placed next to your pool or mounted to the side. This makes it suitable as both an above ground solar pool heater and an in-ground solar pool heater. The ‘arc’ in the name refers to a curved, arch-shaped design which can help the unit to collect even more sun and be even more efficient. It’s small, easy to install and comes with a year warranty.
Smartpool Sunheater S425P
Another option from Smartpool. This is your traditional solar collector pool heating system that utilizes panels and tubes. It’s relatively simple to install (compared to other solar panel arrays) and can raise your pool’s temperature by as much as 10 degrees in just 12 hours.
Can You Use a Solar Pool Heater for Other Things?
A solar pool heater is – as the name rather suggests – primarily intended for heating your swimming pool. That said, solar thermal energy can be used in a number of ways to heat any body of water. This makes it potentially useful around the home for helping you to save energy in other ways too. That means helping you to save energy when cooking, when washing and more.
And you can get even more from this if you combine a solar heater with the right practices.For instance:
Share Showers and Baths
One option to save money on your water bill and energy bill is to shower together. This is a great excuse for couples to be more intimate and can benefit your relationship too, so there’s really no downside. As for others, sharing bath water doesn’t have to be the same as sharing a bath: if you have kids for instance then you can let them use the same bath water by taking it in turns. You may just have to top up a little hot water after the first child has been in.
Alternatively, why wash at your home at all? If you pay for an expensive gym membership, then maybe it’s time you started making the most of it by showering there too. Even if you don’t use the gym that day, there’s nothing to stop you from swiping in then going to have a wash every day if you so wish! They tend to be very nice showers too…
That’s not going to do much for the environment, but it can save you a little!
Wash Up Correctly
If you’ve ever been corrected on how you wash up dishes, then you’ll know that your strategy here can affect the outcome and make your crockery more or less dirty at the end. However, what you may not have realised is that the way you wash up can also impact on the amount of water you use. Want to avoid having to drain the water and re-fill the sink halfway through? Then make sure you wash up the cleaner and smaller items first, so you don’t dirty the water. That means glasses and mugs first, pans of pasta sauce last. This can make a huge difference, especially considering the dish water will likely be very hot.
Efficiency of Your Systems
Another consideration is how efficient your plumbing is and how well it’s running. Having your system and filters looked at by a plumber from time to time can not only help you ensure you’ll be drinking cleaner water, but it will also help you save money and create less waste in the process.
Do all this and use a solar heater for your pool or your boiler and you will save a huge amount of heat and water.
The Alternative: Geothermal
While solar thermal panels are a great option for the best solar pool heater, they are only one of the solutions available to you.
Another option is to choose a geothermal heat pump. This is once again a green source of heat energy specifically, that is suitable to use for heating your pool.
The idea of geothermal energy is that you are harvesting the heat energy from deep below the Earth’s crust. Our planet is of course constantly being subjected to the sun’s rays meaning that it’s constantly being basked in light and heat which is enough to create all the energy that plants on animals on Earth need to live.
Over time then of course the planet heats up, and this is actually what cause wind – as the ground alters the temperature of the air and thus causes changes in pressure. The surface of the ground however is very changeable and because it’s constantly being subjected to wind and rain it can cool down just as quickly as it can heat up.
The alternative then is to use heat from deeper under the Earth’s crust where the ground is shielded by lots and lots of earth on top. This then is like the centre of a potato that you’ve microwaved – it takes much longer than the surface to cool down, only this time we’re talking about a scale of billions of years.
By placing pipes deep underground then, you are placing them at a point where the Earth is very hot and this heat energy can warm up water that you run through them to the point where it can be used to heat up a swimming pool or even to provide heat from your property.
The only downside of geothermal energy when compared to other green energy sources such as solar pool heaters then is that you are required to dig up a lot of land in your garden in order to insert the pipes. However, it’s worth noting that there are plenty of Earth moving companies that can do this for you and then level off your garden as good as new. If you’re installing a swimming pool anyway then already you’re going to need a lot of digging up, so this is as good a time as any to install your heating.
But of course, it’s not for everyone. Not everyone can afford the significant up-front cost of installing a geothermal heat pump and even those who can will need to consider whether or not they have enough land mass in order to sustain this. Of course, it takes a while for water to be heated passively, which means it needs to go very deep and which means it needs to be spread out over a large area. This is why many people will still opt for a solar pool heater – which is a more affordable option.
So, there you go, you’ve seen how to gain solar heat for above ground pools and below ground pools. You’ve learned how a solar pool heater works, you’ve seen other uses for it and you’ve read about some alternative ways to save energy and money.
No more excuses! Switch to a solar pool heater today!