According to the U.S. Department of Energy, pools typically range from 78° to 82°F, and it costs 10% to 30% more energy to raise the temperature just one degree. Since children and senior citizens usually need water at least 80°, the cost to heat the pool can add up – unless you use the best solar heater for inground pools.
But where to you begin? This guide shows you the best solar pool heaters, reviewed.
SOLARPOOLSUPPLY Industrial Grade (6) 4’ x 10.5’ (Best Overall)
Incredible design, world-class heating effectiveness, and ease of installation make SOLAR POOL SUPPLY’s Industrial Grade (6) 4’ x 10.5’ solar pool heaters our top pick. Hundreds of raving customer reviews can’t be denied. This are a solid pick for the best solar pool heater of 2021
Solar Pool Heaters for Inground Pools Reviews
|SOLARPOOLSUPPLY Industrial Grade (6) 4’ x 10.5’||
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|SOLARPOOLSUPPLY Industrial Grade (4) 4’ x 10.5’||
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|SOLARPOOLSUPPLY (4) 4’ x 12’||
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|SunQuest 2’ x 10’ with Roof Kits||
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|SunQuest 2’ x 10’ with Diverter Kit||
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|SOLARPOOLSUPPLY (1) 4’ x 12’||
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|SunQuest (2) 2’ x 20’||
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|Blue Wave NS520||
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|Sun2Solar 1200 Series||
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|Sun2Solar 1600 Series||
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With so many solar pool heaters to choose from, it can be overwhelming to find the best option for your pool. We want to make the process easy for you, so here you’ll find our top 11 solar pool heaters for inground pools of the year, and our comprehensive reviews to aid your search.
No matter your pool size or budget, you’re sure to find a quality solar heater on our list that fits your unique needs.
These six Swim Joy solar panels from Solar Pool Supply are our best overall pick because of their incredible design, effectiveness, and easy installation.
Because of their design, solar panels can be very fragile and wear out within a few months. Solar Pool Supply identified the panels’ potential weak spots and created an innovative design that prevents cracks and damage for over a decade.
They mold the headers and risers together to remove any seams that can easily crack. Plus, the panels have a tube system that permits the material to expand and contract with the temperature changes. Solar Pool Supply offers a 12-year warranty for the boards and a lifetime warranty for freeze protection with all of this technology.
This extended warranty is an impressive feature that not all companies offer. I know I would have loved to have it after my panels started to crack after some intense weather!
Not only does their design protect it against the elements, but the flow system helps improve the panels’ efficiency.
According to the company, the solar heater floats just above your roof on mounting sleds, so they don’t get dirty or clogged.
With all of these features, the panels must be hard to install, right?
Not quite, my friend! The panels require no strapping, limited roof penetration, and no hoses. You can connect the panels to each other, eliminating the need for unsightly metal clamps.
All of these features give the panels a sleek, attractive look on your roof and heat your pool in no time.
If you want that same Solar Pool Supply quality but want a cheaper option, the company also provides numerous different package sizes with as many panels as you need.
This set is our budget pick since it includes four panels measuring four feet by ten and a half feet. They are the exact same size as our previous model, but you get four instead of six panels.
Four panels are still enough to heat a reasonably large pool if you receive plenty of sunlight, and the price is much lower than the 6-panel option.
These panels are under the same full 12-year warranty with a lifetime guarantee that they will not suffer any damage from freezing weather. The company also promises that its panels are storm and hurricane resistant.
The individual riser tubes help lower the pressure and let the panel breath in changing temperatures. They also have an open flow design, limiting the backpressure and reducing the energy needed to pump the water.
Either on your roof or a raised platform, solar panels can often take away from your outdoor aesthetic. Honestly, that’s why I put off trying them for so long. However, these Swim Joy panels provide a beautiful design for your home with their close placement and smooth surface. You’ll hardly even notice they’re there!
So far, we’ve looked at two Solar Pool Supply options that measure four feet by 10.5 feet. This next option from the same company offers four slightly larger panels, coming in at four feet by 12 feet.
These panels are our pick for beginners thanks to the larger size, innovative design, and easy installation.
This solar pool heating system will deliver an impressive amount of heat to your pool for people just getting into the solar panel game. The other Solar Pool Supply panels had an over-molding build, while these have the highest performance design.
Instead of connected strips of material, these panels have a series of long tubes. The tube-and-web design offers optimal movement in the material as it expands and contracts in the changing weather. The ability to breathe helps lengthen the panel’s service life, giving you impressive pool heating for years to come.
Each panel also has a metered manifold to avoid any hot-spots in the material. While the design ensures that the water will flow evenly through the collector, it is still best to install the panels vertically for maximum performance.
Just like our other SolarPoolSupply panels, installation is a breeze. The kit comes with multiple pieces for quick installation on your roof or rack. You can secure the panels with trapping and connect them yourself without calling anyone to help you install them.
These SunQuest panels can work with either inground or above-ground pools. However, this particular package is ideal for inground pools because it comes with a roof installation kit. Since many inground pools don’t allow space to put the panels on the ground, installing them on the roof is necessary.
The complete solar heating package has four panels, measuring two feet by ten feet. It also comes with over 30 other pieces to aid in the roof installation, including two types of connectors, screws, and a valve switch. However, if you don’t already have the piping that connects the solar panels to the pool, you will have to invest in that.
This solar pool heater is highly efficient with the innovating tubing and headers with a Max-Flow design. Thin headers can cause a lot of back pressure on your pump, reducing the system’s efficiency and causing it to use more energy. The 2-inch headers lessen the pressure and ensure maximum efficiency.
This solar pool heating system is also from the company SunQuest and comes with the same number and size of panels. The main difference is that this solar heating package has a diverter kit instead of the roof installation kit.
A diverter valve kit helps control the water flow to the solar panels. You can turn it on or off and maintain the circulation to reduce backpressure. The kit has over twenty pieces, including the crucial valve.
Like our last option, the panels have a wide header design for less backpressure. With the combination of the Max-Flow design and the valve to control pressure, your solar heating system can be incredibly efficient.
While this package doesn’t come with the complete installation kit, you still get connectors for easy installation. The company states that you can easily place the panels yourself by just following the user manual.
Plus, SunQuest promises that the solar heating system will be able to raise your pool temperature up to ten degrees.
Here we have another quality solar pool heater from Solar Pool Supply. This package comes with just one solar panel measuring four feet by twelve feet, just like our ideal panel for beginners mentioned above.
Since this package offers a single panel, it is an excellent option for people looking to replace just one panel or expand the solar heating system they currently have. With Solar Pool Supply’s extended warranty, you may not need a replacement quickly.
However, if you are looking to buy more panels to increase the power of heating your pool but don’t want a full package of four, this is an excellent choice. You can buy a single panel to fill in the extra space on your roof or help increase the pool temperature a few more degrees.
Additionally, if you have a small inground pool, you may only need to buy a single panel like this one to heat the area.
As with other Solar Pool Supply products, this solar panel has superior materials and undergoes an intense manufacturing process to assure the quality.
These SunQuest panels look slightly different from our other two options from the company, but they still provide the same product quality.
Instead of multiple wide panels, this solar heating system includes two long, skinny pieces. They each measure two feet in width and 20 feet in length and come with twelve connecting elements to aid in installation. This size of panels could work well for thin but long roofs.
SunQuest promises that each panel is professional-grade and has superior technology. With the Max-flow header design and flexible tubing, they offer an efficient method of heating your pool.
Plus, in our testing we found that you can install the system in just thirty minutes, so you can start enjoying a warmer pool in no time.
Our last heating option for solar panels comes from Smartpool. This solar heating system includes 80 square feet of the paneling in one area measuring four feet by 20 feet.
The Sun Heater polypropylene panels from Smartpool use innovative technology to improve efficiency and increase your pool temperature by six to ten degrees. The tube-on-web panel design exposes more surface area of the tube, allowing it to absorb more of the sun’s energy.
Another great feature is the construction of the headers. SmartPool reinforces each one with fiberglass to ensure extended durability. There are also internal baffles that send the water to both sides of the collector. Like the tube design, this increases the panels’ heating potential.
The tubing itself is flexible, and there are even wind vents periodically placed to strengthen the panels. This extra spacing allows wind to pass through during storms, limiting the probability of damage.
The threaded headers and the mounting channel also allow for easy installation. You can put these panels on your roof, a platform on the ground, or even on a fence.
Solar panels aren’t the only way to heat your pool with the natural power from the sun! Another method is using a simple pool cover like this Blue Wave solar blanket.
Measuring 16 feet by 32 feet, the cover is ideal for your inground rectangular pool. It is relatively thin, measuring 14 mils, or 0.014 inches, but the bubble design helps trap the sun’s rays.
The clear bubble pockets face down into the water and trap the sun’s rays, directing them down into the water. You can use the cover during the day to heat up the pool and at night to help protect the water from cooler temperatures. Another option is to use the blanket on cloudy days to prevent the temperature from dropping too low.
Blue Wave offers a 6-year limited warranty, thanks to its cover design. Despite the thinness, the company claims that the solar blanket resists any damage from UV rays and chemicals within the pool.
Sun2Solar also offers quality solar covers. This first option from the company measures 16 feet by 32 feet, but you can trim the blanket to fit your inground pool.
If your pool is a unique shape, oval, or a slightly smaller rectangle, you can lay the cover out over the pool and draw the outline on the material with a marker. Then, cut along the line with scissors, and you have a solar blanket that perfectly fits your pool. Another great feature is that by cutting the cover, you won’t in any way affect the warranty.
Like the Blue Wave option, the Sun2Solar cover transmits the sun’s heat to your pool’s water. The bubbles help maintain the heat inside the pool without letting any escape.
These solar blankets are great at heating my inground pool since they are cost-effective and have a simple design. Now that I use solar panels, I actually use a cover with the boards to help retain the panels’ heat.
You can use these blankets by themselves, or you can also combine them with another heating method to limit the cost and energy expended to heat the pool.
Our final option is another pool cover from Sun2Solar. This one has a surface area of 800 square feet, measuring 20 feet by 40 feet.
Just like the smaller size, the air bubbles trap and keep the sun’s heat to warm the pool significantly. Since most of the pool’s heat escapes through evaporation, these pool covers also prevent any heat loss through water evaporating into the air. (2) According to the company, the cover prevents up to 95% of evaporation.
The 1600 series covers come with a pack of six special grommets. These plastic pieces let the water go through the solar blanket when you want to remove it. Without them, the cover can be heavy and hard to maneuver.
While the grommets help remove water when handling the cover, they also work to keep some water on top of the sheet when you are using it. These tools anchor the blanket so the wind will not blow the cover away.
Each grommet has a top and bottom piece. Decide where you want each grommet, put one piece under the sheet, and then the other on top. Finally, softly hammer the two pieces together.
Buyers’ Guide (Top 5 Tips to Know Before You Buy)
Buying a solar heater for your pool is a large investment. Before you settle on one particular heater, make sure to consider the following tips.
1. Measure Your Inground Pool’s Dimensions
Whether you’re shopping for a solar panel kit or the best solar pool cover to heat your pool, you need to have your dimensions handy.
According to the North Carolina Solar Center, if you opt for solar panels, you need them to cover the equivalent of at least half the pool’s surface area. (3) Measure the length and width of your rectangular pool or the diameter of your circular pool.
Find the area of your rectangular pool by multiplying the length times the width. For a circular swimming pool, you can use a tool like this online area calculator. (4)
Once you have your pool’s surface area, make sure you get enough solar panels to equal at least half of your pool’s size.
2. Measure the Amount of Space You Have for Your Solar Pool Heaters
Once you know your pool’s surface area and how many square feet of paneling you need, check how much space you have.
Find the area of your roof or a nearby open area on the ground where you can place the panels on a platform. You want to ensure you have enough space for all the boards you need.
Another thing to keep in mind is the type of space you have available. If your roof is long but narrow, the 2 feet by 10 feet panels may fit better than the wider 4 feet by 12 feet.
You can even draw a scaled image and mark how much space each panel will occupy on your roof.
You don’t want to invest in several panels only to find out that they don’t actually fit on your roof.
3. Know What Type of Solar Pool Heater You Want for Your Inground Pool
We included two primary types of solar pool heaters on our list above: solar panels and pool blankets. While these solar pool heaters are very different, they are both highly effective ways to heat your pool naturally.
There are many perks to using a solar blanket to heat your inground pool. Compared to solar panels, they are incredibly cost-effective and require little to no installation.
Instead of passing the water through tubes in solar panels, the cover keeps the sun’s natural heat from escaping through evaporation. Even with this simple heat preservation method, you can heat your pool five degrees or more throughout the day. (5)
However, do keep in mind that you need to leave the pool cover on the water’s surface whenever you’re not using it to ensure maximum results. If your pool has lots of shade, the blanket may not heat the pool as much but instead act more as a protective layer to keep any heat inside the water. Our guide on blue vs clear solar pool covers explores this in more detail.
Another possible downside is the wear and tear of the material. Pool covers do not last as long as solar panels, especially if they are under the sun all day.
You probably don’t have much space on the ground with inground pools to set out solar panels, so you need panels that come with a roof kit.
Compared to the solar blankets, these panels are a bit more challenging to install. However, most companies try to make it easy for you by including easy-to-use installation kits.
In terms of effectiveness, most solar panel companies claim that their solar pool heaters can heat up your pool at least 10 degrees, which is more than the blanket option.
Roof solar panels will heat your pool faster, but they often come at a higher cost. Still, you won’t need to worry about covering your pool as soon as people stop swimming to conserve the heat.
As you compare solar pool heating vs heat pumps and other heating methods, think about how much you will be using the pool, whether it receives direct sunlight throughout the day, and what type of budget you have. You can even use a combination of solar panels on the roof and a solar blanket on the pool for maximum heating.
4. Consider Professional Installation
If you are interested in the high efficiency of solar panels on your roof but are unsure if you will be able to install them correctly, consider professional installation.
Many of your local home improvement stores offer solar panel installation, so it’s not always necessary to learn how to install pool solar panels by yourself. You can either buy the panels online and request their services or purchase the panels at the store with the added price of installation.
5. Find the Best Deal for You
With so many options for solar pool heaters that range in size, price, and style, it can be challenging to find the best deal for your pool.
Once you’ve picked out the right size and style, consider what each package includes.
Buying solar panels is a large investment, but their longevity is what makes them one of our most effective ways that you can heat a pool. Since this type of equipment is quite expensive, make sure you opt for panels that come with a warranty.
Each company has a different type and length of warranty. For example, the Solar Pool Supply brand has a 12-year warranty on some of its products, assuring that you will have a quality pool heater for well over a decade.
Even some of the solar blankets come with warranties, like the Blue Wave cover, which includes a six-year guarantee.
While not everyone needs an extended year warranty, it’s always important to consider when you choose which solar polar heat to buy.
Solar heating technology can be tricky. When buying a pool heater – whether it be a blanket or panels – make sure the company offers decent customer support.
If you have any questions about installation, continued performance, or maintenance, having access to supportive customer service is critical.
You don’t want to wait for weeks to hear back from the manufacturer and not be able to enjoy a heated pool. Plus, if you buy a solar heater with a warranty, ensure the company upholds its guarantee and offers support to its customers.
As you’re considering all the various aspects of your solar pool heater, don’t forget about the added cost of shipping.
Solar panels can be large and heavy, and even pool covers take up more space than your standard package. Make sure you consider the shipping price when choosing your best solar pool heater.
Once you calculate the additional price of a warranty and shipping, check the final price. Is it still within your budget?
If not, consider similar options that offer the same perks at a more reasonable price.
The Bottom Line: What Is the Best Solar Heater for Inground Pools of 2021?
Now that we’ve gone over all the top options here at Energy Center of the World, and how to figure out how many solar panels you need, all that’s left is to choose the perfect model for you, your pool, and your budget.
If you’re still unsure of which heater to choose, we highly-recommend our top-rated pick, the Solar Pool Supply Industrial Grade 6-Pack. In short, it’s tough to go wrong with its high heating efficiency, innovative technology, and easy installation.
What Size Heater Do I Need for My Inground Pool?
The size of your heater depends mainly on the size of your pool and your local weather. You can calculate the amount of water in your pool to better understand what size heater you need.
In addition to the length and width of your pool, measure the average water depth. Multiply those three values together, then multiply the number by 7.5 to find out how many gallons your pool holds.
Pool heaters use the British Thermal Unit (BTU) to describe how many pounds of water they can heat. For every one BTU, the heater can warm one pound of water one degree.
Now that you know how many gallons of water your pool holds, you can multiply that number by 8.3 to find how many pounds of water you need to heat. That total number will show you how many BTUs you need in a pool heater. (6)
Many solar panels will advertise how many BTUs of energy they can produce per square foot per hour. Add up how many square feet of paneling you are considering buying and make sure they can heat your entire pool throughout the day.
How Many Solar Panels Do You Need to Heat a Pool?
There is no straight answer to this question. The number of solar panels needed to heat your pool depends on various factors.
First, calculate your pool size. Use the tips above to calculate the pool surface area. If you have an oblong pool, estimate the pool’s length and width to find the area. The more surface area your pool has, the more solar panels you will need. You cover anywhere from 50% to 100% of the pool’s surface area, but the exact number of panels depends on additional factors.
If your pool lies partially or entirely in the shad, you will need additional panels to compensate for the lack of natural heating directly from the sun to the water.
For inground pools, you will most likely need to put the solar panels on the roof if you don’t have the yard space. However, if your roof faces the east, the panels will only receive direct sunlight during the morning, limiting how much solar energy the panels will be able to capture.
Another critical factor in determining the number of solar panels is your location. The further north you live, the fewer viable swimming months you have. In southern Florida, you can get up to 12 months of swimming with a solar heater, while in northern Washington, you may only get four months of swimming with the heater. (7)
The final factor is how big your solar panels are. If you have extra-large panels, like the ones measuring 4 feet by 12 feet by Solar Pool Supply, you will need fewer panels.
Once you have all of this information, you can use an online calculator that considers all of these factors and gives you an accurate estimate of how many solar panels you will need. (8)
Is Solar Pool Heating Worth It?
In our books, yes. Solar pool heating is definitely worth it because it allows homeowners to enjoy their pool more, cut energy costs, and save money in the long run. Even though the initial cost to heat a pool may be on the high end, solar heaters reduce your annual energy expenditures significantly.
Plus, with warranties that last for years, the amount of money you save significantly outweighs the equipment’s price.
For our full list of both top-rated inground and above-ground models, you can check out our guide by clicking here.
- Managing Swimming Pool Temperature for Energy Efficiency | Department of Energy. Retrieved from: https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/managing-swimming-pool-temperature-energy-efficiency
- Home Energy Magazine – Solar :: Swimming Pools Soak Up the Sun. Retrieved from: https://www.homeenergy.org/show/article/id/1215
- Heating Your Swimming Pool with Solar Energy. Retrieved from: https://p2infohouse.org/ref/32/31355.pdf
- Circle Diameter to Area Calculator. Retrieved from: https://www.sensorsone.com/circle-diameter-to-area-calculator/?dval=22&dunit=feet+%28ft%29&dfctr=ft&aunit=&afctr=
- How Fast Does a Solar Cover Heat a Pool? – All About Pools. Retrieved from: https://allaboutpools.org/how-fast-does-a-solar-cover-heat-a-pool/
- What Size Pool Heater Do I Need? | Right Sizing for Optimal Heating. Retrieved from: https://acleanhome.net/what-size-pool-heater-do-i-need/
- Heat Pump Pool Heater Performance – We Heat Cold Pools. Retrieved from: https://weheatcoldpools.com/heat-pump-pool-heater-performance/
- How Many Solar Panels Do I Need to Heat my Swimming Pool?. Retrieved from: https://www.cmiwebsite.com/solar-pool-heating/how-many-solar-panels-do-i-need/