An Overview of Above Ground Pool Heaters

by Pool Builders on 08-18-2009 in Articles

Above ground swimming pools are the most prevalent type of privately owned pool in use today. They are favored by most homeowners because they are much cheaper to purchase than an in ground pool. However, above ground pools also require less space for installation and present the option for their removal or relocation in the future event that the homeowner no longer desires a pool or will be moving to a new home.

In order to make more and better use of their above ground swimming pools, many owners are choosing to install pool heaters to give them more time in the water and make their pool experience more comfortable. This is particularly true today when personal budgets are stretched thin and many people are deciding to forgo or limit their annual vacation budget.

Swimming pool heaters are offered in a variety of technologies and each of them have their own inherent advantages and disadvantages. The three most common types of pool heaters are the gas heater, the electric heat pump and the solar heating system. Oil fired units and electrical resistance heating systems have been used in the past, but for the most part homeowners have abandoned these methods due to the unfavorable economics associated with their operation. However, they are still viable options when extreme circumstances dictate their use.

Gas pool heaters use either natural gas or liquid propane (LP) to heat the pool water. They are essentially the same heater but vary internally with the unique valves and orifices that are required for each of these fuels. The selection of either natural gas or propane will primarily depend on the availability of a natural gas supply to the homeowner's location. Natural gas is generally the preferred option, since it is the cheaper of these two fuels. When it is not available, a liquid propane tank that is usually rented from the propane supplier is used to store the LP gas used to fire the heater. Gas pool heaters are favored by many homeowners because of their lower purchase cost. This is true despite the fact that their operating costs are higher than the other main heater types due to the cost of natural gas and propane. But these fuels are in abundant supply in the United States and their cost has stabilized.

However, gas swimming pool heaters offer two distinct advantages over heat pumps and solar heaters. They can raise the water temperature quickly and they can also provide a higher water temperature than the other heating systems. Their ability to warm the pool water in a short period of time is essential for pool owners that do not continuously use their swimming pools. This works out well in terms of economics because gas heaters are most efficiently used for shorter periods of time. Additionally, gas pool heaters can raise the water temperature to 90 degrees F or more. Although this is extreme for most situations, many children and senior citizens are not able to tolerate the normal water temperatures favored by many. This is also particularly true for people that use their pool for therapeutic reasons.

Pool water heat pumps are usually chosen because they run in a very efficient manner in terms of converting energy to heated pool water. This is true despite the fact that they are more expensive to purchase and more complex in design and manufacture than gas pool heaters. With this in mind, heat pumps are best suited for heating pool water when the ambient temperatures are above 50 degrees F and when the pool water does not need to be elevated to a temperature above 85 degrees F. These pool heat pumps are similar to the heat pump systems used in household heating and use a refrigerant's thermodynamic properties to generate heat. However, unlike an air-conditioning unit that chills the air when the refrigerant passes through an expansion valve, a heat pump warms the air and water when the refrigerant is compressed.

Solar heaters are gaining popularity today since many people are making a concerted effort to go "green". Of course, they are also highly motivated by the economics associated with the operation of a swimming pool solar heater. This is because, unlike gas heaters and heat pumps, solar pool heaters use the energy from the sun to heat the pool water. However, they are not free to operate because they usually require a larger pumping unit (with a higher capital cost and greater electricity demand) to move the water through the expanded plumbing system and solar panels. Solar heaters are viable options when the water temperature needs to be elevated to between 80 and 85 degrees F. But they will work best when they are suitably sited in regards to access to the sun's rays, favorable climatic and meteorological conditions and the inherent space requirements needed for their installation.

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