How Do Pool Solar Panels Work?

by Pool Builders on 11-01-2009 in Articles

All pool solar panels are heat collectors. They convert solar energy into heat so that your pool can be warmed up to a comfortable temperature. Each heat collector (or heat exchanger) is lined on the inside with many copper pipes that are parallel to each other. They are always painted black because this color absorbs the most energy from the sun. In this way, conversion of solar energy into heat is maximized.

Solar heaters are also covered with a glass panel to act as a greenhouse, trapping heat within the enclosure. Since air is trapped within the panel, heat cannot escape through convection. The only way for heat to escape is through conduction. Fortunately the rate of conduction is much slower. Therefore most of the heat is retained.

How they work

Cold water runs into a heat exchanger and out comes warm water for your pool. This happens as the black-painted pipes absorb heat from the sunlight and transfer them to the water passing through. The surfaces of the heat collector box are also painted black and certainly helps warm up the air within. This, too, contributes to the temperature of water running through the pipes.

The sunlight intensity, rate of water flow and diameter of pipes determine how hot the water will be. Generally, the thinner the pipes, the more efficient the heat transfer. This is because more surface area is created and this allows more avenues through which heat can be conducted into the water.


Solar heaters rarely need any maintenance at all. They can serve you for decades without noticeable wear and tear, provided they are built and installed properly. Most importantly, solar heaters are cleaner and cheaper than gas and electric heaters.

The typically payback period of a pool solar panel is about 1 to 2 years, depending on the sunlight intensity and fuel costs.

Because solar heaters are very simple in design, they make very popular DIY projects. Homemade heaters will obviously cost much lesser than commercially made pool solar heaters. A typical heater may cost within the $4,000 price tag while a do-it-yourself solar heater often cost only a tenth of this price. Therefore the payback period is much shorter.


Installing a pool solar panel will not be a very tedious task. More importantly, you need to tilt your panels southwards (if you are living in the northern hemisphere) so they can be exposed to more sunshine throughout the year.

Other installation considerations include local building and insurance requirements as well as safety issues. An alternative is to engage a qualified solar thermal contractor to install the panels for you. This will ensure quality.

With its simplicity, ease of installation and durability, pool solar heaters are getting more popular with consumers. Many DIY hobbyists are putting together copper pipes and pieces of wood to construct their own homemade solar heat collectors to warm up their pool. Such do-it-yourself projects will only get more popular as consumers realize the benefits of using pool solar panels.

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