The end of summer doesn’t mean the end of pool season. With a swimming pool heater, you can keep the fun going strong, even as days get shorter and temperatures start to fall. Of course, choosing the right heater can be challenging. There are lots of options out there, each with their own pros and cons.

Shopping for a new swimming pool heater? Have questions about which heater is right for you and your swimming pool? Need a few suggestions? In this pool heater guide, we’ll take a closer look at swimming pool heaters and heat pumps– and share a few recommendations.

Know the Lingo

Swimming pool heaters are often measured in BTUs, which stands for “British Thermal Units.” In general, larger pools require a heater with a higher BTU. There’s a little more to it than that of course, other factors that can affect your heating needs include the location of your pool, the type of heater you choose (i.e. solar vs. electric vs. gas), and how much sun your pool gets each day.

There are three basic types of swimming pool heaters: electric heaters, solar heaters, and gas heaters. Depending on the size of your pool and the climate where you live, you might consider a heat pump instead of a traditional heater. A few things to keep in mind while making a decision:

  • Cost. There are two types of costs to consider: Purchase price and long-term operating costs. When choosing a heater, you must decide which cost is more important for you. For example, an electric swimming pool heater is inexpensive to purchase up front but can be expensive to operate. An energy efficient solar heater will require more of an up-front investment, but you’ll likely find out that it saves money long-term due to low operating costs.
  • Installation and maintenance. Looking for a low-maintenance, DIY-friendly option? Electric heaters are easy to install and require minimal upkeep. Gas-powered heaters and heat pumps require professional installation, which can add to your overall cost.
  • Climate and temperature. Some swimming pool heaters – such as solar or heat pumps -- are better suited to sunny skies and warm temperatures. On the other hand, electric and gas heaters work equally well in any environment.
Type of Heater Price Pros Cons
Electric $

Low upfront cost.

Easy to install.

Works in any temperature.

Heats water very slowly.

Less energy efficient/more expensive to operate than other types of heaters.

Solar $$ - $$$

Energy efficient, “green” choice.

Lower electric bills.

Long lifespan.

Units are very large

Can take a while to heat up.

Solar is not a great fit if you live somewhere cold or cloudy, or if your pool area is too shady.

Natural Gas or Propane $ - $$

Fast-acting.

Low upfront cost.

Gas heaters work well in any temperature/climate.

Professional installation required.

Fuel can be expensive.

Relatively short lifespan compared to other types of heaters.

Heat Pump $ - $$

Low maintenance.

Energy efficient.

No waiting for the pool to heat up.

Not a good fit for colder climates or low temperatures.

Installation can be pricy.

Electric Swimming Pool Heaters

These heaters rely on a metal heating element (kind of like the coil on an electric stove), which heats up the surrounding water. The warm water flows through your pool’s filtration system, mixing with the cooler water until the desired temperature is reached.

Electric swimming pool heaters are a popular choice, and with good reason: They’re inexpensive to purchase and easy to install (no need for a professional; most swimming pool owners can easily go the DIY route). What’s more, they’re super-versatile: An electric swimming pool heater will work with any type of pool, in any climate.

Of course, there are a few downsides to going electric: This type of heater can take a while to warm your swimming pool water, especially compared to, say, natural gas heater or heat pumps. This means you either have to keep your electric heater running all the time (which can drive energy costs up) – or you have to say goodbye to spontaneous dips during cooler months.

Thinking about heating your pool with an electric swimming pool heater? Check out these three best sellers:

Coates In-Line 6kW 240V electric heater

Coates In-Line 6kW 240V electric heater.

Designed specifically for residential use, this heater is compact and energy efficient. A built-in pressure switch turns the heater off if no water flow is detected. It’s important to note that this heater is not recommended for saltwater pools.

Raypak Electric 3-Series (E3T)

Raypak Electric 3-Series (E3T).

This compact, easy-to-install heater is constructed with titanium and stainless steel, which means that it’s tough enough to withstand extreme conditions and even saltwater pools. The E3T series features solid-state design and flow sensor technology, plus user-friendly features like digital controls.

EcoSmart Smart POOL Series

EcoSmart Smart POOL Series.

These unique “tankless” pool heaters feature a sleek and modern design and come equipped with helpful features like a digital thermostat control. They’re compact and energy efficient, and they work quickly, heating pools of any size.

Pro Tip: Get a Good Pool Thermometer

A pool thermometer is especially useful to have during cooler months. By keeping tabs on the temperature, you can see how long it takes your pool to heat up. It also allows you to check the temperature without having to dip a toe into chilly water!

Solar Swimming Pool Heaters

Live somewhere sunny? Trying to “go green”? A solar-powered swimming pool heater might be your answer. These eco-friendly heaters get high marks for their high efficiency and super-low operating costs (sunshine is free, after all). Pool owners also appreciate the fact that solar heaters are relatively low maintenance.

A few things to keep in mind if you’re considering going solar: First, you need sunshine. Most pool professionals recommend that you have between four and six hours of sun a day. Second, you need space: Although they don’t use much energy, solar pool heaters do take up a lot of room. If your backyard is too small for solar panels, you might want to look at other types of heaters. And third, they’re one of the most expensive types of swimming pool heaters to purchase – although you’ll quickly make up for that in energy savings.

Ready to go solar? If you’ve got plenty of sun and lots of wide open spaces, consider one of these top-rated solar swimming pool brands:

Enersol

Enersol.

Looking for easy and flexible solar power? Enersol’s “slip and clip” solar panels are made of rubber and are a snap to install – literally. You simply snap the panels into place on your roof. No tools required. Another plus: The company offers an 18-year limited warranty on its solar panels.

Techno-Solis

Techno-Solis.

These super-tough solar panels are engineered to last. How tough are they? The company claims that the panels can withstand up to 120 mile-per-hour wind and are virtually “indestructible,” thanks to a combination of sturdy construction and top-quality materials.

Consolidated Manufacturing International (CMI)

Consolidated Manufacturing International (CMI).

The company’s proprietary Thermocraft solar panels are easy to install, durable, and can easily be customized to fit any home. What’s more, the panels feature a “seamless” construction that helps prevent leaks, seams, or stress.

Maytronics

Maytronics.

The company’s “Solara” pool heating system is compact and easy to install – and the panels even feature an innovative “kickstand” design that allows you to re-position them to maximize exposure to the sun. The panels also come with a 10-year warranty for extra peace of mind.

Gas or Propane Swimming Pool Heaters

Gas swimming pool and spa heaters have a lot going for them: They work fast, and they perform well in any climate. They’re also small and relatively inexpensive to purchase. All in all, they’re a great combination of price and performance for any swimming pool owner.

Natural gas pool heaters typically connect to your existing natural gas line. This means that, for safety reasons, you’ll need to call in the professionals if you want to install a gas swimming pool heater. If you don’t have a gas line – or if you don’t want the extra costs associated with professional installation – you can opt for a propane heater instead. Propane swimming pool heaters offer the same benefits (small size, quick heating), but they don’t need to be connected to your gas line.

Aside from the installation issue, the only other drawback with gas or propane heaters is that, compared to other types of pool heaters, they have a shorter lifespan. Gas and propane can also get pricy, compared to electric and solar.

Shopping for a gas pool heater? Here are a few solid choices to consider:

Pentair MasterTemp

Pentair MasterTemp.

Super energy efficient, and eco-friendly thanks to its certified low-emission design. The MasterTemp series is also quiet, rustproof, and comes equipped with helpful indicator lights and a digital display. This heater is available in both gas and propane models. Jandy JXi

Jandy JXi.

From its ultra-compact design (it’s 38% lighter and 28% smaller than other gas pool heaters) to its energy-saving performance (when paired with a variable speed pool pump, it can save $300-plus per year in electricity costs), the JXi is built for efficiency. It also comes with an impressive five-year warranty.

Hayward Universal H-Series

Hayward Universal H-Series.

Available in a propane or natural gas option, this swimming pool heater boasts a killer combination of energy savings, performance, and durability. All H-series heaters offer superior corrosion resistance and low emissions to meet clean air quality standards.

Raypak Digital

Raypak Digital.

Featuring sleek and modern design, Raypak’s digital pool heaters boast cutting-edge features like digital displays, an “intelligent” control system, and a microprocessor-controlled thermostat. It’s also extremely corrosion-resistant and compatible with both chlorinated and salt water pool systems.

Swimming Pool Heat Pumps

Live in a warmer part of the country? A heat pump might be just the thing to keep your pool swim-ready all year round. What’s a heat pump? Unlike a traditional swimming pool heater, which creates heat and then circulates it via your pool filtration system, a heat pump draws and distributes heat from the warm outside air.

The great thing about swimming pool heat pumps is that they’re affordable and easy to maintain. You can also run your heat pump 24 hours a day, which means your pool water will always be warm and toasty (bring on the spur-of-the-moment pool parties)!

Of course, because a heat pump isn’t a true heater, it’s not a good choice if you live somewhere with very cool air temperatures. Most swimming pool professionals say that if outside temperatures in your area regularly drop below 50 degrees, you should probably consider a traditional heater instead.

If you’re shopping for a heat pump, start here:

Raypak Professional Series

Raypak Professional Series.

This heat pump was designed with commercial swimming pools in mind, but its super-tough, professional-grade construction makes it popular with homeowners. Raypak Professional Series heat pumps are especially well-suited to harsh climates and extreme temperatures.

Of course, if you want to make sure you get the right heater for your pool, your budget, and your lifestyle, you should talk to your local pool professional. They can guide you through the decision-making process and help you select the best option.

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