How to Create Your Own Solar Pool Heater in a Few Easy Steps

Whether you live in a climate that doesn’t give you as many hot, splash-ready days as you’d prefer, or you just want swimming season to come a few weeks earlier in the spring and last a few weeks longer in the fall, a solar pool heater fits the bill. However, should you purchase one, or make one? The right decision depends on your available time, money constraints, pool size, as well as how much you like to tinker. You can make that decision after we give you the down low on how to build your own.

Keep in mind, however, that while the overall concept of a solar swimming pool heater is simple, the process of actually designing and building one which is efficient and effective is a challenge.  You’ll need to be comfortable handling a variety of different tools, and have the engineering knowledge necessary to build a heater that can safely circulate large volumes of water.  

DIY Solar Pool Heating: The Basics

There are plenty of tutorials out there suggesting how to build your own solar swimming pool heater, but before you delve into one, it is important to understand the basics behind solar swimming pool heating. Knowing the basics can help you choose (or design) the right setup for your needs.

In most solar swimming pool heaters, the use of dark, matte colors to absorb the heat of the sun’s rays is leveraged in order to heat your pool water. Instead of attempting to heat the entire pool at one time, however, water circulates through a “heater” or “collection box,” where the collected water is warmed by the sun. That water then circulates back into the pool, while fresh cool water refills the collection box/heater.

Most DIY solar pool heaters consist of some basic parts: piping from the pool to the heater or the collection box, the heater/collection box itself, and the piping back into the pool. Water piped from the pool to the heater should be freshly filtered to keep your heater from clogging with debris and minimize the chance of it developing algae or other problems. You may also want to install an additional filter or screen to aid in this process.

What Is the Heater/Collection Box?

Owners can construct the solar heater portion of the setup in a number of ways. It could be a tank, preferably a shallow tank with a great deal of surface area, with a cover designed to capture or magnify heat from the sun. The water within the tank could be free flowing or confined to tubing. Tubing or piping is generally a better option simply in terms of efficient flow through the tank, but either can be effective. If piping is in use exclusively, it may remain open to the sun, provided its design encourages efficient heat collection.

The piping (including the inflow and outflow) should be composed of materials that are both ideal for heat convection and suitable for exposure to swimming pool water. If the tubing itself is directly exposed to the sun, it should be painted black, or even composed of a black material (black hosing or black PVC pipe).  

Do I Need Additional Pumps?

Whether you require additional pumps to make your DIY solar pool heater work depends upon the heater’s placement. If the heater resides beside the pool, you may not require additional pumps. However, if you have a large pool and require a large heater, placing it right beside the pool may not be an ideal option. Some pool owners actually place their heater on the roof of their home, essentially creating a large, pool-oriented solar panel to heat the pool. If you opt for this method, you will probably require an additional pump to send the water to the heater. This holds true for any time you place the heater at a distance from the pool. In some cases, you may require a pump to return the water from the heater to the pool as well.

Is Creating a DIY Solar Pool Heater Cheaper or More Convenient than Purchasing One?

Creating your own solar pool heater is no small amount of work, and there are inexpensive options available to purchase ready-made, especially if you have a smaller pool. However, if you have particular aesthetic needs, require a customized solution, or have access to free or reusable materials, making your own solar pool heater may be a better option. 

In terms of cost, it’s also important to keep in mind the time and energy you’ll have to devote to building the heater.  You’ll want to overestimate both, because there is likely to be some trial and error involved. 

Other Options

There’s another way to heat your pool using the sun’s rays: a solar “blanket.” This is a special type of pool cover, engineered to use the sun’s heat to take the edge off your pool’s chill. A solar blanket alone can warm your pool 10-20 degrees! They’re most effective when used to cover both the pool and the pump when not in use, during peak solar hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). The solar blanket may be placed and removed by hand, or with the use of a swimming pool cover reel. Solar blankets can be a great, inexpensive way to extend the use of your pool a few additional weeks during cooler spring and fall weather.

Improving Your Pool Experience

Whichever option you choose, you should always be on the lookout for ways to improve your home swimming (and pool maintenance) experiences. After all, your swimming pool is an investment, an investment in your fun, relaxation, and quality family time! A swimming pool heater can help to extend the swimming season.

Another way you can make your pool a more pleasurable part of your life is by putting a pHin monitor to work. The device tests water quality constantly (including temperature) and alerts you via a custom app. You can even order any necessary chemicals in pre-measured pods, automatically, as required.

Another way you can make your pool a more pleasurable part of your life is by becoming a pHin member. pHin takes the guesswork out of pool and hot tub care. The monitor senses water quality (and temperature) 24/7, notifications are sent to your smartphone when the chemistry needs rebalancing, and the chemicals you’ll be needing are shipped right to your door in pre-measured, color-coded pods about every 4-6 weeks.

Your swimming pool should be a source of joy for you and your family, and you can maximize that joy by minimizing the headaches it can cause in terms of maintenance and work. And, of course, by giving your family warmer water when they most want it, with a solar pool heater.

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