Pool Heater Comparison: Heat Pumps, Gas, Solar and Electric

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There’s a wide variety of pool heaters out there these days, but in the end, they all serve the same purpose. Taking that into consideration, if all pool heaters essentially do the same job, which one does it best? That’s where the subjectivity of the issue comes into play. In reality, only the consumer can determine which option is best for their particular situation. Some heaters cost significantly less off the bat but rack up high operation costs down the road. On a similar note, while some heaters may incur a higher initial cost, they provide a level of performance and efficiency that offsets it.

Currently, pool owners can choose between four major forms of pool heating – heat pumps, gas, solar, and electrical resistance. Each pool heater type comes with a unique set of advantages – this post will help you determine which is best for you. Here’s a straightforward and honest pool heater comparison (scroll to the bottom for a side-by-side comparison):

Pool Heat Pumps (Air-Source)

 

Pool Heat Pump Comparison

(Pool Heat Pump Comparison)

 

How They Work:

Air-source pool heat pumps operate by pulling in and harvesting free heat from the air. The heat is transferred to a heat exchanger through which water flows and simultaneously heats up. From there, the heated water is pumped back into the pool. Utilizing mainly natural resources and a minimal amount of electricity to operate, pool heat pumps are among one of the most cost effective and eco-friendly pool heating options available.

Initial Cost and Long-Term Outlook:

Pool heat pumps can be purchased from anywhere between $2,000 – $4,000. Most units yield a COP of 5.0-6.0, meaning that for every unit consumed, 5 to 6 units are produced. Aside from solar heaters, pool heat pumps are the most cost effective solution for pool heating.  However, this is not to say that any particular pool heat pump is flawless in design and performance.

Pool heat pumps operate at an optimal level up to a certain air temperature threshold. For most units, this temperature sits at the 50 degrees Fahrenheit range, with more advanced units able to operate down to 40 degrees. Of course, this isn’t a concern for those who live in areas with warmer climates, but those living in colder states should consider how often they plan to swim throughout the year. On the plus side, pool heat pumps help to significantly extend the swimming season of those living in areas with a wider range of climates.

The average pool heat pump has a lifespan between 10-20 years.

 

Gas Pool Heaters

Gas Pool Heater Comparison

(Gas Pool Heater Comparison)

 

How They Work:

The first factor to keep in mind with gas heaters is speed. Where most pool heaters take a few hours to heat up the water, gas heaters do so almost instantly in comparison. This is accomplished by the heater’s ability to utilize combustion to quickly produce heat. Since gas heaters rely heavily on gas, their operation is not restricted by factors such as temperature or weather – but as we know, all good things come at a cost, especially speed.

Initial Cost and Long-Term Outlook:

Although decent gas heaters can be purchased for as little as $1,500, owners can expect to pay that amount in operation costs all over again in as little as 3 months. Most gas heaters yield a COP between 0.80 and .85, meaning that for every unit of energy consumed, less than one unit is produced.  Gas is not a renewable resource, so naturally, obtaining it on a consistent basis can become quite costly – because of this, gas heaters are more commonly seen in small spa set ups.

Unfortunately, among all pool heating options, gas heaters are the least eco-friendly due to emissions from burned gas.

The average gas heater has a lifespan between  5-10 years.

 

Solar Pool Heaters

Solar Pool Heater Comparison

(Solar Pool Heater Comparison)

 

How They Work:

Solar energy is irrefutably one of the most “green” methods of pool heating currently available to consumers. Solar heaters utilize strategically installed solar panels to harvest the heat of the sun. The panels typically sit on the roof or lawn of the owner’s home, functioning as the primary source of heat within the full circulation of heat transfer. From start to finish, pool water is drawn into the pump system and pumped through the panels, where it is heated up and returned back into the pool. Overall, solar pool heaters are one of the most eco-friendly options available, using a renewable energy resource and producing zero emissions.

Initial Cost and Long-Term Outlook:

Although an exceptionally cost effective pool heating solution in the long term, solar heaters tend to be among the most expensive options to install with initial prices sitting between $4,000 and $7,000. On the plus side, since solar heaters fully rely on the sun, there are absolutely no additional monthly operation charges. However,  it’s still important to consider the heater’s solar dependency, which naturally brings in a few restrictions.

On cloudy days, the performance of solar heaters becomes noticeably less efficient, and at night they won’t really operate much at all.  Additionally, since solar heaters are “naturally-powered”, the heating process is rather slow when compared to the speed of others methods. To balance things out, some solar pool heater owners install a backup pool heat pump to cover the night shift and cloudy days.

The average solar pool heater has a lifespan between 15-20 years.

 

Electric Pool Heaters (Electric Resistance)

Electric Pool Heater

(Electric Pool Heater Comparison)

 

How They Work:

Electric pool heaters are the 100 percent electricity powered solution to pool heating. The units generate heat through electrical currents that are drawn from an external power source and applied to the electric resistor found within the unit. The pool water flows pass the resistor which in turn heats up. During this process, the water simultaneously cools the resistor. From there, the heated water is pumped back into the pool and the process restarts. Since traditional methods of electricity generation rely on non-renewable fuel sources, electric resistance heaters are eco-friendly solely in the sense that they release zero emissions.

Initial Cost and Long-Term Outlook:

Electric resistance heaters incur a fairly low initial cost at as little as $2,000 for a new unit, and can operate efficiently regardless of weather conditions. However, electric resistance heaters are not particular energy efficient, yielding a COP of 1.0 and incurring high monthly operation costs between $500-$600. Because of this, electric resistance heaters are typically installed in small pool/spa set ups, or used as backup heaters.

The average electric resistance heater has a lifespan between 5-10 years.

Side-by-Side Pool Heater Comparison Chart

Heat Pumps
(Air-Source)
Gas HeatersSolar HeatersElectric Resistance Heaters
Initial Cost $2,000-$4,000 $1,000-$2,000 $4,000-$7,000 $1,000-$5,000
Energy Efficiency
(COP)
Higher is better
High
(5.0-6.0)
Low
(0.80-0.85)
Excellent
(Renewable energy)
Low
(1.0)
Eco-Friendly Yes No
(Carbon-Dioxide emissions)
 Yes Yes
Operation Cost
(per month)
 Low
($50-$150)
 Mid-High
($300-$500)
 None High
($500-$600)
Weather RestrictionsYes
(Air temperature)
 No Yes
(Sunlight)
 No
Lifespan 10-20 years 5-10 years 15-20 years 5-10 years

You should now have a better understanding of the main differences between the major types of pool heaters. As with any investment, thorough research is key, but remember that protecting an investment is equally as important. With whichever option you choose, be sure to keep the unit properly maintained and serviced to ensure top performance and longevity.

If you have additional pool heating questions, don’t hesitate to contact a pool heating specialist. Medallion Energy is America’s most trusted pool heater repair and distribution facility, offering professional consultation services backed by unrivaled industry expertise.

We hope you found this article helpful! As always, we welcome you to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

4 Responses

  1. Tina Cosgriff

    Does your operating cost prediction for electric resistance heaters include a discount for electricity rates during non-peak hours?

    • Medallion Energy

      Hi, Tina. Thanks for your comment. The cost predictions are based on average daytime use (peak hours). Since that’s when pools are used most often.

  2. I agree with you that there are a lot of heat pumps available in the market. So, its little difficult to choose the better one from them. Heat pump pool heaters cost more than gas pool heaters, but they typically have much lower annual operating costs because of their higher efficiencies. With proper maintenance, heat pump pool heaters typically last longer than gas pool heaters. Therefore, you’ll save more money in the long run.

    • Medallion Energy

      Thanks for your comment. And you’re right. Pool heat pumps are all about long-term savings and efficiency.