One of the advantages of having your own pool is enjoying it whenever you choose. However, that ‘advantage’ disappears if the weather is bad. Depending on the climate in your area, swim season may last only a couple of months, which limits your freedom to swim. Here’s where a pool heater comes in. Choosing the right heater for your pool can be a challenge. For this reason, we’ve created a list of the best pool heaters on the market. We’ve also added a brief buyer’s guide to help you understand how heaters differ and which features are essential. Finally, we’ll answer some of the most common questions related to the topic.
OUR TOP PICK
Natural gas heaters are ideal for in-ground pools and hot tubs. They can quickly heat water and maintain a constant temperature for a long time. When choosing a natural gas heater, make sure that your house has a gas line. A professional installation will ensure that no hazards occur during use.
Hayward Universal 400,000 BTU heater can heat a body of water up to 1,200 square feet. Smaller heater sizes are also available. Natural gas heaters may be costly to operate depending on the gas price in your area and frequency of use.
However, this model is highly energy-efficient. The innovative design significantly reduces the circulation pump run time. Furthermore, Hayward Universal heaters are environmentally friendly. They’re perfect for areas with low-NOx emission requirements.
An intuitive control panel allows you to set the preferred temperature, sit back, and relax – the Hayward Universal heater will do everything for you. A digital thermometer accurately registers the temperature and indicates it clearly on an LED screen.
You can also perform quick system diagnostics to make sure it’s running correctly. Corrosion protection prevents premature failure caused by unbalanced water chemistry, the main enemy of any gas or electric heater.
Hayward Universal natural gas heaters are a reliable option that won’t lose their reliability even in the most aggressive water conditions. A two-year manufacturer’s warranty on internal parts is included. However, we recommend taking proper care so it will last longer.
A highly resilient copper-nickel heat exchanger ensures greater durability and longevity even in salt-based, high-flow water. In addition, the polymer header design provides superior performance, saving energy and protecting against erosion damage.
Strong wind and rain won’t affect the heater’s work. The forced draft system moves air through the combustion chamber at a precise rate. This eliminates all outside weather variables that may possibly affect the heater’s performance.
- Heats pools up to 1,200 square ft. quickly
- Isn’t affected by weather conditions
- 2-year warranty
- Not suitable for above-ground pools
Solar heaters have many advantages compared to traditional gas or electric heaters. They’re suitable both for in-ground and above-ground pools and don’t require professional installation with rare exceptions.
Such heaters are environmentally friendly, as they use renewable sun energy instead of natural gas, electricity, or fossil fuels. Solar panels don’t produce any emissions and are the best option for areas with low-NOx requirements. Despite relatively high initial costs, solar heaters are the most cost-effective option in the long run. By choosing solar power, you save money on installation, maintenance, and energy.
The Smart Pool solar heater consists of seven panels measuring 4 feet x 20 feet in total. It can raise the water temperature by as much as 10° Fahrenheit on a sunny day. However, this figure depends on the pool size, the climate in your area, and a range of other factors. If you have a large pool or live in a cloudy area, you may need several panels for higher efficiency.
The heat collector is constructed from durable polypropylene to ensure constant water temperature and a higher heating pace. A liquid heat shield from the same brand is a useful addition to the heater. It reduces pool water evaporation, consequently preserving the heat gained by the solar panel.
Overall, solar panels are a perfect choice for in-ground pools located in sunny climates. You can easily regulate the water temperature by varying the number of panels or running them at night.
Although solar panels can be installed by a nonprofessional, an installation kit is required and sold separately. Such heaters aren’t affected by harsh water chemistry and therefore don’t require any maintenance apart from occasional cleaning.
- Environmentally friendly with zero emissions
- Simple installation
- Doesn’t require extensive maintenance
- Doesn’t work quickly
- Dependent on the weather
The Blue Wave Solar Blanket comes in eight sizes from 12- to 33-feet in diameter. Thus, it’s suitable for various pools and can be easily trimmed to fit with regular scissors. An appealing bright blue color is chosen for better heat penetration. The upper blanket side is smooth, while the second features thousands of bubbles. Such insulated cells trap the heat, spread it evenly, and preserve it on cloudy days or at night.
The blanket is made from UV-protected polymer that is resistant to deterioration caused by harsh water chemistry. A 3-year manufacturer’s warranty is included.
This solar blanket raises water temperature by up to 15° Fahrenheit, depending on the amount of sun. Furthermore, the blanket reduces water evaporation by up to 95%. This helps maintain the water temperature, reduces chemical emissions, and saves you time and money on water treatments.
Solar blankets are highly versatile. They can be used on their own as the main heater if you live in a sunny climate or prefer chilly water. But they also are a perfect addition to any other heater type. For example, you can use a solar blanket as a regular pool cover alternative and a gas or electric heater to quickly heat up the water. In addition, such pool covers may significantly reduce the energy consumption of traditional heaters.
Finally, the Blue Wave Solar Blanket doesn’t require any installation or maintenance. Simply unwrap it and cover your pool, wait a while, then enjoy the warm water. The blanket can be just as quickly removed. Thus, it’s a perfect choice for above-ground pools that are often used seasonally.
- Suitable for any pool type
- Environmentally friendly
- Prevents water evaporation
- Not suitable for cold climates
- Doesn’t heat up water quickly
We’ve already extolled the virtues of natural gas heaters and their benefits for in-ground pools and home spas. This means the Hayward Universal H-Series 150,000 BTU heater, like its 400,000 BTU counterpart mentioned above, is more than up to the job.
This Hayward version can also heat water quickly and keep it at that level for long periods. So for areas with low-NOx emission requirements, this type of heater is ideal. You’ll, of course, need a gas line to connect it to, which might mean getting in touch with a professional to safely make the installation.
This smaller version of the Hayward Universal can only heat up a body of water up to 400 square feet, but that might be adequate for many pool owners. While it can be costly to operate, more so than solar panels or water pumps, it’s still highly energy efficient. The innovative design significantly reduces circulation pump run time.
In addition, the Hayward 150,000 BTU heater features an intuitive front control panel, a digital instant-read thermometer, and an LED temperature screen. Just set the preferred temperature and let the Hayward Universal heater do the rest. Finally, there’s corrosion protection to prevent premature failure due to unbalanced water chemistry.
All Hayward Universal natural gas heaters feature a two-year manufacturer’s warranty on internal parts, making them a reliable option that will last for many years to come. And with additional proper care, the appliance can last longer.
The cupronickel heat exchanger is highly resistant and ensures greater durability and longevity even in salt-based, high-flow, or aggressive water chemistry. In addition, the polymer header design lends the device superior performance, saves energy, and protects against erosion damage.
It’s also designed to let air flow consistently through the combustion chamber at a precise rate, thus eliminating outside weather variables that can affect the overall performance. So don't worry about strong winds affecting the heater’s work.
- Heats pools up to 400 square ft. quickly
- Isn’t affected by weather conditions
- 2-year warranty
Not suitable for above-ground pools
The Sun2Solar Heat-Retaining Blanket is a perfect option both for in-ground and above-ground pools. It can be used on its own for smaller pools and those located in hot climates. However, the best way to use it is to combine it with another heater type. A solar blanket will ensure that no heat is lost while the main heating appliance is off. Furthermore, a blanket prevents up to 95% of pool water evaporation. This result is less frequent pool refill and lower costs.
This solar blanket comes in sizes from 10 feet to 30 feet, all round-shaped. If your pool has a different shape, a bubble blanket can be easily trimmed to fit using regular scissors. Most importantly, this won’t affect the manufacturer’s warranty. Two tint options are available – clear and blue. One of the blanket’s sides is smooth, while another is covered in tiny bubbles for better heat retention.
One significant advantage of solar blankets compared to any other heater type is the ease of installation. No plumbing or wiring is needed – simply unwrap it and cover your pool. Removing it takes just as little effort. Thus, it’s a perfect choice for pools used frequently.
Last but not least, a solar blanket protects your pool from debris and prevents children or animals from falling into the water. It’s especially beneficial for above-ground or unfenced pools.
- Reduces water evaporation
- Protects pool from dirt
- Easy to install
- Retains heat during the night
May not be sufficient for very large pools
Before you purchase any pool equipment, you should understand what factors you need to consider. In this section, we’ll share some tips for finding the most suitable pool heater.
The first step in selecting the right heater for your pool is determining which kind of heater you need. Here are the most common heater types found on the market.
It’s an environmentally friendly and energy-efficient option. The main issue is that such heaters operate by extracting heat from the outside air. Thus, they’re only suitable for pools located in warmer climates or when used during the summer season.
Natural Gas or Propane Heater
Such heaters can maintain constant water temperature in any weather conditions and heat quicker than any other type. The main drawback is high operating costs.
Depending on your location, it may not be the most energy-efficient option. This heater type is perfect for people living in areas with an average temperature below 55° Fahrenheit who only need to heat the pool occasionally for short periods.
If you decide on this option, consider the costs and availability of natural gas or propane in your area. You should also make sure a gas line is already installed in your house.
Electric Pool and Spa Heaters, or Tank-Less Heaters
Such heaters don’t take up much space and have a low initial cost. However, operating them may cost five or six times more than a regular heat pump. Nevertheless, it’s a good option for spas and hot tubs or smaller pools that aren’t used frequently.
Solar Panels or Solar Blanket
It’s an environmentally friendly alternative to natural gas or electric heaters. Although the initial costs may be high, they’re free to operate and are therefore more cost-effective in the long term. Naturally, such a heating option is most suitable for sunny climates.
But even if you live in a colder climate, solar panels may be an adequate option. The required number of panels depends on the size of the pool and desired temperature.
The larger the pool, the larger the heater needed. While that may sound correct, it isn’t always that simple. We recommend calculating how big a heater you need by first determining the pool size.
- The first step is to determine the pool’s surface area - it’s more important than its volume in gallons. If you own a pool with a large surface area, the heat has more space from which to escape. Subsequently, more water needs to be heated, and a larger heater is required. On the other hand, if the pool is deep but has a smaller surface area, the heat will escape more slowly.
- Once you find out the pool’s surface area, divide that number by three. The result is the minimum required BTU size recommended for your pool. For instance, the recommended heater size for 16 feet x 32 feet is 250,000 BTU. A 400,000 BTU heater can easily heat a 20x40 pool.
For more precise results, you can use a formula with more variables.
- Measure the current pool temperature and extract it from the desired temperature.
- Then, multiply the pool’s surface area by the temperature difference and then by 12. You’ll get the required heater size in BTUs per hour.
- If you have a very deep pool, use water volume in gallons instead of surface area.
Finding a pool heater that has low operating costs and heats water quickly is challenging. The balance between these variables is the heater’s efficiency. Below, you’ll find some recommendations to help you find the most energy effective pool heater:
BTU Rating Matters
It’s crucial to get one that’s adequately sized for your pool heater. For instance, a heater with 250,000 BTU won’t be sufficient for a 20x40 pool. Generally, the higher is the BTU rating, the quicker the heater will heat a pool. This doesn’t mean that you should get an appliance with the highest possible BTU rating, though.
Overly high BTU will cause your heater to keep turning on and off, resulting in overpowering and increasing the energy bill.
Consider Different Energy Sources, Their Costs, and Their Effectiveness
While natural gas or propane will quickly heat your pool, they need to be refilled constantly. Electrical heaters will most likely drive up your energy bill drastically. On the other hand, solar power is entirely free, though solar panels take more time to heat the pool. In other words, no option is perfect.
Consider the climate, price of gas and electricity in your area, pool size, and how often it is used. Any of these options may be the right fit for you, depending on the answers.
Any heater should be used wisely to improve efficiency. Turn the heater off when the pool isn’t used, and don’t forget about pool covers.
For larger pools, you may combine two heater types – for example, a gas heater and a solar blanket. This way, the pool will always remain relatively warm using free solar power but can be quickly heated up using a gas heater. Professional diagnostics will help to optimize your heater’s energy consumption.
Ease of Installation and Maintenance
Although heater installation is only required once, you should consider how easy it is to install. Complicated professional installation can lead to higher initial costs.
Gas heaters must be installed by a qualified contractor. The process involves PVC and gas plumbing, electrical wiring, and sometimes venting. Incorrect installation may cause a hazard. The same goes for heat pumps, as they require a dedicated breaker to supply power to the unit. If you already have it, you can do that yourself. But if you don’t, expert help is highly recommended.
On the other hand, solar pool heaters are the easiest to install unless placed on a roof. They don’t have to be connected to a power unit or plumbing, though it’s crucial to find the right position.
Any pool heater requires maintenance, though the costs and frequency will differ. Gas pool heaters require regular heat exchanger and heat floor cleaning, and burner flame and wiring inspections to keep them safe.
Heat pumps also need to be cleaned inside out and inspected for wiring or refrigerant line insulation issues. Solar heaters require minimal maintenance. You can easily clean them yourself, though annual diagnostics may be beneficial.
Some home maintenance tips can save you repair costs in the long term. Keep an eye on your pool’s water chemistry, as water high in acidity can damage the heating equipment. You must also make sure that your heater is always clear of debris.
If you have any doubt remaining after reading the buyer’s guide, we’re here to help. Read on to find out the answers to some of the most common questions related to pool heaters.
What is the Best Way to Heat an Above Ground Pool?
Above-ground pools are generally smaller than in-ground options. Less water means a lower amount of energy is needed to heat the pool. Plus, such pools are typically used seasonally and removed during colder months. The heater should be easy to install and remove.
Finally, owners of such pools likely aren’t looking to spend thousands on equipment, so the appliance must be affordable.
Based on the considerations mentioned above, electrical and gas heaters aren’t the best option. They may require expensive professional installation and can’t be easily removed due to connected plumbing or wiring. Heat pumps are a better choice, as they don’t involve complicated installation and are very affordable to operate.
Alternatively, you may want to look into solar-powered heaters. Solar panels aren’t necessarily expensive. Most above-ground pools require a single small panel that may cost below $200.
Solar blankets are another great option that are easy to remove and will reduce heat loss by up to 50%. Such blankets will also protect your pool from debris and animals, a common issue with above-ground pools that are placed right on the lawn and aren’t fenced.
Are Above Ground Pool Heaters Worth It?
There’s no specific answer to this question. However, if you prefer warm water and have a decently sized pool, a heater is certainly worth it. After all, you should be able to enjoy your pool at any moment you wish and should be comfortable doing so.
Heat pumps may be expensive, though solar-powered heaters are generally affordable. Furthermore, if your pool heater is a solar blanket, it can also protect your pool from flying debris.
If you have a small pool and live in a warm climate, though, the sun rays will likely be sufficient to heat it. You should also consider the frequency and length of time you think you’ll be using the pool.
If you’re planning to swim not only during summer but also in autumn and spring, a heater is definitely a good idea. Purchasing it only for few months of occasional use may be a waste of money.
What Size Above Ground Pool Heater Do I Need?
The heater’s size is closely related to the pool’s size. A heater should be strong enough to heat the whole body of water but not overpower itself. First, you need to calculate the pool’s surface area (The depth is not important for this purpose). Above-ground pools generally aren’t deep, plus the water evaporates quickly from the surface.
Next, multiply the length and width of your pool. You can treat round pools as square or use a formula for circle surface area calculation. Then, divide the result by three to get the minimum required heater size in BTU.
Another point to consider is how quickly you wish your pool to heat up. While smaller heaters consume less energy, they are also slower. Therefore, a larger heater may actually provide lower operating costs due to the time it takes to heat your pool.
As for the solar-powered options, the answer also depends on the climate in your area. If a lot of daily sun isn’t common in your area, you may have to purchase more panels than you think. On the other hand, pool owners residing in sunny climates can probably get by using a solar blanket to keep the pool constantly warm.
Do Solar Heaters Work for Above Ground Pools?
Yes. In fact, solar heaters are one of the best options for above-ground pools. They have many things in common with above-ground heaters – both are easy to install and maintain and can be removed at any time. Plus, above-ground pools are often used seasonally, and so are solar heaters. As such pools are generally smaller than in-ground ones, they don’t require powerful gas or electric appliances.
Often, a solar blanket or a single solar panel is sufficient. A common misconception is that a solar heater will make a small pool overly hot in a sunny climate. In reality, this can be easily solved by operating the heater at night. In short, you can’t go wrong with a solar heater for an above-ground pool.
The Best Pool Heater
Hopefully, our guide has helped you determine which heater type is required for your pool. For above-ground pools, we recommend solar-powered heaters. They’re environmentally friendly, cost-effective, and easy to use.
For larger in-ground pools, on the other hand, a natural gas heater remains the best choice. Our list of best pool heaters includes both options made by industry-leading brands to ensure that all pool owners can find what they’re looking for.