How to Install a Solar Pool Heater

Written by Michael Dean
March 28, 2024

installing a solar pool heater

A solar heater is a popular way to heat a pool. It is environmentally friendly, has little to no operating costs, and can efficiently heat your pool. So, you’ve bought into the hype and bought yourself a new solar heater for your pool, and you’re wondering how to install it yourself.

Don’t worry; I’m here to help. Here’s my step-by-step guide on installing a solar pool heater, whether for an above ground or inground pool.

Main Takeaways

  • Solar pool heaters can be installed into the existing plumbing of the pool.
  • Solar pool heaters use solar panels to collect sunlight.
  • There are two main parts to installing a solar heater – mounting solar panels and connecting them to the pool’s plumbing.
  • If you want you can also DIY your own solar heater.

Step-By-Step: How to Install a Solar Pool Heater

Installing solar pool heaters is not overly complicated, and most kits come with a comprehensive manual, which you should use along with this guide. If you don’t have a kit yet, check out my recommendations for the best solar heaters for inground and above ground pools.

Solar Heater Installation for Above Ground Pools

Installing a solar pool heater for an above ground pool differs slightly from an inground pool. The solar panels can be installed on the ground, against the side of the pool, or anywhere else in your yard, as long as the return hose can be connected from the solar panel to the pool.

Supplies Checklist

  • Return hose
  • Fitting
  • Hose clamp
  • Solar panels
  • Straps and clips
  • Solar panel rack
  • Garden clearing tools (Rake, spade)
  • Level

Step One: Choosing the Right Solar Panel Size

Before installing the solar heater, it is important that you check that you have the correct solar panel size for your pool. If you’re unsure of how many panels you need, a basic guideline is to have enough panels to cover an area at least half the size of the pool. This is a significant factor in how effective your pool heater will be.

Step Two: Choose the Location

Find a suitable location that gets plenty of direct sunlight. This can be directly next to your pool without any obstructions or even on your roof, although this will mean you need a longer return hose.

Step Three: Prep the Area

Once you have chosen your location, prep the site. The area must be cleared of vegetation, including branches that block sunlight, and the ground must be level. When you’re installing a solar panel rack, it is imperative that the ground is completely level.

Step Four: Install the Solar Panel Rack

You have two choices: buy a pre-made solar panel rack or build one yourself. These racks can be made of wood with four sides for the panels to rest on. Their only function is to hold the solar panels off the ground.

The rack should be secured to the ground, wooden deck, or even the closest fence using stays, brackets, or nails. This is just to ensure the rack can’t fall over or be damaged by heavy winds.

Step Five: Mount the Solar Panels

The solar panels must be mounted onto the rack at an angle facing south or southeast, depending on your location. As the panels are modular, they fit next to each other like puzzle pieces, making them easy to install. Secure the panels with straps or clips.

Step Six: Turn Off the Pool Pump

Before installing the solar heater into the pool’s existing plumbing, turn the pool pump and skimmer off completely.

Step Seven: Connect the Panels to the Pool Plumbing

In this next step, connect the return hose from the inlet header on the solar panel to the pool pump to bring cold water from the pool to the solar panels. This is easy to do as above ground pools have pumps outside the pool in an easy-to-reach place. To send the warm water back into the pool, plug the return hose from the outlet header on the solar panel into the pool wall outlet.

You can either use PVC pipes or even a garden hose to connect the solar heater to the pool.

Step Eight: Test the System

To test if everything has been installed correctly, turn on the pool pump and let it run for a couple of hours. Your water should start to heat up slowly.

Solar Heater Installation for Inground Pools

There’s a slight difference in installing solar heaters for inground pools. Installing a solar heater for an inground pool will take a bit more time as more plumbing is involved. But if you follow these and the manufacturer’s directions closely, you shouldn’t run into many hiccups!

Supplies Checklist

  • Solar panels
  • Solar rack/mount
  • Steel bolts
  • Drill
  • Straps and clips
  • Return hose
  • PVC pipes and adapters
  • 2 x  3-way valve

Step One: Choose the Location

Choosing the location of your solar panels is very important; if you’ve chosen the roof, make sure there is plenty of direct sunlight and ample space for multiple panels and a rack.

Step Two: Secure the Mounts

For this step, you may want to enlist a second pair of hands to help. First, place the mounts on the rafters of the roof about four feet apart. Drill holes into the rafters and secure the mount using steel bolts. Check that the mount is secure and properly fastened.

A pro tip is to use sealer around the drilled holes to prevent any leaks in the roof.

Step Three: Attach the Solar Panels

Once you are sure the mounts are secure, fasten the solar panels to the mounts. Use straps and clips for this.

Step Four: Turn Off the Pool Pump

Before you carry on with the installation, turn off the pool pump and filtration system.

Step Five: Connect the Solar Panels to the Pool Plumbing (Inlet)

This is where things can get a little tricky, so follow the manufacturer’s directions exactly for specific information. Here is a basic guideline:

  1. Connect the bottom inlet header of the solar panels, using PVC pipes, to the 3-way valve. As a side note, this valve controls water flow to and from the solar heater; it can either be automatic or manual.
  2. From the valve, connect the pipe to the pool’s existing pool filter.
  3. From the other end of the pool filter, connect a pipe to the pool pump. Depending on the distance between your pool pump and solar heater, you may need adapters to lengthen the pipes.

Step Six: Connect the Solar Panels to the Pool Plumbing (Outlet)

Once you’ve connected the pipes from the inlet header to the pool pump, now connect the pipes from the outlet header situated at the top of the solar panels.

  1. Using the outlet header, connect the end of the pipe to the 3-way valve.
  2. Connect the pipe from the valve to the pool so warm water flows directly back into the pool.

Step Seven: Test the System

The final step is to turn the pool pump back on, open the valves if not automatic, and let the pool pump run for a couple of hours. You will notice the water begin to warm.

DIY vs. Professional Solar Heater Installation

You can certainly DIY install a solar heater following the instructions above. Installing a solar heater is not as difficult as you may think. It requires some pool plumbing knowledge, so I recommend trying to install it yourself only if you have some prior DIY knowledge.

If you are stuck at any point or are unsure about a part of the installation process, put down the tools and call a professional. There’s absolutely no shame in that! It’s better to install everything correctly the first time around.

Of course, if you opt for professional solar heater installation, you must also consider the labor costs. Budget an additional $40 to $200 an hour (around $500 total on average). Keep in mind that labor costs can vary depending on demand, who you hire (pool professional/plumber/electrician), and where you are based.

How to Make Your Own Solar Pool Heater

Did you know you can also make your own solar pool heater if you want to DIY the entire process? This is a great way to cut down on costs if you’re looking for a super budget-friendly method to heat your pool.

  1. Make a 4 x 8 feet frame using plywood. And make a border for the frame. If you want to go the extra mile, paint the frame black or cover it with black roofing tar paper to help it absorb the sun’s heat.
  2. Get 200 feet of black tubing and roll it into a tight coil in the frame. Leave around 5 to 8 feet of tubing free in the middle (the beginning of the coil) and at the end (the edge of the frame).
  3. Add zip ties to keep the coil tight and in place.
  4. Drill two holes in the frame, one for the intake (the middle 5 feet of free tubing) and the other for the return (the end 5 feet of free tubing).
  5. Connect a submersible pool pump to the intake tubing. You might need to use some kind of adaptor to fit it. Then, attach some kind of rope to the sump pump so you can easily put it in the water when you use it and take it out when you don’t need it.
  6. Hang the other side of the tubing over the side of the pool so that the water goes back in the water once warm.
  7. Turn on the sump pump and put it in your pool to warm the water!

Need Some Maintenance Help?

Send me a message! I can answer any of your pool maintenance, equipment, or other questions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you add solar heating to an existing pool?

Yes, you can add a heater to an existing pool. This is one of the benefits of using solar heaters for your pool. Solar heaters can be plumbed directly into your pool’s existing pool pump and filtration system, whether it’s an above ground pool or an inground pool.

What type of pools and climates is solar heating best for?

The great thing about solar pool heaters is that they can be used in any pool with a pool pump and filter. However, not all climates are suitable for solar heating. If you live in a typically cloudy, cold, or snowy area, your solar pool heater will have difficulty warming your water. In some places where the temperatures reach freezing, your solar heater will stop working altogether. So, if you live in these types of climates, try an electric or gas heater instead.

Go Green with a Solar Heater

While a solar pool heater may not be for everyone, it is a great way to heat your pool if your climate allows it. Plus, it can save you a lot of money down the line thanks to its basically zero operating costs. Installing a solar heater is also pretty DIY-friendly, especially if you have some knowledge of pool plumbing. But if you are stuck at any point, know that you can call a professional at any time.

If you are thinking of purchasing a solar pool heater, learn exactly how a solar pool heater functions, and also check out my in-depth cost analysis to see what price range you fall under!

That’s all you need to know about installing a solar pool heater. If you have any more questions, please let me know!

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