Whether it’s new construction or an equipment replacement, today’s pool heating technologies offer a solution to every consumer’s needs.
Here, builders, servicepeople and manufacturers share insights on discussing heating options with customers. As these industry veterans explain, selecting a system is a straightforward process, but a strong knowledge base will keep the dialogue on track.
The conversation about heating is likely to begin in one of two ways.
For new construction, the heating system will probably come up in the overall design discussion. If the project involves an existing pool, on the other hand, the customers’ interest will typically stem from dissatisfaction with their current heating situation, which will lead them to initiate the dialogue.
In either case, it’s a good idea to first assess the customer’s pool usage needs.
“Start by asking them how often they plan to use their pool,” says Terry Doyle, marketing manager at Raypak in Oxnard, Calif. “Are they looking for a system that allows them to turn the heater on Friday night and be swimming in warm water by Saturday? Or are they looking to maintain a constant temperature year-round?”
If quick heating is a priority for the customer, it makes sense to recommend a gas heater — although these entail a higher energy bill, they’re reliable and rapid. But if the homeowner is willing to wait a week or so to get the pool up to the desired temperature — or if the pool is going to be kept at a certain temperature for extended periods — a heat pump or solar heating system is likely to make more sense. Despite the slower speed of these options, they’re more energy-efficient than gas heaters, so they’ll involve much lower monthly bills.
It’s also important to ask how long of a swim season the customer expects to enjoy. Though every region’s climate is different, it’s beneficial to keep some general rules in mind. “If they say they’d like to extend the swim season beyond the summer months, then we look at how long they want to stretch it,” says Brian Evers, store sales manager at Dolphin Pool and Spa in Burnsville, Minn.
For those customers who want to keep swimming well into autumn, a gas heater may be the best recommendation — though again, it’s important to make the customer aware of the monthly gas costs involved. If the customer only wants to extend the season a few weeks on either end of summer, however, the combination of a heat pump or solar system with a heat-retaining pool cover may be sufficient to maintain a warm temperature.
In fact, builders, service technicians and manufacturers all recommend complementing any heating system with a cover, at least during the cooler months on the margins of the swim season. “We always recommend some type of cover — whether it be a liquid solar cover or a traditional cover — because most of the pool’s heat is lost from the surface of the water,” says Brian Diglio, president of Blue Wave Pool Service & Supplies in Hamden, Conn.
Weigh the options
The next step is to compare, side by side, the costs and benefits of each heating method — or group of methods — in which the customer has expressed interest. Telling a client that a certain type of equipment brings higher monthly costs, or that it can bring significant energy savings, isn’t always enough to fully convey the differences between options. Thus, an explanation of the exact numbers involved will ensure that customers are clear on what the system’s upkeep will entail, and will be satisfied with the purchase they make.
If the customer is interested in a gas heater, explaining the costs now can prevent surprises down the road.
“A gas heater will cost around $4,000 to install, and bring a gas bill that can range from $150 to $700 a month, depending on the time of year,” says Roy Heine, founder of Suntrek Industries in Irvine, Calif.
For some customers, these costs aren’t particularly significant. But others, Heine says, end up shutting down their gas heaters and seeking out other heating options when these monthly bills begin to pile up. Even if a full explanation of gas heating costs prevents an immediate sale, an open and honest discussion now may create an appreciative and loyal client for the future.
A heat pump installation typically comes with similar equipment costs to those entailed by a gas heater, though some heating experts say those costs may run up to $1,000 higher. Still, the monthly price tag of operating a heat pump will average somewhat lower. “You’ll typically end up with an electric bill from $75 to $500 a month, depending on the climate and the season,” Heine says.
Another aspect of heat pump usage that’s important to note is the rate at which it can raise water temperature — whereas a gas heater can often raise a pool’s temperature by as much as 10 degrees in a single day, a heat pump’s maximum is closer to two to four degrees per day, depending on the air temperature and the ratio of the heat pump’s capacity to the size of the pool.
Environmentally conscious consumers are likely to bring up solar heating, but they may need some explanation to grasp what’s involved in setting up and running one of these systems. “The average cost of a solar pool heating system is approximately $4,000 — about the same price as the other heating methods,” Heine says.
The main advantage of solar heating is that utility bills for these systems will run much lower than those associated with other heating technologies, because the only power necessary for heating water with solar panels is the electricity that runs the pool’s circulation pump. The main downside is the pace of heating — most solar systems will heat water at the same rate as a comparable heat pump: Approximately two to four degrees per day.
A possible compromise between these options is to combine a gas heater with a heat pump or solar heating system, forming a hybrid heating solution that combines low-cost efficiency with boosts of speed when needed. “If cost isn’t a factor in the project, we’d definitely introduce the option to combine multiple heating elements,” Evers says. For instance, a gas heater might be helpful to kick the pool up to a certain temperature during the first or last few weeks of the swim season, but a heat pump might be enough to maintain the desired temperature for the rest of the summer.
For a system involving solar heating, “We can plumb the solar cells in as a pre-heater, but they can function as the primary heating system,” says Dave Sizelove, president of Aquatherm Industries Inc. in Lakewood, N.J. In other words, water flows through the solar system first, then through the gas heater, which can be turned on to warm the water a bit more.
Once the water is brought up to the desired temperature, Sizelove adds, the solar system is often sufficient to maintain it there for at least several months — unless an additional boost is needed, in which case the gas heater would kick in again.
Once the customer has settled on one or more heating methods, it’s time to analyze some physical properties of the pool system as a whole. If the system involves multiple heaters or solar panels, it may be helpful to calculate the system’s total dynamic head (TDH) to ensure the pump is powerful enough to keep up the necessary flow rate.
“You always have to watch your flow, especially if you have multiple heaters,” Sizelove says. Although most modern heaters include built-in bypasses, and thus aren’t very restrictive to flow, it’s still worthwhile to double-check that these additions won’t place undue stress on the pump.
On the solar side of things, the surface area of the house’s roof or attic must be roomy enough to accommodate all the necessary panels. “A good rule of thumb,” Heine says, “is that the surface area of all the collectors combined should be roughly equivalent to the pool’s surface area in order for the system to keep the water heated effectively.”
On a broader scale, it’s also important to take a look around the area where the heater or heat pump is going to be installed, and check it for adequate venting. “We see plenty of heaters out there that are placed too close to windows, or where the installers don’t leave sufficient room for ventilation around them,” Diglio says.
Taking issues like these into account will help keep installation trouble-free. If the heating design is backed up by careful calculation, and the customer has a solid understanding of why the chosen heating options are appropriate for the project, the entire process should move along smoothly.