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
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
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,”
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
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.