Want to get more time and use from your backyard pool? Here are our hand-picked selections of the best heaters for above-ground swimming pools.
The backyard pool is one of the staples of summer.
Splashing around under the sun and in the crystal-clear waters of your above-ground swimming pool is a great way to spend the long summer days.
One of the ways to make the most of your pool is a heater.
Having a heater for your above ground pool is important for a few reasons:
- You can use the pool earlier and later in the day. Whether it’s sitting around in the water under the stars or first thing in the morning for a quick workout, the heater opens up the cooler hours of the day for pool use.
- Use the pool earlier and later in the year. Some spring days aren’t quite hot enough to swim, while some early fall days fall under the same category of maybe being a little chilly. A good pool heater makes the water just warm enough to use during these warm-but-not-warm-enough days.
- Makes it comfortable on cooler days. Summer isn’t always blazing sunshine and rays. There are days where the wind is blowing a little and the clouds are out. A pool heater allows you to comfortably use your pool these days too.
Let’s assume that you are properly using a cover for your above-ground swimming pool. A solar pool cover is crucial because it helps retain heat—whether the sun or your heater is doing the heating—when the pool is not in use, whether during the day or overnight. (A proper winter pool cover helps protect your above-ground pool during the colder months when the pool is not in use.)
Plus, no sense in heating up your pool and then having the wind blow the warmth off.
But where to start?
Which heater is the best for your above-ground pool?
Here is a breakdown of our hand-picked selection of the best heaters for above-ground swimming pools.
SunHeater Solar Pool Heater for Above Ground Pools
Take advantage of the long, sun-drenched days of summer by absorbing that sunshine to keep your pool at a comfortable temperature.
The Smartpool Solar Pool Heater comes with two long polypropylene panels (both 2 feet by 20 feet) that can be unfurled near your above-ground pool. The panels can be placed on the roof or in the yard, wherever the sun is beating down the most.
- See also: Check out our breakdown of the best above ground pool skimmers for keeping your backyard pool clean.
Reviewers note that even on cloudier days, the panels were able to soak up enough rays to warm their above-ground pool by several degrees, with several days of sunshine boosting pool temperature by 12-20 degrees.
Although some of the product shots feature a mounting rack for the panels, you will need to either lay it flat in an area where the sun is beating down (on the roof, for example) or construct a mounting platform yourself.
Installation is easy, with the heater using your existing filtration system. SunHeater also packs its heater with plumbing fixtures to ensure a quick hook-up.
Cost-wise, the SunHeater panels run for around $235 (check Amazon for current pricing and availability).
Intex Solar Heater Mat for Above Ground Swim Pool
Intex is one of the leading builders of above-ground swimming pools, so it would make sense that they also produce heaters for backyard pools.
Designed specifically to work with Intex filter pumps, the solar mat is an efficient and cheap way to keep your pool running at a comfortable temperature.
Best suited for pools up to 8,000 gallons, the mat is hooked up in a matter of moments, and multiple mats are recommended for larger pools.
Intex says that you can expect an increase of 5-9 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the amount of sun and volume of your pool.
Intex’s Solar Heater Mat is easy to hook up to your pool, and priced at just around $60 (check here for current pricing on Amazon), provides a cost-effective way to keep your pool nice and comfortable this summer.
GAME SolarPro Above Ground Pool Heater
This pool heater is universal, meaning that no matter what model of pool you are rocking with, it helps warm the temperature a few degrees in a handful of days.
Designed for pools that are no larger than 8,000 gallons, the Game SolarPro soaks up the sun and transfers that heat to your pool. Reviewers found that the heater worked best when paired with a bypass kit (sold separately).
GAME’s backyard pool heater and its unique design don’t come cheap, with third-party sellers on Amazon selling them for between $350-400 (check here for current pricing on Amazon).
Hayward Universal H-Series Above Ground Pool Heater
If you are looking for a more robust heater for larger pools, and something that is powered by natural gas, the Hayward Universal H-Series Heaters are your go-to pick.
The heat exchanger is made of durable nickel, protecting the unit from corrosion from unbalanced pool water. The Hayward unit has a front-mounted display unit for easy access to settings and operation.
Available in a variety of BTU (a handy rule of thumb is that to maintain ideal pool temperature, you will need about 10 BTU per square foot of pool surface), from 150,000 to 400,00 BTU, accommodating a wide variety of above ground pool sizes.
Hayward makes heavyweight equipment for backyard pools, making the H-Series a solid pick for the more serious backyard pools. These units reflect this seriousness in price, with the 150,000 BTU model costing $3,475.
Hayward HeatPro Pool Heat Pump
For slightly smaller above-ground pools, Hayward also produces a model that is best suited for pools in the 90,000-140,000 range.
Made with a profiled fan that is engineered to be quiet, and with a corrosion-free gold fin, the Hayward Pool Heat Pump is designed to withstand the elements while also being relatively quiet.
The heat pump is efficient, but best paired with an above-ground pool cover when the pool is not in use. As one reviewer notes, leaving the pool uncovered combined with a half-decent wind quickly robs a lot of the heat being generated by the pump.
Again, Hayward’s stuff isn’t cheap, with the 140,000 BTU model ranging in the $9k+ price range. With the explosion in backyard pools over the past couple of years, this has meant some models don’t last long in stock (check Amazon to see pricing and availability).
What are the different types of pool heaters?
There are three kinds of pool heaters available for backyard swimming pools.
✔️ Heat pumps.
Powered by electricity, heat pumps suck in air, and after a series of interactions with the evaporator coil, liquid refrigerant and the compressor, water is warmed and returned to the pool.
Heat pumps are best suited for warmer climates where the weather remains above 45-degree Fahrenheit. Any cooler and efficiency quickly drops.
✔️ Gas heaters.
These types of pool heaters are powered by the same stinky gas that fuels your backyard barbecue—natural gas or propane.
Water is filtered through the pump and heated via gas being combusted before being circulated back into the pool.
Gas heaters aren’t perfectly efficient, ranging in 60-95% efficacy. For example, if you are spending $100 on gas, and the heater is rated at 75% efficiency, you are spending $75 on heating the pool and $25 is wasted.
Gas pool heaters have ratings that indicate their efficiency that can be found on their nameplates.
✔️ Solar pool heaters.
Finally, we have the most cost-effective heating solution (* for specific climates) for your swimming pool.
Harnessing the power of the sun, solar pool heaters collect sun through a collector, pumps water through to warm it up, and then sends it back to the pool.
Solar pool heaters take longer to warm the pool, and unlike gas or electricity, which heat reliably and consistently, aren’t as efficient in areas that don’t get lots of sun.
They vary widely in price, with professional installations costing in the thousands of dollars, while backyard solar pool heaters for smaller above-ground pools can cost as little as $100.
Solar pool heaters are perfect for really hot climates as they can also be used to cool the water during epically hot streaks of weather. The cycle is reversed, with water flowing up to the panels when the sun is down, cooling the water.
How long does it take to heat an above-ground pool
Great question and there are a few different factors at play.
How long it takes for your pool to get warmer depends on:
🏊 Size of the pool. Most backyard swimming pools fall in the 10,000 to 20,000-gallon range, and matching up your pool heater to the volume of the pool is crucial. A smaller heater will be “cheap” but will require longer run times in order to warm the water.
🏊 Current temperature of the water. The amount of time it takes to heat the pool is influenced by how cold or lukewarm the water is right now. A covered pool will be quicker to warm as it retains heat and gives you a shorter jump to the desired water temp. Expect to require between 12-24 hours to warm a frigid pool that’s been left uncovered to a more comfortable temperature.
🏊 Type of pool. Inground pools are often faster to warm because the sides of the pool aren’t exposed to the elements. Above ground pools—and we are talking strictly in generalities here—are a little slower to warm.
🏊 Type of heater. And of course, the type of heater you employ will play a huge role in how quickly the pool will be heated. Gas pool heaters are capable of increasing the water temperature by 6-7 degrees Fahrenheit in around six hours. In this case, researching each heater, your pool, and the climate of your neighborhood will be required for choosing the ideal heater. For example, if you live in the cloudy Pacific Northwest, a solar pool heater is a less efficient option and will take longer the heat the water.
🏊 Use of pool covers. Pool covers retain a lot of the heat that water will soak up over the course of the day. By covering the pool when it’s not in use, you cut down on the amount of energy and time it takes to warm the water when you open the pool.
How can I save money running my above ground pool heater?
The good news is that there are other ways to keep your pool temperature warm or at least close to warm, most specifically the use of a solar pool cover, which can cut down on the amount of work your pool heater is being asked to do.
In fact, using a pool cover is far and away the best way to significantly cut down on pool heating costs.
According to the smarty-pants over at the U.S. Department of Energy, by using a heat pump a pool owner in Miami will spend $1,499 to keep their pool at 78-degrees.
But this is without using a pool cover.
When our hypothetical pool owner uses a cover, energy costs drop to just $2931.
This drastic difference in energy costs is similar to gas pool heaters2 ($2,910 versus $567).
Simply covering the pool when it’s not in use will cut down on the effects cooler air has on your pool.
How to properly size a pool heater
The climate in your area and the size of your swim pool are the two main factors to consider when shopping around for a pool heater.
You can get a good idea of what you are going to need from your pool heater by looking at the average air temperature during the coldest month(s) that you plan on using the pool.
Take that number and subtract the target temperature of your pool. The result will be the number of temperature desired rise.
Average air temperature during cold months of pool use – desired pool temperature = Target temperature rise
Once you have the target temp rise, multiply this by the pool surface area (in square feet). From here we can figure out the BTU requirements from your pool heater.
Pool area (square feet) x Target temperature rise x 12 = BTU range for your pool heater
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