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Solar swimming pool heater troubleshooting Q&A:
Questions & answers about solar pool heaters: choosing, specifictaions, installation, diagnosis & repair.
This article series provides a guide to outdoor swimming pool heater choices, methods, design, installation & troubleshooting. We explain the diagnosis of a poorly-performing outdoor solar swimming pool heating system. Our page top photograph shows the 16 solar collector panels installed for a solar swimming pool heating system that was not working.
Reader Question: how do I stop leaks in my solar pool heater from draining the pool itself?
I have a solar panel system installed below the pool elevation. I get leaks every so often and if I am not home, the pool will drain to nothing. Is there some way to prevent, stop, or turn off the solar to prevent from loosing all the water in my pool? - Tom 9/12/12
You should be able to put in a float switch that turns the solar off when the water gets low - James
Reader Question: using the home heating boiler to heat a swimming pool in Cape Breton?
I have read an article on your site about oil fired hot water heaters
and found them very helpful. My question is, I have an above ground
swimming pool and was wondering if I can heat it with an oil fired
heater.The pool is 15x30 and52 inches deep. I live in Cape Breton, Nova
Scotia where the summers are farily warm but I would like to extend the
time I can use my pool. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks. F&D A, 1/13/2013
A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional site specific information that might change the opinion we express here; That said, here are some things to consider:
Indeed oil or other fuel-fired heaters are often used as swimming pool heaters;
However because of the workload of heating the much larger volume of water in a swimming pool than is found in the hydronic heating pipes and radiators of a building, the duty cycle of the boiler will be enormously increased, as could be the corrosive effects of sending chlorinated swim pool water directly through a heating boiler.
Therefore if you simply tried routing your swim pool water through the heating boiler as an extra "zone" I think you'd find that the remaining life of your boiler would be short.
If fuel cost is not a concern, a different approach, one that kept the pool water physically separate from the water inside the heating boiler itself, might avoid the problem of boiler wear, tear, damage, & clogging.
Watch out: if using any fuel-fired heater as a swimming pool heater, use either a "fireman switch" or a check valve on a vertical riser pipe to prevent back-flow of very hot water into the pool filter and valves from the the heating boiler when the boiler shuts down. Without this precaution the filter or valves may be damaged.
Also consider the effects of very hot water on plastic pipes used to conduct swimming pool water through the filter and pump circulating system.
PVC plastic piping cannot be connected directly to a heating appliance because of the dangers of burst piping and scalding burns. Typically codes require at least five feet of metal, usually copper, piping between the heating boiler and any plastic piping in the system.
Take a look at how indirect-fired water heaters work (INDIRECT FIRED WATER HEATERS) for an example of a different approach that uses the existing boiler but moves the heat transfer mechanism out of the boiler into a separate heating appliance through which one might try circulating pool water.
Then compare the installed cost and operating cost of using your existing heating boiler to heat the swimming pool with the installed and operating cost of installing a separate pool heater intended for that purpose. In making the comparison, don't forget to include among your considerations
the decreased life of your home heating boiler if used to also heat the swim pool (ask for an opinion from your local heating service contractor or from the boiler manufacturer themselves
the typically short life of a dedicated swim pool heater
On 2017-05-11 by (mod) re: recommendations for amount of solar heat capacity for a swimming pool heater
Of course I wish you luck. And do let us know what you're told is what you learn may help other readers.
Watch out: placing solar pool heating panels on a vertical surfac, even with direct sun, may not provide as much heating capacity as you think;
usually the solar pool heating panels are placed flat or on an angled roof slope oriented towards the sun, as we illustrate in this drawing from the US Department of Energy.
In comparison with those orientations, for solar panels on a vertical surface the total solar gain will be reduced.
According to U.S. Department of Energy guidelines for solar pool heaters, the following factors must be considered when specifying the amount of solar heating capacity for your swimming pool:
The pool size (volume) where we add that the depth or ratio of surface area to volume is probably important as a factor in heat loss
Length of the swimming season
Average regional temperatures
Desired swimming pool temperature
Sites solar resource
Solar collector orientation and tilt
Solar collector efficiency
Use of a swimming pool cover
Basically, the surface area of your solar collector should equal 50%–100% of the surface area of your pool. In cooler and cloudier areas, you may need to increase the ratio between the collector area and the pool surface area. Adding collector square footage also lengthens the swimming season.
For example, a 15-by-30-foot outdoor swimming pool in Florida typically requires a collector that equals 100% of the pool's square footage to accommodate year-round use. This equals 450 square feet of collectors.
In northern California, most people use outdoor pools 6–8 months per year, so they typically size their systems at 60%–70% of the pool's surface area. - source: "Solar Swimming Pool Heaters", U.S. DOE cited below.
The U.S. DOE solar pool heater guidelines document we cite and provide below includes simple formulas for calculating the BTU requirements for solar pool heaters as well as heating costs. Below we include some example specifications for solar pool heaters to help you assure that your design is likely to be functional.
Solar Pool Heater Technical Specifications
HSE Swimming Pool Heating Panels Specifications Sheet, Hotspot Energy, 4021 Holland Blvd.
Chesapeake VA 23323 USA, Tel:
International or Local:
1-757-410-8640, Website: http://www.hotspotenergy.com/, retrieved 2017/05/12, original source: http://www.hotspotenergy.com/solar-pool-heaters/HSE-solarpoolheatingspecs.pdf
Solar Pool Heating Systems [PDF], Solar Industries,
1940 Rutgers University Blvd.
Lakewood, New Jersey 08701
USA Tel. 800-535-6307, Website: http://www.solarindustries.com/
SOLAR SWIMMING POOL HEATERS, U.S. DOE, [PDF] U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
1000 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20585, retrieved 2017/05/12, original source: https://energy.gov/energysaver/solar-swimming-pool-heaters
thanks I will talk to a solar company tomorrow. from Phoenix, I can't stand looking at this beautiful cold pool any longer with a clear blue sky at 95 degree weather Wish me luck Robert
On 2017-05-11 by (mod) re: solar pool heating specifications
Thank you for the question Robert.
Solar panel technology has continued to improve since I put together the article on this page.
I still think that most likely you will need a fairly large area of solar gain, more than 2 panels, for a conventional pool solar heating system. All of the systems I've seen in Surprise AS used panel areas larger than what you describe.
I'll do some further research as perhaps will you to see what the capacity rating numbers are for the panels now on the market for swimming pools.
On 2017-05-10 by Robert May 2017
I live near Surprise Az. I just had a senior's pool installed by Shasta Pools Looks nice. I have sun on my pool 80% of the day, the avg. temp. has been from 80 deg to 100 degrees from the time we first filled the pool two months ago. The highest temp of the water has been 70 degrees our evening temp falls to 58 degrees avg. the pool is in ground 8,671 gal. 5.5 feet deep 15'by maybe 18'give or take a foot.
It would cost an arm and a leg to pipe in a 1 1/2 " gas line from the meter and the heater installed, so I'm looking at a solar panel along the 8 foot tall wall next to the pool area this wall is 70 feet long this wall gets full sun from 0700 to about 1500 I checked a thermometer next to the wall at 0730 and it read 95 degrees.already So i would like to install two double panels 4' x 8' side by side along with a pool cover at night,
My question is would this maintain an 80 degree temp.
would the pump draw to much electricity here in Az where the day time elec. is painful to look at. Thanks Robert
On 2016-10-10 by (mod) re: solar pool heater leaks
Susan, what you describe sounds to me like a leak from a solar heater that was not drained.
On 2016-10-09 by Susan S
Our solar pool heater wasnt turned on at all this year due to unusual heat, so the panels should have been empty. However, they have started dripping at a rate of one drop per second fairly steadily in the evening when the weather cools. Is this normal condensation? We confirmed the isolation valves are off and there has been no rain for months. It's really weird.
On 2016-06-18 15:15:42.678087 by lori
degree The sun is starting to come out today, has been cloudy. Pool temp is 78 degree. Weather is supposed to warm up and skies clear. and by 1:00 ot wo;; be 82 degree. can we turn solar on when clouds clear or when sun is directly on panels
Reader comment: I have no idea if our solar panel is working
(Feb 22, 2013) phillip said:
I have solar panel in the house I moved in but I have no idea if they are actually working. I think I have them on but the temperature in the pool still says 69 degrees and my weather temperature is 86 throughout the day. I cant get for my pool to warm up no matter what.
What is going on, please help. Because of that we only use our or pool 2-3 months out of the year and thats cause I live in sw florida!! Can you believe that.
In a case such as you describe the problem could be as simple as not knowing how to turn on the solar system or there could be pump, control, or panel repairs needed. I really can't guess from just your e-text. You'll want an on-site solar repair company to check the pumps, controls, and piping.
Question: gurgling pipes when solar system turned off
(Mar 30, 2013) Anonymous said:
The problem I have is two fold, Firstly I have a problem with my Solar panels draining when the pumps turn off. It is a gradual process and I can hear a faint gurgle in the pipes on the roof but the roof panels and pips substantially drain over night. I think it happens through a siphon process. The second problem I have is on solar pump start up it gets a lot of air in the solar pump and partly pumps air (a lot of it) until it overcomes the air and pumps only water. It sounds like there is a stampede on my roof at solar start up
My set up is This
My pump house is below pool level
My main pool pump is 1HP ans starts before the solar pump and when it is running without the solar pumping going it runs normally all the tile with no air in the system
There is a tee branch take off from the 40mm (1.1/2) pipe after the filter to a non return valve and then the Solar 1HP pump, Then there is another non return valve and the water is piped to the roof.
The solar panels are set up with the supply water supplied to the bottom left corner of each panel and the piping is balanced. The water goes through the panels and exits the panel at the top right corner of each panel until the water has traveled through all the panels and finally exits at the highest point in the top right corner and the water is returned to the pumphouse through a slightly larger pipe 50mm /2 inch a drop of about 6m/20 feet.
The pipe is connected back into the pool return pipe with a reducing Tee reducing the 50mm / 2 inch pipe on the branch to the 40mm 1.1/2 inch main return pipe. The distance between The take off for the solar and the return solar pipe is about 800mm / 30inches and there is a rise between these 2 points of about 10mm / 4inches
To recap, when the solar pump stops there is some draining of the panels both when the main pumps is also stopped and when the main pump is running. When the solar pumps starts there is a lot of air in the non return value sight glass and sometimes it surges pumping slmost only air and water
Check for a leaky check valve on the vertical piping system in and out of the rooftop panels.
Question: trouble priming the solar pool pump
(Sept 8, 2014) Rex Marshall. Port Broughton said:
I am new to the park and am having trouble priming a repaired pump. We have the solar strips on our amenities block roof. We have tried numerous ways to get some water into the system.
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company manufactures the Powerstrip solar pool heating system and we make these systems available to pool owners the world over through dealers and directly through our website. Solar pool heating system design and consultation are necessary parts of the process of marrying a solar pool heating system to a pool mechanical system. We're just the only company that includes this as part of our offering.
Everyone else sells collectors as if they are a simple commodity and too many people in the industry still think all you have to do is divert the water thru the black thing when the sun shines and your pool will be warm. When things leak or don't work its a big mystery and no-one takes responsibility.
Consumers must be very careful that their solar supplier is capable of troubleshooting their problems because if he can't figure out why the pool isn't getting warm or why the collectors keep failing, he can't deliver what the customer has paid for. And the story gets worse. Companies are still today selling epdm rubber tubing solar collectors. This material breaks down in chlorinated water. Powerstrip are not even in the rubber family. They are made of geon. This is an engineered thermoplastic based on pvc. It is completely inert to chlorine. Its the only flexible (freeze and shipping mishandling proof) non epdm collector available in the US.
 Brett Knobel, Shanti San Miguel, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico email@example.com operates this new spa, restaurant, and outdoor swimming pool just outside of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. Cell: 044-415-151-8289. Quoting from SSM's website:
In India, it is said that the guest is a god, and that's how we want you to feel here at Shanti. Whether you come for a full day of yoga, swimming, Indian food and massage, or just to lie on a divan and watch the clouds float by, or even just to relax on the roof deck with a cocktail and some friends--be prepared to be treated like a god.
 Aquatherm Industries, Aquatherm Solar Pool Heating Systems,
1940 Rutgers University Blvd.,
Lakewood, NJ 08701
 "Conserving Energy and Heating Your Swimming Pool With Solar Energy [copy on file as /heat/USDOE_solar_pool_heater.pdf] - ", U.S. Department of Energy
 Passive Solar Design Handbook Volume I, the Passive Solar Handbook Introduction to Passive Solar Concepts, in a version used by the U.S. Air Force - online version available at this link and from the USAF also at wbdg.org/ccb/AF/AFH/pshbk_v1.pdf
 Passive Solar Design Handbook Volume II, the Passive Solar Handbook Comprehensive Planning Guide, in a version used by the U.S. Air Force - online version available at this link and from the USAF also at wbdg.org/ccb/AF/AFH/pshbk_v2.pdf [This is a large PDF file that can take a while to load]
 Passive Solar Handbook Volume III, the Passive Solar Handbook Programming Guide, in a version used by the U.S. Air Force - online version available at this link and from the USAF also at wbdg.org/ccb/AF/AFH/pshbk_v3.pdf
 "Passive Solar Home Design", U.S. Department of Energy, describes using a home's windows, walls, and floors to collect and store solar energy for winter heating and also rejecting solar heat in warm weather.
 "Solar Water Heaters", U.S. Department of Energy article on solar domestic water heaters to generate domestic hot water in buildings, explains how solar water heaters work. Solar heat for swimming pools is also discussed.
 "Heat-Transfer Fluids for Solar Water Heating Systems", U.S. DOE, describes the types of fluids selected to transfer heat between the solar collector and the hot water in storage tanks in a building. These include air, water, water with glycol antifreeze mixtures (needed when using solar hot water systems in freezing climates), hydrocarbon oils, and refrigerants or silicones for heat transfer.
 "Solar Water Heating System Freeze Protection", U.S. DOE,using antifreeze mixture in solar water heaters (or other freeze-resistant heat transfer fluids), as well as piping to permit draining the solar collector and piping system.
 "Solar Air Heating" U.S. DOE also referred to as "Ventilation Preheating" in which solar systems use air for absorbing and transferring solar energy or heat to a building
 "Solar Liquid Heating" U.S. DOE, systems using liquid (typically water) in flat plate solar collectors to collect solar energy in the form of heat for transfer into a building for space heating or hot water heating. The term "solar liquid" is used for accuracy, rather than "solar water" because the water may contain an antifreeze or other chemicals.
 David P. Lauria, "Pool and Hot Tub Inspections for the Home Inspector - Course Notes", Aquaspect, Inc., 05609 Friendly Acres Rd., Florence OR 97439, Tel: 503-997-4815, January 1993
 Georges Anchales, "Retrofitting Hazardous Swimming Pools for Safety", Building Standards, May-June 1991, p. 7
 "Controls for Pools and Spas", Freeze Sentry, Intermatic Pool & Spa Automation,
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