One of the luxuries of living in The Sunshine State is exactly that - sunshine all year, especially in our “cold winter” months. That doesn’t mean the water stays warm though. But lucky for us, solar heating for pools exists! Enjoying your pool year-round is possible when you choose to install a solar heater. Though all are eco-friendly and powered by solar energy, there are some significant differences with each product.
To properly evaluate solar pool systems, it is important to understand the difference and proper fit for the three primary types of solar systems on the market. Solar electric panels (a.k.a. PV or Photovoltaic panels) do a great job of producing electricity for household use, but they are not meant for pool heating. PV panels are much more expensive and less efficient than solar pool systems (i.e. polymer systems) for heating your pool. Similarly, metal panels with glass glazing are also inappropriate for pool heating. They work well for heating your domestic hot water, but not for pools. The primary reasons for this are that they have very high back pressure for pool flow, chlorine attacks the copper tubes inside these panels, they are less efficient in most climates, and they cost a whole lot more to install.
Now that you understand that solar pool heating refers to polymer panels, let’s take a look at the primary options to help you decide which is best for you.
Solid Panels with Straps. Several companies manufacture solid solar panels (aka, monolithic panels). These panels usually have strong heat ratings at 12 noon, when the sun is directly overhead. When the sunlight is hitting the panel at an angle at other hours of the day, their performance is reduced. Monolithic panels are often the cheapest solar option due to their low production costs. They do have some drawbacks, however.
Monolithic polymer panels demand more penetrations in the roof than some of the other options. Because they’re made up of solid sheets, they create more uplift in high winds. This is why most municipalities demand they be held down by extra straps across the panel. Depending on your geographic location, they demand between 3-5 straps with extra penetrations between each panel on each strap. This adds up to many penetrations. Moreover, most of these penetrations only connect through the plywood without hitting a truss, which significantly increases the likelihood of leaks down the road.
Another major drawback of monolithic panels is that they’re connected to one another with rubber hoses and metal clamps. These rubber hoses do not hold up well in the sun, and can lead to black streaks on the roof over time. These hoses with metal clamps also have to be tightened on a regular basis. Homeowners who don’t want to do this maintenance on their own need to have their solar company provide regular maintenance for a fee.
Individual Tube Panels. There are only a couple of companies that manufacture individual-tube panels. The largest and most established is Heliocol. These panels are slightly more expensive than monolithic panels, but they have several advantages.
Individual-tube panels can handle higher wind loads with less roof penetrations. The Heliocol panels, for example, require no straps to hold them down. The only penetrations are at the top and bottom headers. The clamps used for these penetrations can be moved along the length of the header to ensure they only penetrate directly into the underlying truss. When properly installed by a professional, the Heliocol system ensures a durable, leak-free connection for the life of the system and your roof.
Another benefit of the Heliocol panel is that it requires no maintenance tightening of panel clamps. The system uses uv-protected polypropylene clamps with an internal o-ring. Once properly installed, these connections operate for the lifetime of the system without any maintenance.
The Heliocol individual tube collector also has the lowest back pressure rating in the market. This ultra-low back pressure rating eliminates high energy bills and shortened lifespan of your pool pump.
Heliocol panels can be placed virtually anywhere to accommodate all varieties of homes because the gator and panel clamps allow it to be attached to rooftops, porches, or even the ground.
Glazed or Non-glazed. All solar pool heaters are categorized depending on the climate for which they are intended. If you live in a climate where temperatures never really drop below freezing (such as Florida), non-glazed collectors such as the options discussed above should suit your pool just fine. Non-glazed systems are more affordable and are actually more efficient for pool applications in warm climates. For colder climates, or for higher temperature needs, polymer glazed solutions are now available, but they’re considerably more expensive than the non-glazed design.
Superior Solar has a comprehensive line of the different solar panel solutions. The superior team understands how the various technologies work and would be glad to help you do the same.