Volume 14, Issue 14 ~ April 6 - April 12, 2006

Got an Environmental Question? Send it to: EARTH TALK, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881. Or submit your question at: www.emagazine.com. Or e-mail us at: earthtalk@emagazine.com.
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Swimming in Sunshine

Let the sun heat your pool

How do solar swimming pool heaters work? Are they efficient? How do they compare in cost to conventional pool heaters?

—Bob Whelan, Providence, R.I.

While more efficient swimming pool heaters exist, solar heaters offer the most cost effective option, given that the fuel source — sunshine — is free. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Consumer’s Guide to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, solar pool heating systems cost more than other common options such as gas heaters or heat pumps, but they will usually provide payback within two to seven years of purchase (depending upon local fuel costs) due to fuel savings.

Owners are guaranteed to make back their initial outlay, too, as solar heaters are not dependent upon motorized moving parts, and thus last twice as long as other types of heaters and don’t rack up significant maintenance costs. Of course, solar pool heaters are also the most environmentally benign option, as no fossil fuels need to be burned to maintain the right amount of warmth.

Most solar pool heating systems come with four key interacting components: A flow-control valve takes pool water and sends it through a collector; a filter removes debris before the water reaches the collector; the collector itself heats the water that passes through it; and a pump sends that water back into the pool. In warmer climates, the system can be used to cool the pool in summer months by operating only at night.

But such solar technology need not be restricted to warm climates. As long as the sun is shining, it can provide solar energy — not to be confused with the sun’s heat — even when it is cold outside. Indeed, the Department of Energy reports that solar pool heaters are sold in every climatic region of the continental U.S., meaning that solar is a smart choice even for pools in more northern latitudes like Maine or Minnesota.

While solar pool heaters excel at maintaining steady water temperatures over long time periods, they are not nearly as fast as gas heaters for quick last-minute heat-ups. So many pool owners install hybrid systems combining the best elements of gas and solar systems. Also, using a pool cover will reduce heat, water and chlorine loss while maintaining efficiency and preventing debris from sullying the water, regardless of which type of heater system is in place. Even better, solar blankets are high-tech covers that use thousands of sealed air pouches to facilitate heat transfer from the sun’s ray to the pool water below.

If you are thinking of installing a solar pool heating system, the online version of the Department of Energy’s Consumer’s Guide provides tips on determining if your pool’s location is adequate (i.e. does it get enough sunlight?) and on how to choose the system that best suits your needs. The handy website will also show you how to compare competing systems and investigate relevant local pertinent regulations.

Some of the leading manufacturers of solar pool heating system include EZ Heat, Hi-Deluxe, Sungrabber and Suntrek. As always, unless you’re familiar with the intricacies of your pool’s inner workings, it’s best to get a certified installer to work with you to make sure installation goes swimmingly.

For more information:

• Consumer’s Guide to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: www.eere.energy.gov/consumer/

• EZ Heat: www.harterindustries.com/ezheat.htm.

• Hi-Deluxe: www.cetsolar.com/hideluxe.htm.

• Sungrabber: www.sungrabber.net.

• Suntrek: www.suntreksolar.com.

Email your environmental questions to earthtalk@emagazine.com

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