The Complete Pool Heater Installation Guide: Select & Install a Pool Heater

The Complete Pool Heater Installation Guide: Select & Install a Pool Heater

Ask any pool owner, swimming season is frustratingly short. There are only 15 weekends from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, and they fill up fast. 

Between family outings, barbecues, and beach days it is hard to find to enjoy the backyard swimming pool you spend so much time maintaining. That is why many install pool heaters. 

Pool heater installation has a lot of perks. In addition to extending the summer swimming season, pool heaters increase property value and even have therapeutic benefits. 

If you’re considering heating things up this season but don’t know where to start, this complete pool heater installation guide walks you through pool heater types, pool heater costs, and pool heater maintenance so you can enjoy your pool for more than 15 weeks out of the year. 

backyard swimming pool area for pool heater set up

Pool Heater Types  

There are four main types of pool heaters: gas, electric, solar, and heat pumps. 

Here is an overview of each pool heater type with the pros, cons, and best usage. 

Gas Pool Heater

Gas heaters, which run on propane or natural gas, are the fastest option to warm up your pool. It typically takes 8-12 hours to reach your desired temperature once it’s installed. 

Another perk: gas heaters are tops for maintaining water temperature — even in cold weather.  

However, gas pool heaters tend to have higher operating costs. They’re also less eco-friendly because of how much fuel they consume. 

How much fuel depends on factors like the size of the pool and desired temperature. For example, a standard-sized swimming pool would burn four gallons of propane per hour

Still, if you live in a cooler climate, gas pool heaters are likely the best choice. 

Look for gas heaters with a high energy efficiency rating (EER) or thermal efficiency rating to get the most bang for your buck. See our energy efficient pool heater recommendations below. 

Electric Pool Heater

Electric heaters, also known as electric resistance heaters, are relatively inexpensive to install and easy to maintain, making them a popular choice for pool owners on a budget.

However, they consume a significant amount of electricity, which can lead to higher energy bills. Electric heaters also take longer to heat your pool than gas heaters. 

It can take several days to reach your desired temperature, depending on factors like the size of your pool, the starting water temperature, and the ambient air temperature.

For example, a 20,000-gallon pool might take up to 48 hours to heat up using an electric heater, assuming a 20-degree temperature rise.

Despite the drawbacks, electric pool heaters can be a good choice for small pools or spas in milder climates where the heating demands are not as high. 

They're also a good option if you don't have access to natural gas or propane.

Solar Pool Heater

Solar pool heaters are an eco-friendly and cost-effective option. They work by circulating pool water through solar collectors, which absorb heat from the sun and transfer it to the water. 

The heated water then flows back into the pool, gradually increasing its temperature.

The main advantage of solar heaters is their low operating costs. Once installed, they require very little energy to operate, saving on your energy bills over time.

Solar heaters are also environmentally friendly because they don’t emit greenhouse gasses.

However, solar heaters have some limitations. They rely on sunlight, which means they may not perform as well on cloudy days or in regions with limited sun exposure. 

They also have a slower heating time compared to gas or electric heaters. For instance, it may take several days of consistent sunlight for a solar heater to warm up a standard 20,000-gallon pool by 10-15 degrees.

Pool owners who live in sunny regions with mild temperatures would benefit most from a solar heater. They're also a great option for those looking to minimize their environmental impact and save long-term on energy costs.

Pool Heat Pump 

Heat pumps are an energy-efficient way to keep your pool warm. They work by pulling heat from the air and transferring it to your pool water, as long as the outside temperature is above 50°F (10°C).

One of the biggest perks of heat pumps is their low operating costs. They use less energy than gas or electric heaters, which means you'll save money on your energy bills in the long run. Plus, they're more environmentally friendly than gas heaters.

The downside? Heat pumps cost more upfront and take longer to warm up your pool compared to other options. It might take 24-48 hours to raise the temperature of a 20,000-gallon pool by 20 degrees.

But if you live in a mild climate and want to save on energy costs while being kind to the environment, a heat pump is worth considering.

inground pool heater installation

Above Ground vs. Inground Pool Heater Installation

When it comes to pool heater installation, the process varies depending on whether you have an above ground or inground pool. 

While the general principles are similar, there are some key differences to keep in mind.

Above Ground Pool Heaters:

  • Heaters for above ground pools are typically smaller and more portable than those for inground pools.
  • Installation usually involves connecting the heater to the pool's existing pump and filter system using flexible hoses or PVC pipes.
  • Above ground pool heaters are often placed on the ground next to the pool, so a nearby stable and level surface is a must. 
  • Some above ground pool heaters, such as solar heaters, may require additional components like solar collectors or mounting racks.

Inground Pool Heaters:

  • Inground pool heaters are generally larger and more powerful than above ground pool heaters.
  • Installation typically involves connecting the heater to the pool's plumbing system using rigid PVC pipes.
  • Inground pool heaters are often installed on a concrete pad or other stable surface near the pool equipment.
  • Gas heaters for inground pools may require a dedicated gas line and proper ventilation.
  • Electric heaters for inground pools may need to be wired to a dedicated electrical circuit.

Regardless of whether you have an above ground or inground pool, choose a heater that is properly sized for your pool and to follow the manufacturer's installation instructions closely.

luxury inground pool heater installation costs

Pool Heater Installation Costs

When considering a pool heater, one of the first questions in our customers’ minds is, "How much is a pool heater cost?" The answer depends on a variety of factors, including the type of heater you choose, the size of your pool, and local energy prices.

Let's start with the upfront costs. Gas or propane heaters tend to be a relatively affordable option, with prices ranging from around $1,500 to $6,000, depending on the size and features. 

Electric heaters are the most affordable upfront, typically costing between $500 and $5,000. Heat pumps and solar heaters, on the other hand, have higher initial price tags, with heat pumps running from $2,000 to $6,500 and solar heaters ranging from $2,000 to $7,500.

But the sticker price is just the beginning. 

You'll also need to factor in installation costs, which can add anywhere from $500 to $3,000 to your total expenses. Gas and electric heaters are generally the easiest and least expensive to install, while heat pumps and solar heaters may require more complex setups and labor.

Of course, the real cost of a pool heater lies in its ongoing operation. This is where things get a bit more complicated, as operating costs can vary widely depending on factors like your local energy prices, the efficiency of your heater, and how often you use it.

As a general rule of thumb, electric resistance heaters can significantly increase your long-term energy bills due to their reliance on electricity to generate heat. Gas or propane heaters also tend to have higher operating costs compared to heat pumps and solar heaters. 

Heat pumps are energy-efficient, which means they won't increase your monthly utility bills as much as an electric resistance heater. Solar heaters, powered by the sun's energy, have the lowest operating costs since you won't have to worry about increased monthly energy bills.

So, what does all of this mean for your budget?

If you're looking for the lowest initial investment, an electric resistance heater may be the way to go. If you prioritize energy efficiency and low operating costs, a heat pump or solar heater may be worth the higher upfront price tag. Gas or propane heaters offer a balance between relatively affordable upfront costs and higher operating expenses. Ultimately, it's all about finding the right balance of features, efficiency, and cost for your specific needs and budget.

Not sure what pool heater is right for you? We’re here to help. Contact us here

pool heater cost

Best Pool Heater Brands

When it comes to choosing a pool heater, you want a brand that's reliable, efficient, and built to last. We recommend these pool heater brands because of their longevity and customer-centric support policies. 

  1. Hayward:
    • Known for their high-quality, durable pool heaters
    • Offers a wide range of heater types, including gas, electric, and heat pumps
    • Many models feature energy-efficient designs and advanced technology
  2. Pentair:
    • Another trusted name in the pool industry
    • Provides a variety of heater options, from gas and electric to solar and heat pumps
    • Focus on innovative features and user-friendly designs
  3. Raypak:
    • Specializes in high-performance, energy-efficient pool heaters
    • Offers a range of gas heaters and heat pumps
    • Known for their durable construction and reliable performance
  4. AquaCal:
    • A leading manufacturer of heat pumps for residential and commercial pools
    • Known for their energy-efficient and eco-friendly designs
    • Offers a range of models to suit various pool sizes and heating needs
    • Provides extensive warranty coverage and reliable customer support

Choosing a reputable brand with a track record of quality and performance can give you peace of mind and ensure you get the most out of your investment.

Don't be afraid to do your research and compare options before making a decision. Have questions? Contact us, we’ll be happy to lend our 10+ years of experience to help you make the right choice for your pool. 

Aqua Terra Pool Heater Picks: 

In our decades of experience in the backyard pool industry, we've seen countless pool heater technologies come and go. However, two models have consistently stood out for their exceptional performance and innovative features: AquaCal's SQ225A and SQ166R.

The SQ225A is a powerhouse, capable of efficiently heating pools up to 20x40 feet while maintaining incredibly low noise levels. Its advanced heat pump technology significantly reduces energy consumption and operating costs compared to traditional gas heaters, making it an eco-friendly and budget-friendly choice.

The SQ166R offers the same impressive heating capabilities as the SQ225A but with the added benefit of cooling functionality. This model can not only heat your pool to the perfect temperature but also cool it down during hot summer days. Plus, the Smart Microprocessor Control with LCD display makes it easy to control at the press of a button. 

With their corrosion-proof, impact-resistant cabinets and efficient condensate management systems, the SQ225A and SQ166R are built to withstand the test of time. 

Shop AquaCal SQ225A HeatWave SuperQuiet Heat Pump

Shop AquaCal SQ166R HeatWave SuperQuiet Heat Pump

Pool Heater Maintenance and Care

Pool Heater Maintenance and Care

Pool heaters generally last between 15 and 25 years with regular usage and proper maintenance. Here's what you need to know about caring for your pool heater.

Regular Pool Heater Maintenance:

  1. Clean the filter:
    • A clean filter helps your heater run more efficiently and prevents clogs
    • Aim to clean your filter at least once a month, or more often if needed
    • Follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning your specific type of filter
  2. Inspect connections and components:
    • Regularly check all connections, hoses, and components for signs of wear, damage, or leaks
    • Tighten any loose connections and replace any damaged parts ASAP
    • Keep an eye out for corrosion or scale buildup, which can indicate a problem
  3. Test the thermostat and controls:
    • Make sure the thermostat is accurate and responsive
    • Test the safety shut-off and other controls to ensure they're working properly
    • Consult the owner's manual for specific testing and calibration procedures

Winterizing Your Pool Heater:

If you live in an area with frigid winters, you'll need to prepare your pool heater for the off-season. Here's how:

  1. Turn off the power and gas supply:
    • Disconnect the electrical supply and turn off the gas valve (if applicable)
    • This prevents any accidental starts or leaks during the winter months
  2. Drain the heater:
    • Remove any drain plugs and allow the water to drain completely
    • This helps prevent freezing and cracking of the components
  3. Cover and store:
    • Once drained, cover the heater to protect it from debris and critters
    • If possible, store the heater in a dry, protected area like a shed or garage

Common Problems and Troubleshooting Tips for Pool Heaters

Even the best pool heaters can run into issues from time to time.

Don't worry, though – most common problems have simple solutions. Here are a few things to look out for and some tips on how to get your heater back up and running:

  1. Heater won't turn on:
    • First things first: make sure the power source is connected and turned on.
    • Double-check that the thermostat is set to your desired temperature.
    • If the issue persists, take a peek at the circuit breaker or fuse. You might need to reset or replace it.
  2. Heater isn't warming up the water:
    • Check the heater's display for any error codes and consult the manual for specific troubleshooting steps.
    • Make sure the filter is clean and the water is flowing properly.
    • For gas heaters, verify that the gas supply is sufficient and the valve is open.
  3. Heater is making strange noises:
    • Give the heater a once-over and tighten or replace any loose or damaged components.
    • Look for signs of wear or corrosion.
    • If the noise won't quit or you're not sure what's causing it, it's time to call in a professional.
  4. Heater is leaking water:
    • First, find the source of the leak. It could be a connection, gasket, or heat exchanger.
    • Tighten any loose connections and replace damaged gaskets or seals.
    • If the heat exchanger is the culprit, you'll likely need a professional to replace it.
  5. Heater isn't efficiently heating the water:
    • Make sure the heater is the right size for your pool.
    • Check that the thermostat is set to your desired temperature.
    • Give the heater a thorough inspection for any signs of damage or wear.

If you've tried these troubleshooting tips and your heater still isn't cooperating, don't hesitate to call in a pro for help. Regular maintenance, like cleaning the filter, inspecting connections, and checking for leaks, can go a long way in preventing common issues and keeping your heater running like a champ.

backyard swimming pool with waterfall feature

How to Buy the Right Pool Heater 

You deserve more than 15 weeks of pool time with your family. Investing in a pool heater gives you more time to enjoy the crown jewel of your backyard and patio

Ready to take the plunge? Shop our wide selection of top-quality pool heaters from the industry's most trusted brands. With our free shipping, price match guarantee, and options for every budget and pool type, you’ll get the best deal on keeping your water warm and inviting all season long.

Take 10% off your first order when you sign up for our newsletter, here


Frequently Asked Questions

Can I install a pool heater myself? While it's possible to install a pool heater yourself, it requires a good understanding of plumbing, electrical, and/or gas connections. If you're not confident in your skills, it's best to hire a professional to ensure proper installation and safety.

How long does it take to heat a pool with a heater? The time it takes to heat a pool depends on factors like the heater's size, the pool's volume, and the starting water temperature. On average, a gas heater can raise the water temperature by 1-2 degrees per hour, while electric and heat pump heaters may take longer.

What's the best temperature for a swimming pool? The ideal pool temperature is a matter of personal preference, but most people find temperatures between 78-82°F (25-28°C) comfortable for swimming. However, you may want to keep the temperature a bit lower for more active swimming or higher for relaxation.

Can I use a solar cover instead of a pool heater? While a solar cover can help retain heat and reduce evaporation, it's not a substitute for a pool heater. A solar cover works best with a heater to maintain the water temperature and reduce energy costs.

Can you add a heater to an existing pool? Yes, you can retrofit most pools with a heater.

Should I run my pool heater all the time? No, it's more efficient to heat your pool only when needed and to use a timer to control the heater's runtime.

Do pools with heaters lose more water? Heated pools can experience slightly more evaporation, but using a pool cover can minimize water loss.

Back to blog