When comparing iSwim vs FAFCO solar pool heating panels, it all comes down to longevity and flow rate. Both solar panels are made from similar materials and are made in the USA (iSwim is made in Florida, FAFCO in California). They each come from established manufacturers.
So, what factors should you consider to compare the two brands?
iSwim vs FAFCO: Comparing Solar Pool Heating Panels
Florida Solar Design Group is Southwest Florida’s exclusive iSwim dealer. We have extensive experience with the FAFCO brand, which is a respectable name, and a well established product. However, there are serious flaws in the product design. The iSwim panel addresses these in the following ways.
FAFCO uses a full body welded tube design. Individual tubes are extruded, then welded together to form the collector body in a sheet. The welds form a weak point where leaks often develop. The iSwim panel uses a tube-and-web design that eliminate tube weld leaks. Panels are extruded in 6 inch sections, then joined together with a flexible zip joint. These zip joints provide additional lateral flexibility. This results in leak-free performance for the iSwim panel.
Body to Header Connection
There are two ways to attach the collector body of a solar panel to the header. The first and oldest method used by FAFCO is the header weld. The second used by iSwim is over-molding. Header welds create a weak point where leaks frequently occur. These leaks cannot be repaired on a FAFCO panel, so the panel requires replacement when this happens. iSwim’s over-molded header bonds the materials together by molding the header over the panel body itself, creating one monolithic, homogenous material.
The other problem with header welds is that the holes become very small for each tube when the plastic melts. It also makes hole sizes inconsistent. This reduces flow rate and flow evenness. Since the iSwim header is molded over the panel body, the tubes remain fully open.
FAFCO’s solar panel has the highest resistance in the industry, and consequently the lowest flow rate. iSwim has the lowest resistance and the highest flow rate in the industry. Solar thermal performance is all about the exchange of heat. Heat transfer is best when the pool water in the panel is a greater difference than solar panel surface. That means faster water flow will result in more heat transfer.
One Fafco Solar dealer actually tries to call this “feature” a benefit on their website1. The high back pressure in the FAFCO panel theoretically allows the row of panels to be fed and returned from the same side while maintaining balance of flow. However, this comes at the expense of flow rate. The subheader design and tiny openings between the body and header hampers flow significantly. They go on to claim that their 2 inch header provides more flow (see Header Size below).
The iSwim panel (and all other solar panels, by the way) maintains even flow with an opposite end feed and return plumbing. Heat exchange manifold design theory across many industries proves that this design is the best. Feeding and returning pool water from opposite corners of the system is the only reliable way to balance flow in panels. This provides even heating and better performance.
When looking at iSwim vs FAFCO flow rate, iSwim is the winner hands down.
FAFCO claims to have full 2 inch headers. However, if you look inside, FAFCO header contain a threaded lug at the end of each header. This restricts the connections to a true 1-1/2″ opening. All of our other competitors also use 1-1/2″ headers. The iSwim headers are a true 2 inches in diameter. Combined with full flow tube openings, this results in, by far, the lowest resistance in the industry.
When looking at iSwim vs FAFCO, the header size of the iSwim panel wins.
You can throw standardized ratings out the window. Ratings use standardized flow rates. As we demonstrated above, FAFCO panels have far more resistance. Consequently, for a given pool pump, less water will flow through them. iSwim, with the lowest resistance in the industry, is rated similarly to all counterparts. However, in the real word iSwim will perform much better due to higher flow.
The ratings game has been going on for decades. Solar panel manufacturers cherry pick labs to test panels and shop around for the best rating. The truth is, for a given flow rate and panel type, all panels sold in Southwest Florida by professional dealers perform in a very tight range of performance. Unfortunately, reaching the rated performance means you have to meet the rated flow rate.
FAFCO’s flow rate issues are well documented. One of the most frequent service complaints from FAFCO customers is bubbles in the pool. This is caused by inadequate flow, causing the vacuum relief valve to allow air into the system. This results in poor heating performance.
We have proven, with real world installations, that we can achieve superior heating performance with iSwim panels.
The ratings results for any give manufacturer has been all over the map depending on the lab. One manufacturer’s rating more than doubled overnight recently without making a single change to the design or materials! Ratings mean nothing.
Most major manufacturers provide a 12 years warranty with their solar panels. However, you probably want your solar panels to last much longer than that. iSwim panels have a proprietary polypropylene blend with special UV additives that rejuvenate the panel as UV rays degrade the surface. These additives have proven to make solar panels last well beyond the warranty period.
With that said, longevity doesn’t mean much when you need to chase frequent and frustrating leak problems. Over the years, FAFCO has experienced a lot of warranty claims covering the tube weld and body weld leaks described above. But there have also been a lot of tube leaks, dimple leaks (in Revolution brand collectors), and header leaks.
The iSwim tube-on-web design is the most reliable in the business. Due to the lowest resistance in the industry, low pressure in the panels saves them from frequent leaks that bedevil the FAFCO design.
Old School vs New School
FAFCO’s solar panel design has not changed over the past 40 years. They manufacture with the same methods and machines used in yesteryear. Solar Hydronics Corp (SHC) developed iSwim by taking the best features of all of the major brands, then improving upon the materials, machines, and methods used to make the panels.
SHC has a new factory in Odessa, FL. With state of the art equipment and processes, maintaining manufacturing tolerances is key to the best available product.
When looking at iSwim vs FAFCO, new technology and methods result in a better product.
iSwim beats FAFCO hands down in performance and longevity. We have the most experienced installers in Southwest Florida. Our factory trained technicians do excellent work. We know our competitors inside and out.
In conclusion, iSwim wins the battle between the brands.
If you are comparing iSwim vs FAFCO, we want to talk to you. Let us show you in person how our panel is better. Contact us for a free in-home evaluation today.