Solar Pool Heating Primer for Pool Builders and Pool Service Companies

If you are a pool builder or a pool service company, this page is for you. We are going to explore how solar pool heating can fit into your business and leave you with more satisfied customers and more profit!

Most of you already know how a solar pool heater works, but if not, head over to our solar pool heating page and learn how it works.

FAFCO Brand Solar Pool Heating by Fafco Solar
A Solar Pool Heating System in Cape Coral, FL

Why should you offer solar pool heating to your customers?

We have been in thousands of pool homes, and have learned why people end up exploring solar pool heating. The reasons fall into a few categories:

  • The cost of heating their pool with electric or gas has turned out to be far higher than advertised by the builder or heating system dealer.
  • They don’t use their pool because the initial shock of getting in makes it unpleasant to use their pool in all but the summer months.
  • While the pool is fine for the owners, they can’t bear the thought of their children/grandchildren getting in a chilly pool.
  • Planning ahead to heat their pool doesn’t fit their lifestyle.

Incidentally, it’s not often a “green” thing. There is a misconception that people install solar panels mainly to save the earth. The truth is that people just want a warm pool so they can enjoy “the most expensive room in their house.”

What’s in it for you?

There are two ways for your pool building or pool service company to make money with solar pool heating.

  1. Sell a solar pool heater with a new pool and subcontract the installation to a licensed solar contractor. You can roll the price of the system into your pool quote and earn a margin based on wholesale pricing from a solar dealer. You can choose what you want to charge for the system, and we can provide guidelines for typical retail pricing. This may be the most profitable way to offer solar pool heating to your customers, but it may also make you less competitive relative to other quotes the owner is receiving.
  2. Refer your customers directly to a solar dealer. You earn a referral fee if the owner buys a solar pool heater either at the time of pool installation or after the fact. This is the easiest way to earn extra money with virtually no extra work. The owner contracts directly with the solar dealer who does not step on your toes with regards to pool automation or any other aspect of your contract, including traditional heaters intended to augment solar heating.

You likely have a large database of current or past customers who may be interested in solar pool heating. Your existing client list is a goldmine. Pool builders don’t have many ways to earn residual income from past clients until remodeling is needed. Pool service companies have limited opportunity for extra earnings due to the hyper-competitive service rates in the area. Solar pool heating referrals can result in significant earnings for companies that take the initiative to offer the product to an existing client base.

Dispelling Solar Pool Heating Myths

We know what some pool builders and pool service companies tell clients regarding solar pool heating to dissuade them from going with solar panels. We’ve heard it all. Below we address the top reasons reported by customers that their pool professionals didn’t recommend solar pool heating. The obvious truth is that solar pool heating is wildly popular in Southwest Florida — consumers WANT solar pool heating. There are over 1,000 solar pool heaters installed in our area EVERY YEAR, and this has been going on for over 40 years! Countless people have had second and third systems installed on homes when warranties run out and service issues arise. The whole industry relies on long-term repeat business and word of mouth from very happy customers.

Here are the top myths we hear:

Solar panels will burn up your pump or require a larger pump

In 95% or more cases, the existing pool pump can be successfully used with solar pool heating. Properly designed pools don’t approach the pump’s head limit, and have more than enough flow to circulate water through solar panels. As long as the existing total head pressure is not excessive, the added pressure from a good solar pool heater will result in a nominal reduction in flow rate and will not “burn up” the pump, which would only happen in the case of stagnation or near stagnation.

With older pools, pumps often run at higher head pressures due to smaller plumbing, inefficient design, or oversized pumps. New pool use 3/4 HP pumps or variable speed pumps to meet code requirements. In all cases, it is critical that you select a solar pool heating brand and system that can meet these challenges. It all boils down to flow rate. For older pool systems you need a panel that provides a very low increase in head pressure. You also want the most efficient plumbing possible. We address this by using the iSwim solar collector, which has the lowest restriction in the industry, and all 2 inch plumbing and valves, installed in the most efficient manner possible. Nobody else can claim this.

The same solution applies to the super efficient pools being built today with 3/4 HP pumps. Because the pump’s total dynamic head capabilities are limited, low added head pressure is critical for solar pool heater performance and to maintain idea flow rates for pool circulation, sanitation, and filtration. Similarly, you defeat the purpose of a variable speed pump (energy savings at low pump speeds) if your solar pool heater adds unnecessary head pressure at the required flow rate for effective heating performance.

All of our competitors have solar panels with higher restriction, and most use 1-1/2″ plumbing, even on new pools. Worse, some competitors do both! Our panels and system address this major concern of pool builders and pool service companies. You will be amazed at how well our product works with new and existing pools.

Pentair Intelliflo VS Pool Filter Pump
Variable Speed Pumps Balance Heating Performance with Energy Savings
Two-speed and Variable Speed pumps don’t work with solar pool heating.

Typically a two-speed pump needs to operate at the high speed when solar pool heating is operating. This can easily be achieved with a suitable solar pool heating controller (if an automation system is not already present). Most variable speed pumps can also be controlled with a variety of automation systems to “dial in” an optimum speed that balances energy savings and pool heating performance. These same issues exist for traditional heaters that require a specific range of flow for operation. If you are building a new pool, we recommend variable speed pumps to strike a good balance between energy savings and heating performance. If you are one of the naysayers that still doesn’t believe variable speed pumps save energy, talk to any engineer or physics professor about permanent magnet electronically commutated motors and the centrifugal pump affinity law.

In either case, an energy efficient pump’s purpose is defeated when you don’t have efficient flow through the panels and plumbing. We solved that by selecting the iSwim solar collector and using all efficient 2 inch plumbing and valves.

Pool pumping costs increase with solar pool heaters.

This is only true on two cases. In the case of a single speed pump where the regular daily filtration time-frame is very short, the pump run time may need to be increased to take advantage of a wider solar heating window. For two-speed and variable speed pumps, the speed will need to be higher during the solar window. The extra cost of this pump run time/speed is normally very small, almost negligible. For new pools with variable speed pumps, we find ourselves turning the speed down from the setting used by the builder. The best strategy is to run a variable speed pump at a low speed for a long window each day, and when the solar runs the speed increases and provides additional circulation and chemical dispersion. Total turnover normally increases slightly.

Solar panels don’t work.

We’re not even sure where to start with this one, but there are some people who still don’t believe solar panels heat pools effectively. With 40 years of experience and tens of thousands of systems installed locally, this doesn’t even justify an answer, but we will give it a shot. A properly designed solar pool heater will increase the temperature of an unheated pool to approximately 10ºF above an unheated pool almost every day of the year, and even higher with a pool cover. This results in about 10 months of comfortable swimming for most people, and 12 months for the brave souls that are willing to swim when outside air temperatures dip into the 50’s and 60’s. While solar panels are a weather dependent technology, the best weather is when swimming is most desirable.

Solar panels require a solar blanket to work well.

Let’s face it — everyone hates pool blankets. Very, very few of our clients use them, and we almost never sell them. What pool blankets do is reduce heat loss overnight. The same principal applies to traditional heaters that need to reheat pool water every morning when the pump starts up again. Since covered pools retain more heat overnight, the starting temperature is higher and solar panels can achieve higher final temperatures each day. That doesn’t mean that solar pool heaters don’t work without pool covers. Most people opt for slightly lower heating performance and choose convenience. Properly sizing or over-sizing a solar pool heater will help regain heat faster each day, and this is usually the trade-off that people prefer over the inconvenience of covering their pool.

Pentair SunTouch Solar Pool Heating Controller
Automation Systems Enhance the Solar Pool Heating Experience
Solar panels leak all the time and require lots of maintenance.

Every solar pool heating system will leak eventually. If that didn’t happen, solar pool heaters would last forever, which is pretty unreasonable to expect with millions of gallons flowing through them each year. Just like above-ground pool plumbing and sometimes underground plumbing, the chance for leaks to occur exists. Most solar pool heating leaks occur in the small tubes in the body of the panels, at the panel to header welds, or at panel junctions. Because thinner tube walls allow for better heat transfer, there is a fine line between manufacturing a panel for performance vs. longevity. Fortunately, tube leaks are easily observable and very easily plugged. Panel manufacturers offer robust warranties that cover the cost of plugging panels. Other leaks are resolved by simply tightening clamps or repairing minor fitting leaks. Leaks are a minor annoyance that are resolved quickly. The cost of maintaining a solar pool heater is far less than maintenance on a traditional pool heater, especially considering that solar panels last about twice as long as electric or gas heater that are regularly used.

We have addressed leaking panels in the following ways:

  • The iSwim panel is a tube-on-web design with flexible expansion joints. This reduces the strain on individual tubes that occur from expansion and contraction and from uneven roof surfaces. Without welds between tubes, tube weld leaks are eliminated. The tube-on-web design is the most reliable panel body on the most types of roof.
  • Overmolded headers virtually eliminate leaks at the junction between the panel body and the header. Because most other manufacturers butt weld the panel body to the header, a weak point is created, causing frequent leaks, some that cannot even be repaired.
  • The junction between panel headers is the hardest place to eliminate leaks, but the easiest to fix. The debate between rubber couplings and o-rings will continue forever, but we use a rubber coupling that is designed with the right combination of compression and tightness for our specific brand of panel. We factory train installers to place stainless steel hose clamps in the proper position. And finally, our system has lower back pressure than all competitors, reducing the operating pressure in the collectors, reducing the potential for leaks.
Solar panels only work on a perfect south facing roof.

Any panel orientation can work for solar pool heating panels. West orientations are great because they absorb ambient heat in the warm afternoons. East panels can regain pool heat earlier in the day and actually receive a bit more solar radiation annually than west facing panels. Anything north of true east or west requires significant up-sizing of the system to achieve the same performance, but can be viable, especially on shallow pitched roofs. Solar thermal panels are less susceptible to sub-optimal pitch than solar electric panels. We size system using methodology from the Florida Solar Energy Center supplemented by data from our panel manufacturer to size systems for “effective 100% coverage.” If a roof cannot accommodate proper coverage, solar panels can still provide some heating or supplemental heating. For a more detailed analysis of roof pitch and orientation, click here.

Solar panels make pool maintenance harder.

This probably stems from the pool water being a higher temperature every day of the year unless the solar pool heater is turned off. A warmer temperature means more evaporation and more chemical requirements. The same issue exists with traditionally heated pools. We recommend that owners turn off solar pool heating systems when not using the pool for extended periods of time to minimize water loss and chemical use. The other pool maintenance issue that becomes more important is cleaning filter cartridges. Solar pool heating systems use a vacuum relief valve to allow air into the system for draining. A reduction in flow due to clogged filters can cause air admittance and small bubbles in the pool. For this reason, proper cartridge maintenance and regular replacement are necessary (which should be done periodically anyway). Keeping the cartridge clean will extend its life and require no more frequent replacement than a pool without solar pool heating. The iSwim system drastically reduces this problem through low flow restriction.

Solar panels cause black pools.

Some brands of solar pool heaters that are no longer on the market were made from EPDM rubber. This material broke down over time, causing black particles that looked like soot to coat filters and pool surfaces. EPDM rubber is not used in any brand of solar pool heaters currently marketed in Southwest Florida. Panels today are made from polyethylene material that does not degrade and break down. There is no risk of “black pool disease” as the epidemic was once called. The other causes of “black pools” could be algae buildup, which is actually most often a result of pump failure, improper variable speed pump settings, timer programming, chlorinator flow rate, or pool filter maintenance causing inadequate circulation and turnover. These issues are not caused by solar panels, but could be exacerbated by solar panels, making proper setup and maintenance key to a successful implementation.

The roof under removed solar panels is pristine!
The roof under removed solar panels is pristine!
Solar panels wreck roofs.

Improperly installed solar panels wreck roofs. There is no question about that. Experienced installers, premium products, and attention to workmanship is critical to ensuring that expensive roof coverings are properly protected, especially because solar panels can last as long as most roof coverings! Installing solar panels in accordance with manufacturer instructions and good roofing practices, using proper sealants (we use Geocel 2300 tripolymer), and adding aluminum racking or panel pads where appropriate protect roofs from damage. The biggest myth out there is that full body panels cause mold and mildew leading to premature roof failure. The truth is that when removing full body panels from a roof the underlying roof surface is usually in pristine condition compared to the roof around the panels. UV radiation and our pummeling rain showers wreak havoc on roofs. Solar panels actually protect roofs!

Solar panels blow off roofs in hurricanes.

Solar pool heating panels are required to be installed in accordance with Florida Building Code and are permitted and inspected. That means we meet the wind uplift pressures calculated for 160 or 170 mph in most areas of Southwest Florida. If a catastrophic wind event happens, some solar panels will blow off roofs. As we all know, storms can devastate a home while leaving the neighbor’s house virtually untouched. These micro-events are unavoidable, and part of living in a hurricane prone region. The local industry gained a lot of knowledge from Hurricane Charley, and solar panels are installed better than ever before. Even back then, many roofs came off with solar panels still attached! Regardless, solar panels are covered under homeowners insurance policies, and often solar panels that were not damaged must be removed anyway for underlying roof work. It is not our experience that solar panels cause damage in excess of what non-solar homes have to the roof itself.

Why should you offer solar pool heating over a heat pump or gas heater?

We have heard time and time again that after a brief honeymoon, people stop using their traditional heaters due to the cost of operation, and stop enjoying their pool as much as a result. Guess what — that’s what keeps us in business!

There are obviously some clients that are better suited to a traditional heater. If money is no object or if a specific temperature every moment of every day is required, a solar pool heater alone may not be the ideal solution. In these cases you can consider a hybrid system with solar being the primary heater and a heat pump or gas heater for auxiliary use. Pool/spa combos often provide the best experience with a hybrid system with the traditional heater taking on spa heating duty (with preheated water in both bodies from solar). Automation systems that handle traditional heaters almost all offer a solar priority function. Most people end up controlling traditional heaters manually to get a better handle on heating costs.

Regardless of the heat source, they don’t work without the pump running, and solar heating can only occur during the day. It’s pretty rare for people to run their pump at night, except for on-demand heating of a spa. Pool heating at night with a heat pump is a losing proposition, especially on cooler nights when heat pump performance drops to nearly nothing. Spa heating requires a traditional heater for maximum enjoyment, but a surprising number of people are satisfied with a solar heated spa, especially when planning ahead and isolating the spa for solar heating well in advance of use.

In the end, people want to enjoy their pool with minimal operating cost, maintenance, and hassle. Solar heated pools provide temperatures warmer than unheated pools every day of the year without significant ongoing costs and maintenance, fitting the bill for what most people desire in a pool heating solution.

Why should you choose Florida Solar Design Group for your solar pool heating needs?

We produce a media rich solar pool heating presentation for every customers including a 3D computer rendering.
We produce a media rich solar pool heating presentation for every customer including a 3D computer rendering.

We are the true local experts in solar pool heating. On top of having the best product with the only fully 2″ plumbing and panel header system, we understand how total system design is critical to an outstanding customer experience. If you believe that you offer the best products, installation, and service available, you surely want to work with a solar dealer that meets your own high expectations.

We provide to your customers a robust presentation with proprietary 3D computer modeling for system sizing done in-house. We have technical capabilities unmatched by competitors anywhere in the country. Our in-home presentations are done professionally with only expert solar consultants who arrive as invited guests and respect your clients home and family. We do not engage in hard sales tactics, and prefer to educate and advise. This approach has netted us thousands of customers and the recognition as the 2014 #1 sales representative in the nation for the FAFCO brand. Our post-installation follow up and care is unmatched, and we insist on satisfying results for our mutual clients.

Our installations are done by Fafco Solar, who has been serving Southwest Florida for over 40 years. This three-generation family owned business focuses exclusively on solar energy products, and has two qualifying licensed solar contractors. Fafco Solar is the local quality product and workmanship leader, and does not cut corners.

If you currently do not offer solar pool heating to your clients or if you offer another brand, we would like to discuss the opportunity to work together. Please contact us at (239) 491-8010 or send us an email.



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