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Thread: Thinking about getting a solar heater

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    Thinking about getting a solar heater

    Anyone have suggestions about sourcing a good solar heating system? Is there a popular brand that the pool community here prefers? I'll likely do the install myself (with the help of a buddy with plumbing experience). I have great southern exposure and a lot of it. When the ambient temps are in the low 90's the water runs about 78 deg (most of the swimmers in this family like 80 deg water) and with fall just around the corner, the day temps will rule out swimming. With a combination of the close proximity of the neighbor's fence and landscaping, I do not have room for a cover reel, so the whole solar cover thing is a real pain to deal with. I just need to squeeze out another 5-10 degrees hopefully thru September. I have no idea where to start and the internet is loaded with a whole lot of confusing information....
    Southern Oregon
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    Mod Squad jblizzle's Avatar
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    Re: Thinking about getting a solar heater

    I used Heliocol's I found used on craigslist. Although they are a bit tough to source parts as they like to stick to dealer networks.

    Search for some of Isaac-1 posts about solar, he did a LOT of research on his DIY install:
    Here is the advanced search: search.php
    Jason, TFP Moderator
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    Re: Thinking about getting a solar heater

    We used Smart Pool solar heaters. Our pool is about 23,000 gallons and so we bought 4 panels (even though the recommended amount for that size pool was 6 panels). We have had a cool summer, and his is our first year with them but the water has never gone below 80 all summer and most of the time it has stayed between 85 and 90. We swim day and night and the water has been wonderful. For a couple of weeks the pool was between 95 and 100 degrees and we ran the water through the panels at night to cool the pool down - worked great. My husband and two sons installed them on the garage roof which faces southwest in about a day total counting plumbing. It gets full sun from 10 am to sundown. We still keep a solar cover on it to hold the heat in and keep bugs out but my neighbor, who has had solar heaters for 15 years, doesn't use the solar cover anymore, still has temperatures not too far from ours. We live in southeastern PA and my neighbor swims from April through October. They really work well.
    30 ft. round Aqua Leader agp with dished out center 23,800 gallons; 1.5 hp Hayward pro matrix pump; Hayward EC50 DE filter; solar panels; solar cover

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    JFB's Avatar
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    Re: Thinking about getting a solar heater

    http://www.heliocolwest.com/heliocol-so ... ating.html

    This is not my personal setup, nor the brand I have, but these are the type of panels I have. They are about 12" wide and can be cut to any length to match any project. My solar panels cover about 60% of my pool surface, which is just above minimum (which is 50%). My pool is set at 90F and rarely gets below that. Sometimes it even climbs to 92-93!

    I didn't do the project myself, got the pros to do it, but after watching them work and after fixing some of their mistakes, I should've done the install myself, dead easy...

    I recommend solar...
    JF

    13.5k gallons, IG, Vinyl, Hayward C3030 Cartridge, Hayward Tristar 3/4hp single speed, Hayward T-15 SWG, Hayward P4 automation, 234 sqft Solex Solar panels. April 2013 construction, Dolphin DX4 robot, TF-100 test kit, Pentair Deck Jets 2.

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    linen's Avatar
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    Re: Thinking about getting a solar heater

    If you are not already, using a solar blanket at night will help maintain a higher pool temp.
    TFP Expert who uses Pool School and my TF100 test kit along with PoolMath for my: Round 11K gallon AGP with deep end, 20" sand filter, Matrix 1hp 2spd, 6 2ftX20ft solar panels (and solar cover!), Intex SWCG (copper bars disconnected) and a Rubadub hot tub (chlorine). The SLAM process is not finished until: 1. CC < 0.5 ppm, 2. An OCLT < 1.0 ppm and, 3. The water is crystal clear.

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    Isaac-1's Avatar
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    Re: Thinking about getting a solar heater

    As Jason mentioned I did a good bit of research before updating my solar heater last spring (old solar heater came down when the old roof was replaced last year). I will try not to get into too much detail on this reply as there is still a lot of information about your potential install that is not covered, like intended mounting location for panels, local weather tendencies, etc. Therefore for now I will just include some general observations, along with a few personal opinions.

    1, There is no one perfect solar panel for everyone, for example a fairly stiff flat panel like the Techo-Solis panels I ended up going with may work better when installed on a surface that has good support, but is not entirely flat (mine is installed on an R panel metal roof with small 1/4 inch ridges every few inches and 1 inch high ridges every foot. Where a more flexible individual tube and header design might have problems with sagging, trapped air, gurgling, etc.

    2, Better costs more up to a point, after a certain point the added cost seems to mostly be going toward paying for a longer warranty, with little or nothing going towards a better longer lasting panel.

    3, Read the warranty carefully, many may look good at first glance, but upon careful review may be nearly worthless, often freight is not included in the warranty, and for the more rigid panels that must be shipped truck freight, this can add up to a substantial fraction of the price of the panel as the cost to ship 1 panel, is likely to be nearly the same as shipping a dozen. Also some of the warranties are written so as to be 10 or even 20 years prorated, so that you pay 1/2 the retail price of the panel for replacements after the first 3-5 years, note this is not 1/2 the price you paid, as that is often already discounted off the retail price by 20-30%.

    4, Some manufacturers tend to sell nearly exclusively inside their dealer / installer networks (Fafco and Heliocol come to mind, although Fafco does sell some DIY kits on their lower end products) Also some will not warrant DIY installs.

    5, Many manufacturers play the Private Label game, where they offer the exact same panel under different trade names and under different terms, so you may find Brand X sells its panel exclusively through a dealer network with say a 12 year warranty, but also sells it to a 3rd party private labeller who sells the same panel to independent installers and DIY'ers. This 3rd party private labeller takes over warranty issues, and may often provide a shorter 4-5 year warranty while selling the panel at a fraction of the "name brand" price. A couple of examples here are Aqua Therm and Elm Distribution (if you look carefully you will note Elm's installation manual is the Aqua Therm manual, depending on where you download it the manual may or may not have the Aqua Therm logo removed. You can also note that Solar Direct's inground pool panel appears to be the same as the 1.5 inch header version of the Techno Solis panel (looks identical, plus same exact specification measurements for all dimensions, and weights).

    6, If you do use an installer make sure they are a good one, there are all sorts of examples of poor and incorrect installations on the net, just because they have installed a lot of panels does not mean they did them right. One message thread I recall on here from earlier this year featured a photo of one of the exclusive installer network installed panels (heliocol?) pulling the header pipes up off the shingles, a close view of the photo shows the installer used the footer mounts on the header and the header mounts on the footer.

    7, Don't get too concerned about panel efficiency, most of the better panels are going to be close to each other (within 10%), and your house is not the same as laboratory conditions. For example a rippled panel design like the Aqua Therm Eco Sun panel may perform better in ideal south facing windless installation , but may loose more heat to wind than a flat panel like the Techno Solis panels, or may self shade if angled too far east or west.

    8, Sizing solar panels is partly an art, partly a science, but also involves a question of expectations, A person that enjoys swimming in the afternoon or evenings(after the solar panels may have boosted water temperature 2-3 degrees from its over night morning low) in an 83 degree pool and only wants a slightly extended swim season may be happy with a panel array that equals 50% of their pool surface area, yet another person that wants to swim in 90 degree water first thing in the morning 9 months out of the year may not be satisfied with a 100% surface sized panel array. Local expert knowledge may help here, as most of the available national solar statistics are geared towards photo voltatic (electric generating) solar panels, and don't take into account local seasonal weather patterns. For example an area that tends to suffer from lots of overcast at the end of the traditional swim season followed by lots of sunlight the next (cooler) month might never be able to regain heat lost during those cloudy days.

    I hope this has been of some help, tell us more about your situation and goals and we can help more

    Ike
    Indoor 20x40 35,000 gallon vinyl pool with 1.5 HP 2 speed Jandy FloPro pump, Hayward EC75 Perflex DE filter, 11 4x12 Techno-Solis solar panels w/ Aquasolar controller, Aquabot Turbo T Robot Cleaner. Also LMI metering chlorine dispenser pump and HotSpring Jetsetter
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    Re: Thinking about getting a solar heater

    Thanks for the replies, good information to get me started with comparison analysis.

    and thank you Ike for bringing up some things that I had not though of!...
    I have approx. 280 sf of effective roof space that faces due south. The pool has 364 sf of surface area, so there is no problem getting 50% coverage on the roof. My metal roof is similar to the style you described on a 4/12 pitch.
    I get full sun on that section of roof for about 6 out of the 13-12 hours we get in Aug/Sept. Mostly sunny days thru end of Sept and even till mid-Oct. Very little wind to contend with (till winter anyway). Temp patterns here run low-65 to high-80-90 this time of year and will change significantly in Sept to low-50 to high-70-80. By October we have the woodstove going in the house. Snow load here is minimal, usually get 2-3 snowstorms that leave 1-5 inches that melts off within a few days.
    We do not swim in the morning or night, although I could see that changing if the water was warmer. The grand kids typically don't show up to swim till mid-day and will swim till the sun goes down (they wear me out!) so if my thinking is right, i'll need to use a cover to maintain heat during the night. (there goes that hedge that I never really liked anyway to make room for a reel).
    Southern Oregon
    14,000 IG
    F-glass kidney
    Sand Filter
    TF-100 Test Kit (and I USE it!)

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    linen's Avatar
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    Re: Thinking about getting a solar heater

    Quote Originally Posted by endoftheroad
    i'll need to use a cover to maintain heat during the night.
    I would do this before moving to solar. You may be surprised at much heat you lose at night.
    TFP Expert who uses Pool School and my TF100 test kit along with PoolMath for my: Round 11K gallon AGP with deep end, 20" sand filter, Matrix 1hp 2spd, 6 2ftX20ft solar panels (and solar cover!), Intex SWCG (copper bars disconnected) and a Rubadub hot tub (chlorine). The SLAM process is not finished until: 1. CC < 0.5 ppm, 2. An OCLT < 1.0 ppm and, 3. The water is crystal clear.

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    JFB's Avatar
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    Re: Thinking about getting a solar heater

    A solar cover is always a win if you put in on every night, especially early and late in the season. It made a huge difference for me. Right now, days are around 80F and nights at 50F and the pool loses 2F-3F a night with the solar cover on. At the beginning of the season, I didn't have a solar cover and my pool made it up to 86F because of warm days and nights, but one night it was about 60F and the pool went back down to 70F overnight.

    Some mornings I wake up early (cause of my 8 month old!) and look at my neighbour's pool while I'm having copious amounts of coffee on the deck. He doesn't have a solar cover and has an natural gas heater. You should see the evaporation cloud above his pool early on in the am. It seems to me to look the same as the evaporation cloud above a spa in the winter! There is a lot of wasted energy there!

    Solar heat and solar cover are my winning combination. Sure the solar cover is a bit of a hassle, but with a smart setup, it's off in 5 seconds and back on in 3 minutes. Not a huge hassle in my book to keep ALL that heat in the pool!

    Keep researching, you'll find a great system for your particular setup.
    JF

    13.5k gallons, IG, Vinyl, Hayward C3030 Cartridge, Hayward Tristar 3/4hp single speed, Hayward T-15 SWG, Hayward P4 automation, 234 sqft Solex Solar panels. April 2013 construction, Dolphin DX4 robot, TF-100 test kit, Pentair Deck Jets 2.

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    Isaac-1's Avatar
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    Re: Thinking about getting a solar heater

    A couple of more factors that may effect your selection choice for your desired location:

    What type of panel would allow you to maximize the coverage in your available roof area. This may mean buying a custom length panel (available from some brands), or one like the HotSun tube and header panels that you can cut and glue together yourself (good for wedge shaped rood sections, and other irregular areas with vents, etc.)

    Also note more rigid panels like the Techno Solis I have don't like to be partly shaded, as this causes part of the panel to expand at a different rate than the rest. I am fairly lucky in this regard with mostly even illumination of the entire roof, at least during the peak solar input hours, I do have one tree that partly shades one panel in the late afternoon in the earlier and later parts of the season when the sun is more towards the south.

    Another thing to consider is where are the panels made, and how will this effect shipping cost, etc. It seems many of the name brand panels are built on the east coast, mostly in Florida, but there are some west coast brands, HotSun and Gull Solar both come to mind.

    Ike

    p.s. I also strongly suggest getting an automatic solar controller which will turn the solar panels on and off (divert water to them), when solar heat is available, this optimizes output and prevents loss of heat radiating from the panels when unexpected clouds or rain occur.
    Indoor 20x40 35,000 gallon vinyl pool with 1.5 HP 2 speed Jandy FloPro pump, Hayward EC75 Perflex DE filter, 11 4x12 Techno-Solis solar panels w/ Aquasolar controller, Aquabot Turbo T Robot Cleaner. Also LMI metering chlorine dispenser pump and HotSpring Jetsetter
    I use and endorse TFtestKits TF-100 from http://tftestkits.net
    ~Remember TFP counts on your donations to keep this site ad free~

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    JFB's Avatar
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    Re: Thinking about getting a solar heater

    Quote Originally Posted by Isaac-1
    p.s. I also strongly suggest getting an automatic solar controller which will turn the solar panels on and off (divert water to them), when solar heat is available, this optimizes output and prevents loss of heat radiating from the panels when unexpected clouds or rain occur.
    +++1

    That is my setup. Worry-free heat.
    JF

    13.5k gallons, IG, Vinyl, Hayward C3030 Cartridge, Hayward Tristar 3/4hp single speed, Hayward T-15 SWG, Hayward P4 automation, 234 sqft Solex Solar panels. April 2013 construction, Dolphin DX4 robot, TF-100 test kit, Pentair Deck Jets 2.

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    mas985's Avatar
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    Re: Thinking about getting a solar heater

    Quote Originally Posted by endoftheroad
    With a combination of the close proximity of the neighbor's fence and landscaping, I do not have room for a cover reel, so the whole solar cover thing is a real pain to deal with.
    There are other ways to handle a solar roller other than a reel. Check this out: diy-solar-cover-roller-t59799.html

    The problem with solar without a cover will be large temperature swings and high evaporation. Since you only need 10 degrees, a cover would give you that easily. I have both solar and a cover and when I use the cover, I rarely need solar and can run my pump for only 1 hour a day on high speed. But without the cover, solar needs to run much longer on high speed so the pump cost is much higher.
    Mark
    Hydraulics 101; Pump Ed 101; Pump/Pool Spreadsheets; Pump Run Time Study; DIY Acid Dosing; DIY Cover Roller
    18'x36' 20k plaster, MaxFlo SP2303VSP, Aqualogic PS8 SWCG, 420 sq-ft Cartridge, Solar, 6 jet spa, 1 HP jet pump, 400k BTU NG Heater

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    Re: Thinking about getting a solar heater

    So I ended up with six 12' used Heliocol panels I found on C-list. My friend and I mounted them on the best roof location I have (SE exposure) and had the whole system up and running yesterday. It took the pool from 74 to 79 in four hours! (It was 90 deg. here yesterday). For now, I will run in manual valve operation till I get an auto controller set up. The cover is next....

    thank you all for the input!
    Southern Oregon
    14,000 IG
    F-glass kidney
    Sand Filter
    TF-100 Test Kit (and I USE it!)

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