Solar Panels- What to look for


LifeTime Supporter
May 4, 2007
I am in the process of buying heating for my pool. I would like to go solar due to operating cost. I am looking into Fafco and Heliocol but came across SUNSTAR solar collectors by Plastic Magen Industries.

Any one heard or use these panels? Isn't Heliocol made by Plastic Magen as well?

Since I live in Miami, high force winds are a major concern. I want a controller and would like to extend my season all year round. And price is of some concern.

What should I be looking for?

Also, I was wondering why they use surface area to determine how many panels are needed. Why wouldn't you use gallons of water? I can see a 30x15 foot pool having a deep end and have the same gals as a 20x40 4ft pool. Yet the industry norm is to get the same sq ft of panels as the surface of the pool.


TFP Expert
Platinum Supporter
LifeTime Supporter
May 7, 2007
Silver Spring, MD
Almost all of the heat loss is through the surface, primarily through evaporation. Thus the rate of heat loss is proportional to the surface area. This rule works very well in the fall. There is some additional heat required in the early spring, that is proportional to the volume, to establish the initial temperature. However, the surface heat loss quickly becomes more significant than bulk heating as soon as the water gets several degrees above the average temperature, so the bulk heating rate can be ignored.

By the by, more panel area always helps, but you don't usually really need as much panel area as the surface of the pool. It really depends on your goals. 30-50% coverage will extend your swimming season quite significantly. 100% coverage will very dramatically extend your swim season, all the way to year round in some sunnier areas. I don't like to swim when the air temperature is too cold, so the more dramatic extension of the season is not as interesting to me.

PowerMat has some nice charts that can help you get a sense of what different size arrays can do and what some of the other factors to keep in mind are.


Well-known member
Apr 3, 2007
The Florida Solar Energy Center has useful information on different systems and FAQ's on installation and other stuff. You can find the Center here: ... /index.htm

In New Jersey, my system, which covers about 70% of my pool surface, gives me a month at either end of the season and much more comfortable water in the early season. In Florida, you can run the system at night to cool off the pool somewhat in the Summer, although I do not know of anyone who has indicated how efficient the panels are as pool coolers.



LifeTime Supporter
Oct 5, 2007
Valrico, FL
I just had a solar heater installed as part of a new pool build. The solar collectors used are Heliocol. Heliocol, SunStar and even Powermat are made by Plastic Magen. These panels differ in one way from the Fafco panels: how they are joined together. The Fafco panels are joined together with a rubber hose and hose clamps. The Plastic Magen panels are joined with a plastic ring and an o-ring. I have been told that the rubber hoses on the Fafco panels require maintenance/replacement every year or so. Fafco does have a new panel which is suppose to increase the amount of heat collected for the same coverage area. These panels have dimples in the collector tubes.

chem geek

TFP Expert
LifeTime Supporter
Mar 28, 2007
San Rafael, CA USA
I have had Fafco panels for 5 years now and haven't seen any problems with the joined rubber hose and hose clamps, but then again I have my local Fafco installer come out to winterize the panels (drain them, open them up in a couple of places, turn off the solar controller) and then startup again in the spring. So it's possible they are fixing things that I am not aware of, though I would think they would make a big deal about that to justify their maintenance expense (though it's pretty cheap).



LifeTime Supporter
Jun 26, 2007
SF Bay Area
chem geek,

I inherited some Fafco panels and I'm not sure how old they are. I hadn't even considered the need for these to be winterized like you have been doing - mainly because of my own ignorance.

We had several really cold nights last year (cold for us, at least, but I think those in the mid-west won't be very impressed :p ) dipping down into the mid-20's and one night even into the low-20's. I kept my filter pump running overnight and, if I recall correctly, did not activate the solar valves to send water through the solar panels. I did not detect any damage to the solar panels from this cold snap last winter, but then again I have not been on the second story roof to closely inspect the panels. :oops:

My solar panels have a vacuum breaker to drain the panels when the solar valve is not activated. I am assuming :!: that the panels are fully draining.

I don't plan on winterizing these panels this winter either, but methinks that I need to troop up to the second story roof to inspect these panels in the near future.



LifeTime Supporter
May 4, 2007
I have spoken to both Heliocol and Fafco reps and I am looking at 12 (4x12ft) panels. My south facing roof does not accomadate all these panels actually due to the shape I can only fit 6 4x12 or 10 4x8 panels and I would like the remaining panels to go on the west roof ( by the way, can fit 20 panels in two row if I would like).

One of those reps said it was better to place all 12 panels in two rows on the west, but from all the info from other threads, it seems like getting as much on the South facing side is better.

I would I divert water to 10 panels on one side and 2 panels to the other side? And how can I measru or be sure the installers did it correcly?

Also, is this a DIY project? I am very good at plumbing work, which according to some manuals is the hardest part of the job. I have "S" type cement tiles. One of the sales man said that they do not go through the roof only the tiles. Is this correct?


LifeTime Supporter
Aug 2, 2007
Austin, TX
The product I ended up going with was more to do with the installer then the product itself. In my price range, the only real options I had (which had installers locally) where Heliocol and Fafco. The salesman for Fafco was a true salesman and a bit rude. The Heliocol saleman was also the installer. He knew his product inside and out. I spoke to two other salemen in the area and they both recommended the Heliocol when they couldn't get their prices down to these two products. One can only research so much then one has to take a leap of faith. I say go with the product which has the best installer.