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Do I need a heater for my above ground pool?

A question often asked by potential pool owners is, do I need a heater for my above ground pool? Depending on the climate in your area and the personal preferences of your family, the answer can vary. It is no secret that the summers in Canada aren't very long, and we are lucky if we have a good 4 months of swimming weather. A heater is a fantastic way to expand your swimming season by up 2 additional months. Your heater will not only keep you swimming in comfort but allow you to get more out of your pool. If you have a small pool with good sun coverage that primarily is used by small children, you may not need a heater. Small children don't seem too bothered by cold water, but the same can't be said for adults! If you have a larger pool with spotty sun coverage that is also used by adults or elderly people, a heater is almost necessary. What type of heater works best for an above ground pool?

The three most common forms of heaters for above ground pools are: natural gas heaters, solar heaters, and heat pumps.

Natural gas heaters are the most common form of above ground pool heater. They are easily the most effective, offering the greatest degree per hour increase of any heater. They can be expensive to operate in relation to other heaters, as constant use can be heavy on your gas bill. You must also consider that upon initial installation, a licensed gas technician must tie in your heater into the house’s gas line, which is an additional cost.

Solar heaters are a lower cost option that has zero cost of operation over the life of the heater. If you have enough sun in your backyard, you will be generating heat for your pool. They will never generate the degree per hour output of a gas heater. They will increase the temperature of the pool, but the change will be gradually over a period of a few days, as opposed to the mere hours it takes for the same temperature increase with a gas heater. For permanent above ground pools, a "solar panel" style heater is the way to go. The large surface area allows for maximum heating potential and longevity in relation to smaller "dome" styled solar heaters.

Heat pumps are very costly upon initial start up but have a very low cost of operation over the life of the unit. On top of the high cost of the heat pump unit, an electrician will be required to wire the heat pump properly. Heat pumps are essentially reverse air conditioners, that use a fan to draw air from around the unit and use the ambient temperature of the air to heat the pool water. An issue with using ambient temperature air to heat the pool, however, is that the heater will not be very effective during the spring and fall when air temperatures are low. In the summer when air temperatures are higher, the unit will function more effectively. This doesn't exactly aid in extending your pool season in the Canadian climate, however. Heat pumps are very common in rural areas that may not have access to a municipal gas line that is required by gas heaters.

In short,


Gas heaters:

(+) Most effective form of heater, greatest degree per hour output. Works year round.

(-) Expensive in initial cost and installation, expensive daily operation


Solar heaters:

(+) Free operation for the lifetime of the solar heater, lower initial cost of unit and installation.

(-) Very slow heating potential and must be used in conjunction with a solar blanket.


Heat pumps:

(+) Very low cost of operation, no need for municipal gas on property.

(-) Extremely expensive initial cost on both the unit and installation, doesn’t work well in the spring and fall.

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