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Do I need a heater for my above ground pool?

Updated: Jan 13, 2023

Introduction


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 2-3 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?

Types of Heaters


The two most common forms of heaters for above ground pools are: natural gas heaters, and heat pumps. Solar heaters and electric element heaters are also options on the market, however they can have questionable efficacy in the cold Canadian climate and we do not sell or install them due to these issues. It is best to stick to natural gas or heat pumps for proven results. If you want to the ability to swim from late April to late October regardless of weather, and have the budget for the cost of gas, then a natural gas heater is probably for you. If you wish to significantly lower your operating costs and only plan on swimming from mid May to late September, the heat pump will be for you.

Natural Gas Heaters


Natural gas heaters are the most common form of above ground pool heater. They are the most effective, offering the greatest degree per hour increase of any heater. The heat generated is through the ignition of natural gas, and therefore is not dependent on outside temperatures. No matter the conditions, a gas heater will always heat quickly. They can be expensive to operate in relation to other heaters, as constant use can be heavy on your gas bill. You must 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. If the heater is located far away from your gas source (typically your gas meter) the cost can be very expensive to trench and run the gas line from the source to the heater. If the pool owner wishes to keep their heater inside an enclosed space or pool shed, the gas technician would also have to vent the heater's exhaust. Most above ground pool heaters require 3/4" gas line to feed the heater, however if the heater is located 50ft or more from the gas source, 1" gas line will be required.



Heat Pumps


Heat pumps are essentially reverse air conditioners. A heat pump uses a fan to draw air from around the unit and uses 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 as effective during the early spring and late fall when air temperatures are low. The breaking point for the heat pump when efficiency starts to fall off is around 13°c. In the summer when air temperatures are higher, the unit will function more effectively. The heat pump takes longer to reach the set temperature than a gas heater does, but maintaining the heat in the pool costs pennies on the dollar what it would cost to do the same with a natural gas heater. Heat pumps are very common in rural areas that may not have access to a municipal gas line that is required by gas heaters. Typically a heat pump is slightly more expensive than a gas heater for the heat pump itself, but newer invertor heat pumps are almost on par with equivalent gas heaters as of 2023. If the heater location is close to fuel source (e.g. electrical panel or gas meter) a natural gas heater is typically cheaper to have installed, however when the filtration system is located farther away from the fuel source the cost of running electrical can be vastly less than running gas. Unlike the gas heater, having the heater farther away from your house will not require bigger or different wire, or hurt the performance of the heater. Typical above ground pool heat pumps require 20amp 240v service, with larger units requiring 30amp 240v service. Most heat pumps include a titanium heater exchanger, making them very durable and resistant to pool water chemistry or salt water systems.




Conclusion


In short,


Gas heaters:

(+) Greatest degree per hour output, heats quickly and effectively.

(+) Works year round.

(-) Gas line can be very expensive to run if the heater is located far from the gas meter.

(-) Expensive daily operation.


Best for pool owners looking to use their pool from late April to late October without interruption, however proper budgeting for gas will be required. Best practices would aim to keep the heater close to the gas source to reduce cost and potential feed problems.


Heat pumps:

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

(+) Much cheaper to run electrical lines at distance than gas lines if filtration system is located beside the pool instead of the house.

(+) Titanium heater exchanger for longevity.

(-) Takes longer to bring the temperature up in comparison to gas.

(-) Loses efficiency when temperatures drop below 13°c

Best for pool owners that are looking to reduce operational costs for long term savings. If the filtration system is located far from the house, it will be cheaper to run electrical than gas at distance. Perfect for rural pool owners that do not have access to natural gas. If the pool owner mainly wishes to use the pool from mid May to late September and isn't worried about extending their season into April and October, the heat pump is hard to beat. As the heat pump requires a 20amp 240v electrical service, having the space open on your electrical panel for this service is required.


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