How to Heat an Above Ground Pool | Ultimate Guide For an Enjoyable Swim

feet floating in pool water

Above ground swimming pools can take your summer from ordinary to extraordinary without breaking the bank. This popular choice is an affordable and practical way for you to create the ultimate summer hot spot. The only issue is your summer hot spot is ice cold. Unless you’re inviting your guests over for a polar bear plunge, no one wants to jump into freezing cold pool, and swimming pool heaters are here to keep that from happening! Swimming pool heaters are an essential piece of equipment for maintaining a comfortable pool temperature for you and your guests to enjoy. So how do you heat an above ground swimming pool when the sunlight just isn’t enough?

You may think that because you live in a hot climate you do not need a heater for your above ground swimming pool. The cold (pun intended), hard truth is that even the warmest of climates will benefit from a swimming pool heater. Whether it is from a cooler, overcast day or during the overnight hours, an above ground swimming pool utilizing a swimming pool heater will yield pleasant swimming conditions when the sunlight just isn’t enough.

How to Heat an Above Ground Pool

While the most effective tool for heating a swimming pool is a swimming pool heater, there are also additional resources available to make sure your swimming pool water stays heated. These supplemental heating systems, such as solar rings or covers, assist the heated water in staying warm by keeping the warm water within the pool. Additionally, these rings or covers help reduce the warm water from evaporating. It is a good idea to use both a swimming pool heater and an additional heating resource to both heat the water and maintain the water temperature.

In order to heat the water in the first place, you will need a swimming pool heater. The main component of a swimming pool heater is the heating element. When water enters this heat-generating element, water is heated and distributed back into the pool. Depending on the type of pool heater you purchase determines the power source of the heating element. You can choose from an electric, solar, or gas-powered heater. The good news is there are plenty of swimming pool heaters available for you to find the perfect fit for your pool size and climate location.

Before you purchase the first swimming pool heater you find, it’s important to know specific information about your above ground pool so that you can purchase the most effective heater.

Elements of pool heating system

Typical Pool Sizes and Volumes

Above ground pools can vary in size and volume. Like any equipment you purchase, you have to buy the correct heater output to guarantee it is adequate. If you purchase a swimming pool heater that does not have a high enough BTU for the pool size you have, you will never achieve appropriate heating of your pool. This can result in a high utility bill.

But there’s more than just BTU to consider when it comes to heating your pool. You also need to consider the total surface area and depth of your pool.

A deeper pool is harder to heat naturally from the sun, potentially requiring a higher BTU heater.

A pool with a large surface area may not require a high BTU heater, yet it still needs constant heating. This type of pool would benefit from solar rings to assure the heated water temperature does not escape.

Additionally, a shaded pool that does not have access to constant sun may require a higher BTU heater, as the heater will need a high output to raise the water temperature quicker.

Regardless of your pool’s shape and volume, you will need to choose a gas, electric, or solar-powered heater to achieve your target temperature. You'll have to keep it away from the pool ladders for safe entry into the pool.

Use a Gas Heater

Off the shelf, gas heaters can be the most affordable and rapid-heating option. If convenience and speedy heating is what you are after, then a gas heater has the potential to be your best choice. Using natural gas or propane for power, a gas heater is quick, easy, and effective. But a low shelf price does not equate to being the cheapest choice for heating your above ground pool.

Like all gas burning pieces of equipment, gas pool heaters burn gas to produce heat. If you have a large pool to heat, a gas heater will use an excessive amount of propane or natural gas to operate, resulting in a high gas bill. Further, the excessive use of a gas heater will result in a shortened lifespan of your heater.

A gas heater would be a viable option should you have a smaller above ground pool with excessive sunlight. Couple this with solar rings for maintaining the pool temperature and you have found the right combination for a comfortable swimming pool!

Use a Pool Heat Pump

People commonly ask what the difference is between a pool heater vs. a heat pump.

By capitalizing on the use of warm air temperature, a swimming pool heater pump draws in the warm air temperature to heat the water and distribute the warmer water throughout the pool, whereas an electric pool heater uses an electrically-powered heating element to heat the water.

If you live in a warmer climate, an above ground pool heat pump may be your best choice, such as the Hayward heat pump pool heater. An electric heat pump for an above ground pool is not effective in colder climates where air temperature is not warm enough to heat the pool.

What happens if you live in a cooler climate and you use a heat pump? Heat pumps for pools in cooler climates are not recommended. This is because the cool air being taken in will not be sufficient to provide heat for the pool water. The use of a heat pump in cooler climates will result in an ineffectively heated pool. Even more, using a heat pump in cooler climates can also result in a higher utility bill with no results to show for it.

The best recipe for using a pool heat pump is to pair it with the right climate and the right supplemental heating tool. If you live in a warm climate and use solar rings for retaining your pool’s temperature, you should be able to achieve and maintain the right temperature for your pool as needed. 

Electric Pool Heaters

When it comes to heating above ground pools, electric pool heaters, such as the Intex pool heater, are an effective option. Taking water into the heating element, the electric pool heater warms the water and distributes it back into the pool, raising the pool water temperature.

The smaller the above ground pool, the better. Electric pool heaters are ideal for smaller above ground pools as they are limited to heating large pool volumes due to their compact size and output. The trade-off for its smaller output is the setup and installation simplicity. These heaters are painless to install and make for a great option if you have no access to natural gas or propane. If you are wondering "What size pool heater do I need?", we covered that topic as well.

Should you live in a warm climate, you may want to invest in an electric pool heat pump to pair with your electric pool heater. This pairing will allow you to utilize the heat pump during the summer months, saving the use of the electric pool heater for those cooler months or at night.

Use a Solar Heater

Do you have a large area near your pool that is exposed to sunlight for a majority of the day? The solar heater may be your best option. While upfront costs may seem staggering, the long-term and environment savings are unbeatable.

Using energy from the sun, the solar heater absorbs this energy and warms the water that is pumped through it, redistributing the warmed water back into the pool.

When it comes to solar energy, there are two types of solar-collectors: glazed and unglazed collectors.

  • A glazed collector is made using copper tubing on an aluminum plate. It has an iron tempered glass covering. This makes glazed collectors more expensive.
  • An unglazed collector is made using heavy duty rubber or plastic panels. These panels are treated with a UV light protector to extend their life from the constant prolonged ultraviolet exposure.

A glazed solar collector is more expensive than an unglazed due to the materials used (copper, aluminum and iron tempered glass), but both choices have freeze protection to shield against cold weather. 

Use Solar Blankets or Rings

The best supplemental heating feature for your above ground pool is by using solar blankets or rings.

Solar blankets for above ground pools are precut to the size and shape of your pool.
These solar blankets have air-filled bubbles that keep the blanket floating on the surface.

blue solar blanket for pool

The best supplemental heating feature for your above ground pool is by using solar blankets or rings. Solar blankets for above ground pools are precut to the size and shape of your pool. These solar blankets have air-filled bubbles that keep the blanket floating on the surface.

While floating on the surface, the blanket absorbs the heat and light from the sun, heating the surface temperature of the water underneath. On the flipside, the preheated water is preserved by the use of a solar blanket to lock this heat into place. If a solar blanket is too big or bulky for you to maintain on your own, you may want to invest in solar rings.

Solar rings are moderately-sized rings that float on your pools surface to absorb the sun’s heat and energy. These rings give you easier mobility to move to and from the pool, as well as move to safe storage when not in use.

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