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Pool Heater vs Heat Pump: Which for Me?

A pool heater, simply speaking, heats pool water by heating the water with a source of heat such as natural gas or propane. On the other hand, a heat pump does it by drawing heat from the environment. They’re both great options to use for heating water but have some main differences which set them apart from one another.

Their main differences are in the way they operate and the costs. While a pool heater generates actual heat and thus heats up the water faster, a heat pump uses the heat in the air to heat the water. There are differences in the costs you spend and the time it takes to heat the water besides many others.

Below, we take a look at all the differences and similarities between them to help you make the most appropriate choice for your needs.

Pool Heater vs Heat Pump: Similarities and Differences

 Pool HeaterHeat Pump
Upfront costsLower upfront costsHigh upfront
Running/operating costsHigh running costsLow running costs
Heating speedHeats the pool fastTakes time to heat the pool
Heating speed in cold climatesGreat since it has its own source of heat.Depends on ambient heat hence doesn’t work well in cold climates.
Heating speed in warm climatesEfficient although not its best working environment.Great since it derives the heat from the environment.
Use for hot tubs and JacuzzisHeats water fast hence more suited to this.Heats water at a slower rate hence not the best option.
Energy efficiencyThey lose heat significantly hence not very efficient.Almost all the heat created is used to heat the pool water.
Frequent useDue to the high costs and lower energy efficiency, they’re not the best for frequent heating.Can be used for frequent pool heating and even left on without an issue.
Comparison table

Pool Heaters

Pool heaters literally heat the water by generating their own heat through the burning of propane or natural gas. Their main advantage is that they heat the pool water fast and don’t rely on the ambient temperatures to heat the water.

How do pool heaters work?

Pool heaters have a combustion chamber in which a fuel such as natural gas or propane burns and generates heat. The generated heat heats up hollow coils which in turn heat pool what that flows through them.

The process is a continuous one and ends only when the water in the pool is heated to a certain desired temperature. You can then turn off the heater or keep it running at a certain temperature.

 Pool heater pros and cons
Pool Heater

Advantages of a pool heater

Some of the benefits of using a pool heater include the following:

Heats a pool quickly

The primary reason the pool heater is a favored by lots of people over other methods is that it heats water the fastest way possible. If you want a quick dive into the pool and it’s currently too cold, you can turn on your pool heater and you’ll be swimming in no time. Depending on the size of the pool and the desired temperatures, pool heaters can heat the whole pool in a few hours.

Can be used with Jacuzzis and hot tubs

The same efficiency that goes into heating the water in a pool goes into Jacuzzis and pools. This is because they’re indoors and won’t be that effective with heat pumps which need to be outdoors to be effective. In fact, with smaller water bodies such as hot tubs, your water will be ready in a few minutes.

Low upfront costs

Buying a pool heater, when compared to heat pumps, is much cheaper hence a great option for both individuals with smaller pools and public institutions with larger pools. Depending on the size of the pool, you can have a very affordable pool heater.

Doesn’t rely on the ambient temperatures

Unlike heat pumps which depend on the temperature of the air outdoors, pool heaters generate their own heat in a combustion chamber for fuel. For this reason, it doesn’t matter whether it’s cold or warm outside. You’ll still have your warm water in the same period of time no matter the temperatures outdoors.

Disadvantages of a pool heater

The drawbacks to having a pool heater are as follows:

High operating costs

While a pool heater costs little to acquire, running one is quite costly given that the cost of propane and natural gas isn’t that low especially when you use it frequently.

Not very energy-efficient

Compared to a heat pump, pool heaters lose a significant amount of energy in the form of heat to the environment. The fact that they need to generate this heat in large amounts to heat the water fast means that a reasonable amount of it will also be lost.

Not suited to frequent use

If you’re in the market for a pool heater that you intend to use frequently, you’re better off getting a heat pump since the costs of running the pool heater are still too high to warrant it.

From these advantages and disadvantages, it’s only wise to get a pool heater if you’re looking for a way to heat your pool every now and again and fast. Otherwise, if you’re into warming your pool several days on end, it’s not a good option.

Pool Heat Pumps

Pool heat pumps don’t heat the water directly like the pool heaters. Instead, they draw heat from the air around them, warm a refrigerant, pressurize it to further increase its temperature and then transfer the heat to the swimming pool water.

The heating process is quite slow compared to the pool heater but it’s consistent enough to heat a whole pool. It depends on the temperature of the air around it and takes about 24 hours to heat the pool by some degrees.

This process is a continuous one and will stop raising the temperature of the water when it’s to a level that the heat pump can’t derive more heat from the environment.

A little electricity is used to run the fan and compressor although its costs are almost negligible.

Pool Heat Pump Pros and Cons
Raypack Heat Pump

Advantages of a pool heat pump

The advantages of using a pool heat pump include these:

It’s great in warm temperatures

If you need to heat up your pool in the summer and other warm to hot periods where the temperature outside is above 40°F, a pool heat pump will do a great job as it derives the heat from the air around it.

Low operating costs

Once installed and turned on, your pool heat pump will only need a small amount of electricity to run a fan and compressor. Otherwise, it draws heat from the environment and uses it to heat the water at no extra cost.

In fact, given that there is no heating and other high temperature mechanics, the parts of this machine will last longer than a pool heater in a similar situation.

Efficient over a long period of time

The fact that they don’t produce heat on their own and have few moving parts at high pressure or high temperatures means that they cost less to run and maintain. They also don’t break down easily as they don’t operate at a high speed or high pressure. In fact, it’s more cost-effective to leave them on constantly than switching them on and off.

Are the best for pools that are used frequently

If you have a public pool or you just want your pool to maintain a certain temperature, a heat pump is the best. It doesn’t cost much to run and can be kept on for days on end without adding a significant amount to your bills.

Disadvantages of a pool heat pump

The drawbacks to having and running a pool heat pump include the following:

It’s slower than a pool heater

Pool heat pumps rely on the temperature of the air outside to heat the water. As such, how fast they work depends on the amount of heat in the environment. Even then, the fastest they work is still quite slow compared to how fast a pool heater does. A typical heat pump requires 24 hours to heat a swimming pool.

Not great in cold waters

The fact that they rely on the weather to work means that they don’t do well when it’s cold or raining outside. The cold air won’t provide the needed heat to warm the water in the pool. While some pool heat pumps can operate in as low as 30°F (for the air outdoors), some still don’t work very well in these conditions.

Having these aspects in mind will help you decide on which of the heaters is better.

Which is better and why

Generally, a pool heater will take less time but cost more to heat a pool compared to a heat pump. However, the right choice will be influenced by the following factors:

The speed of the heating

If you need fast heating on demand, pool heaters will serve you better as they generally heat the water faster when needed.

Upfront and operating costs

When it comes to the upfront cost, you’ll spend more on a pool heat pump than on the pool heater. However, the pool heater will cost more to run in the long term.

The ambient temperatures

If you stay in a cold place or want to use your pool in the winter, better go for a pool heater since the heat pump won’t be that good in such an environment. On the other hand, if you want a warm dive in your pool in the summer or a warm area, the heat pump will serve you well.

Frequency of use

If you use the pool frequently, a pool heat pump is the best option. This is because it costs less to run and can even be left to run for many days on end.

From this comparison, the winner depends on your needs rather than being a general and easy pick. For example, individuals would go for a pool heater if they need an occasional swim in their pool. On the other hand, commercial pools that are used frequently should go for a heat pump as it saves on the cost of heating the pool.