Whether you use electricity, solar energy, gas or propane, heating your pool is one way of making the swimming season last a little longer. However, you might own a saltwater pool and wonder if you can heat it the same way you would heat a chlorinated pool. Can you heat a saltwater pool? And are there any differences between heating a saltwater pool and a traditional chlorine pool?
On a chemical level, there’s no difference between a saltwater pool and a chlorinated pool. You can use the same methods that you would use to heat a chlorinated pool when heating a saltwater pool, including solar energy, electric heat pumps, and gas.
You might have heard people say that saltwater pools don’t use chlorine. This just shows how confusing the topic of pool disinfection can be. In reality, saltwater pools are essentially chlorinated pools because a salt chlorination system produces, as you might guess based on the name, chlorine. Salt chlorination systems electrically convert salt into chlorine in order to clean the pool. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the different options for heating saltwater pools and some essential tips for maintaining your saltwater pool.
Can You Heat Up Saltwater Pools?
Just like freshwater pools, you can heat a saltwater pool. Heating units aren’t affected by the chlorinators used in saltwater pools, which means you don’t have to worry about damaging your equipment when installing a heater in your swimming pool.
How Hot Should You Keep Your Saltwater Pool?
For the sake of comfort and ensuring that your pool remains usable, maintaining the right water temperature is extremely important. Just as it is important to keep a chlorine pool at that ideal temperature, it is necessary to do the same for saltwater pools.
When your pool hits certain temperatures, the water can become dangerous for more vulnerable age groups, like babies and young children. Besides the discomfort associated with water that is too hot or too cold, temperatures that fall outside of the safe range can also make your saltwater pool more susceptible to contaminants.
The ideal temperature for saltwater pools is between 78°F and 82°F. At this temperature range, you can be certain of both safety and comfort. You can always adjust your water temperature to suit your specific needs if you live in a cooler or warmer climate.
Keeping your pool at a desirable temperature is simple. All you have to do is set your pool heater’s thermostat to the temperature that’s best for you. If you are saddled with an inaccurate thermostat, you can use a pool thermometer to measure the temperature of your pool’s water.
What Kind of Pool Heaters Can You Use on Your Saltwater Pool?
Heating a saltwater pool involves the same methods of heating a chlorine pool. Here are the three most common heating methods.
Solar heaters use the sun’s energy to heat pool water. Solar panels are usually installed on the roof of the house with pipes directed toward the roof that run up the side of the building. This allows for water to flow upward to the roof and become heated by the sun’s rays before returning to the pool.
One disadvantage of solar heaters is that they of course only function when there’s sufficient sunlight, typically when the sun is high in the sky. This means it’s not possible to heat a pool overnight. You will also need a powerful pump that’s strong enough to bear water vertically up to the roof of your house.
Another disadvantage of solar heating is its effect on the overall look of your house. A lot of people don’t enjoy the sight of piping and solar panel equipment hanging about their walls and roof. However, unlike gas heaters and heat pumps, solar heaters involve almost no contact between metal and water.
When you’re on a budget, solar heating is the way to go. You can install a solar heating system for about $4,000. If you’re not ready to commit to a full system, you can try a solar blanket like the Sun2Solar Blue (on Amazon). Solar blankets are exactly what they sound like: they keep the pool warm by trapping in heat.
Before purchasing a solar heater, check with its manufacturer to ensure that it’s compatible with saltwater pools.
Electric Heat Pumps
Electric heat pumps are a relatively newer way of heating up pools, and they’re most effective in warmer climates where the outside temperature is consistently above 45ºF. Like solar heaters, they rely on warmer weather to function.
Heat pumps use a compression system to transform existing heat from the air into gas. The hot gas then flows through a heat exchanger condenser that warms pool water as it enters the pump. Access to electricity is required for heat pump systems to work.
The internal material is equipped to work on saltwater just like gas heaters. But unlike gas heaters, most heat pumps depend on a titanium exchanger for durability and to resist corrosion. This is one of the reasons why titanium heat pumps outlast gas-powered heaters.
Electric heat pumps tend to cost more than gas heaters. You have to budget between $2,000 and $5,000 for purchase and installation, and they can be expensive to run. This type of system also doesn’t provide on-demand heating like what you get with a gas heater.
While electric heaters can be pricey, they offer longevity and efficiency in heating saltwater pools.
Gas heaters are the most popular heating systems among pool owners. The gas heating system is the most direct because isn’t dependent on the sun’s energy or the temperature of the day, so you can heat your pool whenever you’d like.
Usually, gas heaters are installed beside the pool equipment and are connected to the system so that water passes through the heater, then out through the original pool piping before flowing back into the pool.
Some heaters use refillable propane tanks just like the kind you use for your barbeque grill. But if you’d rather not have to continuously replace the propane, you can opt for a heater directly connected to an underground gas line. This ensures a constant supply of gas to the heater, but will up the price of maintaining the heating system.
The cost of a gas-based heating system depends on the brand, size, and model of the heater, on top of whether you have access to a gas line. You’ll likely have to shell out about $1,500 to $5,000 for purchase and installation.
Operating and maintaining gas heaters can be expensive, but they are considered the most effective means of heating saltwater pools. Propane is a cheaper alternative to gas.
Another important consideration when choosing a gas heater is the kind of heating element it uses, which affects the life of your heater.
How the Material Used in Your Gas Heater Makes a Difference
The longevity of your gas heater depends on the type of heating element, especially with saltwater pools.
Copper is the most common heating element material. Copper is okay for saltwater pools, but you can also choose to go with a stronger corrosion-resistant material which will ensure a longer life for your heater. If you do decide to go with copper as your heating element, you must be careful to maintain your water chemistry and pay special attention to the pH levels, as a low pH can damage the heating element.
Cupronickel is the second most popular heating element. Cupronickel contains a bit of copper, but it is an alloy with nickel content and is also considered to be more corrosion-resistant.
Is it Necessary to Heat Your Saltwater Pool?
Another common question for owners of saltwater pools is the purpose of heating them in the first place.
On the surface, heaters may appear to be designed for luxury purposes, but there are multiple reasons to heat your saltwater pool in both hot and cold seasons.
You Can Swim More Often Throughout the Year
You can extend the swimming season by many weeks when you heat your saltwater pool. It’s even possible to continue enjoying your pool deep into autumn.
You Can Swim More Safely
When a saltwater pool is heated, it offers a safer environment for swimmers to enjoy. When people swim in waters with extremely cold temperatures, they may suffer from shock when they make contact with the water.
And as we mentioned before, it’s important to maintain warmer temperature ranges for more vulnerable age groups, like babies and young kids.
It has also been suggested that chemicals may not work as well in cold water. Balancing the chemicals in your pool water is a critical part of ensuring safe swimming, so heating your pool makes it easier to control that balance.
You Can Better Protect Your Equipment
If your saltwater pool is too cold, it can damage equipment. For example, chlorine operators can become damaged when your water is too cold. This is another important reason to heat your saltwater pool.
You Can Improve Your Swimming Experience
Naturally, heating your saltwater pool allows for a warm and comfortable environment for an improved swimming experience. When you heat your saltwater pool, you are bound to enjoy every bit of time you spend in the pool irrespective of the season.
What Are Some Other Ways to Heat Your Saltwater Pool?
If you are on a tight budget and would like to cut down on the cost of heating your swimming pool, here are some budget-friendly solutions you can try.
1. Solar blanket
Covering your pool with a solar blanket whenever the pool isn’t in use helps retains heat from the sun. Solar blankets are built to draw more sunlight in, insulating your swimming pool and trapping heat within the water. They can be very useful through the night and on cloudy days.
Depending on their size, solar blankets, like the Sun2Solar Blue (on Amazon), can cost between $40 and $200.
2. Liquid heat trappers
Liquid heat trappers like the Pool Basics 2706PB Heat Trapper (on Amazon) aim to work like solar blankets do. The liquid keeps your pool warmer by creating a thin layer across the water that minimizes evaporation, a major factor in heat loss.
The barrier created by the liquid is invisible to the human eye, and the product shouldn’t affect the chemistry of your pool.
3. Black hose trick
Here’s a neat trick: whenever you want to fill your pool, use a long black garden hose, preferably one made of PVC. Ensure that your hose lies directly in the sunlight so it can absorb as much of the sun’s heat as it can.
Your water will end up naturally warmer because black objects absorb more heat. The longer the hose, the more opportunity for the water to heat up. Aim for 5 or more feet of hose for maximum effect.
4. Water circulation hack
Another useful trick takes advantage of a circulation system. In this system, you use a pool pump and a regular garden hose in the open when the sun is up. This way, the water passes through the warm pipe before flowing into the pool. You can repeat to enjoy constant heating.
5. Trash bag heaters
If you’re feeling crafty, you can MacGyver your own heating system using black trash bags, hula hoops, and pool noodles. Based on the same principle as the garden hose trick, this hack takes advantage of how black trash bags retain heat.
By cutting the trash bags into sheets, attaching them to hula hoops with duct tape, and keeping the resulting frames afloat with pool noodles, you can basically create a DIY solar panel.
How Much Will It Cost To Heat Your Saltwater Pool?
The cost of heating saltwater pools depends heavily on several variables, including where you live, the water temperature you prefer, the type of heating method used, and whether you use a pool cover.
The U.S. Department of Energy website offers tables for estimating of the cost of heating your pool, allowing you to compare the costs between using an electric heat pump and a gas-based heating system.