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Best Pool Heater Option: Gas/Propane vs. Heat Pump vs. Solar

Best Pool Heater Option: Gas/Propane vs. Heat Pump vs. Solar

Options and Accessories

Are you looking for a way to use your swimming pool for as much of the year as possible? At River Pools we meet with hundreds of folks across Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia each year regarding their inground pool projects and we receive many questions regarding pool heaters. Today we're going to discuss the benefits of heating your pool, different heating options, and how much each option costs initially and on a monthly basis.

Why would I want to heat my pool?

Great question! Without a pool heater your swim season may only last three or four months, while the addition of a heater will typically extend your swim season about two months depending on location and climate.

We all know how much kids enjoy the swimming pool, and closing time can be a bummer, but with a pool heater you and your family can maximize the fun.

What kinds of pool heaters are there?

There are three main types of pool heaters:

  • Solar
  • Heat pump (electric)
  • Gas

How do they work?

Solar pool heaters are very efficient in southern climates year-round and extends swim time in northern climates. Using the sun's energy, the existing pool pump circulates the water through the heater, which is typically located on the rooftop or on a frame constructed in the yard. The downside: solar heating requires a system equal to 50%–100% of the pool's surface. While solar energy may be free, the pool pump must be running for the solar heater to properly operate, which can increase your electric bill.

Electric heat pumps are, amazingly, actually a form of solar energy. How is that possible? Well, the sun warms the air and that heat is pulled from the air. This warm air is pulled in, enhanced, and transferred into the water. This heater requires temperatures of approximately 55°F (12°C) or higher to function properly.

Gas pool heaters use either propane or natural gas. Operating independently of outdoor temperature conditions, gas pool heaters burn the fuel within a combustion chamber. Your pool water runs through copper coils and returns to the pool warm. 

How do electric heat pumps save me money?

While solar pumps may be "free," you still have to leave the pump running in order for it to function. This boosts your electric bill by $300 to $950 a year. Gas heaters can range $300-$500 per month depending on the fuel you choose. Electric heat pumps are highly efficient, costing owners on average $50-100 per month. We find that about 19 of 20 of our customers who install heaters choose heat pumps simply because of their dependability and low operating cost.  You can even check out this nifty savings calculator created by AquaComfort.

Electric heat pumps can extend the average pool use by 2-3 months depending on location/climate. Its temperature requirements (55°F or higher) determine how long it extends pool use per year according to location.

In an area such as Texas or Louisiana, the heat pump will efficiently regulate temperatures almost the entire year. In areas such as Virginia, the heat pump can extend pool use about two months. In areas such as Ohio, pool heaters are NOT optional. Heating is required to keep the water temperatures comfortable.


Solar vs. Electric Heat Pump vs. Gas 

Solar Pool Heater Electric Heat Pump Gas Pool Heater

Solar pool heaters use the sun’s energy to circulate water through the heater.

Electric heat pumps are a form of solar energy. They pull the warmth of the sun from the air and transfer it into the water.

Gas pool heaters use propane or natural gas to heat the pool. The water runs through copper coils and returns to the pool warm.


  • Efficient in southern climates year-round
  • Extend swim time in northern climates


  • Electric heat pumps save money compared to other pool heaters. You might pay $50-$100 per month versus $300 to $500 per month for a gas heater and $300 to $950 a year for solar.


  • Effectively operates independent of outdoor temperature


  • Requires 50%-100% of the pool’s surface


  • Requires temperatures of approximately 55 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to function properly


  • More expensive than other pool heaters


We hope this is useful if you're interested in heating your pool or just considering options for your future pool. These are the three options as well as why electric heat pumps are a known favorite among a majority of our customers. Plus, who doesn't enjoy saving a little cash? For more information on the pool heater types (and other pool accessories), read through our Fiberglass Pool Options and Accessories article.

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