A Complete Guide for Heating an Above Ground Pool

We will discuss all the ways on how you can heat up your above ground pool, when to ideally use each pool heater type, and also other heating tips…

Due to its cheap cost and easy installation, an above ground pool has become a popular home addition. You may have installed one as well in your home and are currently having fun in it.

But to fully enjoy your swimming pool experience, heating your above ground pool is essential. So in this guide, you’ll know all the ways you can heat up your pool when to ideally use each pool heater type, and also other heating tips that you can use to save money.

Let’s get started!

Above Ground Pool

3 Ways to Heat up Your Above Ground Pool

“If I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it – keep going, keep going come what may.” Quoting Van Gogh, a famous artist, we lose when we stop searching for answers or ways to satisfy our needs. 

So to not lose out, we will explore three ways on how to heat an above-ground pool: gas heater, heat pump, and solar heater—each pool heater with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Heat Pumps

A heat pump works by transferring heat from the air into the water of your above ground pool. This process is similar to that of an air conditioner. 

At the heart of a pool heat pump, a compressor lies connected to an evaporator and condenser. A refrigerant flows as the medium of this heating system. As the compressor of a pool heat pump operates, it lowers the temperature of the refrigerant in the evaporator, allowing it to absorb thermal energy from the environment. Then the refrigerant takes the thermal energy to the condenser. The pool water flowing outside the condenser will then absorb the heat carried by the refrigerant. Effectively, heating your pool water.

Above Ground Pool

The effectiveness and efficiency of pool heat pumps are very dependent on the ambient temperature. According to the U.S. Department of Energy [1], heat pumps for a swimming pool will operate efficiently in the 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit range of ambient temperature.


Given that pool heat pumps take advantage of the ambient thermal energy, their major advantage is their high efficiency. A pool heat pumps’ coefficient of performance ranges from 3.0 to 7.0, which converts to an efficiency of 300 percent to 700 percent [1]. 

This pool heater efficiency also translates to being cost-effective during operation. Unlike natural gas which is more expensive, the cost of heating your pool using a heat pump will be around 50 percent lower. [1][2

Another advantage would be the longer service life of a pool heat pump when compared to other types of pool heater. Typically, pool heat pumps can last 10 years as compared to the 5 years lifespan of a gas heater.


A pool heat pump has complex parts as compared to a gas pool heater and solar pool heater. As such, it has higher installation and repair costs.

Compared to a gas pool heater, it has a low heating rate. So it may take several hours to reach the ideal water temperature in your above ground pool.

Another disadvantage is the dependence on the surrounding ambient temperature. Due to this, it becomes inefficient during cold seasons. 

When to Use a Heat Pump

Pool heat pumps might be the best choice if your location has a warm temperature most of the year-ideally, around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It is also a good choice if you want an efficient and eco-friendly heating system to heat the water of your pool.

Gas Pool Heaters

Gas pool heaters produce heat through combustion. They burn natural gas or propane as their source of heat. 

The fuel burns in the combustion chamber that raises the temperature of the heat exchanger. A water pump draws in water from the pool and into the heat exchanger. Then the flowing water in the exchanger heats up and flows back into the swimming pool.

Above Ground Pool


Since a gas pool heater operates on the principle of combustion, its main advantage is the high heat rate and capacity. 

So if you need to heat an above ground pool in a short amount of time, a gas pool heater may be a great choice. It is also best for pool owners who want to use their above-ground swimming pools at any season since they can easily retain heat and maintain the desired warm pool water temperature regardless of the weather.

A gas heater only has simple operating parts. So this pool heating equipment and its installation costs are lower than other types of pool heaters.


Although combustion gives it an advantage of a high heat rate, the main downside of natural gas heaters is their larger operating efficiency and costs.

One of the major disadvantages of using gas is its low efficiency. According to the U.S Department of Energy, its heating efficiency ranges from 80% to 95%. [2] Although the range of the pool heating efficiency may seem high, it’s low as compared to the efficiency of heat pumps.

The process of combustion also leads to a shorter lifespan of the equipment. Thus, a gas pool heater only has an average lifespan of 5 years as compared to other types of swimming pool heaters like the heat pump, which can last to 10 years.

Another downside is that combustion results in a negative impact on the environment. So if you’re very considerate of the environment, this type of pool heater might not be for you.

When to Use a Gas Heater

From the advantages, a gas heater may be best for those who have large above ground pools due to its high heating rate and large heating capacity. Also, it is ideal for pool owners who want to heat the pool despite the cold season.

But if you care about efficiency, the environment, and have a good ambient temperature throughout the year, then you can opt to use other pool heaters-such as the heat pump and solar pool heaters.

Solar Pool Heaters 

The last method to heat your pool is through solar heaters. As its name implies, solar heaters use the sun to warm up the water of your swimming pool.

Above Ground Pool

This pool heating system uses solar panels or solar collectors to capture the warmth of the sun. Then, pool water from an above ground pool flows through these collectors and back into the pool.

Due to the small size of above ground pools, it is usually best paired with pool solar heaters (like with the Intex brand).

To check if your location has enough solar resources to warm up your pool water. You can check out the website of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory linked here.


The major advantage of using solar heaters is their almost zero operational cost. Since it uses the power of the sun to warm up the water, you won’t need to pay for pool heating bills. You’ll just have to check and maintain it once in a while.

If properly maintained, another benefit is the long service life; solar heaters are expected to last at least 10 to 20 years.

For nature lovers out there, this may be for you, for it brings the advantage of being eco-friendly. So you don’t have to worry about adding more carbon emissions to the atmosphere as you heat your pool.


One of the solar heater’s major disadvantages is its dependence on the sun. In effect, heating a swimming pool using solar heaters will only be effective in a sunny season.

And although it has almost zero operational cost, the initial investment cost is very expensive for large above ground pools and high-quality solar heaters. Expect to pay at least $3,000 to $4,000 initially [3], and the return of investment to be around 3 to 7 years. This is due to the high price of the materials and development of solar panels and solar collectors. 

Although there are cheap options that are enough to keep the swimming pool water warm under suitable conditions, it can at most increase the water temperature by 5 Fahrenheit.

When to Use a Solar Heater?

If you have the budget and enough solar resource in your location, getting solar heaters is a great option, especially if you belong to a state where they give rebates to households that use solar pool heating.

Money-Saving Tip: Use a Solar Blanket

Quoting Aesop: “It is thrifty to prepare today, for the wants of tomorrow.” With that said, though we may have enough money to pay for heating without batting an eye, it is wise to cut costs in order to save for emergencies or buy things we want or need.

To save money when heating an above ground pool, using solar blankets or solar covers will greatly help. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, using solar blankets or solar covers can reduce pool operating costs by 50 to 75 percent. [4]

You may wonder how solar covers or solar blankets helps you save. It is by preventing water evaporation in your above ground pool that is the largest contributor to loss.

Above Ground Pool


To wrap things up. There are three ways in which you can heat the water of an above ground pool: heat pump, gas heater, and solar heater.

A heat pump might be a great choice if your location has a warm temperature most of the year and you want to be cost-efficient.

A gas heater may be best for those who have large above ground pools due to its high heat rate and large heating capacity. It is also ideal for pool owners who want to still warm up the pool despite the cold season.

A solar heater might be suitable for those with enough budget and a location with abundant solar resources. Not only is it eco-friendly, but you can get rebates depending on state laws.

And to lower the operational cost by 50 percent while you heat your pool water, remember to use solar blankets or solar covers. Using a pool cover can help you save around $1,000 annually.

  • [1] https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/heat-pump-swimming-pool-heaters
  • [2] https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/gas-swimming-pool-heaters
  • [3] https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/solar-swimming-pool-heaters
  • [4] https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/swimming-pool-covers

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