If you ask "experts" for advice about water heaters for pools, the answer will probably be – anything but an electric water heater.
But, is it?
It is essential to be accurate because there are two types of electric pool heaters – standard electric resistance water heaters and electric heat pumps.
Electric resistance water heaters are the least cost-effective units on the pool water heaters market. They generate heat by applying an electrical current to a heating element which then heats the water. They are not recommended for heating larger bodies of water as they need a lot of energy, making them less efficient.
Heat pumps are also driven by electricity and are almost at the other end of the scale as the most energy-saving water heaters.
They don't generate heat but take the heat from the air, increase the temperature inside the compressor, and transfer this heat to your pool water. They work best in mild climates, and their efficiency is the highest of all pool heater types.
Therefore, here we are talking only about electric resistance heaters that use electrical current to produce heat.
If electric water heaters for pools are so expensive to operate, why use them, what are the pros and cons, and how to choose the best one?
To put it simply, electric water heaters might be an ideal solution if the electricity price would be low. They use energy that is available almost everywhere, are easy to install, maintain, and operate. Units are compact and lightweight that you can easily transport and handle.
Purchasing prices are reasonable and you can find a great selection on amazon.com.
You can also hear that electric pool heaters are used as spa heaters. Actually, manufacturers produce these heaters with different power – weaker are labeled as spa, and stronger as pool water heaters.
All are suitable for smaller above-ground pools, hot tubs, indoor pools, warm climate pools – where they will not be extensively used.
While electric heaters provide quick heat, which is useful for smaller pools and spas, they are not great for maintaining constant heat, especially in larger pools. This is why many homeowners would decide to go with the gas models.
Electric heat pumps are a better alternative than resistance heaters because the efficiency is much higher and costs are significantly lower.
Due to their low efficiency and higher operating and installation costs (especially when the electrical upgrade is needed), resistance pool heaters are typically considered only if other options are not feasible.
With the four types available to heat the swimming pools, homeowners have an opportunity to buy an affordable electric pool heater, which can cost you $500 to $5000. In addition to that, expect to pay $500 to $1000 for labor and installation.
According to the experts, an electric heater will cost $175 to $600 to run, which is cheaper than running a gas unit ($200-$850) but more than if running an electric heat pump ($120-$200).
As they are not capable of delivering a lot of power, they are recommended mostly for smaller pools and spas.
And to reduce operating costs, using a pool cover and solar blanket is always a good idea.
Electric pool heaters tend to be more durable, reliable, and cheaper to run than gas models. Installation, maintenance, and repair costs are lower, and the service is simpler.
As opposed to electric, gas models can deliver a lot of power and heat the water faster, making them great for use in all climates (even cold winters), whether heating small or large pools.
Since there is no gas combustion and greenhouse gas emission, electric models do not create local pollution.
So, which one should you buy? Gas or electric?
Well, that depends on your budget, pool size, fuel rates, location, and how often you want to use the pool and extend the swimming season.
Can I install my electric pool heater?
This is one of the most common questions among homeowners who prefer to DIY and save money.
If you are a handyman with some plumbing and electrical knowledge/experience and have the required tools and materials, installing an electric pool heater is simple and would take a few hours. But only if you know what you are doing.
You will have to find the right location, which is usually either close to the outlet or your pool, so you don't have to install a new outlet or run a long pipe.
DIY installation is recommended if you have to do some simple hookups, but for any electrical work, go with a professional.
We will cover two brands here: EcoSmart and Coates, both highly recommended by many experts and homeowners.
EcoSmart is a favorite brand among homeowners and installers. Water heaters come in "spa" and "pool" options. Two EcoSmart models are available for shoppers: Smart Pool 18 (with 18kW of power) and Smart Pool 27 (with 27kW), both strong and designed particularly for swimming pools. Compared to other water heater types, such as gas, it is good to know that their equivalent outputs are 61,000 BTU and 92,000 BTU, respectively.
Models are equipped with a digital thermostat and the latest flow sensor technology. Count on 1° to 1.5° F rise per hour for an average pool (up to about 15,000 gallons). Keep in mind also that you will need a 200 Amp main breaker. Prices for EcoSmart pool water heaters are from $900 to $1000.
Coates is a company with a 70-year tradition in manufacturing water heaters and pool equipment. Their offer extends from 1,5 kW to 57 kW units for residential spas and pools and goes further to commercial 180 to 300 kW series.
Besides the proper size of the water heater for your needs in kW, you will get insight into calculation structure and factors which affect it.
Prices of the Coates water heaters are less affordable. For an 18 kW pool water heater, you have to pay $1,460, and a 54 kW heater, suitable for large pools and cold weather applications, costs $2,780.
It is worth mentioning two well-known companies: Hayward and Raypak, which offer only small electric water heaters.
What is important to consider when buying an electric water heater for the pool?
Check the electrical wiring at your house and unit specifications because you will need heavy-duty wiring associated with large amperage circuit breakers. The upgrade is usually required, which raises the cost of installing.
Quality of the tank and heating elements – use of stainless steel is welcome and protection of the other parts.
Check what indicators and safety features are provided.
After all, if you are unsure whether the electric water heater is for your pool or not, consider a heat pump alternative – with equal usage, operating costs can be up to six times lower than an electric resistance heater per month.
Do pool heaters need to be GFCI protected?
Most devices and equipment that are used for pools must be protected by ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) devices.
How long does an electric pool heater last?
If properly installed and regularly maintained, electric pool heaters can last up to 15-20 years. There are also other factors that can greatly affect the life expectancy of any pool heater including the unit quality, water chemistry, usage, location, climate, etc.