The best pool heaters can keep your pool water warm all year so that you don’t just have to rely on good weather. If you want to take a dip more often but don't like swimming in the cold, then a pool heater is the perfect solution.
There are several things to look for when choosing a model. First, consider the type of power you need – gas, electric or solar – and how much you want to spend at the onset for installation and in the long run for maintenance and repairs.
While electric pool heaters tend to be more sustainable and simple to set up, gas pool heaters are the quickest to heat. The downside is that they’re not very efficient, and generally have a shorter life span than electric heat pumps. A solar pool heater is the most environmentally-friendly option. If you're not sure what's best for you, read our advice on power sources at the bottom of this guide.
The power of pool heaters is measured in British Thermal Units (BTU). The higher the number is, the more powerful the heater will be, and the quicker it will warm your pool. A budget-friendly option will have both a high BTU measurement and a low weight to keep the installation straightforward.
If your budget can stretch to the very best pool heaters, you'll get extra features like solar panels, that will in turn minimize the impact on the environment and reduce your energy bills. Some also give you precise digital temperature controls.
While the best pool heaters aren't cheap, they can extend the use of your pool and bring many extra months of enjoyment. If you don’t have a swimming pool but do like the idea of a dip, check out the best hot tubs and the best swim spas instead.
Best pool heaters
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We've rounded up the best pool heaters that you can currently buy. While we endeavor to review every product that we highlight in our guides, the pool heaters we've featured here are still in the process of being tested. However, to help you make the best decision for you and your pool, we've collated the key specs and features you need to know – plus, we've summed up user reviews to help you make the right purchasing decision.
Best pool heaters
This well-specced Raypak heater is full of technology designed to help keep your pool or spa waters perfect all year. Unlike cheaper heaters on the market, it has a digital control panel with an LCD display so that you can precisely read the temperature, and this has a cover to keep it protected from the elements. The unit is built to withstand the weather in other ways too – the copper heat exchanger and cabinet are designed to withstand corrosion, prolonging the life of the unit, and Raypak also backs this up with a two-year warranty.
The Raypak PR266AENC50 gets an impressive 4.7 out of 5 stars on the Home Depot website, with 100% of users saying that they’d recommend it. While users did “warn” about its very heavy weight, and that you really need a licensed electrician to get it up and running, there were very few complaints about its performance once installed. Importantly, users said that it was fast and efficient when it came to raising the water temperature.
Design-wise, this unit isn’t exactly a looker, but then a pool heater is really made for functionality and tends to be tucked away where you can’t see it. It’s also a heavy beast at 220 pounds, but this shouldn’t cause a problem either – other than actually transporting it to your pool.
The Raypak PR266AENC5 is a natural gas electronic ignition heater and needs to be placed above or at ground level. The manufacturer recommends professional installation by a licensed plumber, and while most reviewers agreed, they added that this wasn’t a complicated job.
It packs an impressive 266,000 BTU of power, which is higher than most other heaters in our guide. This means it can raise the water temperature more quickly, and keep it warm, too. If you’ve got a larger pool to heat, a larger budget, and a suitable gas connection to use, the Raypak PR266AENC5 is one of the best pool heaters you can buy.
The Baby Bear Solar Power Heater System is undoubtedly the most affordable product in our guide. It’s not only cheap to buy, but being solar, it won’t increase your energy bills either. It’s capable of raising water temperature by a full 10 degrees using just the heat of the sun, but of course, it’s worth pointing out that you’ll need to live in a sunny enough area for it to do its job effectively. The solar panel should be in direct sunlight for the warmest part of the day while the pump is running so that you can circulate the warming water into the pool.
Users gave the Baby Bear Solar Power Heater System 4.7 out of a possible 5 stars on the Home Depot website, while at Walmart, it received an even more complimentary 4.9 out of 5 – although many reviews look to have been collected as part of a promotion. Overall, users were particularly pleased with the ease of installation, and one said that the heater warmed their pool by at least eight degrees.
This solar heater is one of the most sustainable options you can get, and from most outlets, it will come with a QR code to access the digital instruction manual, saving on paper too. The heater can be used with above-ground and soft-sided pools, and it assembles very quickly and easily when compared to a gas or electric heater. It’s made from a sturdy plastic called polyolefin and designed with a circular channel, to pump out 20 gallons per minute with a maximum pressure of 3 pounds per square inch.
If you want to extend the use of your above-ground pool and swimming season from summer into the fall (without spending a fortune) then the Baby Bear is a great choice. It’s best for small pools, though – check out the Fafco Solar Bear heating system if you want to warm a much larger pool.
EcoSmart’s Smart POOL 18 electric pool heater is designed for indoor use and should be wall-mounted for the best results. Whether you want to install it for a new or existing pool. It can either be used as a standalone pool heater or paired with another and used as a booster – great if you’ve already got a heater installed but find it isn’t quite powerful enough.
The EcoSmart SMART POOL 18 Electric Tankless Pool Heater gets 3.3 out of 5 from over 200 reviews on Amazon, and the same score at Home Depot. Among the main positives, users found the product more efficient to run than a tank model and were pleasantly surprised at how little electricity it drew. The main downsides listed were around tech support and installation, which many felt was overcomplicated. Some also said that the box came with no instructions.
We love the precise temperature controls on this product. The compact, white heater sports a digital thermostat control for setting the temperature exactly in 1-degree increments. You just use the LCD screen and silver dial, set it, and forget it. While the 18,000W power and 61,149 BTU heating capacity can provide a 1° to 1.5° F temperature per rise per hour for pools smaller than 10,000 gallons.
EcoSmart Pool Heaters work by using clever flow sensors instead of pressure switch activation and this should reduce the risk of burned elements and ensure greater reliability. The heating elements are made from stainless steel, which makes them more durable. The EcoSmart Smart POOL 18 is cheaper than the gas heaters in our guide, but you’ll still probably need to pay for professional installation by an electrician, as well as two forty-amp pole breakers to get it working.
This electric tankless heater isn’t powerful enough on its own for heating big pools, but we’d easily recommend it as a booster in conjunction with another heater.
The DOEL 11800 BTU Mini swimming pool heat pump is designed for small pools up to 3962 gallons in size. Any larger than this and you’ll find that it takes much longer to heat up. The unit can be used for above-ground pools, hot tubs, or spas, and runs off an electric power supply of 110V, 60 HZ.
The DOEL 11800 gets mixed reviews from customers on Amazon, with a total of 3.3 out of 5. Some users found its performance patchy and reported that it had stopped working after several weeks, but others felt reassured that the unit comes with a two-year warranty in case of malfunction. One user summarizes the rest of the reviews very accurately: “I don't strongly recommend the heater, but I wouldn't steer people away either.”
DOEL quotes that the operating cost is only 1/5 of an equivalent electric or gas heating system, and while we haven’t yet tested this ourselves, it makes sense.
The design is simple, grey and boxy, but certainly not the least attractive in our guide or on the market. There’s a digital LED display to show the water temperature, while the galvanized stainless steel shell should go some way to prevent corrosion and rust from water damage. What this unit does offer over others is great security. Not only has it got a child lock, but an auto electrical leakage and low-voltage switch.
The beauty of this unit is its simplicity. There are two hose units for pumping the cold water in, and warm water out, and the entire operation is powered by the built-in 8-foot-long power cable attached to a standard USA plug, which means that – unlike others in our guide – you can hook it up quickly and don’t need to wait for professional installation. If you want something more powerful than a solar heater but don’t want to commit to a gas heater, the DOEL 11800 BTU could be a suitable halfway option.
This Hayward natural gas heater is an energy-efficient but high-performing option for in-ground pools and spas up to 600 ft. in size. That’s partly thanks to its 150,000 BTU heat rating, which is higher than the majority in this guide. More expensive models in Hayward’s range max out at 400,000 BTU and these are designed for professional or heavy-duty use as they can heat more water.
There aren’t many reviews of the Hayward Universal H-Series 150,000 BTU. While the brand itself has a rating of 4.1 out of 5 on the Home Depot website, the product gets 2.8 out of 5 (but only from 5 reviews). Google reviews give it 4.5, with users praising its quiet operation when running and simple operation. Some found it more difficult to install than a pump or filter, but said the included documentation was detailed enough for installation information.
Like other heaters in this guide, the Hayward Universal H-Series features an easy-to-read digital control panel that makes light work of checking and changing the temperature. It can be installed inside or out, however, if you do opt for indoor installation you’ll also need to purchase a vented top. The included manual will guide you through the process, but there’s a lot of plumbing involved, sot goes without saying that a professional installer is recommended. We recommend factoring this into your buying decision if you’ve got a tight budget.
The Universal H-Series Heater has been rated very highly for energy efficiency, thanks to a patented bypass design that ensures better pump performance. A forced draft system moves air through the combustion chamber constantly and at a precise rate, which means that outside weather variables don’t affect its heating performance in a significant way.
The Hayward Universal H-Series is the ideal solution if you’ve got a natural gas supply and want a powerful heater for your pool, spa, or hot tub. It’s especially good for in-ground pools rather than above-ground ones.
Buying advice for the best pool heaters
Which type of pool heater should you choose?
Picking the right pool heater for your needs is key, so knowing how to tell apart the different types and how they work is the best place to start. There are three basic types of pool heaters, and they include gas pool heaters, electric pool heaters and solar-powered pool heaters. Heat pumps are another type of pool heater, but they fall under the bracket of an electric pool heater.
The main difference between the three is that they all source their power differently. That has a knock-on effect on elements such as running costs, appropriate climates, and the complexity of the installation process.
Gas pool heaters
Just like your hot water heater at home, a gas pool heater is based upon the process of combustion. That means that it gets its energy from burning natural gas or propane in a combustion chamber. The process heats water, which is fed through the heater, and in turn, warms your pool.
While gas pool heaters are the most powerful option out there, the process requires someone to specially install a gas line and an underground gas pipe. The installation costs can be pretty intimidating, especially if your pool is located far away from the closest gas source. As time passes, the running costs are also likely to be higher because the price of gas is always fluctuating.
As powerhouses, gas pool heaters are the wisest option for heating pools that hold a large volume of water. They’re especially handy if you’re not planning on keeping your pool warm at all times, as they’re the speediest to warm up your pool, and in colder climates since more power is needed to heat up icier pools. The only compromise is gas pool heaters aren’t as friendly to the environment as other solar or electric models.
Solar Pool Heaters
If you’re looking for an environmentally-friendly option for heating your pool, a solar pool heater is high up there. These heaters use natural energy sources: specifically, solar collectors that can pick up the sun’s thermal energy and use it to make your pool warm and toasty.
As well as being eco-friendly and economical, another big perk of solar pool heaters is that they are simple to install. Why? You don’t need to hook the heater up to an energy outlet. The panels do all the hard work for you, and they usually have little to no upkeep costs.
For your solar pool heater to work, you’ll need to position it somewhere with sufficient sunlight, and out of the shade. They work best in hot climates with plenty of sunlight and take a little longer to warm up your pool water than other types of pool heaters.
If you’re a fan of swimming at night, that may mean that you need to buy a diverter, which will add to the overall cost of your pool heater.
Electric Pool Heaters
Electric pool heaters are a popular choice for a reason. First and foremost, they’re incredibly efficient, and as a bonus, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is or the climate you live in. You’ll need to pay more upfront for an electric pool heater, but even though your monthly electricity bill might surge as a result, overall it’s cheaper to run than a gas pool heater.
As for installation, electric heat pumps are more straightforward to install than gas pool heaters because there’s no need to connect them to a gas line. They use ambient temperature to heat your pool water, which isn’t as quick as using a gas energy resource, but they’re a very cost-effective, eco-friendly pick overall.
How does climate affect your pool heater?
Climate is already a huge factor in how often you’ll use your pool, but how does it apply to your heater? Well, some types of pool heater rely heavily on the ambient temperature of the pool, or sunlight in the case of solar models, in order to function. So, there’s a very dependent relationship between some models and climate.
Make sure you factor this into any of your buying decisions and calculations when it comes to pool heaters. If you live in a region with a steady, hot climate, then you’ll be fine to opt for a heater that’s reliant on the ambient temperature. If the climate where you live tends to be a little more temperamental, then you may want to avoid those kinds of models, so you can get more out of your pool, and enjoy it even on days when the sun doesn’t shine.
What size pool heater should you get?
Whether you want a gas, electric or solar pool heater, choosing the correct size heater for your pool is important. Gas and electric heaters are measured in BTU, or British Thermal Units. That’s the amount of energy it takes to raise one pound of water by one degree.
The more you have to raise the temperature by, the more energy you need. It’s worth checking out one of the helpful calculators online to help you calculate the BTU you need in a pool heater. Consult a pool pro for more specific guidance.
What are pool heater thermal units?
As with other household and outdoor products that generate heat, such as gas ranges, for example, all pool heaters are sized by British Thermal Unit (BTU). As a rough calculation, it takes one BTU to increase the temperature of 1lb of water by one degree Fahrenheit.
The best pool heaters vary from 75,000 BTU up to a whopping, commercial grade 450,000 BTU for really big pools, and obviously the higher the BTU, the more expensive the pool heater.
How long do pool heaters last?
Investing in a pool heater can be a costly business, and you’re probably trying to factor in just how much use you can get from this purchase over the years. The good news is that pool heaters are designed to last between seven to ten years, so you shouldn’t have to fork out on a new one anytime soon. However, the lifespan of your pool heater is of course dependent on how well it’s maintained, as well as how healthy your pool water is. Getting into a good routine with pool cleaning is essential, as well as keeping an eye on chemical levels below the surface.
What’s the best pool heater for you, and are they worth it?
Your ideal pool heater will be dictated by where you live and what heat source you have available, such as gas, an electric heater or a solar pool heater – a good choice if you live in sunnier climes with regular sunshine.
Pool heaters with solar covers are usually cheaper in the long run and can help keep your costs down over the years to come, though the initial outlay is usually a little pricier compared to a standard electric pool heater.
Are pool heaters worth it? In our opinion, yes. Even if you live in a state that’s pretty warm and sunny for most of the year, there will still be days when the water temperature is less than inviting. A good pool heater will ensure your home pool stays open year round, so you can enjoy it much more and get your money’s worth.