SOLAR FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Solar Pool Heating FAQs

Our solar pool heat utilizes patented black polymer panels that typically get attached to a home’s roof. Under the intensity of the Florida sun, these black panels get very hot. The pool pump then pulls cool water from the pool and pushes it up into the panels. The panels are specially designed to transfer the heat to the water as it flows through them. As the water flows through each of the hot panels it warms substantially and then is returned to the pool. The end result is a significantly longer and more comfortable swimming season.

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Yes! While many people find that solar alone is enough to meet their needs; using solar in conjunction with another heater has its advantages. Using the two systems together can give the owner the best of both worlds. Solar will keep a consistent elevated temp and has no operating cost. Then they have an electric or gas heater to add heat as desired.

This gives the flexibility to achieve a specific temp regardless of weather conditions such as a cold snap or cloudy day and avoid the exorbitant energy cost of using gas or electric full time.

More on Solar Pool Heaters

Typically, your existing pump and equipment is perfectly sufficient to operate solar. Occasionally, a different pump may be needed if the home is multiple stories or the existing pump is particularly old/undersized.

There are a number of variables that come in to play when determining how many panels are needed. The largest of these variables is how warm the owner is wanting their pool. Other factors are pool size, roof size, house orientation, and shading. Ideally, we recommend matching the square footage of solar to the square footage of the pool.

If you have questions about how many panels are needed for your home, please contact us.

The Spring and Fall months are where solar shines and can reach temperatures well into the 80’s. Homeowners typically regulate their solar during this time to keep their pool at the desired temperature. During the Summer months, most homeowners turn their system off to keep the pool from becoming undesirably warm. In the Winter months, the cool nights can cause the pool temperatures to fall fairly quickly. To mitigate this, it is common for homeowners to utilize a blanket or cover.

An unheated pool will maintain the same temperature as the Gulf of Mexico. An appropriately sized solar system will heat a pool between 10-15 degrees above the Gulf temp. Here is a chart we prepared illustrating the average temperatures you can expect with solar. Keep in mind these are averages gathered from years of data and measured temps can vary substantially depending on current weather patterns.

Pool Temperature Chart

Solar can be attached to any roof type including shingle, metal, or tile. The attachment method varies depending on the type of roof but a system of stainless-steel fasteners, tie down brackets, Eagle Claws, and Dacron straps are used to attach the collectors to the roof. When penetrations are made a special sealant is used to assure no leaks. All of our system of attachment exceeds the Miami‐Dade wind load codes.

Like most products, you get what you pay for. Solar pool heating systems are going to be attached to your home for a decade or more, therefore selecting the right product and installer is critical. A cheap solar pool heater will not provide the best value. Price is only one factor when deciding to use solar energy to heat your pool. Other important factors include:

Performance of the panel.

Fafco panels are manufactured in the USA and boost the industries highest BTU/area rating from the Florida Solar Energy Center. This means Fafco panels gets pools hotter, faster.

Experience of the installer.

We are a family owned business, and have been installing solar pool heating systems in Southwest Florida since 1974. Our panel manufacturer, Fafco Inc, is the oldest and largest manufacturer of solar pool heating panels in the United States. No competitor can match our experience with solar pool heating. To ensure a trouble-free installation, select a company that you can trust.

Options.

We are proud to offer two different types of solar pool heating systems with varying performance ratings, sizes and designs. Sunsaver ST separated tube design and our high-performance Sunsaver panels. Don’t settle for just one option!

Service after the sale.

We are there for you! Fafco Solar will be there to provide you with excellent customer service. Many customers return to us years or even decades later for other solar energy products after enjoying the savings and benefits of solar pool heating.

Learn more on Sunsaver ST panels.

Fafco offers one of the premier warranties in the industry. Effective January 1, 2014, Fafco Solar offers solar pool heating collectors with a 12-Year Limited Warranty and Limited Lifetime Replacement Warranty supplied by the manufacturer, FAFCO, Inc. of Chico, CA.

Panels may be damaged by freezing when not fully drained.

Protecting your system against freeze damage is important, even in Southwest Florida where we do not experience many freeze events. The best, and only manufacturer approved way to protect FAFCO solar pool heating panels from freeze damage is to completely drain water from panels when temperatures approach freezing. Fafco Solar recommends that Southwest Florida homeowners completely drain solar pool heating panels if temperatures are expected to be below 45°F. Most systems are 100% self-draining, and no action is required except shutting off the system during freeze events.

The types of installations which are most prone to freeze damage are systems that have panels below the pool water level, or systems which have a piping configuration which does not allow for gravity drainage of the water. Some systems that are piped in a manner that does not allow automatic draining are equipped with a manual drain valve. This valve, if present, must be fully opened during freezing conditions. If you wish to operate your circulation pump and filter during freezing conditions, the solar pool heating system should be isolated by closing the isolation valves and bypassing the solar collector loop.

If panels are mounted flat on a roof (or less than 10 degrees of pitch), the manufacturer recommends that the panels are drained by removing the vacuum relief valve and end cap and lifting the panels to fully drain water from the system. Because this procedure involves getting on the roof, you may wish to have Fafco Solar do this work for you, but do not wait until freezing temperatures are imminent!

Note that operating your solar pool heating system during freezing conditions is not an acceptable freeze protection method per the FAFCO manufacturer’s warranty.

Panels installed in accordance with the FAFCO installation manual are covered by warranty against freeze damage, but only when the system owner maintains the system consistent with the operator’s manual. Proper maintenance includes ensuring that panels are fully drained during freezing conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Fafco Solar before freezing conditions are expected!

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Solar pool heating systems are relatively simple in terms of how they work, and will operate trouble-free for many years in most circumstances with minimal maintenance. There are some things you can do to maximize your solar pool heating system’s performance, however.

Use a pool cover, also known as a pool blanket or solar cover.
Install an automated electronic solar controller.
Keep your filter clean.
Install a variable speed pump.

Pool Covers
Solar blankets keep heat and water in your pool. Pool covers are the single most effective way to improve the performance of your solar pool heating system. If you heat your pool with electricity or gas, you lose heat (money) overnight or when the pool is not in use. With solar pool heating, uncovered pools will have a lower starting temperature each day, resulting in lower maximum temperatures possible with solar heating throughout the day. If your pool starts off already-warm from the day before, the solar pool heat can work more effectively.

It’s easy to lose 5 degrees of temperature overnight on an uncovered pool, and this effect is pronounced when night temperatures are low and as wind increases. One misconception is that the pool cover heats the pool substantially. While solar blankets can provide some heat gain to a pool, the most important effect is that it reduces evaporation. Evaporation releases heat from your pool. Refilling lost water is wasteful and puts more cold water in the pool!

Automated Controllers
Automated controllers like the Pentair SunTouch maximize solar pool heating performance. Automated electronic controllers are used to “switch” your solar pool heater on and off based on some preset criteria. You can set a maximum temperature for your pool or spa, and the controller will turn the solar off when the set point is reached. More importantly, the controller will turn off your solar pool heater when the solar panels are unable to make your pool warmer. In fact, solar panels can cool your pool under a variety of conditions likely cloudiness, rain, shade, dusk, and dawn.

Manually operated solar pool heaters rely on the owner to turn valves into the proper position manually, and it’s obviously impossible to constantly monitor and adjust the valves to maximize the solar panel performance. Manual systems rely on the existing circulation pump to operate only when the system is most likely to have solar energy available, but a simple timer can’t detect the weather! That’s where the controller comes in. The roof and pool temperatures are constantly monitored and compared, and a motorized valve switches the solar pool heater on and off as necessary, turning the system on when solar energy is available and needed, and off when there is no solar energy available to heat the pool.

Sometimes pools have existing automation products. Various pool control systems from Jandy, Pentair, Hayward, and others are compatible with solar pool heating systems, and can easily be set up to control valves automatically. If your pool does not have an automation system, we can add one that does whole-system control, or just controls the solar aspect of your pool operation. Most controllers also have the capability of controlling variable speed pumps (see more on variable speed pumps below).

Clean Your Filter
Keeping your pool cartridge filter clean will improve solar pool heating performance. Actually, clean or replace your filter on a regular schedule. Clogged filters result in lower flow rates due to increased pressure on the outlet of the pump. Dirty filter cartridges can prevent solar panels from filling evenly and fully, and result in lower flow rates, which means less overall heat transfer to the pool. They also contribute to a common phenomenon called “bubbles in the pool.” We get this call very frequently, and it’s easily confirmed as a dirty filter by running the pool pump with the cartridge removed and comparing the system pressure or flow rate.

Sometimes a filter that appears to be clean is actually heavily impacted with small debris. Your filter cartridge should be quite light, even when wet. If your filter feels heavy, you’ve probably got a clogged filter, and it may not be possible to clean it sufficiently. If this is the case, then it’s time to replace your cartridge. The lifespan of a cartridge depends on many factors like size and how dirty your pool gets. A filter can also become clogged from pressure washing pool decks or chemical treatments that precipitate solids which end up getting picked up by a vacuum.

Variable Speed Pumps
Variable speed pumps like the Pentair Intelliflo help optimize solar pool heating performance. They are the hot new technology in the industry. These pumps use variable frequency drives and brushless motors to significantly reduce pool circulation and filtration costs. A positive side effect of the variable nature of the pump speed is that we can control how much water goes through the solar pool heating system, optimizing performance.

Manufacturer recommendations vary, but typical solar pool heating panels require about 4 gallons per minute per collector to reach optimum performance. Any additional flow results in marginal pool heating performance gains at substantial and unjustified costs to pump extra water. By installing a variable speed pump with a flow meter, we can “dial in” an optimum pump speed that balances the need for solar pool heating performance with pump operation costs.

As a side note, many people assume that a low flow rate is better, allowing the water to spend more time in the solar panels getting warm. However, solar panels perform better (transfer more heat to the water) when operating at a lower temperature. Letting water stagnate in a solar panel just heats up the panel, reducing efficiency. The water coming out of you pool jets should be just a little bit warmer than the rest of the water in the pool. Relatively high volume with low, steady temperature rise is ideal.

General Questions

Fafco Solar is a licensed and insured Florida State Certified Solar Contractor, License CVC56701. Click on our license and insurance documents below to view. NEVER hire an unlicensed contractor, and always check the Department of Business and Professional Regulation for contractor license complaints:

Verify our license
here

View license complaints (none) here.

Home owner associations typically require that the homeowner apply for approval before their solar installation. Most often the HOA wants to see the contractor’s license and insurance information as well as the site drawings. While homeowner’s association usually grant approval without incident it is important to know that Florida Statutes prohibit homeowners associations from preventing homeowners from installing solar energy products on their homes. This includes solar electric, solar thermal, and passive solar devices used to save energy. Fafco Solar can help you with educating your association if they deny you the right to install solar energy products.

More information is available from the Florida Solar Energy Center
here

Here is the text of the 2009 Florida Statute 163.04: 163.04 Energy devices based on renewable resources.

(1)Not withstanding any provision of this chapter or other provision of general or special law, the adoption of an ordinance by a governing body, as those terms are defined in this chapter, which prohibits or has the effect of prohibiting the installation of solar collectors, clotheslines, or other energy devices based on renewable resources is expressly prohibited.

(2)A deed restriction, covenant, declaration, or similar binding agreement may not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting solar collectors, clotheslines, or other energy devices based on renewable resources from being installed on buildings erected on the lots or parcels covered by the deed restriction, covenant, declaration, or binding agreement. A property owner may not be denied permission to install solar collectors or other energy devices by any entity granted the power or right in any deed restriction, covenant, declaration, or similar binding agreement to approve, forbid, control, or direct alteration of property with respect to residential dwellings and within the boundaries of a condominium unit. Such entity may determine the specific location where solar collectors may be installed on the roof within an orientation to the south or within 45° east or west of due south if such determination does not impair the effective operation of the solar collectors.

(3)In any litigation arising under the provisions of this section, the prevailing party shall be entitled to costs and reasonable attorney fees.

(4)The legislative intent in enacting these provisions is to protect the public health, safety, and welfare by encouraging the development and use of renewable resources in order to conserve and protect the value of land, buildings, and resources by preventing the adoption of measures which will have the ultimate effect, however unintended, of driving the costs of owning and operating commercial or residential property beyond the capacity of private owners to maintain. This section shall not apply to patio railings in condominiums, cooperatives, or apartments.

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