What is the best above ground pool heater? Much depends on the size of your pool and, perhaps, some homeowners can make do with a simple heating element. But if you need a stable and high-performance device, choose a full-fledged above ground pool heater. The power of such units is expressed in BTUs which means energy needed to raise one pound of water by one degree. However, keep in mind that the larger your pool’s surface area is, the more water there is to heat. Another essential factor to consider is ease of use. The models that come with control panels will allow you to adjust your pool’s water temperature and select the most comfortable mode. Besides, a good above ground heater should be easy to install and maintain. We believe that Pentair 460805 MasterTemp Pool Heater fits these criteria best.

An above ground pool heater offers efficient and comfortable outdoor swimming. There are a variety of types of above ground pool heaters that heat your water faster. Some are better suited to warmer climates. While gas-fueled pool heaters provide swimming comfort even when temperatures are consistently below 55 degrees, electric pool heaters function better at temperatures above 55 degrees.

Solar pool heaters capture “free heat” to raise the water temperature. Wood fired above ground pool heaters use natural water circulation to heat your pool. On the far end are immersion pool heaters that are portable electric wand-type units. They are better for small pools, for boiling bucket water, and construction, farming, industry, and cold weather use.

What You Will Learn from This Guide:

How Do Above Ground Pool Heaters Work?

Pool heaters add comfort and extend your swimming season. Advancements have been made in efficiency, (NOx) emissions, and reliability of above ground pool heaters.

Technologies

Power venting (fan-assisted combustion), for example, produces more efficient combustion which reduces heating pollutants and NOx emissions in gas powered pool heaters. This technology has been around for 10 years, but only CA, TX, and PA have implemented and mandated it thus far.

Integrated Bypass technology makes it so your pump has to work less, saving energy as a result. It uses Heat Mode and Bypass Mode. Water is directed through a heat exchanger. This bypass technology allows the heat exchanger to be bypassed when the pool heater is not in use. It can reduce your electric energy cost up to $350/yr.

Solar above ground pool heaters produce zero emissions, are more recyclable than other types of pool heaters, and cost next to nothing to operate (the only cost might be to run the pump). Water is circulated through the solar panels that radiantly transfer heat to warm the water.

Advantages / Drawbacks

Each type of above ground pool heaters has its particular pros and cons. In general, above ground pool heaters heat your pool faster, are efficient, and require low initial and installation costs than heat pump pool heaters. Gas and electric pool heaters heat the fastest. Operating costs and efficiency may be high or low depending on the availability of gas, electricity, sunlight and solar panels, and weather conditions. To gain maximum efficiency, correctly size your pool heater to the pool area you wish to heat. Regular maintenance is required regardless of what type of above ground pool heating unit you choose.

Functions

Gas – A propane tank or natural gas hook up, outlet for a 115V plug, and plumbing connection are needed to power and operate a gas above ground pool heater.

Electric – Pool water is heated through an electrically charged resistor element. The electrical current generates heat that heats the water, which in turn is pumped out into the pool. You may modify your electrical panel so electricity use is reduced.

Solar – Solar panels for above ground pools operate manually. A valve directs water into the solar panels. When there is no sun, the solar panels must be turned off or the water will cool as it passes through the cooling panels. Set the solar controller to a desired temp. It will automatically send water to the solar panels when heating conditions are good and bypass them when they’re not.

Wood – You can heat your pool or spa water using a wood fire and the thermosiphon principle. Water is naturally circulated. Colder water is sucked from the bottom of your pool and heated by the fire inside the chamber. As the water warms, it becomes less dense and rises. It flows back into the pool as cold bottom water continues to be sucked, warmed, and returned. Controlling the air flow controls how hot the fire gets. The hotter the fire, the faster the circulation from cold water to heated/hot water.

Types of Above Ground Pool Heaters

Gas/liquid propane above ground pool heaters

Many pool owners, particularly those living in climates that average less than 55 degrees, prefer quick-heating natural gas or propane pool heaters. They may be connected to an existing gas line or to a propane tank. Above ground gas pool heaters may be more expensive to run, depending on the availability and cost of propane or gas utility in your area. However, they maintain constant water temperature in any climate and weather condition. They heat quickly and can extend your swimming season in cooler, northern, isolated, or mountain areas. The lifespan of gas pool heaters is only about 5 years.

Electric above ground pool heaters

Electric above ground pool heaters are initially low cost, reliable, take up less space, and can be conveniently turned on/off. They heat in any weather and as effectively as gas pool heaters. They can be costly to operate however, depending on the size of your pool and electric utility rate. Consequently, this type of above ground pool heater is recommended for heating smaller pools and spas.

When properly maintained, electric above ground pool heaters have the longest life (10-15 years), making it a good long-term pool heating investment. The operating cost is low and you can expect a much higher rate of return than a gas heater or an electric resistance heater.

Solar-powered above ground pool heaters

Solar pool heaters are the most cost effective and energy efficient method of heating your pool. The initial cost of a solar pool heater depends on how many panels you need. Installation is easy and they cost little to nothing to run. They have a long life (approx. 15-20 years) and require little maintenance. Above ground solar pool heaters are environmentally friendly and the solar panels are more easily recycled than other pool heaters.

They are best-suited for year round use in southern and warmer areas that get maximum unobstructed sun. With an adequate number of panels solar pool heaters can still effectively maintain warm water temperatures from May to October in northern climates.

Solar pool heaters heat pool water more slowly than gas or electric above ground pool heaters. Weather conditions and heat gain are not friendly to solar pool heaters. Regardless where your pool is located, too many consecutive cloudy days or high winds can reduce the heater’s efficiency. Rainy weather may actually cause the solar pool heater to lose heat.

Wood-fired above ground pool heaters

Wood fired pool heaters can effectively heat up to 10,000 gallons of water. Wood fired pool heaters are natural, clean, and cost effective means to heat your pool or spa. The heater (fire chamber) takes up little space and installation is easy. It does not generate smoke or ashes. Some heat may be lost to the surrounding air, which can make this pool heating option more desirable for mild climates. A pool cover effectively helps retain the pool’s heat when the pool is not in use. The main drawback may be that someone must be designated to periodically get out of the pool to feed the fire!

Summarily, gas and electric above ground pool heaters are the most reliable and fastest heating. They depend on an adequate gas or electrical source and connection. Solar above ground pool heaters are the most environmentally friendly and cost little to nothing to operate. Wood fired pool heaters cost little to operate and are low maintenance.

Important Above Ground Pool Heater Features

The overall cost of your above ground pool heater depends on the size of your pool, the BTUs needed per gallons of water, and the connections, control panel, and operation/shut off.

Heating Capacity

The “heat up time”, or output energy, is measured in BTUs (energy needed to raise one pound of water by one degree). Needed BTUs depend on your pool size, climate, and weather conditions where the pool heater will be operating. Above ground pool heaters are smaller (than in-ground pool heaters) and tend to have lower BTUs.

Pool Size

The larger your pool’s surface area is, the more water there is to heat since there is more space for heat to escape. Your pool heater must also be large enough to compensate for wind, weather conditions, and shade. For example, to determine how many solar panels you need to heat your pool, first find your pool’s total surface area. The number of panels you need is equal to 50%-80% of that surface area.

Control Panel

Control panels communicate with, and manage, sensors, compressor, and the fan motor. It allows you to reduce the heater run time by changing the mode and your pool’s water temperature. Control panels are typically digital, LED, corrosion and chemical resistant units.

Installation Requirements

If you have the proper hookups and connections, installing an above ground pool heater is not complicated and saves money. However, if your pool heater requires modifying an electrical controller or installing a gas connection or propane tank, it is recommended you hire a professional. Solar above ground pool heaters, for example, that are mounted on racks or rooftops, or installed on the ground, should be professionally installed where there is unobstructed sun. Wood fired pool heaters have a fire chamber (heater), top and bottom port connections (in/out pipes), pump (w/bypass valves), and filter that can generally be self-installed. However, improperly connecting any type of pool heater can result in water, heater unit, or circuit/panel damage.

TOP-4 Best Above Ground Pool Heaters — Product Review

Below, you will find the TOP-4 best above ground pool heaters at a price ranging from $40 to $2,500. The choice largely depends on your needs and budget as well as on the size of your pool. So for a small swimming pool, an inexpensive portable submersible heating element can be the right choice. However, if you need a powerful above ground pool heater, the Pentair model will perfectly do the job.

1. Pentair 460805 MasterTemp Pool Heater

Pentair 460805 MasterTemp Pool Heater: photo

The newly-designed, high performance, compact Pentair MasterTemp is a safe, efficient, user- and eco-friendly, 400,000 BTU natural gas above ground pool heater. Its rust-proof, cupro-nickel exterior protects against the weather and controls heat. It has a hot surface ignition and front view pushbutton digital display and controls. Safety sensors and high-limit switches prevent overheating.

Recommendations:

The quiet, easy-to-operate Pentair MasterTemp above ground gas pool heater meets stringent air quality standards. It runs on 120V or 240V and heats up quickly. It’s well-suited for pools and spas and includes a limited 2-yr. warranty when purchased retail; 60-day warranty if purchased online.

Pentair: Check the current price

2. Hayward CSPAXI11 11 Kilowatt Electric Spa Heater

Hayward 11 Kilowatt Electric Spa Heater: photo

The feature-loaded Hayward CSPAXI11 is a small and efficient 11Kw electric above or in-ground pool/spa heater. It is easily installed, maintained, and serviced. The 304 stainless steel tank and threaded head protect against corrosion and weather. It has a front “On/Off” dial display and controls and “On” indicator light. A safety pressure switch and heating element sensors help prevent overheating.

Recommendations:

This compact 11Kw, 240V Hayward electric pool heater model has all the features and capacity of heaters twice its size. It may be used in water heaters, above ground, or in-ground pools and spas. It comes with a 1-yr. warranty and is most often used to efficiently heat hot tubs or spas.

Hayward: Check the current price

3. SunHeater S120U Universal Solar Pool Heater

SunHeater S120U Universal Solar Pool Heater: photo

The 2’ x 20’ SunHeater S120U Universal solar pool heater system is a safe, efficient, cost-effective method of heating your above ground or in-ground pool. It can increase your pool’s water temperature 6-10F degrees. It is constructed from sturdy, anti-corrosive, anti-rust, and anti-scale (reversible) polypropylene collector material. This SunHeater patented tube and web panel design uses your pool pump to move water through the solar collectors. The water is heated it as it passes through and returned into your pool.

Recommendations:

Connect several of these rectangular SunHeater S120U Universal solar pool heater system panels for maximum heat. It is intended for easy do-it-yourself installation on roof, rack, fence, or ground and includes a 4-yr. limited warranty. For maximum performance, place the panel(s) in direct sunlight and winterize seasonally.

SunHeater: Check the current price

4. 1500W Immersion Heater, Gesail UL-Listed Bucket Water Heater 

1500W Immersion Heater: photo

The Gesail UL-listed 1500W immersion Bucket Water Heater is an inexpensive, portable submersible heating element. It has a 5ft. power cord, power “On” light, and stainless steel heating element safety guard. The thermal overload safety switch automatically shuts off when temperatures reach 180-194F degrees. It is safe for small pools and plastic, metal, tubs, or other vessels that can contain boiling water.

Recommendations:

This portable, 2-pound, UL-listed 1500W immersion heater is well-suited for home, outdoor (construction, farm, etc.), and cold weather use as well as for heating very small pools. It should not be plugged into an extension cord or left unattended. Do not submerge the cord and handle and immediately unplug the unit if the plastic handle overheats.

Gesail: Check the current price

10 Best-Selling Above Ground Pool Heaters Comparative Table

Conclusion

Above ground pool heaters extend your pool’s swimming season and usefulness. They cost less to purchase, install, operate, and maintain than in-ground heat pumps. There are a variety of types to choose from, from electric and gas powered to minimal-cost wood and solar. Technologies have increased efficiency and reduced costs, heating pollutants and NOx emissions as well as conserve energy.