Do "Solar" Covers Really Work?

swimming-pool-solar-coverWhat’s the difference between a solar heater and a “solar” cover?  That’s like asking what the difference between a swimming pool and a hole in the ground.

A solar pool heating system circulates pool water through solar collectors (or panels), transferring the sun’s warmth into your pool.  A solar cover, while great at keeping heat in, does not actually generate warmth in your pool (a swimming pool loses up to 70% of its heat through evaporation – a cover acts as a lid, trapping the heat).

Most pool owners have, at one time or another, tried one of the popular bubble-type “solar” covers on their swimming pool, hoping to take the chill off.  Other more recent entries into the solar cover industry include circular plastic discs, or solar rings.  Unfortunately, some newer entries have tried to claim heating capabilities upwards of 20,000 BTUS per disc. In the end, no solar cover will ever heat a pool like a solar pool heater will.

That being said, while a cover may not heat a pool, it will definitely help keep that heat in.  For that reason, it is always a smart idea to utilize some sort of cover on your pool.

Gold Medal Installation: Fort Sill Army Base

With an ongoing push by the United States government to go green, most military installations start with their biggest energy hogs – in many cases an indoor swimming pool or aquatic training facility.  Heating an indoor pool consumes a massive amount of energy (since it receives no direct light from the sun) and can cost thousands of dollars a month to maintain a comfortable temperature.

The 2,400 square foot (270,000 gallons) Rinehart Indoor Pool at the Fort Sill Army post near Lawton, OK is utilized year-round by both military and civilian swimmers for general recreation, fitness, and training. The pool even plays host to regular “Learn to Swim” classes held for the families of the soldiers stationed there.  Keeping the pool at a comfortable temperature for all those swimmers cost upwards of several thousand dollars a month with the existing 630,000 BTU natural gas heater.  Facility management knew there had to be a more cost-effective way to keep the pool water warm.

SEI Group, the energy-efficiency consultant hired to research alternative means of heating the pool, didn’t take long to provide a recommendation to Rinehart.  The Group had heard good things about the 84-collector solar pool heating installation at the Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, GA – installed by Aquatherm Master Dealer & Distribution Center Suncatcher of Atlanta – and was certain the indoor pool at Fort Sill could benefit from the warmth of the sun, as well.  After Gerry Kilgore, President of Suncatcher, made the 2-hour drive to provide a bid, SEI and Fort Sill were convinced they had the right man for the job.

Suncatcher of Atlanta designed a custom rack to hold 135 Solar Industries Collectors, with a 41-degree tilt to maximize solar absorption in the winter months when the sun is highest in the sky.  With over 4,200 feet of 3” plumbing to move water to and from the collectors, the Rinehart Indoor Pool Solar Heating System will generate over 2.6 million BTUs every day – the equivalent of 278 MW every year – cutting annual heating costs by 47%.

Swimmers at the Rinehart Pool living green and swimming warm!

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