Since natural gas heaters are the most popular type of pool heater - which we know many of you have - this article is about natural gas pool heaters.
While some pool equipment is expensive upfront yet saves you money each month (because it is energy-efficient), a natural gas heater is fairly expensive upfront and can be very expensive to use each month (concerning gas consumption). The monthly fee really is worth it in terms of the comfort and warmth of the water, but let it be clear, there will be a monthly fee - and it can be a considerably high monthly fee - when a natural gas heater is used to heat pool water.
Like any piece of piece of sophisticated pool equipment, a pool heater will need to be re-built with parts and repaired periodically. Repairing a pool heater is not always easy; there are a lot of internal parts and pieces - some mechanical and some digital - that can become faulty.
What is easy to diagnose, though, is a faulty heat exchanger. The heat exchanger is the actual part of the heater that sends heated water back to the pool; the important point to remember is that the heat exchanger is the internal part of the heater that has direct contact with the water. The heat exchanger consists of headers and a tube bundle. The heat exchanger transfers the heat from inside the heater to the water circulating through the heater so that heated water is sent back to the pool. Most heat exchangers are made form copper; due to its superior ability to conduct heat, copper works well in transferring heat to water. It is not important that you understand the specifics of transferring heat. But, be advised - and beware - that whether the heater is on or off, water always circulates through the heater, which means the water always circulates through - and therefore always comes into contact with - the copper heat exchanger. Improper water chemistry (mainly low pH levels that lead to an acidic water condition) will make demands on the heat exchanger, dissolving its copper. A problem with dissolved copper is that it could - and likely will - discolor your water (with a green tint or discoloration) or even cause (green or greenish-blue) metallic stains if the amount of copper is so high that the copper comes out of solution in the water. As if this is not enough of a problem (and related expense), a much bigger problem (with a much higher cost) is that if the copper from the heat exchanger is allowed to dissolve (due to improper water chemistry), the copper will eventually dissolve and corrode to a point that it will develop holes in the heat exchanger, resulting in a leak at the heater and a service call to eliminate this leak. A heat exchanger is a very expensive replacement part, and it takes time (which are billable labor hours) to remove and replace a heat exchanger, which adds to an already high replacement cost. Maintaining proper water chemistry and balance is important for every pool; its importance is heightened when a heater is involved that has a copper heat exchanger, which is common.
NOTE: If water is leaking from the heater, perhaps only the tube bundle needs to be replaced within the heat exchanger; the tube bundle is an internal part within the overall heat exchanger. If the headers and gaskets are in good shape - meaning they are not overly-corroded and they have watertight (leak-free) connections - then perhaps the problem is that the tube bundle is corroded/dissolved, and it alone is the leak source. While replacing just the tube bundle within a heat exchanger is less expensive than replacing the entire heat exchanger, a tube bundle replacement is still an expensive service call, which actually takes more time (which are billable labor hours) to remove heat exchanger, remove the tube bundles from the overall heat exchanger, replace the tube bundle, put the heat exchanger back together, and then put the heat exchanger back inside the heater.
While other water-related problems can cause additional problems with the heater, acidic water (primarily due to prolonged low pH levels) is the main concern for a heat exchanger (or tube bundle within the heat exchanger).
If the heat exchanger is defective (leaking), most of the time - especially if the heater is an older unit - it makes more sense and it is money best spent to replace the heater with a brand new heater; if this is the case, this is the time to research properly-sizing the new heater as well as upgrades in pool heating.
The number of BTU’s is the main criteria that is used to properly-size a natural gas heater; the acronym BTU stands for British Thermal Unit. It is not important for you to know and understand all of the science and math behind the acronym BTU; just know that a BTU is the amount of heat that is required to raise 1-pound of water by 1° Fahrenheit. Since a gallon of water weights approximately 8.33 pounds, it takes approximately 8.33 BTU’s to raise the heat of 1-gallon of water by 1° Fahrenheit. If you simply attempt to multiply 8.33 by the total number of gallons in your pool, your pool heater will be way too small to efficiently heat your pool. There are certain other variables that must also be considered, such as the surface area of your pool, the difference between the outside air temperature and your current pool water temperature, the current pool water temperature and the number of degrees you want your pool to heat in an hour, and certain environmental factors, such as wind and evaporation, that also must be considered when sizing a pool heater.
If your pool heater needs to be replaced, we can replace it with the properly-sized heater - contingent your gas line is big enough to accommodate the upgrade (which we will verify for you) - providing you with the perfect balance of the best upfront cost and the best ongoing cost for monthly and seasonal gas consumption.
In new heaters, the entire heat exchanger can be upgraded to a cupro nickel (instead of pure copper) heat exchanger, which is more resistant to improper water chemistry. The cupro nickel heat exchanger is also more suited to handle the corrosive nature of salt (for those of you with a salt generator to sanitize your pool). And, cupro nickel can handle higher flow rates. The use of cupro nickel heat exchangers can raise the upfront cost of a new heater (with its cupro nickel heat exchanger), but it is a worthwhile price increase.
Or, perhaps you can research a heat pump to heat your pool water. A heat pump is an alternative heating source to natural gas heater; it heats pool water by capturing the outside air, raising the heat of that outside air, and transferring that heat to the pool water as it passes through the heat pump. A heat pump is a glorified mechanical solar heater. A heat pump is more expensive upfront than a natural gas heater. But to be fair, heat pumps use superior titanium heat exchangers; titanium is extremely resistant to improper water chemistry but it is also very expensive. While a natural gas heater may be less expensive upfront as compare to a heat pump, a natural gas heater costs considerably more each month to operate than a heat pump; a heat pumps is literally pennies on the dollar each month as compared to a natural gas heater. But a natural gas heater will heat the water significantly faster than a heat pump; but again, you have to be willing to pay for that heat rise on demand. The key question for you to answer is if you want access to heat on demand (which is expensive) or if you want cost-controlled heating (which can't heat on demand).
Regardless if you use a natural gas heater or a heat pump, you want to use a solar cover when the pool is not being used. While a solar cover will not generate any real significant heat (despite some of the claims), they do a great job of retaining heat that was gained by the sun or artificially (by the heater or heat pump).
If a heat pump is not for you yet you don't have access to natural gas, then you can research a propane heater (which uses propane - instead of natural gas - to heat your pool water) or an electric heater (which uses electricity to heat your pool water). Let it be clear that these are both expensive heating options, upfront and each month when the heater is being used.
If your pool heater needs repairs or replacement you have options.
You can contact Expert Pool Work, Inc. at 402-341-8132 or firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your pool heating needs.