What is the Difference Between a Pool Heater and a Heat Pump?

You want to swim all year round, and that is for sure. All you need now is to work out the best way to heat the water. When building a backyard pool, you have the option to add a heater that will keep the water at the perfect temperature for swimming year-round. However, there is a choice to be made: Pool Heater or a Pool Heat Pump. Which is right for your pool?

Each option has advantages and disadvantages depending on how you plan on using your pool, so you should consider the features of each carefully. Let's start the run down.


Pool Heaters

Swimming pool heaters are the most popular option for heating pools. Heaters utilize natural gas, propane, or electricity to heat water returning back into your pool. They have a lower upfront cost and raise water temperatures quickly. Although heaters have a lower upfront cost than heat pumps, they require the ongoing expense of propane, natural gas, or electricity. The ongoing operational cost of pool heaters typically exceeds the expense of running a heat pump.

Pool heaters work quickly to heat the water in your pool, as fast as one to three degrees per hour. This is a great option if you only use your swimming poo occasionally or if your pool is located at a summer home you visit on the weekends. You don't have to keep the heater running all season, just turn it on a few hours before you are wanting to swim. Natural gas and propane pool heaters are one of the more affordable options to purchase upfront. However, they are more expensive to operate and can be trickier to install.

Main Types of Pool Heaters

Solar Pool Heaters

  • Solar pool heaters can be very efficient all year round in southern climates.
  • Solar heaters will also extend your swimming time in more temperate northern climates.
  • With a solar pool heater, your existing pool pump will circulate pool water through the heater, which is typically mounted on the rooftop or on an elevated frame built in your backyard.
  • A solar pool heater is somewhat similar to a solar panel.
  • Solar energy is technically free, but your pool pump needs to run to move pool water through your solar heater so it can properly operate.
  • If you've got enough space on your roof after installing a solar pool heater. generate electricity.
  • The downside to solar pool heaters is that the entire system needs to take up an area equal to at least 50%, and up to 100% (and occasionally more), of your pool's surface to work properly.

Electric Heat Pumps

  • Electric pool heaters pull warmer air from the environment, which has of course already been heated by the sun, to raise your pool water temperature.
  • This warm air is sucked into the pump, enhanced, and fed into the pool water.
  • An electric pool heat pump generally requires temperatures of at least 55°F (12°C) to function properly.
  • They tend to be less expensive to run, but there are clear drawbacks to using something that'll only work when it's a bit brisk outside.
  • Not recommended when pulling up wintertime pool parties.
  • If the ambient temperature changes dramatically overnight as it often can in some desert climates you won't be able to take any (heated) midnight dips, either.

Gas Pool Heater

  • Gas-powered pool heaters will burn either propane or natural gas to heat your pool water.
  • This allows the heater to operate in any outdoor temperature condition, as long as the heater can continue to burn its fuel.
  • Gas pool heaters burn their fuel in combustion chambers, heating copper coils connected to the pool pump.
  • Your pool water will run through these copper coils, warming quickly before returning to your pool with a much more pleasant temperature.
  • A gas pool heater can be a bit costlier than the other two types of heaters, especially if you plan to run it frequently (fuel costs can add up).
  • However, it's the only type of heater that'll work when it's cold and dark, and it'll bring your pool water up to an ideal temperature much faster than either a solar heater or an electric heat pump.

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Pros of Pool Heater

  • Natural gas heaters are great if you want to heat a pool quickly. For example, let’s say you’re setting up an impromptu pool party and you need to heat the water in no time, then pool heaters are a great choice.
  • If your property has access to a natural gas service, it makes perfect sense to choose a natural gas pool heater.
  • Since the water heats up quickly, they’re perfect if you don’t use your pool on a regular basis, or if you want to heat your hot tub, spa, or a small pool for that matter.
  • Gas pool heaters cost less than heat pumps, so they require a smaller investment upfront.
  • They’re better suited for colder climates.

Cons of Pool Heater

  • Repairing and maintenance issues. If pool chemicals in your water are not well balanced, natural gas heaters are more vulnerable to malfunctions due to corrosion.
  • They’re not that energy and cost-efficient. As gas prices fluctuate, the cost of regularly heating your pool can increase tremendously, especially in the colder months.
  • Installation price. Even though they have a lower cost compared to heat pumps, installation plus connecting a natural gas pipe to the pool heater could mean a much higher installation price.

Pool Heat Pump

Heat pumps use the air surrounding your pool to heat the water in your pool. Warm, ambient air passes over an evaporator coil and the heat is transferred to the refrigerant inside the heat pump. As the refrigerant is compressed, heat is then transferred to the water.

Because of this design, heat pumps are best used in very warm climates where the outside temperature never, or rarely dips below 50 degrees. Heat pumps run off of electricity and also require your pool’s filtration system to be running.

A pool heat pump uses electricity and does not actually generate heat. Instead, heat pumps have a fan that draws in heat from the outside air that has been warmed by the sun. This warm air is extracted by a fan and circulated through an outer evaporator air coil.  Liquid refrigerant within the evaporator coil absorbs heat and transforms it into a gas.

Heat pumps

The warm gas in the coil then gets pumped into the compressor which increases the heat, creating a very hot gas that then passes through the heat exchanger condenser.

The pool pump circulates the swimming pool water drawn from the pool, it then passes through a filter and the heat pump water heater.

As the Liquid refrigerant gas and water from the pool are pumped through the heat exchanger at the same time, the hot gas transfers its heat to the water.  The water is heated by 3-5 degrees as it passes through and then the warmer water flows back into the pool.

The hot gas, as it flows through the condenser coil, returns to liquid form and back to the evaporator, where the whole process begins again.

Heat pump pool heaters work efficiently as long as the outside temperature remains above the 45–50ºF range.  The cooler the outside air they draw in, the more energy they use.


  • Cost efficient, (given your pool is located in warmer climates).
  • They work better in warmer climates.
  • Great if you plan to heat your pool frequently.
  • Heat pumps keep a constant water temperature.
  • They’re easier to install.


  • If speed is important to you, you might want to know that they work slower than a gas heater.
  • Not that efficient if you want to heat a hot tub or Jacuzzi.
  • Not recommended for cold climates. Although they can perform in low temperatures, they’re more efficient above 50ºF.
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What to Consider When Choosing the Right Size Heat Pump for You

1. Are you using a Pool heating cover?
  • It’s essential to have a sun cover. The outer layer of the pool water is where the majority of the heat evaporates.
  • Covers retain the temperature, allowing you to use a smaller pump relatively less frequently.
  • They also prevent water from escaping, reducing the amount spent on pool maintenance.
  • Solar covers are available in various sizes and shapes, so you can easily choose from a plethora of options available in the market.
  • You might need a pool heat pump in a different size if you don’t have a cover for your pool.

Pool Heating coverPool cover

2. Utilization Period
3. Filtration Working Time
4. Volume
5. Environment Average Temperature
6. Water Set Temperature

Heat Pump Cost


Pool heat pumps cost around $2,000 to $5,000 on average. Unlike gas or electric heaters, which generate heat for the water, heat pumps utilize the air around them to heat the water. Heat pumps for pools will cost between $120 to $200 per month to run, making them more efficient than propane or electric options.

Professional installation of a swimming pool heat pump is recommended and might cost $400 - $500 depending on the complexity of the installation. Heat pumps require a dedicated breaker and most of the installation work is electrical, so it makes sense to hire an electrician (or qualified pool professional) for the job. Additional costs include an annual tune-up and any required service or repairs.

Pool Heaters vs Pool Heat Pumps

The major deciding factor in choosing between a pool heater or a heat pump comes primarily to location, followed by budget and your pool needs.

If you live in colder climates and want to open your pool beyond the summer months, you should consider a pool heater. Same case if you need to quickly heat your hot tub or pool.

In this case, you’ll also want to take a look at the costs of gas or propane in your area, and take them into account.

On the other hand, if you live in milder climates and you want to extend the use of your swimming pool, a heat pump is your best fit. It may cost more money upfront, but in the long run, you will definitely save costs and energy with this option.

Either way you go, having your swimming pool or hot tub water properly balanced, will increase the lifespan of your pool equipment.

Are Heat Pump Pool Heaters Worth it?

Heat pump pool heaters cost more than gas pool heaters, but they typically have much lower annual operating costs because of their higher efficiencies. With proper maintenance, heat pump pool heaters typically last longer than gas pool heaters. Therefore, you'll save more money in the long run.

pool heat pump

Comparing a Heat Pump vs a Gas Heater for Swimming Pools

There are a few critical differences between pool heat pumps and gas heaters. Heat pumps use electricity to transfer heat, while gas heaters burn fuel to create heat. Heat pumps are more efficient than gas heaters since they don’t have to generate their own heat. Gas heaters also tend to be more expensive to operate than heat pumps.

Another key difference is that heat pumps can cool and heat your pool, while gas heaters can only generate warmth. This makes heat pumps an excellent choice for areas where the temperature fluctuates frequently or for used year-round pools. Finally, heat pumps tend to be larger and more cumbersome than gas heaters, so they may not be the best choice for small pools.

How long do Swimming Pool Heat Pumps Last?

Proper installation and maintenance of your heat pump pool heater can optimize its efficiency. It's best to have a qualified pool professional install the heater, especially the electric hookup, and perform complicated maintenance or repair tasks.

With proper installation and maintenance, heat pump pool heaters can last 10 or more years.

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Comparison: a Pool Heat Pump vs an Electric Pool Heater

Pool heat pumps are an efficient, environmentally friendly way to heat a pool. Heat pumps can save pool owners money in the long run as they typically have much lower annual operating costs than gas heaters and with proper maintenance, can last up to 10 years or more.

This method of heating is environmentally friendly as they use less energy than other heating methods. They operate by extracting heat from the outside air, increasing the heat with a compressor, delivering the heat to the water, and ejecting the cold air out the top of the unit.

While an electric pool heater creates heat in your pool or spa by applying an electrical current to an element with resistance, this generates heat. The electric heater passes water over the element, heats it, and exits the assembly housing warm and back into the pool or hot tub until the desired temperature is reached. Electric pool heaters are most appropriate for heating spas and small above-ground pools.

Trust the Elite Pool Service Experts with Heating Your Pool

Are you tired of waiting for hotter days and want to enjoy your swimming pool all year round? At Elite Pool Service, we offer the best swimming pool heating in Oklahoma. Whether you want to heat your pool all year round, for the extended season, or for that special event, we'll provide a site evaluation and a discussion with you to help you choose the right pool heating for your pool, we’ve got you covered.

For assistance, contact our pool heating professionals at 918-893-3893. To estimate and compare costs for heat pumps vs pool heaters, our experts can help you. We can provide a customized pool analysis and estimate pool heating costs for your specific application.

Keep Swimming All Year Round

Your swim season doesn’t have to end with summer. A pool heating system can keep the fun going, so you can enjoy your pool whenever you want. Choosing the right system will depend, of course, on your needs and how often you want to use your pool.

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