Using solar energy to improve the pool environment
By Lawrence Scofield
When the pool patio gets hot enough to burn your feet, is the pool still too cold for swimming? Therma-HEXX, located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, has a solution. “ThermaPanel is a modular heat exchange system that collects, distributes and transfers energy,” says Robert Barmore, CEO of Therma-HEXX. Installed underneath the patio deck, high-density polyethylene panels regulate the temperature of both the pool and the deck. “We can change the way we heat and cool the entire pool area environment,” Barmore says.
Here’s how the system works: A low-flow pump supplies a glycol/water mix to panels underneath the patio, which draws heat away from the deck and into the panels. “Our system puts out two-and-a-half times more transfer of energy per square foot than a tube system,” Barmore says. The heated liquid flows from the panels into a “heat exchanger, which is installed after the pool filter and pump, but before the pool heater. You’ll still have a pool heater, but you won’t use it much,” Barmore says. “In one of our commercial installations, the heating unit never came on.” After the pool is heated to the desired temperature, sensors divert the extra heat energy elsewhere, such as into a domestic water supply or a geothermal heat sink below ground. The unique design of the panels helps increase energy efficiency. Since the liquid flows through a flat panel rather than through a pipe, the entire patio area can be cooled evenly and efficiently.
While the system is commonly used underneath paver patios, it is versatile. “We have the ability to work with permeable pavement and can even work with gravel and grassy areas. Putting our system in the ground for a geothermal setup is five times more energy transfer,” Barmore says. For existing slab patios, the system can be placed underneath a wood deck or paver driveways and walkways. The heat can be applied wherever heat is needed.
In northern climates, the system can be used to divert heat from a domestic boiler to areas where heating is needed. “We can melt patio deck snow or even make a pool usable in winter,” Barmore says. The system can be used to melt snow off driveways, walkways and other places where snow removal is required.
What is the cost of a ThermaPanel system? “We calculate a customer’s return on investment based on how many gallons a pool has, what type of stone they’re using, what color and we’ll come up with an estimate,” Barmore says. “In swimming pools, it’s a no-brainer. In general, the system will pay for itself within three to five years for a typical installation.”
Patio deck surfaces can get up to 185 degrees on a sunny day. The level of comfort and usability of the pool area is an important benefit of using a ThermaPANEL system. Extending the pool usage into the offseason adds value. The long-term savings and increased comfort of pool areas makes the initial investment worthwhile.
Using solar collectors to harness heat from the sun is an important part of meeting future energy needs. “ThermaPANEL acts as an invisible solar collector,” Barmore says. “It’s the only one out there. Heating the pool and cooling the deck at the same time and having the third advantage of being able to snow melt the paver deck in the winter is something few people think of.” This type of solution is becoming more popular as designers and architects become aware of the advantages and cost savings. “We have over 120 projects coming up,” Barmore says. “Every project is custom made. We design and engineer each project. We are changing the way people think about the entire pool area environment.”