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solar pool coverMany new pool owners realize very quickly that they’ve gotten in over their head. Trying to figure out everything they need from pumps, to filters to the intricacies of pool chemicals, it’s amazing many beginners can get them up and running at all. Once the heavy lifting has been done and an owner has a decent understanding of pool chemistry there are still many decisions to be made. One that often gets overlooked is the solar cover. While they seem pretty rudimentary, there are still some things to know before spending money on a solar cover.

How do they work?

The two main ways that a solar cover prevents loss of heat from your pool are by reducing radiant heat loss and evaporation. Warmth transfers when objects come in contact with one another, and this is true for water and the air. This is radiant heat loss, and without a cover this loss can be substantial in cooler early season, late season, or night time temperatures. We’re all familiar with evaporation, and this is the single greatest drain on the heat of your pool. When your pool water evaporates, heat leaves with it. Obviously, a cover hinders evaporation by trapping in the water.

So what are the differences between solar covers?

The one number to pay close attention to when looking for a solar cover is the thickness. The lower the mil number, the thinner the cover. Typical thicknesses range from 8 to 16 mil. So what should you choose for your pool?

First and foremost it’s important to realize that no matter how well you care for your solar cover, it’s going to need to be replaced. Many companies sell 8 mil covers as two or three year covers. In truth, most pool owners will tell you that you’re lucky to get more than two years out of one of these thin covers. That said, these are substantially cheaper than the 16 mil covers. If you want to go with the 16 mil covers you’ll likely find companies marketing these as eight to ten year covers. If well maintained, it’s possible for these covers to last that long, but in harsher climates (or if you’re just not that careful with your pool gear) you may well only get four or five years from one of these covers. So while you’ll get a longer life you’ll likely pay nearly three times what you’d pay for an 8 mil cover. The 12 mil option is often marketed as a five year cover and settles at a nice middle ground in terms of price and quality if you can’t decide which way to go.

In many ways selecting a solar cover is like buying a laptop computer. You can spend a lot and get a a Mac that will likely last you several years or you can spend a fraction for cheaper Windows laptops and getting a new one every couple of years. To some extent, it depends on how well you are able to maintain your equipment. If you can make the cheaper product last longer than it’s supposed to you can always spend more on a higher quality item that you know will last longer later.

Adam Henige is the marketing manager for Swimtown Pool Supplies, an online supplier of pool and spa products including solar covers.

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