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By REBECCA SLOAN



Published: Sun, May 13, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By REBECCA SLOAN

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

Summer's almost here, and it won't be long before you'll want to beat the heat of those hazy, hot days by taking a dip in the crystal waters of the family swimming pool.

Whether you own a pool or are in the market to buy one, knowing a thing or two about heating systems can help you make the most of your season in the swim.

Alan Burnett of Burnett Pools, Spas and Hot Tubs in Cortland said the heater you buy depends on your utility supplier, budget and pool's size.

Natural gas heaters are popular, but they can be used only if a pool owner has natural gas available at the home, Burnett said. Natural gas heaters can be bought for a new pool or can be adapted for an old one.

They are thermostatically controlled and are installed next to the pool filter. Swimming pool water passes through the submersible heater and is warmed after it has gone through the filter.

Prices for natural gas heaters range from $1,100 to $1,800 for in-ground pools and $750 to $1,000 for above-ground pools, depending on the pool's square footage.

An alternative to the natural gas heater is a propane heater. The cost of a propane heater is comparable to a natural gas heater.

Whether you buy a natural gas or propane heater, proper maintenance is a must. Pool water that becomes too acidic will not only interfere with an enjoyable swim but can damage heaters.

Improper chemistry in the water can corrode the heater and shorten its life, Burnett said.

If properly maintained, most pool heaters should last seven to 10 years. It is also important to drain pool heaters before winter so leftover water won't thaw and freeze inside the heater's interior and cause damage.

Burnett said the square footage -- and not so much the depth -- of the pool, will determine how often the heater runs. During the hottest weather, the heater probably won't run at all.

It's just like a home thermostat. When it's warm enough outside, it won't kick on, Burnett said. Most people keep their swimming pool water at 80 to 85 degrees.

Pool water loses the most heat during summer nights when the temperature drops.

To cut down on water evaporation and heat loss, many pool owners use solar covers.

Many people will put the solar cover over the pool at night, and some people leave them on during the day to collect heat until they are ready to swim, Burnett said.

Pool owners on a tight budget often use solar covers as their only source of heating. Although solar covers, which cost $100 to $200, can be a less-expensive alternative, there are drawbacks.

Some people don't like to be bothered with continually putting the solar cover on and taking it off. Instead, some are using a product called Tropical Fish that came out last year, he said.

Tropical Fish is a nontoxic product that produces an invisible film that sits on the top of the water and reduces heat loss and water evaporation. Burnett said the thin layer of film does not interfere with swimming and provides an inventive alternative to a solar cover.

"The swimmer can't really tell the product is there," he said. "Since coming out last year, this product has really been catching on in this area," he added.

Another type of pool heating device is a solar heating panel.

Marie Copy of Rhiel Supply Co. in Youngstown said the panel can be placed anywhere it will soak up sunlight. Once it has collected a sufficient amount of solar energy, the panel can be attached to the swimming pool filter with a rubber hose.

The filter then sucks solar heat through the hose, and the pool pump circulates the solar heat through the water. This type of solar panel costs $400 to $500.

Electric pool heaters are also available, although Copy said they are less popular among consumers. "We don't sell them here," she said.

Whether you buy a solar panel or a natural gas heater, now is the time to get the pool ready,, Burnett said.

Mid-May through September is pool season in the Mahoning Valley, Burnett added.




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