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Which is best, Propane or Natural Gas Pool Heaters?

Recently I moved to Phoenix where pool heating is a big deal. A good heating unit for your swimming pool in this part of the country means you will never have to close your pool. While heat pumps and solar heaters are more energy efficient, they rely on the climate around them to work; heat pumps need ambient warmth, and solar heaters need the sun. Both of these resources are in short supply in chilly desert evenings, which is why in some cases the raw power of propane and natural gas heaters are preferred in the southern part of the United States. One of the first questions that I usually get asked when I talk to someone about a gas heater is “which fuel is best, natural gas or propane?” like all things though, the answer is complex.
Propane as a fuel has several merits; it is more energy rich than natural gas, which means you will use less to heat your pool. This doesn’t mean propane is “warmer”, but that it produces more energy when you burn the same amount of propane and natural gas. Also, it’s not a greenhouse gas in its unused state. Many of my friends prefer their heat pumps because they are so energy efficient, and if you are concerned about the environment propane would be the more eco-friendly choice if your worried about leaks, just keep in mind propane produces more CO2 when it burns.
Even though natural gas produces fewer BTUs per cubic feet, the gas is also much less expensive. Depending on where you live natural gas can be 84% cheaper than propane. If we consider a 100,000 BTU/hr unit like the Pentair Minimax the comparison becomes pretty straight forward. In order to produce 100,000 BTUs, you have to burn either 97 cubic feet of natural gas, or 40 cubic feet of propane. In this example we can take the cubic foot cost of propane, multiply it by 2.4 and figure out if the cost of propane will be more or less than natural gas.
You just need to decide what your priorities are, and the local cost of each gas. It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t believe the story that one gas is “warmer” than the other. If you still have questions, feel free call the experts at PoolSupplyWorld.com, leave a comment, or contact your gas company. In most areas gas companies are not only experts in energy efficiency, but dollar efficiency. In any case, you have done the right thing by not choosing electric heaters, they are the worst at everything – good job!
For almost a decade Ben has been working to prevent boring homes and dirty pools. Ben joined as a contributor to the PoolSupplyWorld.com blog after working in the home improvement industry designing backyards, kitchens, bathrooms, and HVAC systems. Our resident Marco Polo champion, and part time Frankenstein, Ben is always excited to open up any of our pool supplies to see how they work.
  • Robert Branstrator

    Durable and dependable natural gas and propane pool heaters
    are an energy-efficient way to keep your pool’s water warm!

  • Hayden McBryde

    Hi Ben, I was also confused regarding heating unit for my swimming pool
    as winter season is on the way. But after reading this post I got
    solutions to my doubts so thank you so much for sharing this post and I
    would like to read such more posts in future.

    • Ben Blythe (PoolSupplyWorld)

      Thanks for the kind words Hayden! We are knee deep in winter here and the gas heater is working great. In hindsight I think I may have gone with a heat pump, because it hasn’t really gotten below 60 degrees during the days, and we haven’t been swimming at night. Oh well, at least I have the option!

      Did you buy a new heater for your pool, or were you fixing an old one?

      • Hayden McBryde

        Ben, I am looking to install new heat pump so can you suggest me…