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The swimming pool is an important amenity for any homeowner association.

The pool promotes relaxation and social interaction while offering homeowners a place to enjoy much needed exercise. Swimming is often called the "perfect exercise" since it exercises almost all muscles and burns calories without stressing joints and muscles. However, for this to be possible, water temperature must be comfortable.

Heating a pool with gas can cost thousands of dollars each year. Solar heating, on the other hand, offers a cost-effective and simple alternative. A properly designed solar heater can almost eliminate the gas heating bill during the pool season and cut it in half during the winter months. Solar heating systems can often pay for themselves within a couple of years.

The pool's existing filtration system pumps water through the solar collectors and the collected heat is transferred into the pool. Because solar pool-heating collectors operate just slightly warmer than the surrounding air temperature, these systems typically use inexpensive, unglazed low-temperature collectors made from specially formulated plastic materials.

Off-the-shelf packages are generally appropriate and maintenance of solar pool-heating systems is minimal. The systems are pre-engineered and can be sized for any pool by adding additional solar panels until an adequate square footage of solar collector area is achieved.

The only moving part on a solar pool-heating system is the diverting valve which controls whether the water circulates through the collector loop. When the collector temperature is sufficiently greater than the pool temperature, the water is diverted from the filter systems through the collector loop. The water bypasses the solar collectors during nighttime or cloudy periods.

Adding a pool cover will further enhance the temperature of a swimming pool and should be considered along with the solar pool-heating system to prevent heat loss.

The market for solar pool-heating systems has been strong over the years with approximately 25,000 systems sold in the United States in 1999.

This number represents about one-fifth of all pool heaters sold annually. Contact the Solar Energy Industries Association (www.seia.org) to locate a solar pool-heating system retailer near you.

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