Spa pool heaters vs spa pool heat pumps – what's the difference?

When it comes to keeping your spa warm and cosy, there are a couple of options available to you. Spa heaters and spa heat pumps are both designed to heat your spa water, but they work in slightly different ways. Keep reading to learn more.

spa heaters vs spa heat pump

Spa heaters and heat pumps are two terms often used interchangeably. However, there are key differences between the two.

This article outlines the benefits of spa heaters and spa heat pumps along with a detailed comparison to help you decide which one is the best option for your spa.

In this guide. you'll learn:

What is the difference between a spa heater and a heat pump?

Any spa, spa pool, or swim spa comes with a built-in electric heating element that warms the water to your chosen temperature. Some units will have a standalone heater element that is plumbed through the spa's water system, while others have the heater element integrated within the controller box.

A spa heat pump is a stand-alone unit that sits outside of the spa cabinet. It absorbs heat energy from the ambient air outside and heats up a refrigerant which is then compressed to increase the temperature further.

The heat energy is transferred to the water via a condenser, and the warm water is pumped into your spa plumbing system.

A spa heat pump helps heat or cool water faster and more efficiently. It also enables you to maintain your ideal water temperature without using too much energy. A heat pump improves your spa’s energy efficiency by heating and cooling much more efficiently than a standard electric heater element.

You can also use some larger output spa heat pumps for heating or cooling your swimming pool.

Click the button below to learn more about heat pumps and how it can help you save money.

What are the benefits of a spa heater element?

While you can certainly use a spa without heat, you can get many benefits if you maximise your spa’s heating element. Here are some of them:


Almost all spa pools and swim spas come with a spa heater element built in which integrates with your spa controller. That means you can easily set and adjust the temperature from the touchpad on your spa, or even via a mobile app with some models.

No additional space is required

Because the heater element is built-in, you don’t need to prepare an extra room to house your heater. This is great if you have limited space in your outdoor area.


The price of the heater element is built into the cost of your spa, so there are no additional costs for installing the heater element.

What are the benefits of using a spa heat pump?

Your spa’s built-in heater element can sustain most of your heating needs, so do you really need a heat pump? We think so, and here’s why:

  • Reverse cycle. Unlike the spa heater element, spa heat pumps use refrigeration technology that can run on a reverse cycle like air conditioners. This means you can use a heat pump to cool your spa water in summer as well as heating in the cooler weather.
  • Heat water fast. A spa heat pump will get you to your desired temperature quicker because you don’t need to wait for the spa heater element to heat up.
  • Environmentally-friendly. Being the most energy-efficient heating solution, heat pumps are better for the environment by a considerable margin.
  • Reduce running costs. Buying a spa heat pump may cost you a significant amount of money upfront, but because they are more energy-efficient, having one will likely save you up to 75% in energy consumption in the long run.

Back to top

Watch: Does a spa heat pump save you money?

Spa heater v spa heat pump – which is better?Why an inverter heat pump is the better choice for most spas

Spa heater elements and spa heat pumps both have their advantages, but which is the better choice for your spa?

In this section, we’re comparing the two in terms of their heating capacity, energy efficiency, and user convenience. We will also learn which one will heat water faster and which one is more cost-effective.

Which has better heating capacity?

The heating capacity and heat-up time of spa heaters and heat pumps vary depending on the unit you buy. The higher the kW (kilowatt) output, the more powerful the heating capacity.

However, you don’t necessarily need to have the largest heating capacity to enjoy your spa. You need a size that is appropriate to the amount of water in your spa.

The functionality of a heater and heat pump can depend on a number of factors including ambient temperature or the air temperature where your spa is located, the average temperature of your water source, and the use (or non-use) of spa covers.

Most spa heater elements that ship from the factory are only 1.5kW or 3.0kW maximum. While this is enough to heat your water, it will take longer than a heat pump which will have a heat output of 6kW, 8kW or even higher.

In colder weather, the built-in heater element may struggle to keep your spa warm, while a heat pump has plenty of power in reserve.

Back to top

Which is more energy efficient?

Spa heat pumps are the most energy-efficient heating solution for your spa. Using refrigeration technology, spa heat pumps tend to use less energy than inbuilt spa heaters. They can be as much as 75% more efficient than electricity and 55% more efficient than gas.

So, for this one, we can say spa heat pumps are more energy efficient than spa heaters. Inverter heat pumps are even more efficient than non-inverter heat pumps.

Click the button below to learn more about ways to reduce spa running costs below.

Which is more convenient to use?

Spa heaters can be easily accessed using your spa's main controller, remote, or mobile app. They are easy to use and won’t require you to take extra steps to access them.

By contrast, spa heat pumps are external items that come with a separate set of controls. While they’re not complicated to use, they may require you to set up additional steps when you want to use or maintain your spa.

However, certain models can be integrated with your spa’s controller so you can access the heat pump controls using your spa’s remote control or mobile app.

If convenience is a big deal for you, we suggest buying a heat pump compatible with your spa’s controller.

Click the button below to learn more about controlling your spa remotely with smart systems.

using heat pump to save money

Which one is more cost-effective?

Spa heaters come with your spa, so there’s no added cost to installing them. By contrast, spa heat pumps are external units and need to be purchased separately.

It costs around $2800 to $6000 strictly to buy a heat pump unit alone, not including the additional cost of installation or site alterations.

However, spa heat pumps have the added incentive of minimising your energy consumption. So in the long run, you can save more on energy bills which pays for the initial investment.

If you splurge on an inverter heat pump, you can save even more because this type of heat pump tends to be even more energy-efficient.

So, our verdict is that spa heaters are more affordable if you consider the upfront cost, but spa heat pumps are more cost-effective in the long run.

Verdict: An Inverter heat pump is a better choice for most spas

In terms of energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness, spa heat pumps are the clear winner. They are also easy to use and can definitely improve and increase your spa’s heat-up time under the right conditions.

Spa heat pumps aren’t complicated to use, so even though they are separate units you can easily integrate them with your spa. Some models like the SpaNet® SV series heat pump will integrate fully with your SpaNet® SV controller.

If you have the budget for one, we recommend getting an inverter spa heat pump to enhance your spa experience.

What size heater do I need for my spa?

The size of the heater you need depends on the volume of your spa and is usually measured using BTUs or British Thermal Unit. You can usually find the best size heater for your spa using the manufacturer specifications of your specific spa model.

As a rule of thumb, the higher the heat efficiency (BTU) the faster your spa will be heated.

How much does a spa heater cost?

Spa heater elements are usually pre-installed in your spa, but if you find yourself in the need of a replacement you can expect to pay around $300 to $500.

Aside from the spa heater element, you may also need to check out thermostats, sensors, housing, and high limits.

Back to top

Is it cheaper to keep my spa heater on all the time?

This is a pretty common question among spa owners. The answer is it’s often more cost-effective to keep the heater running instead of turning it on and off for each use.

This is because heating a spa from scratch involves more work for your spa heater and generally takes longer compared to keeping a steady temperature provided that the spa has sufficient insulation and cover.

Click the button below to find out more about how much it costs to heat and run a spa.

How long do spa pool heating elements last?

Spa pool heating elements have an average life of 5 years, but if well-maintained and kept in excellent condition most will last up to 5 to 7 years.

Spending more time on regular spa maintenance can help prolong the life of your spa and its internal components.

To learn more about the lifespan of a spa and its main components, click the button below.

Can I put a bigger heater in my spa?

Yes, it is possible to put a bigger heater in your spa. While spa heating elements come pre-installed in most spas and swim spas, they are replaceable and may be upgraded should you choose to do so.

We do suggest consulting with a spa expert to know what specific heater is compatible with your spa and more information about possible upgrades.

Back to top

In Summary

We hope this article answered all your questions about the difference between a spa heater and a spa heat pump. To learn more about the best spa heat pumps available in the market, check out our in-depth review below.

Got more questions?

Talk to us on live chat, or email us your spa questions and we'll be happy to help!

Disclaimer: The following registered trademarks and brand names are owned by companies not affiliated in any way with Spa World™ or Vortex Leisure Pty Ltd – the parent company of Spa World Ltd:

SpaNet® SV Series heat pump and SpaNet® SV series controller are owned by Spa Net Pty Ltd.

Five Star Trust Pilot Rating

We are proud that Spa World customers have given us a Five Star Trustpilot rating.