Pros: The most advanced on the market
Cons: Only two sizes
***EDIT January 2007****
During the 2005 pool season, I noticed rust spots at the bottom of the exterior case. Inside the unit, I could also see rust expanding upward from the bottom of the burner housing. The heater continued to function.
Pool season 2006 proved to be the end for this unit, as the burners will not light whatsoever.
In reading the other reviews here, it is clear that this corrosion is a common problem, and service is unsatisfactory whether you are still in the warranty period or not (and since it is covered for only one year, likely not).
I had begun efforts to locate a repairman (to replace the burner unit), but seeing others quote over $1000 for such a repair makes me lean toward total replacement with another brand.
As such, I change my opinion to negative and edited the title. It still is a nice looking unit that has nice features, but the lifespan cannot be justified for something in this price range.
Pool heaters are a luxury for some, and a necessity for others depending on the region of the US in which you live. There are many to choose from, although different makes and models vary little in either in price or feature content. The Laars LX is, in my opinion, the best choice in residential pool heating on the market today. As the proud owner of the LX 400, I say this only after exhaustive research into every aspect of choosing, buying, and installing gas-fired heaters.
The LX is a compact, fully electronic unit made by Teledyne which is owned by Jandy, the benz of pool equipment that is state-of-art in terms of digital function and simplicity of operation. And, it is very simple to install as heater go (more on that later). It is geared toward either larger in-ground pools or pool/spa combos. Separate programs for pool or spa heating handle combination situations, though I have not explored the combo operation as I dont have an attached spa. In simplest terms, a pool owner need only type in the desired temp of the pool on the LCD pad and walk away. No inaccurate or cryptic dials to worry about, no pilot lights to monitor, etc.
Thats it. There isnt much more to say about the LX itself, other than the fact that only two sizes seem to be available 250,000 btu and 400,000 btu, which I find to be a bit too narrowly confined compared with other makes. For a common pool size toward the larger end of the spectrum 20 x 40 ft. neither size is quite perfect. The smaller size will handle a pool of these dimensions for the most part, but those living in the northern states where nighttime temps can drop significantly should opt for the larger size 400k btu unit. Sizing in general is easy to gauge because all retailers or websites selling heaters will offer a sizing chart which gives you a recommendation based on pool surface area and desired temperature increase. A very popular pool size such as 18 x 36 will be more than served by a 250k btu unit, unless you live in Minnesota.
Personally, I probably would be happier with the smaller size given that if my pool temp drops 30 degrees, it probably means Thanksgiving has arrived and Ill be stacking firewood, not swimming. But I suppose I now can if I want to.
One of the main reasons the Laars LX got my vote is price. This is a better-looking unit (a factor if your heater will be in view), with more advanced features than any other model on the market. If it can be had for about the same price as the other models, why buy anything else? But theres only one way to get the best price on this unit: the Web.
I can think of few businesses that enjoy a bigger markup than specialty pool stores and heaters are a tough buy from these stores. Some will offer as few as one make and model (special relationship with the manufacturer? Who knows.), some will be willing to order any model youd like, but all will charge you a small fortune. I have the luxury of having no less than 4 large pool supply stores in my area, none of which came close to the price I obtained by doing a few minutes of Internet surfing.
How much? In my case, $1600, including ground shipping, for the LX400 model. The cheapest pool store willing to order one for me wanted $2700. Im all for buying locally, but I do have my limits.
How do you find a similar deal? Do a quick search on Laars LX on any major search engine. Youll find what you seek very quickly. Delivery time for me cross-country took about 2 weeks, as promised.
Now, some general information not limited to a specific model heater. This will be most useful for those of you either replacing an old unit, or considering adding a heater to an existing pool for the first time. Those considering the inclusion of a heater in the overall package of a new pool installation will probably be limited to what the contractor offers. As they say, you dont bring your own steak into the restaurant for them to cook it but perhaps the contractor will allow you to supply the heater. I dont know.
Anyway as far as general opinion goes
The fun begins when you need to have your new heater installed. A heater is generally a simple thing to hook up (the Laars being especially simple due to easy plastic fittings). You have one pipe going into the unit for cold water, another going out and to the pool return for the heated water, and a third pipe carrying the gas feed. And lastly, there is the electrical connection. Anyone possessing the skills to glue two pieces of pvc pipe together can handle the water lines. The gas line is what poses the problem.
Nobody will do all the connections for you. The pool company generally wont touch the gas line you need to hire a plumber for that. Most plumbers will not want to handle the water lines they suggest you hire a pool company. A typical pool company will charge anywhere from $200 - $300 for the privilege of hooking up the water lines. As I said, that consists of two very simple pipes. The gas line work will run anywhere from a few hundred dollars up to seemingly infinity, depending on how much gas pipe needs to be installed.
Neither the pool company, nor the plumber will handle the electrical (legally), though this part is about as complex as changing a light fixture.
If you are merely replacing an existing heater, the simple gas hookup to the new unit will cost the least. But, do yourself a very big favor and buy a new heater the same size (btu) as the old one, otherwise you will most likely need a larger gas line installed from the gas meter to the unit. This will cost you dearly perhaps more than the heater itself.
If you are installing a new heater where none existed before, be prepared to have a new gas line spliced from the main house line to a separate meter, then continuing to the unit. (A normal house meter cannot handle the extra demand, hence the new meter) This will include a lot of underground work, expensive parts, and even more expensive labor. I do not have any advice here except to make friends with a plumber before you contract the job.
A couple more installation notes:
If you are replacing an old unit and you are not sure if the gas line in place has enough pressure, the suggested routine is to have everything installed and functioning, then the gas company will perform a pressure test free of charge. If it turns out that there is not enough pressure, the gas line will have to be replaced back to the meter. This is essentially double the expense, but that is the way they say to do it.
If you still intend to purchase a heater, and you are not convinced that the Laars LX is the best choice, I only suggest:
-Dont buy what is known as a Millivolt model. This means standing pilot light technology dating back several decades. Generally, models that are offered in both Millivolt and electronic-ignition versions differ in price by about $100. Spend the extra money, youll be glad you did.
-Dont think you can make do with the $799 special. That will be a 100,000 btu unit meant for hot tubs or really small aboveground pools. Youll just waste gas with that one.