Introduction: Wood Burning Pool Heater

Picture of Wood Burning Pool Heater

Convert a fire pit or old grill into a wood burning pool heater (water heater).

I bought a 16' x 4' pool, but found that a gas or electric heater would cost more than the price of the pool itself. I also had a lot of limbs and split wood from a fallen tree in my yard. This made for a very easy and effective combination. Now, when I burn wood in my fire pit, I also heat my pool.

Step 1: How It Works

Picture of How It Works

Cold pool water is pumped from the pool via the submersible pump into a 50 foot coil of copper pipe mounted above the fire inside the pit/ grill. By the time the water makes it out of the pipe, the fire has heated the water. This is similar to how a standard hot water heater works. The heated water exits the pipe back into the pool.

Step 2: Materials

Picture of Materials
The parts you will need are all common parts that can be found at most local hardware stores.

  • One old, but useful, fire pit or grill
  • 60 foot coil of 3/8 copper tubing
  • 10 feet 1/2 water hose
  • plastic 1/2 female water hose adapter (recommended) and zip tie
  • 6+ feet black foam pipe insulator
  • 1/2 hose clamp (comes with female hose adapter above)
  • 4 wire copper pipe hangers
  • 1000 gph Submersible sump pump with water hose adapter
  • scrap brick or stone

Step 3: Installing the Copper Tubing

Picture of Installing the Copper Tubing

You will need to first place your coil on the inside of the lid to check for size. The tubing is flexible, so you can adjust to fit. **be careful when bending copper tubing as it kinks easily** Drill two holes through the lid for the ends of the pipe.

I would recommend feeding at least 2 feet of tube through one hole for the intake and 10 feet for the outtake. Drill small holes for the u-shaped wire pipe hangers and install, bending to fit the bulk of the coil. The coil cost about $75. A little costly, but it is much more efficient and easy to install than using a series of elbows and straight pipe, as in my original design.

Step 4: Installing Pump and Tubing

Picture of Installing Pump and Tubing

Cut the 25' water hose in half and cut off the metal female fitting. Replace with the plastic fitting and a plastic zip tie. Screw the hose into pump, the shut-off valve is optional (not really needed). Place the pump into the pool. **Do NOT plug the pump in yet**

Slip the other end of the water hose over the shorter piece of copper pipe and secure it with the clamp that came with the female hose fitting.

Carefully bend the 10 feet of pipe to shape until it reaches the pool. Place the black foam insulator, used for hot water pipes, over the pipe. Be sure that the foam covers the outlet into the pool to protect anyone from hitting their head on the pipe.

Step 5: Improving Efficiency

Picture of Improving Efficiency

I tested both the pool temperature and the temperature of the heated water regularly to asses the efficiency of the system. I found that the water heated from 60F in the pool to 75-95F from the outlet of the heater. The temperature fluctuated in the range of 75-95F directly with the size of the fire. Keeping the fire at full flame quickly used up wood. Most of the heat was lost through the grate sides and not transferred to the pipes.


I added brick and stone to carefully insulated the three walls and leave the door open for easy access to add more wood and clean out of ashes. I also moved the grate up 6-8 inches to allow a smaller fire to heat the pipes more efficiently.

Step 6: Stats and Tips

Picture of Stats and Tips

I checked the temperature of the water with a temperature sensor that came with my multimeter. I bought and filled my pool in May. In my climate (outside Washington D.C.) the days were usually in the 70's, unusually cool this year. My tap water filled the pool in about 8 hours to about 5000 gallons of the approximate 6000 gallon capacity. The water temperature before I began was 58-60F, much too cold for kids.

In the original design, with the open pit, the fire heated the water coming through the pipe from 60F to 75-95F, depending on the size of the fire. The problem was that this required constant addition of fuel to keep the temperature constant above 80F. At this temperature it took approximately 1 hour to heat the 5000 gallons 1 degree Fahrenheit. It took me 3 days to get the pool from 60F to 72F, only to have 6 inches of cold rain cool it back down to 64F a few days later.

After letting the fire die out and cool, I added the brick and stone to insulate and direct the heat. I also raised the grate for the fire to bring it closer to the pipes. This was much more efficient and allowed me to maintain a smaller fire to keep the water output in the range of 95-104F. When I added charcoal to the top rack the temperature remained in the upper range longer and did not fluctuate as much.

At long last I found the out-of-season fire logs and starter bricks. I built a wood fire on the top rack and lit and Enviro-log on the bottom. This gave me a nice roaring fire with only the occasional need to add wood to the top rack. These logs last for about 3 hours and are a very efficient way to fuel the heater. They also dramatically boost the water temperature coming out of the heater.

I noticed the water was hot to the touch under the pool surface. When I pulled the pipe up, I noticed a little steam and got my meter. The pool water was 68F and the heated output was now 137F!!! I added the second half of the water hose to the outlet. With the end still weighted by the metal fitting it came with. It sank to the bottom and heated the water from the bottom up. This water was much hotter, so you will need to be careful if people are in the pool.

Best of luck if you try this out for yourself. The project was relatively easy and worked very efficiently, although all projects have room for improvement. Please leave your comments and suggestions. Thanks for reading.


JoelG1 made it! (author)2014-11-07

I took your idea and adapted it to my needs. I did cheat a little and bought a premade fire coil. This system is used for camping with a large group of friends. Basically I just throw the coil in the camp fire, and there is a small 12v water pump mounted on the side of the water cooler. The water continues to recirculate until it pretty dam hot. I have a diverter valve that sends the hot water to sink sprayer at the end of a 20ft hose. We use it to wash greasy camp dishes and even to shower with. five gallons will give you about six mins of spray.

mackthefatcat. (author)2017-09-27

Excellent ideas! I would like to add my thanks for several important items that popped up within the comments here. My background: Retired Marine living in Japan. I am building a outdoor hot tub at my cabin on the flanks of Mount Fuji and was studying and investigating several methods of heating it during the fall & winter months I was looking up melting issues with copper pipe as my plan was to use a wood stove and to drill holes in the rear to thread copper pipe through at the top to form a multi S loop system in the top of the wood stove. I would like to thank the author for his time in this as it gave me a couple of good ideas, and for several of the commentators for links they provided.

joshnort (author)2011-05-23

guys, you can just install a hydro therm

get it at

save yourself the head ache. it will pay for itself in no time.


jpharrington (author)joshnort2017-09-11

Must not have been a product people wanted. The website/domain are not longer associated with the product.

tim_n (author)joshnort2013-06-11

I always enjoy it when someone comes in spamming a perfectly good instructable. Why not just go out and buy a fully fledged £6,000 hot tub spa! It'll pay for itself in expensive spa weekends.

I'm currently customising a gas bottle furnice and building my own tub from 2x4 and plywood sheets. Total outlay will be about £200 if I'm lucky. Not say $2,290 for the same thing, but square with shiny chrome.

I don't suppose you're the norton of norton hydotherm mr josh 'nort'

Blaaken (author)joshnort2012-06-23

No offense, but people join this website to see what they can build cheaply. Maybe not the most effective way or THE cheapest way, but they test themselves on what they can do. It's fun for a lot of people. Yes I agree that the Hydro Therm would pay for it's self over time, but this dude did something original out of things he already had or could cheaply get, that is why this iis featured in an E-book on the front page. I think this instructable is flipping amazing because of the originality of it.

bizydad (author)Blaaken2012-07-24

Thanks for that amazing compliment man. I had no idea this made it to an E-book, that's awesome. I'm going to make some time to add some more recent project to the site now. Thanks again for the post.

mad_b (author)2017-01-16

HI! this is a cool work! I would recommend search a bit on the net about "rocket stoves", if you want to have a more efficient energy conversion. You will find that the rocket stove has more than 90% of efficiency, thus allowing to consume less wood (or have more heat). An "open" fire like yours generates lots of smoke and wastes most of the wood stored energy.

ConstanceG6 made it! (author)2016-07-17

This is fantastic! I made this with a small modification. Instead of using a submersibile pump i purchased some adapters, simple plumbing parts, and instead of running the return pipe from the pool filter pump back to the pool, i ran it to the piece of hose and through the copper then returned it to the pool via the copper. I used an old open backyard fire pit, wonderful effect at night too! Fyi for buying the copper shop around, where it is less common i found it priced from $60-$130 depending on the store.

radcock (author)2015-10-26

Do you know of any related ideas? Im trying to heat water for a radiator in a converted stable/office.

GabG (author)2015-09-22

In process 4x66 feet of 3/4 of flex cup 260 feet total 4 1/2 feet hight by 6 long

matarkin (author)2014-08-10

I want to try something similar with my aquaponics setup during the cold months. I have to be able to regulate the temperature though or I will kill the fish!

ultipost (author)2014-07-14

I am thinking along the same lines but with a (to be custom made) BBQ and small hot tub. If no need for BBQ'ing we can just burn wood.

What do you guys think. Could that work?

steven.davis.w (author)2013-07-17

I like it, good job.

onemoroni1 (author)2013-06-11

Very creative and good use of materials. Your projects are like mine. They evolve as the results show areas to redesign for improvement.

peads92470 (author)2013-01-13

I am really impressed with this idea. Absolutely something I have been looking for. Simplicity and results. I wish I had thought of it.

eyesee (author)2012-12-21

Beware of the water temperature is too high

bizydad (author)eyesee2012-12-21

Pumping hot water into a cold pool feels good underwater, but that's a good point i overlooked. Don't try to take the outlet out of the water while the water is flowing. Other than having to make very rough adjustments to the temp by adding more/ less logs, this heater worked great for me. But always play nice with fire.

EmmettO (author)2010-02-25

 Have you ever had trouble with the garden hose melting with the hot water in it? I would also worry about the copper melting in the fire as a wood fire can melt or at least heat stress copper.

I understand that this is probably pretty serviceable for a summer or two but I would think it would have to be rebuilt after a number of fires. What is your experience with it?

Ideally I would use stainless steel pipe (if I could find any) in the fire and then copper to the pool. That would last for a very long time.

sdello (author)EmmettO2010-03-12

Did you ever get your answer regarding the copper melting in the fire.  That was my concern as well

EmmettO (author)sdello2010-03-12

 No, nothing yet. . .

bizydad (author)EmmettO2010-03-12

 Sorry.  The garden hose supplies cold water from the pool and pump, so it never gets hot enough to melt.  I have had some pretty intense fires and there has not been any melting or distortion in the copper coil.  The water coming to the pool via the copper pipe can be quite hot (I measure up to about 110F I think).  So I used black pipe insulator to protect the pool and occupants.  The stone in the pit help insulate the heat and focus it on the pipes and they take the most abuse from the fire.  I may have to replace the stones over time.  I plan on setting it back up this summer, so I will let you know any new developments.  Thanks for the question.  

I used the copper coil because it gave me the longest run of pipe to heat, but melting could be a problem in the future.  Because this is not a pressurized system, there should not be any danger of a blow out.  Still, it is a good point you raised.  I'll keep a close eye on it the summer and let you know.

sdello (author)bizydad2010-03-13

Where can i buy the copper coil.  All I ever see is copper coil for refridgeration use. 


kwhit190211 (author)sdello2012-09-21

Sdello, ACR tubing (ACR=air conditioning & refrigeration) tubing is sized differently that the tubing that you would use in the plumping field. ACR tubing is measured by ID (inside diameter), while tubing used for plumbing uses OD (outside diameter). But if you would buy 1/2 ACR tube it is the same size as standard 5/8 plumbing tubing.Which everyone call as 1/2" tubing It may seem confusing but if you would use both types of tubes during a career spanning 38 years as a journeyman pipefitter, you get to understand it.

kwhit190211 (author)kwhit1902112012-09-21

Sorry about this, I screwed up ACR is measured by OD. I've been retired for 8 years now & one does mange to forget some things.

bizydad (author)sdello2010-03-13

 I bought mine from the plumbing section at Home Depot.  About $60-70 for 60 foot coil I think.  My original plan was to build a manifold out of copper pipe and fittings, but when I saw the coil I realized I would get far more efficient heating with a lot less work.

sdello (author)bizydad2010-03-13

Are there different types of copper coil.  All i see advertsed is for refrigeration purposes.


sdello (author)bizydad2010-03-14

Thanks very much.  I think I am going to make the heater using either a propane grill or charcoal grill.  What do  you think?


bizydad (author)sdello2010-03-14

 It's a judgement call, I think.  I don't know if a propane grill burner would produce enough heat.  However, neither is cheap if you use them regularly.  I tried the charcoal and was pleased with the results.  I got a nice even temperature that remained constant for at least an hour.  I had better luck using the fire logs because they burn very hot and last 2-3 hours.  It was pretty easy to control the temperature by simply adding another log to the fire.  

Which ever way you go, let me know how it turns out.

barry882 (author)bizydad2011-04-25

i have a 27 foot round pool, what i was wondering what size of cooper tubing would i need to heat this pool ? thanks Barry

EmmettO (author)bizydad2010-03-12

Understood. I would expect the pipe or outlet hose to fail in time. Even if it does, it wouldn't be a big deal in this set up. Just replace that portion of hose/pipe and it's back up and running. I'm just thinking about how someone could make this kind of set up permanent. 

procco (author)EmmettO2010-05-17

I don't think the copper tube will melt as long as you are running water through it.  The water absorbs most of the heat and the tubing never gets hot enough to melt.  Think of the science experiment where you boil water over an open fire in a styrofoam cup (or plastic water bottle).
Whole different story if there is no water running through the tubing though.

EmmettO (author)procco2010-05-18

 That's true to an extent but when dealing with a hot fire, steam bubbles will form in the pipe. When that happens the temperature of the copper at that point can rise rapidly and stress the metal.

Demascus (author)2011-05-15

We used a system like this to heat water for an out door camping shower, The copper will not melt, however I suggest keep your water running through it at all times when the fire is going. at your exit point perhaps a T fitting with a hot water heater pressure relief valve.(not that expensive) As our shower system did not have a circulation pump, and just used the line water pressure. When not in use the fire being a fire and logs being logs burning, it would build up steam pressure and blow the rubber hose off the end. Hense the pop off valve. However I feel as long as you have water circulating thru it you wont have this problem.

cwatson5 (author)Demascus2011-06-16

I have just built my heater it is a old 210 litre oil drum, in which cut lengths of 15mm copper pipe just long enough to fit length ways down the drum (25 metres or about 80 feet) joined them with standard "Yorkshire" pre-soldered elbows in a "zig-zag" formation this forms the heat exchanger of about 5/6 staggered bays as this will present the most area to the fire/heat as it perculates through on it's way to the flue. In the "filter box" i have fitted a domestic heating boiler pump BEFORE the incoming to the filter to draw off some of the water and send it to the heater and the water exits back into the filter pipe to return to the pool. I have NO plumbing skills but with Yorkshire fittings done it FIRST time no leaks! Water temp on first 3 hour burn started at 13 degrees Celcius and went up to 18 degrees. Second 2 hour burn next day raised by a further 4 degrees to 22 degrees celcius! Whole outfit cost about £130 and has saved me that to raise the pool temp to 22 degrees by what the electric would have cost me! As for the sceptics and melting the pipe NO NO NO it does not JUST KEEP THE WATER FLOWING and DO-NOT bank the fire up.....It works try it!!!

kwhit190211 (author)cwatson52012-09-21

Your right about the copper tube. As long as you have flow the copper tubing will not burn through. And, as far as that goes on the other end, when it's freezing cold out as long as you have flow the tubing will not freeze. This principal works with pipe also.

phukaduck (author)2012-08-31

could this be done in an old BBQ?
So often old bbq's are being given away on kijiji / craigslist
and i'm pretty sure BBQ's are engineered to retain heat.

pull out the burners, put in a low prfile fuel log type fire, and install the copper on the underside of the lid?
or run off propane i suppose, and just put the copper on the grill.

jxk86 (author)2011-09-12

Try finding a local pool company that does service work on lp/natural gas pool heaters. I worked for a company for a few years that replaced several heaters yearly. The reason I say this is because there is already a wonderfully engineered heat exchanger in an old gas pool heater that most pool companies just throw out when they get replaced.

I tried this once, worked great but decided to go solar.

Anyway, I used a Hayward brand natural gas pool heater. When you strip it down above the burn chamber is a six or seven tube heat exchanger, complete with fins, and manifolds at each end. A simple replumb of the fittings to match however you are getting the water from your pool, then stick it on top of you fire in whatever means you can manage. I set up a feed line off the main return from my pump, in and out of the heat-ex, then back to the pool using garden hose. I had to max out the flow rate to stop the water from boiling in the heat exchanger.

sailoffwithme (author)2011-08-28

It would be better to put the copper tubing on the top of the top and not inside. Inside the copper will eventual burn through and flood out th fire pit. I did this with a wood stove once and ended up with a flooded mess...

svilloch (author)2011-08-18

This was a great instructable!! Was able to raise an 18x48 pool about 4 degrees in a day, but I've been going through a lot of firewood and fire starter bricks in order to keep it going and the water coming out really fluctuates, getting cool quickly, unless the fire is insanely large. I am gonna try to put in more bricks to allow for a smaller fire and hopefully that will help heat more efficiently. Thanks again! (Thanks for the comment on the bricks exploding.. didn't realize that could happen)

middlenamefrank (author)2011-08-16

Good call with the insulation and thermal mass of the masonry. I'm sure your fire burns better now without losing heat to the surrounding environment so fast.

Technically you should probably use fire-rated brick; then again in this application if one of the bricks decided to explode (which they can do), your face would probably be nowhere near it.

Do be careful when refueling though.

barry882 (author)2011-04-17

i have a 27 foot round pool, what i was wondering what size of cooper tubing would i need to heat this pool? thank you

lukeyj15 (author)2011-01-19

It seems that people are worried about melting the copper coil.
Even if it did melt, the water would put the fire out straight away. A slight problem if you're using propane however.

dkahuna (author)2010-05-26

Hi like your Idea I run solar panels on my roof and my pool is inside my house,, I have a wood furnace built into a rock wall and I have found a wood insert airtite that will fit snuggly in the furnace I am going to incorporate your idea with just a little tweak I am going to hook the hose line to one of the water jets on the side of the pool so I don't have to cut or splice or add any pumps I will let you know how it works GREAT idea.

thehorn (author)2010-04-27

In regard to protecting the coil from the effects of direct flame:
 What if you "sandwiched" the coil between the top cover and a piece of galvanized sheet metal? In my mind the sheet metal would serve as a shield, thereby protecting the tubing from the direct effects of the flames.

bizydad (author)thehorn2010-04-30

 I'm not sure if that would reduce the heat efficiency for the pipes.  I did a little research on using copper pipes for heating and steam.  Seems copper pipe has a melting point of 1083 C and can be used to transfer steam as long as any welds are secure.  

Since this system is not pressurized and the water temperature in the copper pipe fluctuates between 80-110 F, I don't think there is a need to insulate the pipe from the direct flames.  At worst, if the pipe rupture they would simply act as a sprinkler to extinguish the fire.   I have yet to see any significant damage or distortion in the pipe, so I think it should be o.k.

Thanks for the question.  Hope this helps.

recowger (author)2010-02-25

during WWII, I lived in Clarksdale Arizona and we used a coal burning water heater called a "monkey stove".  I realize the monkey stove of today is a two holed wood or coal burner to heat water or cook meals.
Here is a good website for a good piece of metal pipe that would be usable with your idea.   Also think about heating the house using this method.

I use something like your idea, but I put a small car radiator and fan next to the wall, use a 12 volt battery (deep cycle) and run the water through the radiator and the fan to move the heat into the trailer.  It works wonders and 15 or more surplus pallets cut up will do for a long cold spell and I have good warmth in the room.

bizydad (author)recowger2010-03-14

 Those look really good.  They look like a much larger diameter pipe, which means less pipe.  I used 50 feet of the coiled copper pipe because of the small 3/8 in diameter pipe.  Thanks for the link.

Thats a good idea with the car radiator.  I had thought about looking for a junk radiator coil off a refrigerator or a/c unit before I found the coil.

EmmettO (author)recowger2010-03-12

 Oh! Awesome! Expensive, but you only need to buy it once. It would be worth it for a pool or a hot tub.

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a Special Education Teacher with 7 kids. I use donated and salvaged tech to teach STEM with my students and kids. Someday I ... More »
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