A pool skimmer is a static or mobile device that removes debris from the water surface of a swimming pool. It does this by “skimming” the water surface, trapping floating debris as it goes. In this article, we’ll describe building a mobile DIY solar pool skimmer that is within the abilities of most DIY enthusiasts.

Solar Pool Skimmers

There are few home features more appealing than a sparkling, crystal clear swimming pool. There are also few home features that take more work to maintain. Most residential pools share space in garden settings with trees, shrubs, and flower beds. This means offending leaves, twigs, dust, and lawn clippings are ever-present floating problems.

Contaminants that can eat up a lot of time to remove using conventional pole nets. And you’d want to do that regularly to ease the load on your pool filter system. This is where solar pool skimmers come in.

Solar pool skimmers may be static devices connected to the water inlet of the pool pump circuit. They can also be mobile, prowling around the pool under their own power while collecting dirt and grime. Installing a solar pool skimmer is a good practice as it lightens the load on the pool filtration system.

How can a solar pool skimmer keep your pool pristine

Static and mobile pool skimmers remove floating leaves, twigs, and dust from the surface of the pool water. By contrast, a conventional filter system circulates the entire contents of the pool through the pool filter.

A pool skimmer is an excellent first line of defense in day-to-day pool care. They remove most floating debris and grime with no effort on the part of the pool owner. This frees up your time and your pool filter doesn’t have to work as hard or be cleaned as regularly.

How does a solar pool skimmer work

Think of a rich beef or lamb stew. You usually have to skim a layer of oil off the surface of the liquid before serving. A pool skimmer works in a similar way. Whether it is a static or mobile model, it skims off just the contaminants floating on the surface of the pool. This serves the purpose of removing leaves and dust before they can become waterlogged and sink to the bottom. The offending nasties are trapped in a net or basket for later disposal.

Static Pool Skimmers

Static skimmers are permanently mounted on the side wall of above-ground pools and in the water inlets of in-ground pools.

Fig 1 below illustrates an above-ground pool skimmer and fig. 2 an in-ground pool inlet mounted assembly.

skimmer on an above ground pool

wall mounted pool skimmer for an in-ground pool

Mobile Pool Skimmers

Mobile skimmers move around the pool constantly and tend to “cover more ground”, or in this case water surface. Static skimmers rely on the circulation of the pool water to bring debris to them. On the other hand, a mobile skimmer actively hunts them down. In most cases, their mobility comes courtesy of a small DC motor driving a propeller.

Now, while there are many start-and-forget robotic pool cleaners on the market, there are few mobile skimmers out there. Most commercial pool cleaners only vacuum and scrub the sides and bottom of the pool. A skimmer trumps them because it catches the dirt before it sinks. This reduces the amount of debris that can clog filters and hose systems. In turn, that reduces the maintenance workload for the pool owner.

Commercial vs DIY Solar-powered Pool Skimmer

The commercial pool skimmers illustrated above range in price from $250 to way over $500. And to be honest, as many are radio-controlled, they are really little more than very expensive toys. They may do the job but are not necessarily the most economical or practical choices.

The illustration Fig. 1 below illustrates a selection of commercial mobile pool skimmers.

4 different robotic pool skimmers

Granted, a store-bought mobile pool skimmer is convenient. However, if you have DIY skills a simple and effective skimmer can be built with basic materials and tools. And at a fraction of the cost. We will detail a simple DIY solar pool skimmer project using easily accessible parts here.

Building a Mobile DIY Solar-powered Pool Skimmer

Essentially, a mobile DIY pool skimmer consists of 5 basic components:

  1. A platform
  2. Floatation elements
  3. Sieve or net
  4. Drive motor
  5. Solar Panel

Platform

The skimmer platform forms a stable surface that is elevated above the water surface. This allows for the other components to be securely attached to the skimmer.

Floatation Elements

These components are attached to either side of the platform and keep the skimmer afloat.

Sieve or Net

This component also attaches to the platform and catches all the floating debris in the pool.

Drive Motor

The drive motor uses a small propeller or paddle wheel to drive the pool skimmer around the pool.

Solar Panel

A solar panel supplies the power to drive the skimmer motor.

What You’ll Need

The basic materials for this DIY solar pool skimmer are readily available at hardware stores or on Amazon:

  1. A simple senior mobility step is a perfect platform for the skimmer ($35.00)
  2. A single pool noodle provides floatation
  3. A skimmer net collects floating debris.
  4. A drive motor provides propulsion for the skimmer.
  5. Small waterproof plastic enclosure.
  6. On/Off switch ($12.00)
  7. 6 Volt, 3-watt solar panel
  8. 2 x hasp and staples ($11.00 per set)
  9. A selection of rubber panel grommets
  10. Small brass or stainless steel eye bolt
  11. Light duty snap hooks
  12. Nylon paracord (similar to tent guy lines)
  13. Plastic carabiners

Tools

  1. Hot glue gun
  2. Battery drill plus drill bit set
  3. Soldering iron and solder
  4. A pop rivet gun and rivet selection

Putting It All Together

Once you have all the parts assembled, you’re ready to start the construction of the solar pool skimmer.

Motor and Enclosure

The motor enclosure is the best place to start this project and there is one important reason for this. Once the motor is mounted in the enclosure, the sub-assembly can be used to “tune” the rest of the solar pool skimmer. The importance of this will become clear a little later.

Motor Mount

There will be a difference in height between the platform and the water surface. This means the motor shaft would have to exit the enclosure at around a 45° angle. This is illustrated below in Fig. 2.

The motor can be mounted on a wooden block or an aluminum bracket. You’ll have to mark and drill the exit hole for the shaft before mounting the motor.

Switch and Wiring

The solar panel lead is routed through a watertight rubber grommet on the back of the enclosure. If the solar panel lead is fitted with a connector this will have to be cut off. If the lead is insulated, you’ll have to strip the insulation to expose around 2 to 3 inches of wiring.

First, drill the wiring access hole in the back of the motor enclosure.

Now choose an appropriate rubber grommet from the selection that will hold the solar panel leads snuggly. In this way, you can keep water out of the enclosure.

Now drill an appropriate hole in the enclosure lid to allow the mounting of the switch. Locate the hole to one side of the lid so the switch does not interfere with the motor.

Now mount the switch securely in the hole. The basic enclosure wiring layout is also illustrated in Fig. 2.

skimmer motor enclosure layout

Image: Paul Scott

Solar Panel and Enclosure Mounting

Both the motor enclosure and the solar panel can be mounted on the platform using a hot-melt glue gun. That said it may be wise to use pop rivets to mount the motor enclosure due to vibration. The motor enclosure should be mounted as close to the back and middle of the platform as possible. Ensure that the propeller drive shaft is clear of obstructions and extends down below the level of the platform feet. Mark out its position but don’t mount it finally yet.

NOTE: The propeller should be located deep enough in the water to prevent cavitation. This is a condition where the prop pulls air in from the water surface, severely limiting its performance.

Once you have a clear idea of where the motor box will be mounted you can hot glue the solar panel into place. It should be mounted to avoid shading of the panel by the motor box as far as possible.

You should also check that the leads can reach the components in the motor box. When it is mounted you can go ahead and pull the solar panel leads through the wiring access hole.

When you are done with this, you can recheck the motor enclose position and mount it in place.

Attaching the Skimmer Net

The skimmer net we have chosen has a metal pipe socket that serves to attach a pool net pole. The socket requires a hole to be drilled in the platform to allow for the socket to snugly pass through. This should allow the locking tabs on the socket to keep it from falling out.

When the mounting hole is drilled, push the skimmer socket through the platform from the bottom. The locking lugs will need to be depressed to do this.

With the net in place, turn it so it lies parallel with the front edge of the platform. Now mark 4 holes to allow for the net to be zip-tied to the platform.

You can insert the zip ties now but don’t tension them just yet. If the net is positioned correctly the ties can be snugged up securely.

Attaching the Pool Noodles

This is where the “tuning” of the skimmer begins. The platform needs to float at a level that allows the propeller to be fully submerged. The skimmer net must also have enough clearance at the top to allow surface debris to enter the net.

This all takes a fair bit of trial and error to achieve. The first step is to cut two sections of the pool noodle that are slightly longer than the platform. One end of each section must also be cut into a pointed shape. This allows the DIY pool skimmer to “push away” from the sides of the pool, floating hoses, or other obstructions.

Now float one section of pool noodle in the pool and place the prepared platform next to it. This’ll allow you to measure out how high or low the platform needs to be attached. Just keep in mind the correct propeller and net mouth positioning.

When you have a good idea of where the pool noodle should sit, mark 4 holes to zip tie it into position. Measure and duplicate these hole positions on the other side of the platform and you are almost home and dry. Excuse the pun!

Now zip-tie the noodle sections in place, but again, don’t tension them fully just yet. Place the almost completed skimmer in the pool and check the net mouth clearance and propeller position.

If all is well tension the noodle zip ties fully. It will probably be pretty close, but you may have to make adjustments or re-drill the holes.

The completed skimmer layout is illustrated in Fig’s 3, 4, 5, and 6.

top view layout of the DIY solar pool skimmer

Image: Paul Scott

solar-powered pool skimmer bottom view layout

Image: Paul Scott

pool skimmer side view layout

Image: Paul Scott

front view layout pool skimmer

Image: Paul Scott

Attaching the Tether Point

This DIY pool skimmer is designed to be used in both active and passive modes. In active mode, the skimmer will roam around the pool under its own steam fighting the good fight. In passive mode, it can be tethered to the side of the pool next to the pool filter intake. This is illustrated below.

To get this done, you’ll need to screw or bolt a light-duty cup hook or eye bolt into the platform. Then a suitable anchor point will have to be installed in the pool wall or coping to attach the tether to.

Once both anchors are installed, you can cut the length of the paracord and tie it onto two of the carabiners. This will allow you to tie the DIY pool skimmer down in a static position adjacent to the pool intake. Then the pool pump circulation will pull debris into the DIY pool skimmer without it moving.

In Conclusion

The multi-purpose DIY solar pool skimmer takes a load off your shoulders and eases the workload of the pool filter system. That makes for a clear win-win solution to floating dirt in your pool.

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