Salt Water / Chlorine Generators are they for me?

Almost every day in season someone asks us about salt water and their swimming pool. Many times it is an existing pool owner who has heard all the buzz about “Salt Water” pools or in some cases it is a new customer exploring the possibilities of installing a pool. Invariably these potential salt water converts have heard all the magical benefits of salt water pools.  

This post is designed to address the most common questions and misconceptions associated with the great salt water pool debate. 

Let me start by telling you that at Masterson Pools & Spas we are neither for or against salt water pools. We do however think that it is important for you to understand how the process works. This includes understanding the costs and benefits as well as the associated drawbacks. Yes there are drawbacks.

There are positive aspects to salt water chlorination no doubt and there are negative aspects of the process. We hope to provide you with enough information so that you can make an informed decision.   

The Facts 

Salt water systems are not at all entirely different from using traditional chlorine tablets. A common misconception or belief is that chlorine will no longer be utilized in the sanitation of your pool. The truth is, salt systems sanitize your pool through a mechanism known as electrolysis. When electrolysis occurs, salt water passing through the chlorine generator cell is converted into chlorine gas which is then dissolved into the water and returned back to the pool. Your swimming pool is being sanitized by chlorine produced by your chlorine generator. Salt does not sanitize your pool. So yes a salt water pool is still being sanitized by chlorine.

 So if it is still chlorine what are the benefits? 

Once your pool has been equipped with a salt generator and assuming the device is working correctly the pool is constantly being sanitized by newly produced chlorine. This continuous cycle of chlorine production is the primary benefit of salt water pools. This process of automatic chlorine production eliminates in large part the need to purchase chlorine and the need to handle chlorine products. It is important to know that high quality pool water is achieved by balancing the "chemistry" within the pool, not just by the application of chlorine alone.  Balancing pool water is accomplished through simple testing and the application of balancing chemicals / products. We will get back to properly balancing your pool water later in this post.

In addition to not buying or handling chlorine products many pool owners report that the salt content of the pool water makes the pool water feel softer. Swimmer comfort, because of the salt content in the water would constitute the second most important benefit to using a salt water sanitation system.  

The Downside ….. there is no silver bullet

There are several issues to discuss with respect to the downside of salt water pools and the use of chlorine generators.  The  first thing a potential salt water convert must realize is that although salt in the pool water may be more comfortable for humans, mechanical equipment, mainly heaters and pool pumps hate it.  The salt in the water is basically no different that the salt used to control ice on roads in the winter. The main difference is the purity of the salt. Salt water can create an extremely corrosive environment for metal pool components and equipment. The corrosive environment will accelerate the life cycle on metallic equipment. It is not uncommon to see pool heaters in need off replacement many years ahead of heaters of a similar age installed on a fresh water pool. Saltwater pools should be equipped with a Zinc Anode. The addition of an anode will help mitigate the damaging effects of salt water in the pool but will not eliminate it.  In addition to the corrosive properties, potential salt generator owners should be aware that your salt cell will require maintenance. The cell which is actually producing the chlorine should be cleaned professionally at least once a year. As a final note, please be aware that your salt cell will have to be replaced periodically; this is a substantial expense.      

Water Chemistry and why it is important

Balancing your pool water can sound far more complicated than it actually is. When you hear balance the pool chemicals, that means keep the pool chemistry within certain long established guidelines.  It is also known as the saturation index(SI). The SI is comprised of measurements of the following components of the pool water:

PH, Temperature, Alkalinity, Cyanuric Acid, Calcium Hardness & Total dissolved solids.

The reason water chemistry is important to this discussion is because the pool water must be balanced correctly for proper sanitation and swimmer comfort.  The use of a salt water pool or chlorine generator does not change the need to maintain the pool water chemistry.  In fact the use of a salt water chlorine generator will cause the PH and Alkalinity to rise sharply. This must be controlled through application of the appropriate balancing chemicals. If pool water balance is not maintained the overall effectiveness of the “salt” system will be disrupted and you will have both water quality issues and may in fact cause damage to pool equipment and associated surfaces.   

 Costs

The single biggest misconception about chlorine generators may well be that utilizing a salt system in place of chlorine tablets is less expensive or will in some way save you money. Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. The following is a brief analysis of the typical costs associated with ownership of a “salt water pool.”

Basic cost analysis of a salt water sanitation

$1,000.00 / 2,000.00 initial purchase of high quality salt water chlorine generator

(cost varies by size of device and features).

$145.00 annual maintenance X 4 years $580.00

$500.00 / $1,000.00 replacement cell

Total operating cost will be between $2,080.00 and $3,580.00 for a six year cycle.

In six years the average homeowner utilizing chlorine tablets will have used approximately 200 to 300 lbs. or between 8 and 12-25 lb. buckets. Current cost for a 25 lb. bucket of chlorine is $69.99 or $559.92 on the low side to $839.88 on the high side.  

Standard Chlorine Pool                                        Low $559.92       High $839.88

Salt Water (Chlorine Generator Pool)                  Low $2,080.00   High $3,580.00

Net additional cost                                                      $1,520.08             $2,740.12

 So as you can see it is substantial more expensive to utilize a chlorine generator. The reality is that using a salt generator to sanitize your pool will cost you almost  3. 5 x  more than using traditional chlorine tablets.     

 Closing comments

Hopefully by now you have a much better idea of how the whole “Salt Water” thing works. As we stated in the beginning of this post we are neither for nor against salt water systems. There are clear advantages  and disadvantages.   

Some people find that the softer feeling water and the fact that they do not have to handle chlorine are reason enough to make the change.  Others are surprised when they know the facts and choose to stick with the traditional chlorine process. There is no right or wrong answer. The fact of the matter is each person considering using a salt water system must consider all the facts and then decide what works best for them and their family.  

If you have any other questions or concerns please give us call will be happy to help anyway we can.

Masterson Pools & Spas Inc.

Copyright mps 2015

 

 

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