Rick's Take on Salt Pools: Pros, Cons, and Key Considerations
What distinguishes a saltwater pool from a chlorine pool?
Despite common misconceptions, the two are actually quite similar.
Chlorine, in its traditional form, is essentially salt that has been ionized. In other words, adding chlorine to a pool entails adding electrified salt to the water. In contrast, saltwater pools operate by adding salt directly to the pool. As the saltwater passes through a chlorine/salt generator, it undergoes electrolysis and produces chlorine for the pool. Therefore, the key distinction between saltwater and chlorine pools lies in the method of introducing chlorine to the water.
Saltwater pools and traditional chlorine pools both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Pros of Saltwater Pools:
Softer water: Saltwater pools tend to have softer water than traditional chlorine pools, which can be gentler on skin and hair.
Lower chlorine levels: Saltwater pools use a salt generator to produce chlorine, which means that the chlorine levels can be lower than in traditional chlorine pools because chlorine is constantly being added as long as the filter and salt generator are running.
Lower maintenance: Saltwater pools require less maintenance than traditional chlorine pools since the salt generator produces chlorine automatically and you do not have to add chlorine daily or weekly.
Cons of Saltwater Pools:
Higher upfront cost: As mentioned, saltwater pools have a higher initial cost to install the salt generator and the cost of a large amount of salt that needs to be added to the pool.
Potential for corrosion: Saltwater can be corrosive to some types of materials, which can lead to damage to the pool equipment and surfaces if not properly maintained.
Requires electricity: Salt generators require electricity to operate, which can add to the pool's energy costs.
Will still require chlorine shock treatments: While a salt generator produces chlorine, it may not be enough to prevent the need for occasional shock treatments with chlorine.
Pros of Traditional Chlorine Pools:
Lower upfront cost: Traditional chlorine pools have a lower initial cost to install compared to saltwater pools.
Easy to maintain: Chlorine pools are easy to maintain with regular additions of chlorine.
Widely available: Chlorine is widely available and can be purchased at most pool supply stores.
Effective at killing bacteria: Chlorine is a powerful sanitizer and is effective at killing bacteria and other microorganisms in pool water.
Cons of Traditional Chlorine Pools:
Frequent chlorine additions: Chlorine pools require regular additions of chlorine to maintain the appropriate levels of sanitizer.
Potential for chemical imbalances: If chlorine is not added regularly, traditional chlorine pools can experience chemical imbalances that can lead to problems like algae, cloudy water and unsafe swimming conditions.
Overall, both saltwater pools and traditional chlorine pools have their advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between the two will depend on personal preferences, budget, and maintenance requirements.
Regardless of which option you choose, maintaining balanced pool water is crucial, paying attention to pH, Total Alkalinity, Calcium, Chlorine, and Cyanuric Acid levels. Additionally, shocking the pool weekly is necessary to eliminate organic waste from the water.
For a 20,000-gallon pool, a Salt Generator costs $1700.00, and salt costs $200.00, making the initial cost $1900.00. The average life of the cell in the generator is five years, so the cost would be approximately $380.00 per year. To replace the cell in five years, the cost would be $1000.00, plus additional salt needed each year, so the yearly cost for the second five years would be approximately $240.00 per year. The entire salt system should be replaced after ten years of life.
For a chlorine pool, a 25lb pail of chlorine tablets costs $149.99, and you would usually use 30-35 lbs. per year, making the cost approximately $210.00 per year.
The additional chemicals needed to keep the pool balanced and running smoothly are the same for both types of pools, with the addition of weekly shock or activator and a maintenance dose of algaecide.
The Bottom Line
If you're willing to pay a slightly higher upfront cost, a saltwater pool can offer a more enjoyable swimming experience and easier maintenance. The pool's water feels smoother and there's a constant supply of chlorine generated by the salt, which means you won't have to worry about adding chlorine manually. This can save you money in the long run, as you won't need to spend extra money on chemicals to fix cloudy or green water caused by a lack of chlorine.
However, it's worth noting that above-ground saltwater pools have a potential drawback: because the pools are mostly made of exposed metal (even resin pools have steel walls), any splash out of the water can corrode the walls. Over time, this can reduce the lifespan of your pool, and I've found that above-ground saltwater pools typically last about a third as long as those that use traditional chlorine.
With so much misinformation about pool care out there, I hope that my insights as a 41-year veteran of The Pool Place in Abington can provide some clarity and help you make informed decisions about maintaining your pool. Happy swimming!
Your Pool Guy