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Salt Water System Overview

Salt water systems for pools have become increasingly common in the United States in recent years. These systems, also known as pools with chlorine generators, are not a new trend, and in fact have been heavily in use in other countries for quite some time – it’s estimated that as much as 90% of Australia’s pools are salt water pools! In this article we will take a look at how these systems work, compare them to traditional chlorine systems, and discuss the pros and cons of converting to a salt water system.

The first question we should answer would be, “What is a salt water system? How does it work?” A salt water pool differs from a traditional chlorine pool very little in all actuality. In both cases, chlorine is still the agent used to sanitize the pool, but rather than utilizing chlorine tablets and shock, a chlorine generator is used.

This chlorine generator has a powered cell that uses salt as a conductor, and in a process called electrolysis, the salt (also known as sodium or NaCl) is broken down. This causes a chemical reaction that produces chlorine in the form of sodium hypochlorite and hypochlorous acid. The sodium hypochlorite is then converted back to salt, and a continuous loop is established. This means added salt is only required when water is added to the pool to maintain the process.

The Pros:
Because a salt water system produces less chloramines, the stinging, burning eyes, dry and itchy skin, and strong chlorine smell typically associated with a chlorine pool is greatly reduced, and overall comfort of the swimmers is increased.

Maintenance is simplified, since an owner will no longer have to handle and store the hazardous chlorine products. The system is continually creating chlorine, and as such is better able to kill bacteria and fight off algae, which in turn reduces the amount of scrubbing required in most cases. Salt is added only occasionally, reducing the need for frequent trips to your pool supply for chlorine and balancing chemicals.

Long term maintenance costs are reduced, with a salt water system often costing approximately the same amount for an entire season as the monthly cost of a traditional system.

The Cons:
The initial investment in a salt water system is significantly higher than a traditional chlorine system, and price will vary depending on the size of your pool, the initial supply of salt required (also dependent on the size of your pool), and the specific equipment you choose.

Care should be used in setting up your system, because salt can be a corrosive material. Numerous aspects, such as handrails, ladders, screws in the face plates, light rings, trims, and even heaters need to be considered. These items, normally made of stainless steel, should be changed out for composite or plastic versions if possible. Some types of decking such as travertine or flagstone may not be salt friendly, as well.

Ultimately, your decision will be based on a number of factors, and you should consider consulting a professional about your specific circumstances.