One of the hottest summers in US history has sent everyone scurrying into their pools to cool off, and the biggest new trend in swimming pools is salt water. First developed in Australia, saltwater pools offer several advantages over conventional chlorine and have become incredibly popular in the last decade.
People no longer have to tolerate the eye-burning, nose-curdling sting that comes from chlorine. Saltwater pools only have one-tenth the salt of ocean water and about one-third when compared to human tears. They are also gentler on the skin and hair than traditional chlorine pools. And pool owners don't have to purchase, store, and handle harsh chemicals, so maintenance is easier, more convenient, and saves time and money.
Across the country, more chlorine pools are being converted to salt water and today there are more than 1.4 million saltwater pools in operation nationwide. An estimated 75 percent of all new in-ground pools are salt water, compared with only 15 percent in 2002, according to data published in Pool & Spa News.
Since the Evergreen Commons senior center in Holland, Mich., converted its 65,000-gallon pool to salt water, members have been pleased with the results. "The minute you walk into the pool area you notice a big difference," says Jodi Owczarski, the center's community relations director. "There is no longer that chemical smell. People also tell us that the water is much softer. In the old pool, people said they sometimes had to wash twice to get all those chemicals off, but in this pool, they only have to wash once. All in all, people have been thrilled with this new system."
In saltwater pools, chlorine is automatically produced as water passes through the generator. As the water exits the generator and enters the pool, the sanitizing chlorine reverts back to salt, and the process repeats itself, conserving salt and keeping sanitizer levels balanced.
Saltwater pools require less maintenance than traditional pools, but pool owners still should test weekly for pH and chlorine, and monthly for other water balance factors and for salt levels, which can drop due to splash-out, rain and filter back-washing. Most pool owners test their pool water themselves with test strips and periodically bring a sample in to a pool retailer for testing.
Anyone who has made the decision to move to a saltwater pool should make certain they use salt specifically designed for that use. An average 20,000 gallon pool requires 530 pounds of salt at startup; with quantities that large, even small amounts of contaminants within the salt can cause pool problems. That's why ultra-pure salt is best for salt water pools. Salt water systems can also save money in the long run over chlorine-based alternatives.
There have also been questions about the effect of salt water on pool construction materials, decks and surrounding structures. When pools are properly constructed and normal maintenance is followed, salt water has no effect on pool finishes, equipment and decks. Most materials are suitable for salt water pool construction, and most kinds of stone and decking materials will last if treated and sealed properly and periodically rinsed off.
If you're considering a saltwater pool, talk to a knowledgeable builder or retailer, or get some insight from other saltwater pool owners. You can also find more information at the Salt Institute website.