Salt Water Pool Systems
– A review Worth its Salt
The first thing to understand about salt water pool systems is that they still use chlorine to sanitize the swimming pool. With that said, I still think there is a great deal of misinformation and underestimation of the benefits of salt water pool systems. Much of this has to do with a lack of experience with proper pool chemistry. I am no expert, myself, but I have learned from others who have helped me through my many hardships and experiences maintaining a properly chlorinated pool over the past 8 years. Since I inherited a swimming pool with the house we bought 8 years ago, I have learned that a salt water chlorination system is the only way to conveniently chlorinate my swimming pool. There are other automatic chlorination systems that use traditional chlorine pucks such as the one that came with my own pool, but as I will soon explain, they are greatly flawed and may actually cause damage and harm to you or your pool; or both. Convenience the old-fashioned way comes at a price. So, the question is, can you have both convenience and a successfully maintained pool? Before I get into the review on the salt water pool systems I just purchased, I would like to give a brief and unscientific explanation of how a salt chlorinator works and outline the most compelling reasons for owning one salt water pool systems over manual chlorination or automatic chlorination with tri-chlor pucks.
How Salt Water Pool Systems Work
A salt water pool essentially uses salt to generate its own chlorine and dispenses it automatically into your pool. There is a salt water cell that is installed into the pool plumbing which transforms salt water into usable, free chlorine. The chlorinator usually comes with a display box where the outflow of the chlorine can be adjusted. The display box also provides you with information such as the level of salt that is in your swimming pool and display codes which indicate other issues or potential problems with your system. A salt water pool, of course, needs one other thing: Salt. My 11,000 gallon pool required about 6 x 40lb bags of salt. The recommended level of salt is 3,500PPM. My pool already had a certain level of salt before the chlorinator was installed, due to the fact that I have used regular, unscented chlorine bleach to chlorinate my pool the past few years. Chlorine bleach contains sodium hypochloride which deposits small levels of salt into the pool. If you do not have a salt water chlorinator, there are some excellent reasons for using regular, unscented liquid bleach to chlorinate your pool which I will explain shortly. Unfortunately, jugs and jugs of bleach, day after day is a messy system and is not a very convenient way to chlorinate your pool. You will soon see that this was my main impetus for going with a saltwater system for my pool.
This was my unscientific explanation on how a salt water pool systems work. For the scientific explanation, click here: How a Salt Water Chlorinator Works.
Why use a Salt Water Pool System?
Comfortable and better for Your Skin
Just about any pool company or pool guy/girl can tell you that the levels of salt used to chlorinate your pool are better for your skin. It feels sort of like you are swimming in a saline solution rather than a harshly chlorinated pool. I can attest to this fact, first hand. My skin used to get so dry after I was out of the pool for a while. Even with chlorine and other chemical levels the same, the salt water pool feels better and softer on the skin. This is a fact. It is also important to note, that since you are not putting large amounts of chlorine into the pool at one time, that the chlorine is more evenly and consistently dispersed throughout the day as your pool pump is running. This means you are not going to ever be exposed to higher levels of chlorine at different times of the day. This, of course is better for your skin, hair and your body.
It is Better For the Health of you and your Swimming Pool
One huge thing that gets overlooked even by some of the pool gurus is the chemical relationship between Stabilizer (CYA) and Free Chlorine. Even many pool professions do not realize that the higher more stabilizer in the pool means higher chlorine levels are needed to properly sanitize it. An ideal level of stabilizer is between 30 and 50PPM. So, here is why I used regular, non-scented chlorine bleach to chlorinate my pool all these years: It doesn’t raise my stabilizer!
A traditional, tri-chlor, puck chlorinator can raise the CYA level of your pool by up to 25PPM per month. That number, according to one website I read, is for a very large pool; 35,000 gallons. You see, Chlorine pucks (trichlor) are made up of 50% stablizer (CYA). Since higher levels of stabilizer require higher levels of free chlorine to properly sanitize a swimming pool, many of our traditional chlorination methods which use stabilizer are creating a huge problem for us: As we chlorinate our pools, we need higher and higher levels of chlorine to keep them properly sanitized. After a month or two of tri-chlor pucks, for example, we can expect our CYA level to be up to 100PPM or higher. Some chemists recommend that a properly sanitized pool, should have a free chlorine level which is 8-10% of our CYA. For a pool with a CYA reading of 100PPM, we would need to keep our free chlorine around 10PPM to keep the swimming pool properly sanitized. Anything less could not only result in green water and algae, but expose us to potential health risks. And as more and more stabilizer gets added, the situation only gets worse. I experienced this first hand with my own swimming pool. I had a tremendous algae outbreak before I realized how high my stabilizer was and also had trouble keeping stains and other chemistry in balance. I also had to make a very expensive replacement of my pool heat exchanger which I suspect was corroded-out and rusted from the excessively high levels of chlorine. I got on a couple of website forums and discovered the Three Bs of Pool Chemistry and Maintenance: Bleach, Baking Soda and Borax. These are the only three chemicals you will ever need to maintain a healthy pool manually. Unfortunately, the manual way is expensive and inconvenient. And, you have to worry about recycling all of the 2-3, large plastic, empty bleach jugs each weak. Knowing what I know about pool chemistry today and my past problems, however, this wouldn’t stop me from continuing to do it this way if I had to. Fortunately, there is a better way. Salt water pool systems offer benefits in three ways:
Benefits of Salt Water Pool Systems
I have delved into much of the advantages of a salt chlorination system for the swimming pool and there are really only two main benefits: There is possibly a third benefit, which I will discuss later. For now, here is an outline of the two:
A salt water chlorinator is the most effective way to gain the convenience of an automatic chlorination system without adding stabilizer to your pool. This is why I went from the Three B’s Maintenance method to a salt water pool. I can keep the chlorine at a reasonable level without having to lift a finger. No running down to the store to buy liquid bleach and no worries about messy, plastic, empty jugs to recyle. And, it is so nice to know that my pool is quietly producing a consistent and safe level of chlorine into my swimming pool throughout the day.
Health and Comfort
The level of salt in the swimming pool makes the pool water healthier and more comfortable to the skin, eyes and hair. Because of the relationship between CYA and Free Chlorine outlined above, the salt water chlorinator system provides a healthier, safer, sanitation level of chlorine. But, beyond the health and comfort of the swimmer, a salt chlorination system is better for your pool equipment. With a proper understanding of these two, benefits, is there perhaps a third advantage to salt water chlorination which we have not talked about?
A Potential Third Benefit: Cost
If you’re comfortable with plumbing and electric and can install your own chlorinator, I am convinced that a salt water pool system will save you money. Even if you have the chlorinator professionally installed, there is still good reason to believe that it will save you money in chlorine costs over the course of the next few years. When you consider the relationship between CYA and Free Chlorine and the high cost of chemicals, it is likely that the cost of buying chlorine is way underestimated by most pool ‘expert’s standards. Anyone, who does monitor the stabilizer level in their pool also has to realize potential cost of the water bill from frequent, partial drainings and fillings of the pool to dilute the CYA level. The only way to lower the stabilizer is through partial drainings and re-fillings. I can tell from first hand experience what this does to the water bill. My utility cost was a good 35-40% higher when I was experience my ‘high-cya’ problem a few years ago. Because Salt water pool systems require a cell with a limited life span, it is hard to know exactly if or how much money they might save a pool owner. The cell for the unit I am about to review below, costs around $650.00. Despite the unknown, the salt water chlorination investment is well worth it for me, if only for the other two reasons stated above. It’s been a while since I talked about pool test kits, so now is probably a good time to discuss the differences of testing a salt water pool as opposed to a traditional swimming pool.
Best Pool Test Kit for Salt Water Pool Systems
Except for the need for a salt or salinity measurement, testing a salt water pool is different than testing a regular, chlorinated pool. The free chlorine test is the most important, often used test available for pool owners. I have always tested my chlorine every day. And, when a new event happens such like a salt water pool system, it becomes necessary to check it more often to monitor the changes and behavior in the chlorine levels. Again, I cannot stress enough how superior the Taylor K2006, FAS-DPD Chlorine test is to all of the other chlorination testing methods. The FAS-DPD test completely takes the guess work out of knowing your chlorine level. You will add a couple of powder scoops to your pool water and begin adding drops until the water turns completely clear. Count your drops and divide them by half and that is your FCPPM. See demonstration
Testing Chlorine with the FAS-DPD Test
The one other test you will need, which unfortunately, is not included with my Taylor K-2006 test kit, is a saline test. The Saline test will show you how much salt is in your pool, which you can then adjust according to the recommended salt for your pool in the image that I posted above. I have not yet bought one of these, but I will be sure to add the information on it as soon as I have owned and used it a couple of times.
Jandy Aquapure Review
I didn’t choose the Jandy Aquapure salt water chlorinator so much as it chose me. Actually, I chose the guy who closed my pool when I asked him if he could install a salt water pool system this summer. When I got back from vacation, the Jandy Aquapure Ei Series Chlorine Generating Device was already installed on my wall, right next to my intermatic timer. My review, thus far, is as much an endorsement of his installation as it is the chlorine generator. I was impressed with the professional way in which both the display unit and cell were installed.
Jandy AquaPure Display Unit
The AquaPure display unit is electrically wired into my intermatic timer. When the timer shuts off, the AquaPure automatically shuts off as well. Also, I can manually shut the whole pump by flipping the switch on my wall. In either case, the chlorinator automatically turns itself off when the pump is turned off. This is nice. Considering I have never used an automatic salt water chlorinator in my entire life, I was extremely impressed with how easy it was to learn how to use the buttons on the device and how they are used and why. There are only two buttons: An On/Off and an Output. Pressing the on/off switch does exactly what it says. The Output button toggles the flow of chlorine levels from left to right. From pressing the output button I quickly learned that the chlorine level is increased from left to right each time the button is pressed. The button when lit, doesn’t actually show the amount of chlorine that is flowing into the pool. Rather, it shows you how your cell is running. As the manual explains, here is how the output button affects the cell output:
Chlorine Cell Output Lights
20%: 1Light: Cell will run for 2 minutes every 10 minutes
40%: 2Lights: Cell will run for 4 minutes every 10 minutes
60%: 3 Lights: Cell will run for 6 minutes every 10 minutes
80%: 4 Lights: Cell will run for 8 minutes every 10 minutes
100%: 5 lights: Cell will run non-stop
Currently, my own salt water system is set for the 40% setting. When I got back from vacation, Five days after the unit was installed, I tested my chlorine level and found it to be at 5.5PPM. Being that my stabilizer is around 60ppm, this is just about right for me. Normally, I would have had to add about 60 ounces or more of 8% liquid bleach each day to maintain this level of free chlorine in my pool. The other useful gauge is a salt indicator which lights-up if and when salt needs to be added to the pool. The Jandy Aquapure Ei model is meant to work with pools of up to 35,000 gallons of water capacity. Since my pool only has a little over 10,000 gallons, the lowest settings on the outflow indicator should suffice and preserve the life of the cell – at least in theory. I will not know for sure, until I’ve owned it a few years.
Jandy AquaPure Cell
The cell, which is the heart of the unit, is installed to the right of my heat exchanger. This is where the science occurs. It is recommended that this unit be cleaned once a year, which is explained in the manual.
Jandy AquaPure Manual
One of the most impressive aspects of my salt water pool investment happens to be a very thorough manual which can be downloaded here: Jandy AquaPure Manual
I have yet to meet with my installer to have the system explained to me. All I needed to do was browse the manual to get my questions answered. If you would like to install this unit yourself, the Jandy Installation and Operation Manual provides you with complete instructions on how and where to install the components, including electrical and plumbing. Furthermore, the manual provides a brief lesson in pool chemistry and explains the proper balance for each of the chemicals needed to properly maintain a swimming pool. The manual also provides you with instructions on how to clean the cell, which is a required maintenance item that should be performed once each year. If you don’t know the size of your swimming pool, the manual gives you the formula for determining it, along with a very nice chart which tells you how much salt is needed for the size of your swimming pool. I’ve included this chart below:
How Much Salt is needed for my Swimming Pool?
Click on the photo above to get the full chart.
The Real Reason to Go with Salt Water Pool Systems
In addition to allowing us to cool off and get some exercise, a swimming pool is first and foremost a form of recreation. We cannot possibly enjoy our swimming pools as much, when we are constantly fiddling with chemicals and addressing potential problems. Salt water pools offer swimming pool owners a hassle-free and responsible way of getting the most enjoyment out of our equipment. The time spent buying and adding chlorine can be time spent swimming. As someone who has experienced the gamut of swimming pool equipment and chemical problems and expenses, I wish I had converted my pool to salt water three years ago. I have friends who use salt water pool systems and have read a great deal about them before making this investment. I have read a number of articles and seen a number of YouTube videos that don’t quite do justice to the real benefits of a saline pool. I hope I have outlined some of the missing pieces to the puzzle of salt water pool systems and offered some real cost, convenience and health considerations that are associated with maintaining proper pool chemistry. Salt water pool systems offer the only swimming pool sanitation method that addresses all of these issues.