Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Salt Systems 101

Salt Systems 101
What does a Salt System do?
Simply put, a salt system is a chlorine generator.  It is essentially a chlorine factory installed at your pool equipment.

How does a Salt System work?
Salt (NaCl) is added to the swimming pool to increase the salinity to approximately 4,000ppm (depending on the specific system).  As a side note, the salinity of the ocean is approximately 35,000 ppm – or almost 10 times as salty as a pool with a salt system.  The system itself is comprised of two components:
  1.   Salt Cell
  2. Control Panel

The Salt Cell is plumbed in-line with the pool equipment and given an electric charge. As the water passes through the cell the charged blades split the NaCl into two separate elements through electrolysis – Na and Cl.  Thus making chlorine.

How much does a Salt System Cost?
As with most things, there are two costs to consider when determining if a salt system is right for you. You must consider initial cost versus ongoing costs.  Depending on the system you purchase a quality salt system will cost you between $1,200 - $1,600.  Stay away from inexpensive salt systems. Replacement cells will cost you between $700-$900.

How long will the salt cell last?
Salt cells are a lot like brake pads in that in doing the very thing they are designed to do, they wear out and require replacement.  There are a number of factors that will impact how long a salt cell will last including, run time of the cell, quality of the cell, bather load in the pool, amount of landscaping and organic material that gets into the pool, additional sanitizers on the pool and more.  As a general rule, a good salt cell on the average pool will last approximately 3-4 years.  After 3-4 years you will need to purchase a replacement cell.

What are the benefits of a salt system?
A salt system provides comfortable “soft” water to swim in.  Much like a water softener “softens” water (through the use of salt in most cases), a salt system will do the same for your pool water.  You also will not need to purchase chlorine from your local retailer.

Are there any drawbacks to installing a Salt System?
Yes.  The following are a few of the inherent problems with salt systems:
  1. Cost – By the time you purchase the salt system and replace a few cells you have spent thousands of dollars.  Make no mistake; a salt system does not pay for itself, no matter what anyone tells you.  It is simply not true.  Install a salt system because you like the performance and feel, not to save money. 
  2. Impact on pH– The chlorine produced by a salt cell is very high in pH (11.0-13.0).  You are trying to keep your pool water around 7.2-7.6 – slightly alkaline – and installing a salt system will make it very difficult to keep your pH under 8.0.  This will result in scaling at the waterline.
  3. Maintenance – From time to time you will need to remove the salt cell and soak it in an acid/water mixture to remove the calcium and build up from the cell.  Be very careful to follow the manufacturers specifications for doing so as using too strong a solution will greatly shorten the life of the cell. 
  4. Corrosive – Salt is a very corrosive product.  It is used in the Midwest to melt the ice on the roads and we have all seen the devastating affect this has on both the roads (potholes, etc.) and the cars (rust, etc.).  Introducing this product to your swimming pool is hard on your deck, equipment and interior finish.

Salt systems have been around for over 2 decades now for use on residential swimming pools.  Their use has risen and fallen over this period for a number of reasons.  Bottom line is this, there are other – less corrosive – means by which you can sanitize your swimming pool and minimize the use of chlorine tablets or liquid chlorine.  A few examples are as follows:

1.     Ozone System
2.     UV System
3.     Mineral System
4.     Combination of any of the above