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A young man floats in a saltwater pool, with just his eyes and forehead above the water line.

Ottawa Pool Builders Provide Tips for Switching to Saltwater Swimming Pools

Depending on your skin type, chlorine can be a tricky option for your pool. Too much, and it irritates your skin and eyes. Too little, and your pool chemical balance is off. That doesn’t even begin to touch upon the unmistakable chemical smell, which some find off-putting. That’s why, more and more often, people are choosing saltwater systems for custom pool and spa designs. Saltwater systems provide a softer, gentler pool sanitizing option compared to traditional pools.

If you want to convert your swimming pool to saltwater, here’s everything you need to know before making the switch.

How Does A Saltwater Pool Work?

Saltwater pools need salt in the water and electrodes (salt cells) in the plumbing. When the saltwater passes through the cell, an electrical reaction occurs between the salt and the electrode. This reaction creates chlorine.

Salt cells are also known as saltwater chlorine generators or salt chlorinators.

This chlorine effectively sanitizes the pool water but is not harsh like concentrated chlorine.

Saltwater systems also have a superchlorination feature that shocks the pool.

Saltwater systems have only one-tenth the salinity of seawater, so you won’t taste or feel the salt in the pool water. Instead, saltwater pools have softer-feeling water.

What Are the Benefits Of A Saltwater Pool?

Since salt cells create chlorine automatically, saltwater pools require less maintenance than traditional swimming pools.

With saltwater pools, you don’t have to stock up on or add chlorine ever again. You will save plenty of money and time that would have gone to adding chlorine to your pool.

You can avoid the risks of handling and storing unsafe chemicals. You will also avoid the potential health risks of prolonged exposure to toxins in heavily chlorinated pools.

And since saltwater is relatively gentle, you won’t have to worry about itchy skin, burning eyes, dried out hair, or that strong chlorine smell anymore.

What to Consider Beforehand

Saltwater pools require a larger initial investment. But you will save on chlorine in the long run.

Saltwater systems are also more complex than chlorine pools. They have more parts, such as the circuit board, salt cell, flow sensor, and flow switch. So you may need to hire an experienced technician if you ever encounter issues with the system.

Salt is corrosive and has the potential to damage certain materials. It also creates high pH levels and calcium build-up in pool equipment. So you have to take precautions, such as balancing the water and maintaining salt cells.

You should also avoid using specific types of pool liner, heaters, lighting, fixtures, and masonry that will corrode over time. Instead, use a cupronickel (also known as copper-nickel alloy) heater, or install a sacrificial zinc anode that will absorb all the corrosion.

What Maintenance do Saltwater Pools Need?

Salt cells need replacement every three to seven years. Meanwhile, the parts of the system may also need maintenance and replacement over time.

Converting Your Pool to Saltwater

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your saltwater chlorinator when installing your new system.

Here are the basic steps needed to set up your saltwater pool:

  • Install your salt cell at the end of your plumbing, after the pump, filter, and heater, and before the return valve to your pool. Keep it close to the control panel and power source.
  • If convenient and possible, remove the chlorine dispenser and replace with the salt cell.
  • Make sure your control panel and pool pump use the same power source and timer.
  • For a more complex system requiring electrical and plumbing work, hire a pool professional to complete the conversion.
  • Use elbows or couplings to ensure water runs with the least resistance to the cell and pool.
  • For one-directional cells, follow the flow direction before the final installation. Install the flow switch right after the cell in the plumbing system.
  • Install a check valve before the cell or after the filter or heater.
  • Install an in-line zinc anode to prevent corrosion of pool hardware. This anode needs grounding and should be close to the cell for convenience.
  • Make sure the power is off when mounting the control panel and power supply in an easy-to-access area. Ideally, these should be within reach of the cell cord, switch, and timer.
  • Connect and turn on the main power supply and turn on your pump.
  • Do not turn on the salt chlorinator until you’ve reached your system’s ideal salinity level, 30 lbs of salt for every 1000 gallons of water, but check the manufacturer’s instructions first.
  • Use water test strips to test the salinity level. Aim for 3000 to 3,500 ppm.

Allow 24 hours for the water chemistry to balance before turning on the salt chlorinator.

Choose the Right Salt Chlorinator

Salt chlorinators are rated for use in specific sizes of pools, usually in gallons. To find a chlorinator that will effectively generate enough chlorine for your pool, choose one that is rated for a pool at least 1/3 larger than your pool.

If you choose one that is rated for your pool size, your salt chlorinator will have to work at 100% output at all times. This will result in higher energy use and place more strain on the salt cell, which will limit its lifespan.

To calculate the size of your pool in gallons, measure the dimensions in feet—length, width, average depth. To find the average depth, add the depth of the shallow end with the depth of the deep end and divide by two.

Next, multiply the width by the length by the average depth, and then multiply by 7.5 to find the gallon capacity of your pool—(W x L x D) x 7.5.

Saltwater systems also come with added features, like system control and diagnostics. So choose one based on your budget and preferences.

Using the Right Type (And Amount) of Salt

You can use non-iodized salt purchased in bulk from a hardware store or home goods store. You can also find it in large bags labeled “pool salt.”

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your chlorine generator to determine how much salt you should use.

To add salt to your pool water, distribute it evenly while walking around your pool. Use a pool brush to stir the water until the salt has dissolved.

Remove Phosphates

Phosphates enter pools from a variety of sources, such as bather contaminants, rainwater, fertilizer, chemicals, and decaying plants.

It’s important to remove phosphates from your pool water since these provide food for algae and contribute to scale build-up in salt cells.

You can find an easy-to-use phosphate test kit to keep an eye on your water’s phosphate levels. Levels below 200 PPB are safe, but the optimal level is below 100 to 125 PPB. And the closer to zero, the better.

To keep phosphate levels down, add products to your pool skimmer, such as a PHOSfree phosphate remover.

With proper maintenance, you salt cell should last three to five years. To maintain your pool water and salt cell, use salt water pool products that will soften and balance the pool water and stabilize the pH level. Also, clean your pool regularly, test the water chemicals, and balance when necessary.

Converting your swimming pool to a saltwater system will be worth it in the end. But to save you plenty of time on the conversion, hire the pool experts to convert your pool ASAP.

Once your pool is converted, you can start enjoying your soft, gentle saltwater swimming pool this summer.