What is a salt water generator and is it right for me?

In a salt water pool, you add salt to your pool water rather than chlorine  - the water is circulated through your plumbing and passes through an electrode which is installed near the water return.  When the water passes through the electrode, a chemical reaction is caused which creates chlorine.

 You may think that your water is now going to be salty, like the ocean - but this is not the case.  The process described above creates chlorine which sanitizes your pool - this is not the same as the high concentration of salt in the ocean water.  The amount of salt in a salt water pool is also far lower than the amount in the ocean - about 3,000 ppm  vs. the ocean’s 35,000 - 50,000 ppm.

 The major benefit to a salt water system is nearly eliminating the need to purchase chlorine.  The salt water generator will produce all the chlorine required for your pool.  No more trips to the pool store or handling chlorine - but you will need to purchase and store salt.  Typically, the salt required for a salt water pool for one season will cost about $20 - vs. the $200 - $250 in chlorine for the same amount of time.  A nice savings.

 Many people also prefer the feel of the water in a salt water pool - reporting that it feels softer and is less irritating to the skin then the water in chlorine pools.  Swimmers also find that their eyes don’t get irritated by the water and their skin no longer gets “wrinkly” as it does in chlorine pools.

 Sounds great!  So what’s the downside?  The main con to installing a salt water generator are the costs of installation and maintenance.  Many people can DIY the install, but if you don’t have the skills or time to self install, then a pro should be called.  The system and parts required will cost between $500 and $1000.  Installation may take from 3-8 hours depending on your skill.  A pro installation will cost more - likely an additional $500 - $1500 largely depending on the cost of professional labor in your area.

There is also the cost of maintenance.  The electrode in the salt water system typically lasts from 3 to 5 years before needing replacement.  This typically costs between $400-$600 depending on the system that you install.  Salt water pools also tend to have pH swings, so that is something to watch and maintain accordingly.  At times, it may be necessary to add chlorine to the pool to fix more serious issues with the water.  Furthermore, there is the cost of energy for running the salt water system - typically a salt water system uses about 200 watts of power when running.  So if your pump is running for 6 hours, the salt water generator will add 1.2Kwh of energy usage to your ordinary daily cost of energy.  You can mitigate this cost increase by purchasing a unit that is rated for a pool larger than the one you're treating.  That way, you can run the generator for less time than a smaller unit would require.  Finally, the salt can cake up and cause some issues with the pool liner and components - sometimes requiring additional cleaning and maintenance.

 So, is a salt water system right for you? That depends.  If you don’t like handling or purchasing chlorine all the time or you like the feel of the salt water  - it may be a good choice for you.  If the cost, install, and maintenance issues aren’t for you - you might just want to keep using chlorine to sanitize your pool.

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