All About Above-Ground Salt Water Pools

Closeup of ladder and water in an above-ground pool

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Salt water pools are a recent addition to the slate of pool options homeowners can now choose from. First there were chlorine pools, which keeps water clean but requires particularly strong chemicals. Bromine is another option, but it has the same assets and drawbacks as chlorine (plus, it usually costs more and dissolves faster). Salt water pools use a chlorine generator, or cell, to take the salt out of the pool, then use electrolysis to convert the same in the water to a more stable, people-friendly chlorine. This kind of system can be used in an in-ground or above-ground pool the same.

A salt water pool is an excellent choice for someone that gets irritated by chlorine easily and with proper monitoring can provide years of trouble-free service.

Salt Water vs. Chlorine Pools

There are a few reasons why you would choose a salt water system over a conventional chlorine pool, but it is important to understand some key differences. If you have someone that is easily irritated by chlorine (ever try to open your eyes in a pool under water?), bothered by its smell, or even allergic to chlorine, then a salt water system might be a good choice.

Almost everyone has either been in or at least heard of a chlorine pool. They are simple and efficient at what they do. However, too much chlorine in a pool can be harmful to the swimmers and those who spend time around the pool. Chlorine pools are generally cheaper to fix when something goes wrong because there are less components than their salt water cousins.

Salt water pools are generally cheaper to maintain on a yearly basis for the simple reason that salt is significantly cheaper than chlorine. However, having a salt water pool does not mean that you can just ignore the other chemicals needed: pH, alkalinity and calcium all still have to be monitored along with, of course, salt level.

The double-edged sword to a salt water pool is that while it is cheaper to operate, it is usually more complicated to repair because of the existence of the chlorine generator, or cell component. This unit has to be monitored closely because in a salt water pool the salt does not keep the water clean — the chlorine generated from this device does. If the level of salt in the water is too low, the chlorine generator will not have enough salt to turn into chlorine. This is also the reason that the salt level has to be monitored more frequently in a salt pool than a chlorine pool, because there is an extra step that the water has to go through to generate the chlorine.

Can an Above-Ground Pool be a Salt Water Pool?

Any pool can be a salt water pool as long as you have the necessary setup of machinery. The only difference with an in-ground pool installation compared to an above-ground pool installation is the arrangement of the mechanicals simply because a salt water pool has the additional component of the chlorine generator or cell. You would treat the pools exactly the same and test and maintain them in the same manner. It actually may be slightly easier to maintain an above-ground salt water pool compared to an in-ground pool because of the ease of access to the components and to monitor the salt levels at the chlorine generator.

Maintaining a Salt Water Pool

Maintaining a salt water pool is almost the same as maintaining any other kind of pool with the exception that it is imperative to keep an eye on the salt level in the water and the pool must run a minimum of 8 to 12 hours a day. This is because a salt water pool only generates chlorine needed while the pool is running while a chlorine pool has chlorine in the water all the time. Another key difference in maintaining a salt water pool is that over time the sensors in the chlorine generator fail which cause the generator to do one of two things, either make nothing or make the maximum amount of chlorine. This is another reason that it is imperative to keep an eye on your salt levels to diagnose this issue at first light to avoid any problems with your pool.

Something else to keep in mind, since chlorine comes from the chlorine generator there is a delay from the time salt is added to when it actually turns into chlorine, so if the pool turns green it would take longer for a salt pool to recover without some help from some chlorine shock, there is no salt water pool equivalent. Other than this, you would treat a salt water pool the same as any other pool.

Key Factors to Consider

While there are many benefits to a salt water pool including using a gentler and cheaper form of chlorine, there are also some variables that any pool owner should be aware of. The chlorine generator, which makes having a salt water pool possible, only lasts on average of 3 to 7 years and is not a cheap item to replace. With the average above ground pool life of over 10 years it is almost certain that this item will have to be replaced at some point and could possibly negate the yearly savings on costs of salt vs. chlorine. Salt also corrodes just like chlorine, but the difference is that the chlorine gets diluted in the water and, if spilled, evaporates with it. Salt water, however, once dry leaves corrosive salt crystals on the surface. This is the reason that with a salt water pool you should hose off any areas the water gets in contact with weekly to avoid corrosion of the structure and surrounding area.

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