Rob Cox December 22, 2015
I was browsing around the web this morning, when I came across an interesting article on Aquamagazine.com. The article, entitled Lonza Addresses Salt Pool Myths written earlier this month, is on fire with many thoughtful comments. I thought to add my own comment, and after crafting my contribution to the conversation, I clicked on the gravatar link, to make sure my image was correct. Well, it took me off-page and when I returned, my long winded comment was gone! I started to re-write it, and then thought I would just do it here, for you.
Lonza is a chemical manufacturer, with well known brands such as HTH and GLB, Leisure Time and even Baquacil, the non-chlorine, peroxide based pool chemical system. Seeing their market share for chlorinated products slipping, Lonza focused on where their sales were going - salt chlorine systems, and created a national marketing campaign, known as Salt or Chlorine?, found at saltorchlorine.org.
Lonza's efforts began in May of 2015 and also includes off-line media, with television and print ads, featuring Olympic Swimmer Janet Evans. The multi-million dollar marketing campaign is aimed at pool owners in an effort to debunk several myths about salt chlorinators.
According to the spokesman for Lonza, their research found that most pool owners (still) believe that a salt pool is chlorine free, and less expensive to operate than a chlorine pool. They also attacked the idea that salt pools use less chlorine, and require less maintenance, as compared to traditional chlorine pools.
Salt System Myths ~ not a new topic for pool bloggers like me; it feels very familiar, having discussed it many times here, here and also here - but let's do it one more time, with a few new myths thrown in ~
Set it and forget it !?! Salt systems are rather low-maintenance, but not maintenance-free. Especially when you compare it to a chlorine feeder, which has no moving parts, no sensors, no circuit boards and no electrified metal plates, or salt cell. Maintaining a salt system is not difficult, often just an occasional cleaning of the salt cell and checking the salt level every month, and monitoring the controller for status messages. More difficult problems can occur however, if you have to troubleshoot your salt/temp/flow sensors or if you have an error on the circuit board. And eventually, after 3-5 years (for most systems) the salt cell will fail and become unable to produce chlorine. Salt cells and circuit boards can be expensive, at $350-$500 each. You also will need to add new salt to replace salt lost due to backwashing or drag off; usually, a small annual booster treatment is sufficient.
I think this myth comes from the pool builders (who love to sell and install salt systems), who tend to ask it this way - "...will you be wanting a saltwater pool, or a chlorine pool?", as if they were mutually exclusive. A saltwater pool is a chlorine pool. The chlorine made with a salt chlorinator is exactly the same (hypochlorous acid), as the chlorine produced from a tablet, or shock, or bleach. Saltwater pools also do not use less chlorine than a pool treated with tablets/shock. The same amount of disinfectant is needed; chlorine demand does not change, when salt is added to the pool.
If you're lucky, the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for both chlorine delivery systems are almost equal. Over 5 or 10 years time, the aggregate costs of using tablets and shock, or using a salt chlorine generator are pretty close in cost.
If you're unlucky however, and you have problems with the circuit board or sensors, or if the salt cell lifespan is shorter than expected, the cost of using a saltwater system could be much higher than using chlorine tablets. Salt cell lifespan can be reduced by using it in cool water 60-70°, or from poor water balance. Systems that are not oversized for the pool become easily overworked, as do pools with regular algae or high debris levels.
This one, curiously enough, is not mentioned by Lonza, but it's rare that you won't ever need other forms of chlorine when you have a salt system installed. Remember that salt systems only create chlorine when the system is working, so if you have salt cell, sensor or controller problems, no chlorine is created. Also, if you have pump, filter or plumbing problems, and are unable to run the filter pump, no chlorine is created. It may be wise to keep some chlorine on hand for situations like these, as they arrive unexpectedly.
Secondly, although some saltwater systems have a shock feature, they are slow to react and using the feature puts a strain on the salt cell, operating at 100%. Many pool owners with (not oversized) salt systems may prefer to shock with granular chlorine, and it may be necessary, especially for spring pool openings or for algae removal, or decontamination of the pool. For plaster pools, granular chlorine is also a great pool stain remover.
This myth is easy to sell to the uninitiated, but you my dear reader are smarter than that! As established earlier, a saltwater system is a chlorine delivery system, and you won't need less chlorine using salt vs. chlorine tablets. You also won't need less other chemicals - pH, alkalinity or calcium adjusters for water balance - no change there. You will also still need to use cyanuric acid, or chlorine stabilizer. In fact, many manufacturers recommend a high-range level of 60-80 ppm of cyanuric acid, in an effort to reduce salt cell workload on sunny days. And, a pool that needs to use algaecide, clarifier, enzymes or a metal remover - will still need to use them, no matter how the chlorine is introduced into the pool.
This final myth has a small element of truth, but it's probably different than what you were thinking. Salt systems are still chlorine pools, and they also contain salt. Pumped or leeched into streams and estuaries, high levels of chlorine and/or salt can damage local ecosystems.
But salt systems redeem themselves due to the fact that when you make your own chlorine, you don't have to buy so much chlorine. And when you buy chlorine you probably drove down to pick it up, or had a delivery from a noisy brown truck, belching exhaust. Not to mention all of the other transportation that occurred to move the chlorine from the tableting facility, to the distributor and to the retailer.
With a salt system, you don't need to buy (much) chlorine, and this reduces factory chlorine production, which on a large factory scale, is not a very eco-friendly process. When you don't buy so much chlorine, year after year, and when millions of other pool owners do the same thing, chlorine production slows down.
And that's exactly what Lonza is upset about. Who can blame them; they're just protecting their own interests, and everything they say about Salt or Chlorine? is true. Salt systems are not going away, but the product is maturing, and (online) sales have been leveling off.
In my mind, I like choices, and a salt chlorine system is a perfectly valid option for swimming pool chlorination - just don't believe (all of) the hype!