What Does Converting a Pool from Chlorine to Salt Mean?
You've probably heard friends or neighbors praise their saltwater pools and yes, they're fantastic! But, what if you already own a traditional chlorine pool? Is it too late or too complex to switch?
Put simply, the process of converting a “freshwater” pool to a “saltwater” pool is essentially the addition of a new piece of equipment, a salt chlorine generator, and adding salt to the pool. However, to be more precise, there aren’t really two different “types” of pools. Rather, there are just two different methods for sanitizing the pool: buying and manually adding manufactured chlorine, or utilizing an electronic device to automatically generate chlorine within the pool system. So a chlorine pool can be converted to a salt pool simply by adding a salt chlorine generator to the pool.
The first step in this process involves choosing a saltwater chlorine generator. Selecting a properly sized salt chlorine generator model is one of the most critical steps. Once you have chosen your chlorine generator, the next steps are to install it and add the initial amount of salt to the pool. After the installation and addition of salt, the generator can begin to produce chlorine.
The final step in the conversion process involves adjusting the equipment to ensure that it consistently produces the correct amount of chlorine to maintain a clear sanitary pool.
Let's delve into the process and intricacies involved in converting to a salt water pool.
Choosing A Salt Pool System
When you convert a pool to salt water, you need to take the opportunity to choose a system that will be able to provide more than enough chlorination power. The primary factors influencing your choice of a salt system are pool size and your local climate. The basic rule of thumb is that the minimum system capacity should be 1 1/2 times the pool’s size. However, in locales with longer and warmer swimming seasons, or for pools that get heavier usage, you should plan on at least 2 times the pool’s size.
This is because the capacities that the industry goes by are essentially maximum limits. Put simply, a 20,000 max gallon system is inadequate for proper sanitation of a 20,000 gallon pool. For example, with a pool in New Jersey or Kansas, a 30,000 gallon system would be the starting point. Similarly, in Florida or Arizona, you would want at least a 40,000 max gallon unit.
Additionally, pools that experience heavier use will want to utilize higher chlorine output models as well. It is difficult to have a system that is too large. Instead, extra capacity allows you to compensate for increase chlorination demand after bad weather or other times when you might normally shock the pool. Even more importantly, a larger capacity salt chlorinator will last longer since it gets less daily wear-and-tear on a normal basis. See here for more information on sizing.
Put simply, a 20,000 max gallon system is inadequate for proper sanitation of a 20,000 gallon pool.
Salt System Installation
There are two basic aspects of salt chlorine generator installation*, the plumbing of the salt cell and the electrical connection of the control module. We won’t go into detail here - there are other resources for installation help - but the following should help give you a sense of what’s involved.
The salt system’s plumbing components must be installed after the pump, filter, and heater, as the last component the water flows through before reentering the pool. Roughly speaking, plumbing the salt system involves cutting a gap in the piping, placing the threaded collars on the pipe, gluing its unions on either side of the gap, and then screwing the system in place using the threaded collars.
With respect to your power connection, you typically want to put the salt system on the same circuit as the pool pump so they get turned off or on together. For many, this is a pool timer or controller relay. Some models can also be plugged into a nearby outdoor outlet. Salt chlorine generators can work with 110/120 or 220/240 volt power. Choosing the voltage is largely dependent on availability, with neither voltage being “better.” Most chlorinators are either voltage-sensing, or can be easily adjusted to the appropriate voltage.
With respect to your power connection, you typically want to put the salt system on the same circuit as the pool pump so they get turned off or on together.
Adding Salt To The Pool
With the rest of your water chemistry balanced, your pool’s conversion will be complete after adding sufficient salt to achieve the low level of salinity that the chlorine generator requires - often about 3,500 ppm. Appropriate salt is available at pool stores and home improvement stores. Anything labeled pool salt, as well as plain water softener salt is commonly used, but avoid salt that lists any additives, culinary salt, rock salt, and Himalayan salt. As long as it shows 99% sodium chloride, it should be proper for use in the pool.
The salt is added directly to the pool (not through the skimmer or into any other device). It can take 24-48 hours to fully dissolve the salt, so you can walk around as you add the salt to avoid creating one big pile of salt. Keep your pump running continuously at this point and consider brushing or sweeping the salt around if you’d like to speed up the process. Remember the amount of salt needed to convert your pool is minimal compared to how much water is present in the pool, and will bring the water to a very low level which is safe for equipment and surfaces.
"Remember the amount of salt needed to convert your pool is minimal compared to how much water is present in the pool, and will bring the water to a very low level which is safe for equipment and surfaces
Dialing In The Salt System
With your system installed and salt dissolved, your salt system will be able to begin producing chlorine. You’ll set it to work at a rate that matches your pool’s unique level of chlorine demand. The following is a general example; it may vary for you based on your pool size, chosen chlorine generator model, and your pool’s needs.
If you have little to no chlorine in the pool, start the system at a high level (say 80-100%), or at a medium level (say 50-70%) if the water is already chlorinated. Over the first week, or so, test the chlorine level every day or two. If the chlorine is climbing past your target level, adjust the chlorinator’s output down, and vice versa if the chlorine level isn’t high enough. Pretty soon, you will zero in on the right setting to meet your pool’s needs. If needed, the length of runtime can also be adjusted..
After this initial setup, continue to regularly test your pool’s water chemistry as normal, but you should see that chlorine level in the pool is consistent. Moving forward,though, the output level may need to be adjusted based on seasonal changes, weather events, or pool usage.
Over the first week, or so, test the chlorine level every day or two.
The process of converting your pool to salt chlorination is merely the addition of salt to the water and the installation of a new piece of equipment, a salt chlorine generator. You don’t typically need to replace any other equipment, drain your pool, or refill the water.
Installation is straightforward and can usually be completed by someone with basic DIY skills in less than an hour. It might even be a task for a handy friend. You can also hire a pool professional, electrician, plumber, handyman, or other qualified professional. Regardless, even if you enlist professional help, it should not run into thousands of dollars.
Bottom line: converting to a saltwater pool is both simple and cost-effective.
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*Installation should always be performed by a qualified individual. Follow all product manuals and written instructions, and follow all local codes.