Should I buy a Salt Chlorination System (Chlorinator) for my pool?
Why do people purchase salt chlorinators?
I honestly think that it's because of hype. Misinformation by both pool "guys" and pool owners alike flood the internet and make these systems out to be the "magic bullet" to pool maintenance. There are people that have been told and or read that a salt pool takes care of itself and they don't have to test it!!! That simply is not the case. These systems are handy and convenient in that you don't have to purchase chlorine. Most of our customers are buying a 50 pound bucket of chlorine every 2 years so it's not like that is a huge chore anyway. Spending $1800 on a system to not spend $150 per year is not a wise economic decision. That's a 12 year return on investment IF your cell lasts that long which it won't.
Who should buy a Salt Chlorine generator?
For owners of vinyl and especially gunite this is a very different story. There ARE concrete pool owners in the south who absolutely spend $2000 per year on chlorine. For that owner it makes sense to spend $1800 or so to NOT spend $2000 per year. For a vinyl owner that's spending $400 or more on chlorine in the Midwest that may make sense too. Five year return on investment plus the convenience isn't too bad. But again this is not maintenance free! It's just less maintenance.
Who Should not have a salt chlorine generator?
The owner with well water. Plain and simple. It complicates the water chemistry and frankly becomes a net loss. The purpose of the system is to help make the ownership experience easier and streamlined. Well water coupled with a salt generator does the opposite. The reason may not be so apparent.
Water has the ability to hold and suspend only so much solid material. We call this TDS or Total Dissolved Solids. When the salt system is set up and installed we add 300 to 400 pounds of salt to reach a 2800 to 3200 ppm level. When the owner adds well water with a high mineral (lime, iron, calcium, etc.) content or worse softened water, they have increased the TDS in the water. When the water evaporates the minerals ALL STAY BEHIND IN THE POOL. The owner then adds more water to top off the pool and in turn MORE solids. If you ever made Kool Aid and liked to add extra powder like I did you know that eventually the powder will not dissolve anymore. The water has reached its maximum TDS. When this happens in a pool the water expels the minerals and they cling and stick to the sides of the pool, waterline. Some call that scaling, the medical field calls it "salting out" and I call it a problem.
To be fair the TDS can be managed through SOME chemicals like metal out and other sequestering agents. The real way however is to drain some of the pool water and replace it. Doable? Yes but isn't the reason we are talking about a salt system is for lower maintenance and our headaches not add to it?
Read more on Salt CL systems and how they work at:
What is a Salt Pool?
How To Take Care of a Salt Pool
Salt Water Chlorine Generators: History, Types, Operation, and Considerations