Repairs, Maintenance and Renovations

June, 22 2022 Published by Golden Horseshoe Chapter - By Bill Clark

Are You Considering a Saltwater Pool for Your Condominium?

From the Volume 12, Summer 2022 issue of the CCI GHC Condo News Magazine

In 2009, because of my thirty years working in the Aquatics field, I was asked to investigate the possibility of converting our Condominium Complex pool to salt water. Many of our residents spent their winters in Florida and were exposed to salt water pools and the apparent positive influences on their bodies. After much research, I determined that under no circumstance, should we invest tens of thousands of our residences money on a pool system that was NOT cost effective, NOT easier to maintain and NOT really condusive to long term stability of both mechanical and the physical plant. (cement walls, tiles, ladders, etc.)

But that was in 2009, it is now 2022, and the question arises: Are Salt Water Pools any better today?

This article will look at the pros and cons of both saltwater and chlorine systems and enlist a few opinions and municipal restrictions that are faced today that did not exist in 2009.

PROS

  • •People like the “feeling” of “salt” water because the concentration of salt (typically 3000-5000 ppm) is closer to that of our own bodies (about 9000 ppm) than normal pool water: as a result there is less irritation of the eyes and skin. People think it feels soft. It will not fade or damage your swimsuit as much as chlorinated water.
  • •Initial conversion is very expensive but should pay for itself over 2-3 years.
  • •You do not need to store as much chlorine (CL2).
  • •Cleaning Safety - Chlorine mixes with sweat, saliva and urine and turns into other chemicals called chloramines. Chlorine kills contaminants in the water, but the chloramines remain and even more Chlorine is needed to remove the chloramines. Chloramines are harmful to your eyes and skin so they require you to add chlorine more frequently.
  • •Salt water pools stay arguably cleaner than chlorine pools. The constant flow of chlorine from the generators kills chloramines faster than Chlorine pools. This results in less harm to your skin and eyes.

CONS

  • Salt is corrosive. Heat exchangers and pumps can degrade in a matter of months.
  • Health Departments are still skeptical about accepting salt as a primary sanitizer. Your pool is still sanitized by chlorine.
  • Salt systems tend to drive up pH, so more acid must be used to control PH levels.
  • Maintenance costs increase: Salt must be added every day to compensate for salt being lost to backwashing/water replacement
  • Residual salt will accumulate wherever there is standing pool water present (small leaks around pumps, low areas on decks, etc.) increasing maintenance.
  • Chlorine pools are better at combating bacteria than salt water pools.
  • A Chlorine system will clear water within 24-48 hours vs. 3-5 days for a salt water pool.
  • Salt water pools may not require frequent upkeep but they must be closely monitored to avoid disaster. Although algae levels are much lower with regular monitoring, one slip-up could result in uncontrollable algae growth.
  • There is a growing body of evidence that salt accelerates the destruction of stone and cement. The electrolysis process has been cited as causing rapid deterioration of metals in the pool, such as heater parts, tile grout, ladders, handrails, light rings and even the metal doors, especially at the bottom of said doors.
  • Corrosion issues crop up when an existing chlorine pool is retrofitted /converted to a salt water system. If the original construction didn’t account for corrosive materials the effect of continual salt saturation can quickly destroy much of your pool.

I spoke to pool companies, a municipal saltwater pool operator and two condominium complexes who switched to saltwater. These are their comments:

  • The pool companies said that there is a slight trend in the business towards salt water pools, but to do it right, it will be expensive because you can only use high end salt resistant materials.
  • An interesting statement made by the representative of one pool company was that there are chemicals available today that will mimic the “softer” feel of a saltwater pool;
  • The municipal operator said that they were replacing ladders more frequently but that maintenance generally was the same as other municipal pools. The most challenging thing was trying to find materials that accommodated a saltwater pool as opposed to a chlorine pool;
  • The two Condominium Corporations I talked to took entirely different approaches: The one in Burlington was a retrofit. They removed the lining and exposed the cement sides and they replaced the heater with a better quality one. Maintenance is still the same and they have had no problems with the Health Dept. At this point there appears to be no deterioration of the mechanical or physical plant. The cost was approximately $50,000.
  • The second Condominium, in Hamilton, completely rebuilt their pool. The original pool was concrete with a vinyl liner. The liner was replaced with the highest quality grout and tiles available. They replaced all mechanical equipment and pipes to accommodate the salt. The job took 18 months and was close to seven figures.

The biggest concern today for salt water pools besides corrosion, is the municipalities who have put restrictions on how to drain your pool. The City’s of Hamilton, Toronto and London have created by-laws that restrict how pools can be drained and where they can be drained.

In all municipalities, there are two types of sewer drains:

i)Sanitary Sewers - This system collects sewage and wastewater from toilets and sinks in your home. This water goes to a water treatment plant where it is treated.

ii)Storm Sewers - This system collects rainwater, melted snow and surface water through storm grates that flow directly into the nearest creek, river or lake. This water is NOT treated. The fines are quite hefty, so they are very serious.

They even tell the residents how to drain their pools:

Chlorine Pools: The water from chlorine pools must be dechlorinated prior to discharging to the storm sewer system, but this should not be done during a rainy day as it will overwhelm the system. Municipalities also prefer that you let the pool sit for at least a week without feeding it chlorine to eliminate as much chlorine as possible, a chlorine reading of 0.0 is recommended before draining. If you do not follow these procedures you will be responsible for killing fish.

Salt Water Pools: The water from salt water pools has such high levels of chlorides that it must be carefully discharged to the sanitary system located on your property or hauled away by a Ministry of the Environment approved Water Hauler. Salt water is harmful to the environment if not properly handled and you can be subject to expensive fines if you take short cuts.

So, Saltwater pool – Yes or No???

In 2022 my personal feelings have not changed. However, as a Board when considering a change to salt water I would recommend that you:

1. Do your research!

i) Talk to other Condos who have switched and ask your Property Manager for names within their company and other Condo Management Companies that have dealt with pool conversions;
ii) Get references from the pool companies for any saltwater installations;
iii)If you can, find Condos who have switched back to chlorine from saltwater and ask WHY?

2.Are you considering a retrofit or a total rebuilding?

3.How much money are you willing to spend?

4.How long would the pool be down?

5.What are the municipal by-laws pertaining to salt water pools especially about draining the pool?

6.Will there be more maintenance?

7.Talk to your local Health Department about saltwater pools?


I would like to thank the following companies and /or organizations:
Buds Pools
Leigh Young of the City of Hamilton
Condominiums in both Hamilton and Burlington.

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