Converting to a Saltwater Pool Converting to a Saltwater Pool

There are many benefits in converting to a saltwater pool. You don’t have to purchase any more chlorine tablets and shock the water, and you also ditch the annoying effects of chlorine—like the itchy skin, red eyes, and smell. While a saltwater conversion sounds complicated, turning your pool into a saltwater paradise is an easy process that can be done over the weekend.

Choosing a System

Saltwater systems vary by pool sizes and range anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 gallons. The salt system you select needs to big enough to fit your pool size. It's perfectly fine, however, to get a larger system than your pool requires. Oversized systems lead to smaller run times, which extends the life of your salt cell. You can expect to pay at least $400 for a small system and up to $2,000 for a higher-end setup. More expensive models usually come with extra features, such as controlling equipment inside the pool, self-cleaning and diagnostics, and digital readouts. When picking a salt system, keep an eye on how much it costs to replace the cell, as these can run as high as $700 per replacement.

Draining the Pool

In most cases, you do not need to drain the pool to convert to a saltwater system. Draining the pool is a good idea, however, if your pool currently uses some kind of antibacterial agent, as these are sometimes incompatible with chlorine. If you want to avoid draining the pool, you can burn out the agent by using a lot of chlorine. This process takes a few days and you will need to wait until the agent has dissipated before moving forward with the salt water conversion.

Balancing Pool Water

A pool with chemicals in the foreground.

You need to balance your pool water before you change its chemistry. To do this, test the levels of chlorine, alkalinity, pH, stabilizer, calcium hardness, and heavy metals. Once the water is completely balanced, you can start adding salt to the water.

Pool Liner Considerations

Adding salt to the water can corrode the metal surfaces that line your pool, so you need to make sure your liner is in good shape to protect outer walls. A lot of inground pools have liners that protect galvanized walls. If you get a leak in the liner, the saltwater will slowly corrode the steel, which could lead to an expensive repair down the road. If you have a vinyl liner, you do not need to worry about switching to a saltwater system. The same holds true for resin above ground pools, though you need to keep an eye on metal parts that come in contact with the water.

Shut Off Electricity

Before you start the installation, make sure you turn off power where you will be installing the new unit. Keep the electricity off until you need to test the new system.

Add Salt

Someone adding salt to a pool.

With the water balanced and everything else checked, you can add salt to the pool. You will need to use non-iodized salt for this process. The amount of salt you need will vary depending on your pool size, but the installation manual will provide the necessary information about the desired salt concentration. You need to wait until the salt has fully dissolved before moving forward.

Install the Controller

The next step is to install the new chlorinator controller and wire it up. You should install the controller close to where the pool equipment pad is located. Wiring for power varies depending on the type of controller being used. Some models get straight from the circuit while others need to be hooked up to the pool pump.

Install Salt Cell

The salt cell (also called chlorinator cell) is the driving force behind a saltwater pool. The installation of the cell requires a little bit of basic plumbing skills and varies depending on your setup. The cell should be installed after the pump, filter, and heater as you want it to be the last thing the water goes through before entering the pool. Once the salt cell is in place, you can connect it to the controller.

Testing

With the new system in place, engage the pool pump and inspect the plumbing for any leaks. Run the pump for a few hours to circulate the water and help dissolve salt. Once that is done, you can turn on the salt cell and enjoy.

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