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I first learned about saltwater pools from a friend who's summer project one year was about $120,000 worth of backyard landscaping which included, among other things, a saltwater pool with a waterfall. I had never heard of a saltwater pool before, and he explained that the main reason he used a saltwater solution in his pool was to reduce the operating costs. I thought saltwater pools were exotic technology but it turns out they are definitely cheaper to operate and maintain than traditional treated pools. Thankfully Intex, and many other manufacturers, make this equipment at a reasonable price so you don't have to be a millionaire to enjoy the technology.
1. General Explanation:
A chlorine generator is a new type of support equipment for recreational pools that eliminates the cost of purchased chlorine. Pools equipped with a chlorine generator, available in either stand alone units or in combination with a pump, generate chlorine automatically using the pool water itself and thereby avoid the cost associated with purchasing chlorine.
In order to utilize a chlorine generator, the pool water must be converted from a freshwater pool to what is called a "saltwater pool". This is accomplished by adding approximately 20 lbs of salt per 1000 gallons of fresh water. The salinity (saltiness) of the pool may be adjusted up and down according to the requirements of the manufacturer of the chlorine generator. Techncially, this low level of salinity is still considered fresh water by drinking water standards.
The chlorine generator is installed in the pool's existing pump and filter system, or can be purchased as an all in one unit such as the Intex Combination pump/generator for kiddie pools. In an existing piping circuit, it is installed after the filter. The unit generates pure chlorine by passing the pool water -- now a saltwater solution -- between titanium plates that are electrically charged. When the saltwater passes through this electrical field, a chemical reaction produces pure chlorine and some hydrogen gas. This treated (chlorinated) water enters the pool and within minutes kills any biological or bacterial growth. The remaining chlorine decomposes and breaks down with exposure to sunlight, and the dead biological material is removed from the pool by the pump and filter system.
The genius of this system is that it self regenerates making the purchase of chlorine unnecessary.The salt used by the process to generate chlorine is returned to the pool as salt when the chlorine breaks down. Therefore salt is not consumed and does not need to be added, it just continually recirculates through the process. It is necessary to add water to the pool to replace water lost to evaporation and splash-out. It is sometimes necessary to add a bit of salt every now of then to replace salt physically removed from the pool with splash-out, but since salt does not evaporate like the water does, you will not add salt very often.
The final concentration of the saltwater in a saltwater pool is frankly, not very much. It is approximately one-tenth the salinity of ocean water, or roughly the same salinity as tears. The light amount of salinity in the pool is much easier on your eyes, skin and hair than a freshwater pool with chlorine added.
The pool water is not salty enough to kill my grass (Kentucky Blue in the Midwest). And I am not talking about minor splashes, I mean about 1000 gallons of saltwater drained from the pool onto the lawn (kids pulled the drain plug for "fun"). This flooded a small area several inches deep in saltwater that took overnight to soak in. The grass didn't react at all or even change color, but I admit I was worried for a few days at first. Now in the fall I drain the pool onto the lawn and don't worry about it.
The final comfort benefit of a saltwater pool is that swimmers are not exposed to the extra chemicals that are added to purchased chlorine that make it possible to store and transport it. Purchased chlorine is not just chlorine, it also contains chemical stabilizers and binder agents. Without these stabilizing agents, you would not be able to purchase chlorine in the store because it would have decomposed weeks after leaving the manufacturer. And sunlight decomposes chlorine within a matter of hours. It is these by-products of purchased chlorine that cause most of the discomfort associated with traditional pools, resulting in the usual bleached hair and clothing and irritation to the eyes.
A saltwater chlorinator does not run 24 hours per day, nor is it necessary to. It puts out a fixed amount of chlorine per hour, therefore the required dosage is achieved by varying the run time. Example: 2000 gallons = 1 hour run time, 4000 gallons = 2 hours run time, and generally, hotter weather = more run time.
2. My Ownership Experiences
I have been a user of the Intex brand combination pump, filter and chlorine generator for many years on a 2500 gallon Intex Easy Set backyard pool and here are some comments.
- It sounds like overkill but converting this kiddie pool to a saltwater solution was a very good decision. I ran this same pool as a freshwater pool for one season with the supplied 380 gph pump before converting to saltwater, and that was difficult, as the pump you get with the 30 inch by 12 foot pool is way too small to be effective. Furthermore one miss with the chemicals in hot weather and the pool would flash to green (algae growth) in as short as two days -- as in going away for the weekend -- and in most cases I could not recover the pool and had to drain it and start over. Once I converted this pool to the saltwater solution, and installed the 2000 gph combination Intex / pump chlorinator unit, the pool became a reliable source of family fun with much less cost and hassle.
- The difference in operating cost and convenience between freshwater chlorination and running the pool as a saltwater pool are significant. In my case I saved money at a rate of $100 per 1,250 gallons of water per season compared to the foibles of trying to run this kiddie pool with fresh water, adding chemicals, and recovering the pool when it turned green. Additionally the salt water system is much less chemical maintenance as I never had to add purchased chlorine, and that is where most of the savings come from.
- The salt water appears to be much more stable and recoverable than a fresh water pool. The few times that I have made a mistake with the chlorinator and "lost" the pool (let it flash to green during hot days) I have been able to recover it completely with only a pound of Shock-n-Swim (Wal-Mart, Target) back to clear swimmable water, followed by a couple of doses of Ph Minus (Sulfamic acid) to get the Ph back down. This was not possible with the pool when it was fresh water only! With fresh water I had to start over nearly each time -- sometimes due to failure of the treatment, and others due to the amount of shock residue on the bottom of the pool when it did work. Overall it appears there is some benefit to the saltwater solution in terms of stability and recoverability.
- I have saved at least $200 per summer on chemicals, re-drains and refills, etc with my 2500 gallon Intex Easy-Set saltwater pool and the Intex combination chlorine generator / pump compared to a freshwater pool and chemicals alone.
- The Intex directions, and many sites on the Internet all say not to use Iodized salt because it will turn the pool water and lining yellow due to the iodine. I found this not to be true -- at first by mistakenly using Iodized salt -- and then after that I confirmed it the next year by using iodized salt again on purpose due to the fact that it can be purchased conveniently. Despite using iodized salt, the water is clear -- no yellowing and not even a slight departure from clear colorless water. If you think about it, if it were true that Iodine would leach out and turn the pool water yellow, it should also turn a glass of saltwater in your kitchen yellow (it doesn't) or stain plates and dishware (it doesn't) or turn the inside of the salt shaker yellow during those humid summer months (it's never happened). So I am really not sure where the "Don't use Iodized Salt" rule comes from, because it does not apply in my case (Gordon Food Service iodized salt 25 lb bags).
- The neighbors, their kids, and my children love the feel of the saltwater pool and the fact that it does not sting their eyes or bleach their clothes and hair. It is a very comfortable swim.
- The pump is easy to operate. It has an on/off switch, a 2-digit digital display with red LED's, a yellow LED to tell you when it is programmed, a green LED to indicate when the chlorinator is energized and two pushbutton up/down arrow keys to enter the program run time. The digital display flashes 2-digit codes to let you know what operating state it is in, and it also uses this display to notify you of any problems.
- The supplied filter is rugged and effective. You do not throw it away each time, you just rinse it clean with the garden hose. This needs to be done about once a week and as often as once every two days in extremely hot weather. Toss the filter after each season because the rinsing beats it up a little.
- The Intex combination pump / filter / chlorinator is a nice unit, it is splash proof with plastic fittings, membranes over switches, sealed housings and stainless steel screws. When you power it on, it enters a default startup mode with the pump running continuously (and water beng filtered) and will stay like this indefinitely until you program it. It takes a few button pushes to program it with the necessary run time in increments of 1 hour and it executes the program and then shuts down the pump. It repeats the program every 24 hours, automatically starting and stopping the pump, so it treats the pool each day, a handy thing when you go on vacation. The keypad to enter the run time has only two keys -- an up and down arrow -- and this keypad can be locked with a pushbutton sequence so the kids can't mess with it and erase the program.
- The Intex combo unit is smart, too. It will not operate if the salt level is wrong and will tell you with codes on the digital display if the salt concentration is either too high or too low, so it's easy to run the system and adjust the pool for effective operation.
- When the green light is on, it is possible to verify the chlorinator is working by testing for chlorine, so you can fine-tune the operating time to generate the amount of chlorine you need based on your pool size. The Intex combo unit can bring 2500 gallons from zero to middle range in about 15 minutes and completely treated in only 1 hour, so it has quite a bit of capacity regarding pool size. The 30 inch by 12 footer I use appears to be the smallest pool you can treat with it, because you can't program it for less than 1 hour.
- Intex appears to be a good company and honored their 1-year warranty when I had a unit break down on me only 2 weeks before the warranty expired. When my first unit gave me a problem that just could not be resolved, I called their 800 number and of all things, the service person I spoke to reminded me about the warranty! As instructed, I faxed proof of purchase and an explanation of the problem to their office in California and in 10 days they had shipped me a brand new unit free of charge. I was very impressed with this prompt and professional service from what is basically an import company. I really could not believe they honored their warranty and fully expected the usual excuses, so score one for Intex for great service.
- I am sure you want to know what went wrong with my first unit. As it turns out, the problem was due to a false instruction in the operating manual. The correct way to exit the "programming" is to press the down arrow for 5 seconds (it beeps) then press the up arrow for another 5 seconds (it beeps) then the keypad locks and the program executes. After a few moments while the unit checks itself, the green light comes on (indicating it is producing chlorine) and the timer counts down the hours on the digital display. The owner's manual says as a short cut, you can exit the programming faster by pressing both arrow keys at once for 5 seconds. When you do this, the unit beeps, locks the keyboard, and begins the program with the hours counting down on the display just as before. But the green light never comes on, and the unit does not produce chlorine either. It just runs the pump. This is not mentioned in the operator manual and it was the reason for my warranty claim... I thought the chlorinator broke... live and learn.
- A minor issue I have with the Intex combination pump / filter / chlorinator unit is, when the unit is programmed for chlorination it will shut off the filter pump when it is not running. This is sometimes not desireable. It will re-start in 24 hours and execute the program again with the pump and filter running as it is supposed to. However when it gets very hot in the summer I shut the unit off (to erase the program) and then turn it back on in order to let the pump run 24 hours per day to keep the water clean. It is during these times when I forget to re-program the chlorinator cycle that the pool will flash to green. It would be nice if the chlorinator and pump were on separate timers, but they are not, and this is only a minor inconvenience during the hottest of summer weather (more so if you are forgetful).
- The Intex web site, with FAQ is www.intexstore.com. There, saved you some Googling.
- The only problem I had with the whole Intex installation had nothing to do with the chlorinator but the Easy Set pool. I mention it here because the solution I found is bulletproof. The problem with the Intex pools are keeping the external shut off valves attached to the rubber hose fittings that are part of the pool. The valves refused to hold when crimped onto these soft plastic fittings and were always leaking and falling off due to a lack of grip. I finally fixed the problem by pressing a 1" diameter, 1" long piece of 316 stainless steel pipe inside the hose fittings on the pool. The pipe insert reinforced the hose fitting from the inside, allowing the valve fittings to clamp down on them and generate some gripping force to seal and hold the valves in place. Once I installed these stainless inserts in the nubs on the pool, the whole setup became completely trouble free. This is especially relevant because if you upgrade to the Intex Combo unit (2000 gal per hour) from the standard pump (380 gal per hour) the Combo unit's pump pulls so much vaccum on the intake side that if you have a leak in the hose or fitting, the pump will pull air backwards through the leak into the intake hose, causing the pump to caviate and it will not pump water despite the fact that's its running.
I hope you found this review to be a big help, as reviews like this on the Web, with real life ownership comments, are nearly impossible to find! If you found it helpful please take a moment to vote Yes, and if you liked it so much that you copied it to your Web site please credit it to m7powers on Ebay! Thanks and have a nice day.
ADDITIONAL NOTES AFTER THREE YEARS OF USE:
I get a lot of questions (and you are welcome to send them to me!) about the Intex combination filter unit. Here are some pointers that keep coming up over many years:
1) The first thing to remember is that the Intex combination unit is a low-end unit. Meaning, it is the cheapest unit in the marketplace to offer this kind of technology. This being a low-end unit you will have to cater to it a bit more than the thousand dollar sand filter systems that are available. For the system to stay healthy circulation must be maintained, this means you will have to rinse the filter every five days or so during hot weather and every week clean out the screen in front of the pump intake and the stainless mesh screen in front of the chlorinator unit. Keep the unit clean and you will be OK.
2). After three years of use I still like this unit and here is why. It does what it says it will do. It continues to perform despite the fact it is a low-end, low priced, entry level piece of equipment. At first glance it seems like the unit and accessories would only be good for a season or two, but they are so carefully engineered and the plastics so well chosen they continue to function as designed despite their low cost. Being a mechanical engineer it is almost nothing short of a miracle to me these plastic valves, fittings, bulkhead parts, and rubber O-rings continue to function properly and remain water tight after three seasons of assembly and disassembly and rude storage shows the parts were carefully designed and the plastics well specified for exposure to salt water and UV rays from the sun. Replacement parts are cheap too, available on the Intex website.
3). When you go to the larger 18 foot diameter pool with the screw in bulkhead fittings, life gets much easier. These fittings and the large 4" nut that secures them to the pool can be made water tight with only hand tightening. If yours is leaking, it means it is off center relative to the hole in the pool. Loosen it (even with water in the pool), slide it over a bit and retighten. The leak will stop with just hand pressure.
4). The best accessory you can purchase for this pool is a solar cover and NOT the intex one. Get a professional, heavy plastic floating cover (the kind that is made like super heavy duty bubble wrap), cut it to size to fit inside the pool, and put it on the pool when it is not in use no matter what the weather is like. There are four good reasons for this 1) The cover will keep bugs, dust, blowing seeds and grass out of the pool and extend the time between filter cleanings 2) The cover will shield the pool from the sun's UV rays and preserve the chorine content, 3) the heavy, professional cover will not blow off when the wind blows because it is stuck to the water completely inside the pool ring. The INTEX cover wraps over the side of the inflatable ring, collects the wind blowing up the side of the pool underneath it and blows away, and 4) the cover will prevent evaporative cooling of the pool which with even a light breeze can approach thousands of BTU's of cooling power, like a giant cup of coffee. And oh yeah, the sun will heat the pool when this cover is on. But the other benefits are more important.
5). Now that you have your plastic pool cover, follow this regimen: Cover the pool in the evening and set your chlorination cycle for three hours. The pool with chlorinate rapidly (because it's dark) and shock itself overnight; literally sitting there killing all the bacteria in the pool for 8 hours or so. Come daybreak, remove the cover when it's time to swim and the pool will still be chlorinated from the night before. Repeat this cycle each night and the pool will stay crystal clear without much other effort. Thanks for reading, I will post more tips as questions come in! Don't forget to vote!