Real Estate: Saltwater right in your own backyard

07/11/2011 11:49 AM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Islandia Pools owner John Wysoczanski at his home in Baiting Hollow, where he switched to the non-chlorine Mineral Springs cell salt system 12 years ago and plans on switching again soon to a non-chlorine Ecosmart system which uses a titanium and cooper cell.

The days when a dip in a backyard pool meant dry skin and the pungent chemical smell of chlorine are slowly disappearing, pool repairmen and installers say.

Chlorine generators, which make the sanitizing chemical from salt and other solutions, are replacing the chalky, toxic tabs of yesteryear, said Keith Schroeder, a retail associate at Arthur Edwards Pool & Spa Centre’s Miller Place office. The company, which also has locations in Jamesport and Coram, each day switches about three pools to chlorine generation, while nearly every new pool Arthur Edwards installs is saltwater, Mr. Schroeder said.

“Interest in saltwater pools picked up a lot more about three years ago,” Mr. Schroeder said.

Depending on pool size, chlorine generators range from $1,000 to $3,000 in price, said Bill Birkmier, the owner of Eastern Long Island Pool and Spa in Mattituck, adding that the systems still require the same filter and pumps as regular tab pools. The generator for a standard 20X40 in-ground pool costs about $2,500, he said.

The upfront cost is more expensive than a regular chlorine tab system, but pool owners can earn back their money over time because they no longer have to buy tabs, said C.J. Del Vaglio, the owner of East End Pool King in Peconic. Mr. Birkmier estimated the buyback period for the generator to be about two to two and a half years.

The generators work by passing salted pool water over an electrified cell, which splits the salt into one of its base molecules, hypochlorous acid, a form of chlorine, Mr. Del Vaglio said. The chlorine sanitizes the water, then bonds with the salt and runs over the generator’s cell again, splitting and sanitizing the water. The process sounds self-sustaining, but Mr.  Del Vaglio cautioned that saltwater pools are not maintenance free.

To ensure the longevity of the chlorine generator and pool lining, Mr. Del Vaglio recommends balancing pool water and vacuuming weekly. Local pool installers interviewed in this article said that they haven’t had any bleached liners, but online reports on saltwater pools said it could be an issue.

Mineral deposits on the cell’s generator could be another issue. If left unchecked, deposits could crust over the metal blades in the generator’s cell, making it less effective at converting salt into chlorine, said Debbie Psillos of RWI Stingray Pools in Middle Island, which serves all of the North and South forks.

With regular maintenance, Mr. Psillos has seen chlorine generators last up to seven years, but she recommends homeowners start to think about potentially needing a new one after as little as three years.

James Cahill of Riverhead, who has an alternative version of a saltwater pool called a Mineral Springs pool, has his generator’s cell cleaned seasonally, though some pool experts say the process only needs to be done every three years. Mr. Cahill said a pool maintenance company will put the blades in an acid wash, cleaning off buildup, he said.

The process costs about $95 and takes about an hour, he said. He’s had his generator for eight years.

John Wysoczanski of Islandia Pools in Riverhead installed Mr. Cahill’s Mineral Springs pool eight years ago, before it became a trend on Long Island. The Mineral Springs system, distributed by BioGuard, uses the same generator as saltwater pools, but, instead of regular pool salt, it produces chlorine from BioGuard’s proprietary mixture of buffers and additives, Mr. Wysoczanski said. The end result is water that feels softer and is less salty than a regular saltwater pool, he said.

“In a salt system, it tastes salty,” Mr. Wysoczanski said. “It’s like getting out of the Sound.”

Mr. Del Vaglio said the water in a regular saltwater pool is not like the ocean, and is better than a chlorine pool because swimmers do not feel like they have to shower after. He compared the salinity of the pool to teardrops.

Metal equipment in pools, like ladders and light fixtures, could rust quicker in saltwater pools than tab ones, Mr. Del Vaglio said.

Salt eats away at some metals, unless they’re properly bonded and grounded, he said.

One way to combat the problem is by putting a “sacrificial anode,” or easily-rusted metal in the pool’s plumbing, Mr. Del Vaglio said, a solution that costs about $150. The salt eats the easily-rusted metal first, extending the life of ladders and light fixtures.

Mr. Cahill, the Mineral Springs pool owner, said even though he was skeptical at first, he is happy with the results, and has recommended it to friends.

“It changed the water so dramatically, it was a good choice,” Mr. Cahill said. “What I really liked about it, because I have a vinyl lined pool, it that it doesn’t bleach out the lining.”

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