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The future of saltwater pools

Boy at the swimming pool
With only one-tenth the salinity of ocean water, saltwater pools are gentle on bather’s skin and eyes.

By Bob Harper

In any given season, the swimming pool industry sees its fair share of new products and technologies. Some are fads that come and go, while others such as passive ionizers or biguanides, which were introduced in the ’90s, experience initial rapid growth and then settle into a niche category. A few become really popular because they create real value. Over time their popularity grows and they become established as they evolve to match changing consumer expectations.

Saltwater pools fall into the latter category. They became popular about 10 years ago and have continued to grow throughout Canada, simply because pool owners love them and they deliver real value.

It is not hard to see why, either. With only one-tenth the salinity of ocean water, saltwater pools are gentle on bather’s skin and eyes, and most consumers prefer it over traditional chlorinated pools. Pool maintenance is also more convenient, since pool owners do not have to test and adjust chlorine levels daily. They also do not have to purchase, transport, handle, and store chlorine.

While consumers may not like working with chlorine or swimming in chlorinated water, research has shown they trust it to sanitize their pools. Chlorine has a long history of saving lives through treated drinking and wastewater. In swimming pools, it acts as both a sanitizer and oxidizer. It works at low levels (just one part per million [ppm] of free available chlorine [FAC] sanitizes pool water and kills pathogens). Further, it can be measured via simple, inexpensive testing, which is important for pool sanitation systems.

For these reasons, chlorine is the most effective method for sanitizing pools. While both traditionally sanitized pools and saltwater pools rely on chlorine for sanitation, saltwater pools produce chlorine at poolside, within the electrolytic chlorine generator (ECG). This means saltwater pool owners have the confidence of chlorine without the feel of chlorinated water or the hassle of adding the chemical on a daily basis.

So, saltwater pools are here to stay, and they are growing in popularity each year. In this regard, the following are some general trends pool professionals can leverage to their benefit.

Maintenance, renovation, and repair markets

During recessions, new pool construction typically declines. Consumers focus on protecting and repairing what they currently have rather than splurging on new purchases—particularly luxury investments like swimming pools. However, if consumers already have pools, they are likely to protect and maintain their investment.

Pool professionals can leverage this mindset to create new opportunities for salt systems. For example, if a pool needs to be partially drained for repair, it can be a good time to recommend a switch to salt, particularly if customers travel and cannot be tied to daily chlorine testing during the season. Or, perhaps customers cannot justify an expensive vacation, but they can justify making minor upgrades to their swimming pool so they can vacation at home (i.e. the ‘staycation’). Even if consumers are cutting back elsewhere and avoiding new purchases, maintaining their pool is still important to them.

Another trend worth mentioning is the increasing conversion rate of traditional chlorine pools to saltwater pools—even if a repair or a renovation is not necessary. This represents additional opportunity for equipment, salt, and treatment product sales for retail businesses.

Understanding general trends and customer mindsets can help a pool store provide its customers with the best pool experience possible. As trusted experts, pool professionals can recognize opportunities like these to solve problems and provide value.

Pairing with other sanitation systems

While alternative sanitation systems like ozone and ultraviolet (UV) disinfection systems are growing in popularity, they are not considered standalone systems because their residual cannot be easily tested and measured. Each of these alternative systems has certain strengths as well as weaknesses that make their sanitation process incomplete.

For example, while chlorine kills micro-organisms, UV systems sterilize them so they cannot reproduce and, therefore, simply die out. This can be somewhat effective in the long-term, but results in slower kill times.

Pairing these alternative systems with an ECG unit gives pool owners the best of both worlds:

  • First, it gives them an easier way to measure residuals. This is critical for commercial pools, but it also gives residential pool owners peace of mind that proper levels of sanitizers are present;
  • Second, it provides a strong balance between sanitization (killing micro-organisms) and oxidation (eliminating micro-organism remains). Coupling an ozone system with chlorine provides extra oxidation, allowing the chlorine from salt systems to do less oxidizing and more sanitizing; and
  • Third, it improves kill times for UV systems, which simply sterilize rather than kill.

Many pool professionals are leveraging these combinations to differentiate their business from their competition, while at the same time helping customers upgrade their pools.

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