New wave of interest in saltwater swimming pools
Published 12:07 pm, Friday, May 30, 2014
A decade ago, backyard residential in-ground swimming pools were almost exclusively of the erosion-feeder variety -- traditional chlorine pool requiring 3-inch chlorine tablets to be placed into the feeder to sanitize the water.
Today, one pool professional estimates that 20 to 25 percent of residential swimming pools in Fairfield County use salt/chlorine generators. "And the interest is snowballing. ... We are selling tons of them," said Bob Russell, vice president of pool services for Glen Gate Company in Wilton, which services properties in Fairfield and Westchester counties. Russell is also director of the Connecticut Spa and Pool Association.
Russell said there are true saltwater pools, but the technology currently in vogue is the salt/chlorine generators. These types of pools are not completely chlorine-free as some people assume. The technology uses electrolysis to convert sodium chloride, or common table salt, into sodium and free chlorine, the latter being an industry term for the kind of chlorine that doesn't burn the eyes.
Russell said saltwater pool owners can dial in the exact amount of salt they need to produce chlorine rather than guessing, as is the case with erosion-feeder chlorinated pools. "It's far easier to control the chlorine levels," he said.
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These pools also are more eco-friendly.
"Because you're manufacturing your own chlorine, your own sanitizer, from low levels of salt in the water, that's less chlorine that's being transported over our roads, it's less chlorine being manufactured in our communities, it's less chlorine you've got to store on your property, so there's less potential for accidents that involve chemical spills," Russell said.
Some real estate professionals also are seeing a developing trend in saltwater pools.
"The feedback I get from our buyers and sellers is that they prefer the saltwater pools because they have lower levels of chlorine, are less likely to cause skin or eye irritation or damage hair. A lot of consumers are looking for healthier environments overall -- less toxins wherever they can make the changes in their homes," said Lori Prinz, an agent with Coldwell Banker Westport-Riverside.
Russell said he hears anecdotally from people who have saltwater pools that their hair and skin feel nicer when they get out of the pool and it's gentler on their eyes.
"To have a saltwater pool versus a traditional chlorinated pool is definitely a healthier choice, and there seems to be a trend towards building them or converting to saltwater. While saltwater pools have some chlorine, which naturally comes from the salt, the levels are far less toxic than the solution added to a chlorinated pool," said Laurie Crouse, also of Coldwell Banker.
Crouse and Prinz are business partners and currently have a listing at 42 Old Hill Road in Westport with a saltwater pool.
There are at least three other area properties on the market that feature such pools, including the Georgian Colonial house at 1599 Fence Row Drive in Fairfield.
The next owner of that residence will benefit from the foresight of the current homeowners, Christopher and Jen Bartlett. They had a saltwater pool installed in 2007. It includes a swim jet system, spa with waterfall, automatic safety cover and cabana, and is surrounded by a large bluestone terrace.
The initial cost is higher, but it pays for itself quickly and overall, it definitely requires less yearly maintenance and is less expensive to operate month-by-month. "We spend about $30 a season for salt. When we were first (getting quotes) it was going to be $50 to $60 a month for chlorinated items," Jen Bartlett said.
But finances were not part of the equation for the Bartlett family. "We felt it was a better option for our lives," said Bartlett, who grew up with a chlorinated pool in her backyard. "It was a natural option with far less chemicals. It doesn't damage your swimsuit or towels. Those were the important factors for us ... having young children and two water dogs," said Bartlett, whose pool also features an 11-foot round saltwater spa on a separate system, allowing the family to winterize the pool but keep the spa open year round.
The water doesn't taste salty or give off a chlorine smell. "People don't really notice until they jump in and then they realize there's something different," Bartlett said.
It doesn't taste salty because it's not like the water found in Long Island Sound. "It's actually one-tenth the salinity of ocean water," Russell said. Ocean water has 34,000 parts per million of salt. The salt/chlorine generator pools have 3,400 parts per million, "but that is enough NaCl, table salt, to manufacture chlorine to keep the pool sanitary," he said.
Surprisingly, manufacturing chlorine from dissolved salt is not new. Russell said it is an old technology that's coming back into popularity. He said saltwater was all the rage back in the 1980s, but then there was some push back because of staining and correction to limestone patios. He blames that, in part, on technicians' learning curve.
A lot of service technicians didn't know how to maintain them, he said. Initially, they didn't realize that cold water gives false low salt readings, so they would add too much salt. Only when the water reaches about 60 to 70 degrees are true readings achieved, Russell said.
Today's technology has indicator lights and self-diagnosing and self-cleaning features. And today's technicians are better trained, Russell said.
A recent state law requires a Connecticut service license for pool maintenance workers. It guarantees they have a particular level of training and passed a state exam, Russell said. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has a list of licensed pool service technicians.
"It's not the pool boy anymore. You really can't replace a well-trained, licensed pool technician who understands pool chemistry. It is an art and a science," Russell said.
For more information
For more information or to set up an appointment to see properties with saltwater pools, contact the following real estate agents:
- Colonial house at 42 Old Hill Road, Westport: Laurie Crouse (203-984-8154) and Lori Prinz (Lori.Printz@cbmoves.com), both of Coldwell Banker Westport-Riverside.
- Georgian Colonial house at 1599 Fence Row Drive, Fairfield: Pat Prenderville (203-984-9423) of Nicholas H. Fingelly Real Estate and Todd Gibbons (203-858-8525) of William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty.
- French Normandy-style house at 28 Sylvan Road North, Westport: Vera Ruud (203-722-2230) of William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty.