Saltwater vs Freshwater Pools: Cost and Maintenance

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Installing a pool is the perfect reprieve from summer’s sun and heat, just don’t let the excitement of finally having a way to cool off and relax get in the way of wise decision making. Both saltwater and freshwater pools come with their advantages and disadvantages. Depending on how you plan on using your pool, your time, and your resources you’ll need to decide if the good outweighs the bad. So, before you jump in, here’s what you need to know when if comes to the cost and maintenance of both types of swimming pools.

What’s the Difference?

When it comes to creating a backyard oasis, you need to first decide whether you want a saltwater pool or a freshwater pool. But, before you can make that decision you need to understand the difference between the two.

Both saltwater and freshwater pools use chlorine to sanitize and purify the water. However, each of these pools uses it in different ways.

Saltwater Pools

A common misconception when it comes to saltwater pools is that it essentially like having the salty water of the ocean in your backyard. While there is salt in the water, it is no where near the salinity of ocean water.

Salt water pools use a special system that converts salt into chlorine using a salt chlorine generator. Because you are creating chlorine on site rather than using liquid additive or tablets, you don’t need as much, you’ll have more consistent levels, and you won’t have any smell. Additionally, the lower levels of chlorine mean that you’ll escape the damaging effects chlorine has on your body, hair, eyes, and favorite swimsuit.

Using a salt chlorine generator means you need to add non-anondized salt or purified pool salt to your pool. You want to avoid using regular table salt, rock salt, or solar salt to avoid any staining or malfunctioning of the generator. Note that while you’re adding salt to the water, it will be diluted enough that your pool water won’t have a salty taste. However, it will still have enough salt that there is a risk of your pool rusting, especially if it is a steel or aluminium above ground pool. Resin pools or vinyl pool liners are relatively good at resisting salt damage.

Freshwater Pools

Freshwater pools, on the other hand, need to have much greater chlorine levels in order to keep the pool safe and sanitized. Unlike saltwater pools that generate their own chlorine, you’ll need to add chlorine tablets or granules to get the chlorine to a level that will kill the algae and bacteria. This can lead to peaks and valleys in your chlorine levels, which can lead to needing to shock your pool more often.

Because freshwater pools tend to need more chlorine, it can have a pungent chlorine smell. Additionally, swimmers may experience skin and eye irritation or dried out hair. However, the chlorinated water does not damage the pool or any of the surrounding surfaces, making it a good solution for any type of pool.

It is important to remember that the chemicals needed to sanitize a freshwater pool need to be carefully stored to prevent harm. Chlorine and other pool chemicals should be stored in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated space. Proper storage and use instructions can be found on the packaging of all pool chemicals.

Are Saltwater or Freshwater Pools More Expensive?

When it comes to determining whether saltwater or freshwater pools are more expensive, you should decide whether the initial investment or annual costs is more important.

If you’re looking for a cheaper initial investment, then a freshwater pool is the way to go. All you need to invest in is the chlorine tablets, a way to put it in the pool, and testing equipment. Additionally, a freshwater pool can be cheaper because the chlorine can be put directly in the pool with zero energy cost. However, in the long-run you’ll have to continuously use new product each week which quickly adds up and you’ll have additional expenses in chemicals to shock the pool more frequently.

If you’re looking for cheaper annual costs, then seriously consider a saltwater pool. While the initial cost of the salt chlorine generator and its installation can be expensive, you can quickly realize cost savings sinch the daily cost of operation is much lower than freshwater pools. Pool salt is relatively cheap and does not need replenished as frequently as the chlorine in freshwater pools. This means that even with the generator’s energy costs, daily operations of a saltwater pool is still more affordable. Plus, you’ll also realize cost savings when you don’t have to replace your swimsuit as frequently and you can skip buying special hair products to deal with chlorine-damaged hair.

Essentially, your cost breakdown is:

  • Initial Investment
    • Saltwater Pools: $500-$2,000 for salt chlorine generator + approx. $500 installation fee
    • Freshwater Pools: <$100 in initial chlorine (no installation required)
  • Annual Costs
    • Saltwater Pools: $100-$400 in pool salt + electricity + generator cells ($200-$700 replaced every few years)
    • Freshwater Pools: $300-$1,000 in chlorine, oxidizers, and other pool chemicals

In the end, determining whether saltwater or freshwater pools are more expensive is subjective based on which type of cost is more important to you right now. However, keep in mind that in addition to monetary costs, saltwater pools offer more health benefits while you increase your chlorine exposure with freshwater pools.

What About Maintenance?

While cost is important, perhaps the most important aspect of pool ownership is the level of maintenance that it will require. Pool maintenance can be looked at in two ways: maintaining the quality of the water and maintaining the fittings, fixtures, and other infrastructure.

Even though salt water can be corrosive, a saltwater pool can be far cheaper and easier to maintain than a freshwater pool. All you have to do is add a bag of pool salt and then the system self-maintains the chlorine level for up to two weeks. Once it’s time to add more salt, the process is easy. However, in order to keep your system working properly, it’s important to check the cells in your generator, and clean them, two to four times a year. You’ll likely need to replace a few cells every couple of years. Plus, you’ll still need to regularly check your pool’s pH levels and shock your pool occasionally. You’ll also need to check you pool fixtures occasionally for signs of rust and replace them as needed.

When it comes to freshwater pools there is no equipment to maintain. However, you will need to manually add chemicals every week to keep the chlorine levels where they need to be. This can lead to drastic fluctuation in the chemical levels in your pool. If the chlorine gets too low you’ll need to shock your pool. Because the system is not self-maintaining, like saltwater pools, your freshwater pool will need shocked more frequently. However, while there is more day-to-day maintenance on freshwater pools, you won’t need to check for signs of rust or corrosion like you need to with saltwater pools.

Which One Is Better?

Determining whether a saltwater or freshwater pool is better ultimately depends on your individual preferences when it comes to initial costs, annual costs, and level of maintenance.

In the end, saltwater pools are the better solution. They are less expensive, are simpler to maintain, and have a smaller impact on your health. While the low initial costs of a freshwater pool are tempting, the overall cost of chlorination, the chlorine exposure, and day-to-day maintenance are less appealing. However, both will give you the cool relief and sweet summer memories that come with having a pool right outside your backdoor.

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