Within the last two decades, freshwater pools have declined in popularity such that saltwater pools are now the majority of residential pools. It’s not hard to see why, as saltwater pools have many advantages over freshwater pools. With that said, saltwater pools have their downsides as well, so it’s not always so clear-cut which is better depending on what you’re looking for.
The major selling points are that saltwater pools are gentler on the eyes, skin, and hair due to the lower chlorine levels. Basically any negative effects that chlorine can cause will be significantly reduced because of that. On the other hand, freshwater pools require less upfront investment and uses less electricity, but have a much higher level of chlorine which can irritate eyes, skin, and hair.
That was just a brief comparison into what both of these types of pools offer. If you read on, we will provide a much more comprehensive comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of both of these pool types so you can make an informed decision when designing your dream backyard pool.
Freshwater vs. saltwater pool differences
Many people have a misconception on what freshwater and saltwater pools are. It’s not the layman’s fault, because the term saltwater pool is somewhat misleading.
To start, both pool types are operated using similar equipment and they both require chlorine to sanitize the water. The major difference is the level of chlorine found in each.
For a freshwater pool, the chlorine comes from tablets or chemicals added into the water. How much and how often it is added depends on the size of the pool, how often the pool is used, and weather conditions.
On the other hand, saltwater pools contain only a fraction as much salt as saltwater from the sea or ocean. There is also chlorine in it, albeit significantly less, which is produced by a special generator which releases chlorine gas by breaking down the salt found in saltwater.
The end result is that saltwater pools will have significantly reduced chlorine exposure where you typically won’t have the “chlorine smell” nor feel any of the side effects of chlorine like irritated eyes, skin, or hair. But make no mistake, saltwater pools also rely on chlorine to kill harmful bacteria.
Also, since the water in saltwater pools contains significantly less salt than ocean water (approximately 1/12th as much), it’s not going to feel like you’re swimming in the ocean either. That is to say, you won’t feel as buoyant compared to swimming in the ocean, but you also won’t get that salty or sticky feeling on your skin after swimming either.
If you have a pet dog that you are afraid will drink the salt water or chlorinated water, keep in mind that ingesting a little bit may only result in diarrhea. However, if your dog is frequently in the pool drinking water, then it can potentially be fatal, so be careful.
A selling point often used in favor of salt pools is that while it has a much higher upfront cost for the initial installation, it will end up being less expensive than a freshwater pool because it’s supposedly less costly to run.
The argument is that because salt pools do not require as many chemicals and water-balancing products throughout the season, the lower long-term maintenance costs will quickly cover the installation costs and end up saving you money.
Unfortunately, that statement is not necessarily true, and in reality the maintenance costs are expensive enough that perhaps you will not see any savings compared to a traditional pool after all.
First, the cell will need to be replaced as quickly as three years after initial installation. This is, unsurprisingly, very expensive and will quickly eat into the “savings” that you could potentially see.
Second, while salt pools are well-regarded for using fewer chemicals, owners will still have to regularly test the pH, alkalinity, and calcium hardness and adjust as needed to ensure water quality and clarity remains at a good level.
Additionally, mineral buildup from the salt will have to be removed every couple of months, and the salt can damage decks so you may have to pay for additional maintenance.
All of these expenses will add up and can be just as expensive, if not more expensive than a freshwater pool.
Some salt pool owners lament that they have to keep their generator running all day because the chlorine is injected gradually instead of all at once. The claim is that this leads to higher energy usage compared to a freshwater pool.
In our experience, this is not necessarily true. If you install a variable speed energy-efficient pump with your saltwater system, it’s possible that you can actually decrease energy consumption.
In a freshwater pool, chlorine is periodically added by the owner and the highest level of protection is right after a new batch of chlorine was freshly added. Over time, the chlorine will dissipate and bacteria may start to thrive until more chlorine is added to the mix.
With a salt pool, the water will be more consistently clean because the generator will produce a steady amount of chlorine, making the water quality better as a whole. You do not need to buy, store, or handle as many chemicals.
To summarize, saltwater pools are gentler and more hands-off than freshwater pools. If you’re someone that likes to set-it-and-forget it, this is great. If you’re a pool whiz that wants total control over your pool, you will prefer a freshwater pool.
With that said, both pools require maintenance, and in the case of the salt pool, the maintenance costs can be higher than you think. Due to how complex they are compared to a freshwater pool, you will probably need to hire a technician for every problem, even minor ones.
However, all of these costs may be worth it to the owner who really dislikes the chlorine smell and the damage that chlorine can do to one’s eyes, skin, and hair. That said, salt pools can also cause damage but rather than to a person, it can ruin your heaters, fixutres, liners, masonry, or anything else poolside.
Whether or not a saltwater pool or freshwater pool is optimal for you and your family depends on a variety of factors, many of which are discussed in this article. We would say the determining biggest factors are cost, maintenance, and how much you want to deal with chlorine.
The costs are arguably similar, salt pools don’t need as much maintenance, and salt pools are definitely much easier on the body than chlorine is.