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Salt Water Chlorination: Is it the Right Option for your Facility?

Salt or no salt? That is the question! Or at least one of the most common questions being asked by pool owners and operators these days. Every pool owner has their own set of reasons for wanting salt or not wanting salt. There are many questions regarding the mechanical equipment at the facility, finishes of the pool, uses of the pool, local bylaws, (just to name a few) that must be answered before jumping to any decisions. Additionally, the owner must be aware of the many myths regarding salt water systems and chlorine systems alike before making any decisions. They must also understand that a salt water pool doesn’t mean you will be swimming in ocean water! Windows to the Universe team states that salt water pools typically have 3,000 to 6,000 ppm, while the ocean is about 35,000 ppm.



When changing a liquid chlorine sanitized pool over to a salt water system, or when building a pool destined to be salt water, the mechanical systems must be selected properly.  Everything from the pumps, filters and heaters must be designed and approved for use in a salt water pool.  If this is not done, manufacturers will not honour warranties, and there will be damaged equipment much prior to their normal lifetime.



The finishes of the pool need to be considered when contemplating a salt water pool as certain finishes do not last as long under salt water conditions.  Liners, tile and plaster finishes all have their own issues when it comes to salt, so owners must investigate each option thoroughly and ensure whichever option is chosen is installed properly. As with any sanitation system, monitoring and proper balancing is also very crucial in the lifetime of the finishes. 


Fixtures such as hand rails, underwater lighting fixtures, and rope anchors need to be properly chosen when going with a salt water pool as they will corrode faster without being constructed of proper materials and properly maintained. The image above shows a hand rail in a salt water pool that is rusting due to the salt. Think of what salt use on our roads does to our vehicles and infrastructure during the winter months.  The same type of damage will happen to a pool that doesn’t have all of its components designed for salt water use.



Primary uses of the pool under consideration for salt water should also be considered.  A pool that is primarily for lap and competition swimming where there is high swimmer volume and high exertion may want to shy away from a salt system, as it will require much more monitoring of the chlorine levels to ensure they are in accepted ranges.  Yes I said chlorine.  Salt water pools still have chlorine in them.  They use a chlorine generator system involving a process called electrolysis to produce its own chlorine, rather than adding liquid chlorine directly to the water.  A therapy pool with low patron turnover may be a better candidate for salt water, as it will be easier to keep the pool balanced and may increase user comfort.



Local bylaws are another very important item to look into when considering salt water in your pool.  Especially for commercial pools, salt is typically not permitted to be the primary source of sanitation.  Most municipalities still require salt water pools to have a secondary sanitation system installed, typically liquid or tablet chlorination.  Furthermore, when draining the pool, salt (and chlorine) levels usually must be brought down to low levels in order to legally be dumped into the municipal sewage treatment system.  Always check local bylaws for your stipulations prior to draining your pool.


Pool owners need to ensure that they do as much homework on salt water chlorination as necessary to ensure that they have made an informed decision.  There are too many cases of owners not taking all of the necessary steps required to properly operate a salt water pool, and have a seemingly endless repair bill. As with any large expenditure, always ensure you are working with qualified pool designers and builders when constructing a new pool or doing a renovation, no matter what sanitation system you are going with. 

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Pool Finishes: Options & Considerations

When planning the construction or renovation of your pool, whether commercial or residential, one of the many decisions you will need to make is the pool finish. There are several options available to both commercial and residential pools, there are also many factors to consider when choosing a finish. Cost is usually the first thing on everyone’s mind, when making any purchase. However, there are many other considerations that will often times outweigh the initial cost. The intended use of the pool is an important factor to consider when determining the finish of a pool. Residential pools, which have a lower use, can get away with one of the more budget-friendly options, as there is less wear and tear. A low-cost finish will save some money upfront however, repairs and refinishing will be required much sooner than some of the longer lasting, high-end finishes.          



Tile has been used as a pool finish for years and is known to be the most durable finish. When applied correctly, a tiled finish can last for decades before requiring any replacement. Tile offers the pool owner a wide variety of colour options and design possibilities. Due to the preparation and labour required for installation, this high quality finish option comes at a higher initial cost. However, over time it will pay for itself, through the savings on repairs and replacements.



  • Durability & Longevity: A tiled finish will last decades if applied correctly, and compensate for the higher upfront costs.
  • Easy to Repair: If there is an issue with isolated delamination of tile, it is very easy to replace small areas of tile and match to the existing, without having to re-finish the entire pool.


  • High Upfront Cost: Correctly installing tile, comes with heavy labour including; the preparation of the subsurface, laying the tile and grouting the tile.
  • Deterioration of Grout: Though tile has a very long life span, the grout will deteriorate much quicker. Over time grout will begin to wear out of the joints and discolour. Normally, grout will be required to be replaced much sooner than the tile. 


Plaster is one of the most prominent pool finishes around, and has been used for several years; a quicker install than products like tile is the main reason for its popularity. Plaster is shot onto the pool walls, similar to gunite, and then toweled to give it a smooth consistent finish. A plaster finish does require some sort of tile border at the waterline as the waves against the plaster will cause it to deteriorate quickly.



  • Cost & Durability: Even with the high level of durability a plaster finish offers,  the cost is relatively low.
  • Aesthetically Pleasing: Plaster provides a very nice finish which is smooth and able to form to any shape or design.


  • Pool chemistry can very quickly deteriorate a plaster finish if not properly maintained; low pH in the water is a big concern and requires experienced supervision.
  • With age, pool plaster will start to delaminate and cause sections of the plaster to pop off, having to re-plaster a pool is very costly.


Painting a pool is a very inexpensive method of finishing any pool, and is typically used in a commercial application for community or public pools. Though painting a pool is an economical and quick finish option, over several years the paint will chip and need to be repainted. A parge coat is required before painting to ensure all honeycombing of the concrete is filled, leaving the floor and walls smooth.



  • Low Cost & Project Schedule: The cost of the material and labour required to complete the work is extremely low and can be completed quickly.
  • Low Risk of Damage: Since paint is applied to a cementations backing, there are no concerns about damaging or puncturing the finish from items in the pool.


  • Frequency of Repairs: A paint finish will need to be refinished every 3 to 5 years, requiring the existing paint to be blasted off before repainting.
  • Imprefections: If the subsurface of the pool is not done perfectly any imperfections such as honeycombing or rough parging will show through and can cause injuries to swimmers.


Traditionally Vinyl liners have been a typical residential pool finish, due to the relatively low cost and quick installation. Liners can and have been used for commercial applications however, due to the low durability of a liner it is not very common. Vinyl liners can be used in both stainless steel and concrete pools.



  • Low Cost: In comparison to other finishes, liners can be an economical alternative. The liner itself is relatively inexpensive, in comparison, and installation labour is a significantly lower cost.
  • Creates a Water Tight Tank: This benefit can be an efficient solution, saving time and money, to a deteriorating concrete pool, which has started to leak. 


  • Deterioration: Vinyl liners are more susceptible to deterioration caused by harmful UV light and poor water chemistry, resulting in the liner needing to be replaced sooner.
  • Easy to Damage: Vinyl liners can very easily be damaged from foreign objects, such as tree branches or toys falling into the pool. Punctures in the liner will result in water getting behind the liner, causing the pool to leak and the liner to bubble out.
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Greg Keller
March 14, 2018
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February 28, 2018
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