Pool Installation Budget: Salt Water vs. Chlorine

Pool construction with wire and wood forms.

Owning your own swimming pool is a good way to stay in shape and a great reason to get friends and family together for some summer fun. But installing a pool is costly, and you’ll have to make all sorts of choices even before the project begins. Start by picking the right water for your pool. After all, it's the most essential ingredient for any summer swimming fun.

What's Wrong With Chlorine?

Chlorine's faults are well-known to anyone who's ever been to a public pool. Chlorine pools have a strong chemical smell and the water can irritate skin and eyes. If you have light-colored hair, chlorine water can tint it green. It can also be dangerous and tedious when it comes time to check and change chlorine levels. However, chlorine does keep pools clean. The real question is, how does chlorine compare to salt water?

Using Salt Water

A pair of girls swimming underwater in a pool.

First, a salt water pool does not compare to being in the ocean. Salt water pools at home have far less salt than what you'll find in the Seven Seas. By comparison, salt water pools have about one-tenth the salinity of the ocean. Also, there's something you should know: salt water pools are not chlorine-free.

Odd as it sounds, it's true. The difference in salt water pools is that they actually create their own chlorine. Through this process, you're no longer responsible for adding chlorine to your own water. Because you aren't adding chemicals to the water, salt water pools are more gentle on swimmers. The water feels less abrasive than chlorinated water and won't tint your hair or irritate eyes and skin.

Because the salt water creates its own chlorine, a salt water pool requires very little maintenance. However, you'll still have to check the levels regularly.

The Trouble With Salt Water

A metal pool ladder in a turquoise pool.

So, what's the problem? Salt water pools sound great, and in many ways they are. But there are disadvantages, too. Salt water pools are more costly. You'll spend around $5,000 more upfront to install a salt water pool. It may take several years for that cost to eventually pay off in the amount of money you will end up saving in chlorine.

Some find that salt water pools are more expensive to maintain, as well. You'll need a salt water generator, which is an expensive upfront cost that creates ongoing electric bills. Salt air has a corrosive effect which may cause noticeable damage to nearby outdoor furnishings and structures including wood decks. Also, you can't switch a chlorine pool to a salt water pool after the fact. Salt water may prove corrosive to liners, ladders, and metal pool features that were designed for chlorinated water only.

Choosing Chlorine

Testing the PH of pool chemicals.

Why choose chlorine? Many people go with chlorine pools because they're more common and because they're cheaper to install initially, though some say salt water pools will be cheaper to maintain over time. Chlorine pools require less equipment to operate, but they do need a lot more maintenance. You have to constantly check your water's pH level to be sure you are not pouring too many, or not enough, chemicals into the water.

Chlorine can be dangerous to store as well, and you'll have to practice good chemical safety at all times when using chlorine. Also, there is one thing that can happen with a chlorine pool that never occurs with salt water: your water could turn green. When the pH of the water is drastically off due to rain water or chemical imbalance, the water can become an extremely unattractive shade that could take days to fix. This is because certain algae and bacteria thrive in chlorinated water.

The Pros and Cons

While a chlorine pool will be cheaper to install initially, in the long run a salt water pool does require less maintenance. Look at the good and the bad of your pool choices, and pick the one that’s going to work best for your needs, your lifestyle, and your property.