Monday, February 16, 2009

Making Salt Work

Did I say that? No, it can't be. Can it? 

Has the Pool Guy flipped his lid? Has he gone over to the Dark Side? The truth is, neither. But, contrary to industry opinion, I am a realist. And after all these years of fighting the Good Fight, I think it's time to admit that Salt Is Here To Stay.

I didn't say that was a Good Thing. I said it was A Reality. A Sad Reality. But A Reality nonetheless.

So, after a long hiatus, I'm back with suggestions on how to make your salt system work for you. I still think you ought to remove it from your pool. But if you're sold on your salt system and you just Gotta Have It, then stay tuned to The Pool Biz for articles on how to make it's integration work for you.

In that vein, some time ago, I wrote to the folks at the one of the Diving Board manufacturers - Interfab - and asked them if, in light of all that's gone down with salt over these last several years, they had developed any products that would be more salt compatible. Diving Board folks in general took about the biggest hit on any of the manufacturers that were affected by the salt craze. Imagine being them; three or four years of covering warranty in an environment you never foresaw - the 3500 ppm salt environment - and just when you're getting your feet back under you from that, with a new line of products designed to weather the salt storm, you wake up to the worst economy since 1932. Some days it doesn't pay to get out of bed.

But, when I asked them, toward the end of last summer, which were definitely rosier times, this is what they said:

"We DO in fact have products that are more salt friendly than others and would certainly mitigate rust in a salt pool environment. Products that we would promote for use in a salt pool environment include the following products:

Edge Diving System (NEW)
T7 Diving System
X-Stream Slide
G-Force Slide
Sacrificial Zinc Anode (NEW)
Powder Coated Rail Goods

As always, we’d have to stress to customers that there is no guarantee against rust or corrosion in a salt pool environment. By taking steps to ensure proper pool water/salt chemistry, that any return jets are pointed away from any in-pool rail goods, and that any necessary product maintenance is performed, you can certainly help diminish the risk of rust.

The diving set up that you saw in our counter brochure is called the Edge Diving System™. [Ed. note: I had written and asked about that system in particular. You should take a look at it. It's a unique approach to keeping the salt from corroding the diving board base]  It was specifically designed to replace all of the rusting steel Techni-Spring diving bases, and our competitor’s product equal, that are out in the field. The Edge Diving System is comprised of composite materials and fits the same 12” on center jig as the steel Techni-Spring base. I have attached both a photo of a rusty steel Techni-Spring base and an Edge Diving System for reference."

Salt Damaged Interfab Techni-Spring base. Photo supplied by Interfab

Interfab Edge Diving System. Photo supplied by Interfab

Now, take a look at the second photo, of the Techni-Spring base. It beats the salt by not attaching the base fasteners where the salt water can pool and lay and work it's corrosive magic on the threads. I mean, let's face it, if your jig is buried in the cement of your deck, with the fastening studs projecting up out of that, and the threads of those fastening studs are down at deck level where they can be compromised by the corrosion wrought by salty water, then you're looking at breaking up that deck to replace that jig. So, if you attach the base to those fastening studs about 10 or 12 inches above deck level, then you've put those threads somewhere that it's impossible for the salty water to pool around. It's hard to see where those bolts attach in that photo, you can click on it to enlarge it. Then, look where the spring is attached to the composite base. You'll see the rubber nut caps. That's where it fastens.

Here's a link to the T7 install PDF. Page 9 shows a very good photo of a cutaway of the base and the fasteners. See how they've moved all the attaching hardware off of deck level? Brilliant in it's simplicity.

They go on to say: "The T7 Diving System, X-Stream Slide and G-Force Slide are all upgraded products that are comprised of composite materials and very suitable for salt pools.... This year [2008], we started offering a sacrificial zinc anode, which we designed specifically to fit most residential pool ladders and rails. (1.90” OD) We recommend the use of the anode on any pool rail that comes in contact with the pool water. (Deck to stair rails, pool ladders, etc.) The anode is installed below the waterline and is in direct contact with the metal that it will protect. Generally, only one anode is required, however, if a pool ladder has plastic treads, you will need an anode for each 'arm' of the ladder since the plastic tread will not maintain the current flow. I have attached a PDF copy of the bag card that comes with the anode, along with a couple of photos of an actual anode."

Interfab zinc anode. Submitted by Interfab

Interfab zinc anode. Submitted by Interfab

They make a very important point there; if a pool ladder has plastic treads, you will need an anode for each arm of the ladder since the plastic tread will not maintain the current flow. What's interesting about this is how much we've all had to learn in order to deal with adding salt to pool water. These are engineering concerns that didn't need to be addressed before salt came along. Now they're part of ladder design, for example. Each action like this drives the cost of engineering, of the end product and, in the end, the final price tag for the whole pool. And we haven't even talked yet about maintenance, which will be in upcoming blog pieces.

Still think your salt system is cheaper than conventional chlorine? Read on:

"Lastly, powder coated rails offer yet another layer of protection against rust and corrosion for pool rails. The layer of powder coat paint acts as a barrier between the elements and the stainless steel rail. One thing to mention is that if a powder coated pool rail is winterized and continually pulled in and out of the anchor sockets, the risk of paint chips and scratches increases which expands the risk of rust at those damaged paint areas. For optimum rail protection, a powder coated rail in conjunction with a sacrificial zinc anode is the best way to go."

Powder coated rails. They're very effective, and they're beautiful, too. But they are not inexpensive, and you need to consider those costs as part of the price of maintaining your pool when a salt system is installed.

So, as you can see, I'm not selling out here. I'm not saying Salt's Great and I'm not shilling for a ladder manufacturer - although I think these folks have the best idea so far about how to keep that salty water away from their hardware.

Bottom line is I'm still against the idea of you putting salt in your pool. But if you do, do it right, and spend the money you need to spend so that a year from now you don't have a rusty mess on your hands.


dave said...

Glad to see a new post, I typically check every week or so. Looking forward to upcoming pieces on making salt work. While we don't typically install diving boards or hand rails in our pools, always good to get more info. Thanks!

The Pool Guy said...

Thank you, Dave, for reading. And thanks for dropping by to check for so long instead of just giving up on me.

I knew I was going to post again. I just didn't know when. I think it was a little bit like writer's block. I felt that there was nothing left to say about how bad salt was. But time has passed and the industry has reacted - mainly by caving in to the Salt Peddlers - and now there's lots of topics to discuss again. Just in time for the upcoming swimming season!

Cooked Goose said...

Yes, do keep writing! Surprised I didn't find this blog earlier but then I haven't looked much for quite a while. You seem to write a lot of what I think, but don't write.

I've heard a lot said lately about the public driving the SWG market and builders finally conceding and trying to figure out how to cope.

Outdoor residential, 365 days a year in the sun, chlorine at 10 bucks a gallon? Ok sure, but an door public pool? Could never figure the math that goes into selling a $200,000.00 potential nightmare and stating its the cheap way to go. If that was a 3 pool system, heck that might cost upwards of 3-5k for the complete 3 pump liquid chlorine system. And silly me for thinking the cost savings on NOT spending 20k a year on cell replacement would cover freight on your liquid.

And I love going to a new/retro SWG pool and hearing all the proud patrons explain to me how they don't have any chlorine in their salt water pool.

If you wanna fight the good fight though, learn to love Ozone. I think SWG might have its place, but Ozone should be mandatory, at least on public pools. Unfortunately it gets done poorly too often.

Will be interesting to hear your take on the latest round of UV. Medium Pressure systems seem to be all the rage now. Time will tell but I still don't think it can hold a candle to Ozone.

The Pool Guy said...


You brought up a couple of my favorite topics; salt systems on commercial pools and salt systems on indoor commercial pools.

I wondered the same thing; how do you rationalize the huge pop for new cells every year as not a higher cost than buying chemicals for the same period of time?

Then, how do you mitigate the corrosion damage that the salt water is going to do to the structure that's housing your indoor pool?

I wrote a couple of blog pieces about that in june 07 and July 08 about a particularly disastrous application of salt to a wave pool in Canada. There's commentary on the eventual remodel from the facility manager as well. It's under the Indoor salt pool problems tab. Take a look.

I haven't taken a very hard look at ozone, to be honest with you. All of my business is residential and we're not dealing with swimmer loads so vast that we need supplemental devices like ozone for the most part, and I don't know enough about commercial applications to say much. But I'm interested to hear from you on the subject. E-mail me about it. I'll look over what you send me and try to put together a blog piece from it.

Thanks for reading and especially for writing.