Salt water pool systems have a leg up on their chlorine counterparts. While a chlorine pool has a pump and possibly a heater, a salt water system has a chlorinator which is effectively a computer that runs your pool as well as your heater, pump, lighting, water feature and even a spa pool if you have one of those too.
Salt water pool automation enables pool pump and chlorine production on a schedule while having real time monitoring of salt, water flow and other aspects of pool management. In addition to time savings and less maintenance, pool automation helps get a better handle on water chemistry.
Salt water pool automation features
One of the best features about modern salt water pools is the automation that is offered. The system allows you to monitor various aspects of pool chemistry, water temperature and flow and much more. If you have a regular chlorine or bromine pool and are thinking of changing to salt or are looking at installing a pool and are considering salt water, here are some key advantages that you might like to know about.
Here is what you’ll typically find on a good quality salt water chlorinator system in terms of functionality that it offers to automate various features and provide information on your pool water.
Salt water chlorinator automation table
|Indicates that the unit has power and is operating.
|Desired output %
|A percentage from 0% – 100% which indicates the percentage of time that the chlorinator will actually produce chlorine while the pump is running. So if you select 60%, this means that the chlorinator will produce chlorine 60% of the time the pump runs and the chlorinator will not produce chlorine the other 40% of the time the pump is running. This setting can be used to easily increase or decrease chlorine production as required.
|The Diagnostics mode enables you to adjust various settings just as Desired Output %, instant salt setting, Configure Your Salt Cell, toggle between imperial and metric values and reset the Inspect Cell 500 hour time limit. The Diagnostics mode exists to access various aspects of the chlorinator but the extra step ensures you don’t change anything by accident.
|Generating (chlorine generation)
|This sensor is especially important because it shows that the chlorinator is working and producing chlorine. It won’t be on all the time unless the pump is running and you have the Desired output % set to 100% or you’re using the Super Chlorinate feature.
|Instead of manually turning your pump on and off as with regular pools, you can set the pump to turn on and off at various times of the day to save on electricity and without having to do it manually.
|The Super Chlorinate feature is one that increases chlorine production to override whatever Desired output % setting you have at the time. This feature is useful when you need a sudden increase in chlorine ie. after a storm, when you have heavy pool usage or are experiencing very hot sunny weather.
|No flow (water monitoring)
|The chlorinator system you choose should have a water sensor inside the piping that detects when water flow is too low for the chlorinator to operate. When triggered the visual warning goes off to alert you to the lack of water flow and the chlorinator shuts down to avoid the cell burning out. Perhaps there is a blockage in the side skimmer, the skimmer door is stuck open or closed, the basket is full of debris or some other problem is causing the low water flow. You may hear the pump sucking air and struggling to pump water.
|When salt level is too low, the chlorinator has to work harder to produce chlorine which puts a strain on the system. This indicator will tell you that salt needs to be added and until then the chlorinator will likely remain shut off and not producing chlorine. Salt should be kept between 2,700 ppm and 3,400 ppm with 3,200 ppm generally seen as the ideal. Some systems may set off the Check salt warning when it drops to 2,700 ppm. If the reading starts blinking, salt is low but the system is still producing chlorine. Once the level gets to 2,400 ppm the light will go solid and chlorine production will shut off.
|While you don’t want the salt level to be too low, you also don’t want it too high. Salt level generally drops slowly during the season as some salt is lost due to splashing, a leak, draining water or backwashing if you have that type of filter. If you put too much salt in the pool and the level is too high, the chlorinator may shut down to prevent damage to the salt cell. All you can do is dilute the pool water either by adding water if there is room or first draining some water and adding fresh water in its place. When adding a bag of salt, add half a bag and wait for the salt level to rise before adding the rest, if you’re unsure. It’s always easier to increase salt content than lower it so always check salt level independent of the chlorinator system to be sure.
|Quality chlorinators have a built in Inspect cell feature that normally requires you to physically remove the salt cell to inspect it visually once every 500 hours of use. While many newer chlorinators have a reverse polarity feature to automatically clean the salt cell, others don’t which means manually cleaning the cell.
|Displays the current water temperature in the pool. Chlorinators often have an auto shutoff feature when water temperature drops below a certain level to protect the salt cell against damage. 60° F is normally the shutoff range.
|This is a nice to know reading in case you need to troubleshoot. The number will tend to be in the 22 volts – 26 volts range when generating chlorine otherwise you will see 30 volts – 35 volts otherwise.
|Another nice to know reading for troubleshooting purposes. The number you will see will tend to be in the 4.5 amps – 7.8 amps range when generating chlorine otherwise you will see 0 amps when the salt cell is not producing chlorine.
|Instant salt level
|This is the salt level in ppm while the system is calculating while chlorinating. You’ll see a minus sign in front of the number (ie. -2900) to distinguish it from the Average salt level.
|Average salt level
|The Average salt level is taken from readings of the Instant salt levels every few hours. The two numbers are generally similar but may be off a bit at times when you add salt to the pool or add water.
How accurate are the readings on a salt chlorinator?
When using a salt water pool chlorinator, the more sophisticated models have many options for reading many aspects of the pool as mentioned in the table above. How accurate are they?
Certainly a quality chlorinator should be trusted to give you accurate salt, chlorine, water temperature and things of that nature. While you may also use test strips to measure salt and chlorine, you might find that the strips give you a reading that is different from the chlorinator’s. Some test strips are better than others and many are known to produce results that are not 100% accurate and if the strips have expired, they might be worthless.
Get your water checked monthly during the season at your pool company as they have professional equipment that will give you a confident result. This is especially true before you add salt to your pool. Once you have added too much salt, the only quick way to decrease salt is to drain the pool and add fresh water in again.
What is the ideal chlorine setting for a salt water chlorinator?
It’s generally recommended that to start with, you set your chlorinator’s Desired output % dial to 50%. This means that when the pool pump is running, the chlorinator will produce chlorine 50% of the time. After several days of operation you can check the chlorine level to see if it is trending up or down or staying the same.
You can then adjust the setting as required to keep the chlorine level within the desired range of 1 ppm – 3 ppm.
How many hours per day should I run my pool pump?
Another consideration of course is how many hours per day to run the pool pump since chlorine can only be produced when the pump is running. The rule of thumb is to run your pump long enough to turn the total volume of the pool once every 12 hours or twice per day. Many pool companies suggest that once per day is fine for a residential pool especially if it’s not being used more than average.
This means that you need to have an understanding of:
- How large your pool is in terms of total water volume in gallons or liters.
- How many gallons or liters per minute your pool pump is capable of pumping.
Determining your pool size
The quickest way to determine your pool volume if you don’t know it is to contact the company that built it and ask.
The quickest way to determine your pool pump throughput is to check the owner’s manual or quickly Google your brand and model.
You can also calculate your pool volume by following these steps.
- To calculate your pool volume, you take the Length X Width X Average Depth. Let’s say your pool is 40′ Length X 20′ Depth X 5′ Average Depth = 4,000.
- Then take that number and multiply by a standard number depending on pool shape:
- 7.5 for rectangular and square shaped pools
- 5.5 for other shapes
4,000 X 7.5 standard number for rectangular pools = 30,000 gallons
Your pool holds around 30,000 gallons of water.
Determining your pool pump run time
If your pool is 30,000 gallons and your pool pump is capable of pumping 3,000 gallons per hour:
30,000 gallons / 3,000 gallons per hour = 10 hours of pump run time per day.
This means your pump would need to run 10 hours per day to turn over the water once.
Can’t be bothered to figure all of this out? Run your pool pump 12 hours per day to start with and adjust up or down as required depending on how your pool chemistry is turning out. Most pumps are capable of turning over water once every 8 – 12 hours so it’s a good place to start.
Salt water pool automation considerations
New technology that you may not be aware of can make cost effectiveness management of your salt water pool easier. Here are some thoughts on various aspects of pool automation to consider.
Consider what options would make your life easier. Having upgraded from a manual Lectrinator chlorinator with no timers or special features to a fully automatic Hayward Aqua Rite chlorinator, I can tell you it’s night and day. I now run my pump on a schedule to turn and off automatically which save on electricity and is convenient. It also measures salt content, has other sensors to monitor water flow and water temperature that I appreciate.
Look at the option of a variable speed pump. While standard pool pumps operate at one speed, variable speed pumps can operate at a slower speed to process water but increase speed when desired such as vacuuming or adding salt or chemicals. That way you can run the pump longer if desired but save on energy bills.
A real time chlorine monitoring option. Many salt water pool chlorinators don’t measure actual chlorine. I still use strips for that. It’s understood that if you run your pump a certain number of hours per day and keep salt levels correct, you will produce enough chlorine. But if you want to actually know your live chlorine measurements, some systems like Hayward offer an optional addition that gets added onto the chlorinator to measure it in real time.
Reverse polarity for salt cell auto cleaning. The salt cell needs to be cleaned from time to time to remove mineral deposits that accumulate on the metal plates inside the cell. Some higher end chlorinators include an automatic cleaning function called reverse polarity that does this cleaning for you. Check out my article on reverse polarity that discusses the topic in more detail and suggests some popular chlorinators that has this feature standard.
Remote pool management app. These days you can operate many aspects of your home through a phone app and your salt water pool is no different. Modern chlorinators can often be remotely managed through a phone app to control your pool filter, heater, valves, and lights and can also view diagnostics to monitor your pool status.
If you have ever owned a regular chlorine pool, you are probably already familiar with the work involved in balancing water chemistry and turning the pump on and off manually. A salt water chlorinator system automates many aspects of pool ownership that were previously done by hand.
A salt water pool also provides you with softer water that tends to be easier on the skin and eyes than regularly chlorinated pools. Check out my article that discusses Do Salt Water Pools Burn Your Eyes to learn more.