For Saltwater Pools, Research Before Taking the Plunge

BOCA RATON, FL—There’s an allure associated with saltwater swimming pools: softer water, less chlorination and less maintenance. It’s a trend that’s growing, too. Hoteliers are picking up on this shift to saltwater pool systems and are seeing it as a viable option for future development projects.

“In recent years, saltwater (saline) pools have been growing in popularity versus their chlorinated pool counterpart. In hotels across the U.S., we’re seeing more and more hotel owners that are exploring saltwater as an option,” said Blair Hildahl, principal for Base4, an architecture and engineering design firm, based here. “I think part of this has been due to better education on how these systems work, but also from developers sharing their experiences with one another on the performance of these systems.”

Before making a substantial investment and commitment in a pool system, hoteliers and developers should consider evaluating the initial upfront outlay, maintenance and guest experience they want to give their customers. Hildahl outlined a few tips to get started:

Initial Cost. The biggest drawback for most hotel owners is the initial investment required for saltwater pool equipment, which can cost thousands of dollars. It should be noted that some or all of this cost can be recouped due to the savings on maintenance and purchasing/storing of chemicals. Typically, developers need three to four years to get a return on the installation cost.

Complexity. Saltwater systems are a bit more complex and likely require a professional for assistance when problems arise.

Corrosivity. Although you’re not dealing with concentrated chlorine, salt by itself can be extremely corrosive and damaging. Developers sometimes report damage to ladders, pool decking, fixtures and more due to the effects of salt water. Usually, these problems arise from improper maintenance or outdated equipment, but the risks still exist.

However, the benefits to guests and a hotel’s bottom line may outweigh the risks. Compared to a chlorinated pool, some of the benefits of saltwater pools include less overall maintenance; softer feel of the water; easier on the clothes, eyes and skin; and a lower liability, explained Hildahl.

“Chlorinated pools require constant surveillance and testing not required by saltwater pools. Since the generator produces chlorine at a steady stream, only chlorine and pH levels must still be monitored with no need to add regular doses to the pool,” Hildahl said. “Those that swim in saltwater hotel pools describe the water to be ‘silky.’ This is similar to the effect of a water softener in your home where the addition of salt makes the water feel softer. Many people prefer this feeling compared to chlorinated water.”

Further touting the benefits, Hildahl added, “Because of the way chlorine is generated in a saltwater pool, the chlorine levels are generally much lower. The lower chlorine levels mean saltwater pools protect eyes, skin and the bathing suit. Hotel guests that experience irritations from chlorine will likely have fewer problems. Saline systems are often recognized to be a greener choice for hotel developers looking for the sustainable route. At higher levels, traditional liquid or tablet chlorine can be dangerous. A saltwater pool doesn’t require large doses of chlorine, greatly reducing potential environmental, health or legal concerns for owners. Also, this solution fits hotels with rooftop pools as liquid chlorine need not be delivered through guest-occupied areas of a hotel.”

Base4 has hundreds of hotel projects in various stages across the U.S., most of which have indoor or outdoor pools. It leverages this experience to share information on what other owners and operators are seeing from their existing properties to include the best elements into new projects.

“If someone asks us if we recommend they add a salt system to their pool, we first ask them what is motivating them to pursue this initiative and then work backward to see the best way to achieve these goals through good design,” he said.