Salt Water Chlorinators For Above Ground Pools
Salt water chlorinators for above ground pools are different than the ones made for inground pools. In addition to the volume output of these salt water systems being lower, to accommodate the relatively smaller size of above ground pools, the actual physical units are also different. Salt water chlorinator manufacturers strive to make the installation of your system as easy as possible for you, and above ground salt systems have port sizes suitable for common above ground pool pipe size. Also, since flow switches are required, above ground pool systems have flow switches that are more compact and easier to install.
There are a few additional differences in above ground pool salt systems and inground pool salt systems such as above ground systems typically come with a permanent electrical plug attached, where inground systems typically require a hard wired electrical connection. All of this probably sounds pretty straight forward so far, which it is, but buying the right salt water system for your above ground pool is a little more complicated. The biggest reason for this is that there is a wide range of pools that can all technically be called "above ground pools". It would be easy to get some bad advice about what is best for your pool if you are not aware of the differences in above ground pool styles. To help you understand the different classes of above ground pools you can read this article: types of above ground pools.
Required reading before buying salt water - If you want to convert your pool to salt water there is a lot of technical information that you really should review. Salt water can potentially damage your pool, or parts of your pool system, at a faster rate than it would otherwise deteriorate. This is due to a corrosive process known as galvanic corrosion and if you want to inform yourself more about the potential concerns of salt water then you can read this article that I wrote previously: Is salt water bad for your pool?.
Complete list of how much chlorine every salt system can generate - Salt is added to the pool and through electrolysis chlorine is generated. The amount of chlorine that a given cell can generate in 24 hours determines the appropriate pool size that the system will operate effectively on. This is a great metric with which to create an apples to apples comparison between different brands of chlorine generators. For a list of almost every brand, make and model of pool salt water chlorinator compared with how much chlorine they can generate in 24 hours read these comparison reviews of the best pool salt systems.
Not every above ground pool is suitable for use with salt water chlorinators. Typically salt water compatible above ground pools will be called resin pools, and will cost substantially more than a regular above ground pool. Regular above ground pools usually have aluminum rails and other metal equipment that can be damaged by salt water at an advanced rate versus a traditional chlorine pool. A salt water compatible above ground pool will have powder coating, resin coating or plastic pieces to help ensure that the kit will withstand the potential for increased rates of corrosion.
How To Install A Salt System On An Above Ground Pool
Choosing the right salt water chlorinator for your pool, and installing it properly, basically comes down to what type of plumbing your pool has. Very entry level pools come with a pipe that is similar to vacuum hose used for swimming pools. Mid grade above ground pools might use 1 1/4" flexible PVC pipe, and more robust above ground pools might have 1 1/2" flexible PVC pipe. 2" pipe would be very rare on above ground pools, not that there would be anything wrong with having it. In general, larger pipe is better for swimming pool flow rates. It would also be rare to have rigid PVC pipe on an above ground pool, again not that there would be anything wrong with it. Rigid pipe, generally speaking, is better than flexible PVC pipe in every way except that flex pipe seems to survive direct burial in areas that experience below freezing temperatures in the winter.
The "best salt system" for your pool really just means one that is suitably sized to the volume of your pool, and one that will install without too much adaptation being required in order to fit it into your plumbing system. In truth, a well stocked pool plumber would be able to adapt any pipe size, material or orientation by simply selecting the right reducer bushing or adapter for the siltation. The average pool owner is not going to experience this level of convenience. For example I can look at a piece of pipe from across the room and tell you what type and size it is. Even with a tape measurer you might struggle to determine what size of pipe you have. To make it easy, 1 1/2" pipe is the same size in diameter as a can of soda. Or beer. Use beer. Smaller is 1 1/4" and larger is 2".
When you install the system into your pool the method you use will depend on which system you choose. The vast majority of systems will require you to cut open the plumbing system, and then install the salt system in place. Some salt systems will come with hose clamps to connect your pool pipes to the generation cell, and other systems require that you glue them in place. Either is fine, so long as it is connected securely and with the right fittings for each application. To learn more about pool plumbing materials, PVC glue and how to make plumbing connections you can read this article about pool plumbing materials.
Salt cell placement - It is very important that you install the generation cell directly before the water is returned to the pool. The cell generates chlorine and this chlorine, when concentrated, can cause damage to pool equipment, plastics and anything else it comes in contact with. For this reason the salt cell should be the final component installed right before the water returns into the pool. It does not need to be physically close to the pool wall, just make sure that there are no additional components for the water to flow through, like a pool heater, before going back to the pool. If you had a heater it would be very important to have the water go through the heater before going through the generator cell. If you have a heater you should also read this article I wrote about do pool heaters need a check valve? to learn about the potential for damage from salt chlorine generators leaking chlorine back into pool heaters that are installed behind them in the pool system.
How to install a salt generator - The physical installation of an above ground salt system is very straight forward. Your unit will come with instructions about how much salt you need to add to your pool. Installing the cell will be as simple as connecting two pieces of pipe to it and plugging the unit in. If this still sounds intimidating to you then you will benefit from this additional article that breaks down the process of how to install a pool salt system.
**Please Note - While the installation of the cell and adding salt to the pool is very easy, be sure to measure the salt content in your water before you start adding. You might incorrectly assume that you are starting from zero when you might have a few hundred or a thousand ppm of sodium in your water already. This is especially true if you have been operating this pool as a regular chlorine pool already. Avoid adding too much salt to your pool. The only way to lower the level is to drain water and replace with non-salinated water.
Best Salt System For Above Ground Pools
You need to know the volume of your pool as this will determine which model of salt chlorine generator you should buy. Each unit that you look at will have a rating for the volume of pool that it is suitable to be used on. To calculate the volume of your pool read this article on how to size your pool equipment. As a general rule of thumb you want to pick a system that is well large enough for the pool, if not a little oversized. For example, if I had a 10,000 gallon pool I would not want a system that goes up to 10,000 gallons. Sure it would probably work, but I would rather buy a system for a 12,000 gallon pool, or 15,000 gallon pool and then run it on a lower setting than the 10,000 gallon unit. By sizing your salt system like this you can usually get an extra season or two of life out of each cell without too much extra cost involved. There is a point of diminishing returns with this so buying the largest salt cell on the market for your swim spa is probably a bad idea.
When it comes to which is the best salt system for above ground pools this simply comes down to picking a trusted name brand product. There are a lot of salt systems on the market, and not all of them are great. Specifically the titanium used on the cells is very expensive to manufacture and this is where cheaper systems will end up failing early. If you buy an off brand name salt water chlorinator for your pool,, like from the local hardware store or big box chain store, then you almost certainly have purchased a lemon. If I had an above ground pool, and I needed to buy a salt water system for it without any industry insider connections or wholesale discounts, I would buy one of these units from Amazon and install it myself:
The Intex Krystal Clear above ground salt water system is the industry standard unit for temporary pools and very entry level above ground pools. If your pool only cost you $500 then it is hard to justify an add-on salt system that is another $500. For these pools this Intex system will allow you to add salt, and convert this salt to chlorine. This is suitable for pools up to 15,000 gallons and this system can generate up to 0.60 lbs of chlorine every 24 hours. It is not specifically high quality, but it is very affordable. I would encourage anyone with a more permanent above ground pool to pass on this unit and go for one of the more professional grade brands listed below.
The Solaxx CLG10A Saltron above ground salt chlorine generator is the ideal salt system if you have an entry level above ground pool and you are worried about how difficult it will be to install the cell. While it really is not very hard to install a salt system on an above ground pool, I can understand that different people have different skill levels. This unit installs inside the pool, hanging over the edge, which makes installation as easy as it comes for salt water chlorinators. This unit is good for pools up to 20,000 gallons and can generate up to 0.40 lbs of chlorine every 24 hours. I would encourage most above ground pool owners to look towards a cleaner installation with one of the systems listed below where the cell is installed into the plumbing system.
The Hayward AquaTrol above ground salt chlorination system is probably the most popular pool salt system on the market for above ground pools. It is suitable for pools up to 18,000 gallons and outputs an impressive maximum of 0.65lbs of chlorine every 24 hours. The pictured model is the RJ or "return jet" mounted style where the cell mounts directly to the pool wall at the return port. You can also purchase a version that is similar to inground pool units where it is hard plumbed in place near where the pump is located. The capability of each version is the same, just the way it connects into the system is different.
The Pentair IC15 IntelliChlor above ground salt chlorinator is another extremely popular model of salt chlorinator from arguably the highest quality pool equipment manufacturer in the game. This system is suitable for pools up to 15,000 gallons in size and is capable of outputting up to 0.60 lbs of chlorine every 24 hours. The inground pool version of salt systems from Pentair sell the cell and power center separately, but this above ground unit comes with the cell, power center, and fittings to connect into your plumbing system.
Yes there are lots of other above ground pool salt water systems on the market and if you can find a good deal on one not listed here then it might very well be a good opportunity for you. Just be sure to choose a recognized brand, and a company that has been making salt chlorine generators for many years as this will help to ensure that you get what you pay for...as well as a reasonable amount of longevity out of the cell. You should also be aware that adding a salt system to your pool will change the way in which you manage the water chemistry. Despite what you might have heard, salt water pools are NOT maintenance free, or chemical free. To learn more about specific issues associated with caring for salt water pools you can read this article about salt water pool maintenance.
Salt water pool maintenance
Comparison of how much chlorine each salt system can make
Is salt water bad for your pool?
How to install a pool salt system
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