Commercial Saline Chlorination in Florida turned 10 years old this year, and we’ve been asked to reflect and compare notes on the positive and negative aspects of this controversial technology. Sure, residential saline chlorination has been around for many years prior 2006, and it has finally achieved continued success after failed product launches of past decades. But commercial installations, on the other hand, have until recently met with mixed success at best.
Residential cells - poor track record on commercial installations
In the eyes of many TRUE commercial saline wasn’t born the US until around 2006, when ChlorKing relocated to Atlanta from South Africa. Before that, commercial systems were made from individual residential cells – ganged together in a manifold. These early systems, as they are still configured today, have experienced an overwhelming percentage of failures. Not every one fails, but such a large percentage that the industry was never really able to gain traction.
CES joined forces with ChlorKing a few years after their US introduction, and have found great success in providing truly commercial installations. Sure, there have been quite a few bumps in the road, as with all technologies, (many say that it is the pioneers that get arrows in their backs), but we are proud to say that many of the issues over the years have been fully conquered, and there are proven solutions for many known maladies.
Here are a couple of observations:
Un-permitted, residential-grade system - removed after it failed
- Many saline system installations were installed illegally.
- Installing a saline system on a commercial pool constitutes a modification and as such requires pre-approval from Department of Health (DOH). Many systems we have found (and even replaced) were never registered, were illegal, and thus placed a huge liability on the facility. With CES, we register every new installation (and those re-do's that weren't already registered), as it is in the best long term interest of all involved. Thanks for your patience because it is often a drawn out administrative process.
- Many saline installations can be self-funding:
- In many installations, the saline system will pay its own way out of savings in labor, chemicals, liability, and maintenance. We now have the luxury of looking at 10 years of data, and seeing this pattern repeat itself over and over again. There are some times when pool or site-related hiccups have slowed down the payback, but these are part of the "process" described below. Overall, the track record has been great, and there has been little risk in going saline with CES, which CANNOT be said for Commercial Saline as a whole.
Self-funding 50-lb system on leading municipal pool
- Many customers get it right the 2nd time around:
- CES has replaced hundreds of failed residential-type system that were installed on commercial pools. It appears that many of these clients KNEW they wanted saline, even though the first go-round wasn’t successful. Those that replaced with a true commercial system have enjoyed good success.
- Buyers sometimes don’t check references:
- Some condos and hotels made huge investments in saline systems that failed without first checking references. This probably led to some embarrassing moments for board members and managers. Checking references is a GOOD thing, and we invite customers to look around before investing in saline. It seems prudent not only to check recent installations, but to check with existing customers for long-time installation and to get a realistic idea of the type of long term care the system might require.
Bonding, required by building codes prevents corrosion issues.
- Pool Bonding is very important:
- Pools are required to be connected to an equipotential bond by code. This helps prevent stray currents and mitigate bad electrical stuff including electrocution. Saline increases the conductivity levels in pools – about as much as using a bleach system – and can increase corrosion to un-bonded equipment such as ladders, rails, pool lights, etc. Properly bonded items have not been affected. So if your ladders and rails are not bonded, they will probably get damaged. This is easy to check prior to installation, but some sites had to get their electrician back on site to get the pool back up to code.
- Saline and ORP controls can sometimes be incompatible:
- Poorly bonded pools can have high stray currents, much higher that the National Electrical Code’s threshold of 200 mV. When adding saline on some poorly bonded (and illegal) pools, the normally rock-solid ORP system (which is controlling via mV signals) can get confused with all the new voltage interferences. This form of Russian Roulette happens about once every 50 pools and is almost impossible to predict – although older unbonded pools are in the high risk group. Fixing this issue becomes a science project for CES, but we are glad to report that we have slayed every dragon we have encountered so far, some by reducing the stray current, and others by finding a different method of controls. Good thing that CES’s affordable direct reading PPM sensor works great in the most severe cases.
Commercial applications require commercial sizing per DOH.
- Crazy Expectations from owners:
- Some owners were given unrealistic expectations from the start and the systems were doomed for failure. “… I know what your neighbor’s pool company told you Mr. Jones, but NO, a 2-lb residential system WON’T handle 100% of a busy commercial pool – when DOH requires 14.4 lbs as a stand alone.” After interviewing many hundreds of managers and pool companies on their experience with Saline, it’s no wonder why many systems fail when they are totally undersized, and the owners are given unrealistic expectations.
- Saline is still Chlorine:
- What do you do when a customer’s first words are: “We want to go saline because we don’t want to use Chlorine.” Saline Chlorination is similar to setting up a Chlorine Factory in your equipment room, so you’re just making chlorine, not buying and storing it. Education is the key with many potential saline customers that were being led down the wrong path.
- Controlling Salinity is very important:
- Keeping track of the pool water salinity is a lot more difficult than many thought it would be…. and much more critical than originally thought. If the pool water salinity is low, the system doesn’t make as much (or any) Chlorine, and the cells self-destruct from the inside out. Rain, backwash water replacement, and leaks all contribute to loss of salinity, and your poor maintenance team has a little chance of staying on top of the readings, adding bags of salt, and brushing until dissolved. That is why EVERY CES system comes with automatic salinity control.
Commercial grade cells simplify piping and installation.
- Good cells are lasting 3-4 years on average:
- We’re happy to report that while some cells last less, and some more, the average cell life has been just over 3 years or 15,000-hours. This is great especially compared that most residential cells were lasting 6-12 months according to their former owners. There are some items that increase cell run time (and decrease cell life), like chlorine demand and phosphates (more below), and unfortunately we can’t monitor these if we’re not on site periodically. Increasing cell stack life is one main reason we like to conduct annual PM services.
- Bad Site Power still can be detrimental:
- Besides the periodic replacement of the reaction cell, the overall lifespan of the rest of the beefy electronic water cooled components has been as good as advertised. However, we have seen that bad site power, that wreaks havoc on pumps motors, VFD controls, etc. can occasionally have a bad effect on saline controls. Fortunately we now have the experience to predict sites where the power from the power company might be a problem, and to help the owner act more decisively before the power company beats the equipment into a state of disrepair.
- Watch ALL water quality:
- Some rookie pool companies have convinced customers that once they "go saline" that they don't need to monitor other water parameters. This is WRONG. A site must still maintain proper calcium and alkalinity levels and assure that the water is not scaling or corrosive, and it is also critical to take direct control of pH on a 24/7 basis. Finally, it is critical to monitor other sources of pool water pollution, such as phosphates, metals, and oils/organics as these can have an effect on overall water quality, and may affect your saline factory in various ways.
New water introduces minerals that slow down chlorine production.
- Chlorine Demand is a huge enemy of saline:
- Whenever water quality deteriorates, even for a day or two, it lowers the rate of oxidation (and ORP). The saline system will run longer to provide chlorine that will just be absorbed by the demand, not allowing the water to achieve a chlorine "residual". This longer run time means shorter cell life. BUT, if the site had been using regular chlorine (bleach or tablets) they would have been paying exponentially higher chlorine costs anyway so this really hasn't affected the economics of saline. The secret is to be able to react quickly when a "chlorine demand" situation affects your site. Fortunately we have the experience and the process to handle this quickly.
What have we learned over the first 10 years? Saline is awesome, and customers seem to love it both in the beginning, and even 10 years later It will last many many years with relatively minor maintenance, but periodic review and maintenance is KEY to preventing premature cell loss. Saline may be blamed for some pool maladies like corrosion etc. but pools that are built and operated legally have few issues. Saline is not for everyone, but it has been used in many hundreds of varied situations with great results so really anyone can use it.
But proper use of saline is a process. It's not really complicated or difficult, but it's a process. It is many times tougher for CES, but easier for the customer, and as long as there is great communication, there are great successes.
Finally, as with all technologies, there are going to be issues. While many technologies fizzled out in a few years under the weight of these issues, we are happy to report that Commercial Saline is going strong in Florida and customers are visiting existing installations and deciding to Go Saline on their properties. We're glad to help, but we also know that behind some new installations lie new challenges and we are ready to continue to identify and resolve.
There is little risk with going Saline as long as you follow the time-tested CES process, and we're ready to assist when you're ready to jump into the world of self-funding mineral pools.