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Come On In, The Water's Fine! Alternatives To Chlorine Pools

» Swimming Pools


Overview

Published: 11/01/2012

Photos

Unless you live near a lake or ocean, you can almost hear a neighborhood swimming pool calling your name on a hot day. You enjoy the water, but the downside is that the chemicals in the water makes your eyes burn, your bathing suit fade, and your skin itch - all because the pool is chlorinated to make it safe and hygienic for swimmers. Recent studies have shown that exposure to high levels of chlorine can lead to asthma, allergies, and even some forms of cancer. Without treatment, however, the water in the pool would be a cesspool of bacteria and old residues of sunscreen, body oils, urine, and perspiration. The problems caused by chlorine have led to the development of alternative systems, such as no chemical, saltwater, and ultraviolet.

How Traditional Chlorine Pools Work

Most pools use a system of filters, pumps, and chemicals to continuously clean the water. Water flows to the filters through drains and is pumped backed into the pool after cleaning. Meanwhile, skimmers trap debris at the top of the pool and right below the surface. In traditional pools, chlorine is added in liquid or powder form through a chemical feed that dispenses it at intervals. To prevent the chlorine from breaking down into weaker chemicals, a stabilizing agent is added to the mix to allow the chlorine to do its job.

Also, to keep the water at the proper Ph level, the balance of acid and base that allows the chlorine to work, more chemicals are added. If kept at the proper levels, chlorine kills e-coli and other sources of recreational water illnesses and keeps swimmers safe. If you own a pool, you can monitor levels yourself or employ a pool service.

The Myth of No-Chemical Pools

As people have gotten more conscious of the dangers that chemicals pose to humans and the environment, there is growing interest in alternatives to chlorine. Some companies have even experimented with so-called chemical free pools, which use ionizers to pull metal ions out of the plumbing and discharge them into the pool to kill microorganisms. The discharge of metals causes problems in its own and does not effectively sanitize the pool. The one alternative that uses virtually no chemicals is a $50,000 system used in some commercial pools. The best option for a home pool owner is a low-chlorine pool.

The Saltwater Alternative

Saltwater pools came on the scene as an alternative system that required fewer chemicals and less maintenance. Some pool owners felt the water looked, felt, and tasted better too, so saltwater pools became popular - at a cost. Salt has sanitizing properties in pool water only after the water undergoes electrolysis. When the salt passes across a special metal cell, a sanitizing agent is created: chlorine. By adding a processing unit to the pool, you are adding a chlorine generator that produces something with the same chemical structure as chlorine that you buy. Since the equipment that makes a saltwater pool a viable option costs $10,000 or more, seeing the cost benefits take several years. In addition, salt corrodes anything it touches, so the generator will need to be replaced every decade or so.

UV Systems

Perhaps the most promising approach to making a pool less dependent on chemicals is through the use of ultraviolet (UV) light. When a pool is retrofitted with special quartz glass and a UV lamp, 99.9% of the microorganisms, viruses, bacteria and/or algae in the water that flows around it are killed. The UV approach is currently used to sanitize drinking water and in commercial pools in some states and in recent Olympics pools. Though a low level of chlorine is still needed as a residual sanitizer, a pool with UV is less dependent on potentially harmful chemicals.

If you want to go greener while being safe in your pool, a UV system is worth considering. Your pool contractor can explain the options and pricing to you if you have a pool you want to upgrade or plan on installing a new one.