Worth It's Salt?

How to get - and keep - your pool splash ready without draining your wallet.

When the weather warms up, many of us start anticipating that first dip in the pool. It's a delicious expectation, until the looming prices of pool maintenance threaten to darken the sunshine.

This spring it may be especially hard to budget funds toward frills. But for some, including pool owner Molly Williams, the sacrifice is worth it. "The pool is the most tranquil thing in my life, which counts for a lot," says Williams. "It's my backyard Zen." Thankfully, maintenance tips and pool innovations go a long way to keep swimming pool owners afloat.

Some are trading in their chlorine pool-cleaning system for a salt -water system. These pools aren't like the ocean; their generators use salt to produce chlorine. Cesar Villalpando of Cordova Pools explains, "Table salt with electricity sent through the molecules converts the salt to chlorine."

Switching to a salt-water system may make your swimming pool more affordable to maintain. "You don't need to buy a lot of chemicals to keep the pool clean," says Villalpando, "and that's a really important thing because people spend around $800 every year for chemicals to clean the pool, versus $150 for a year of salt." By purchasing salt and converting it rather than purchasing chlorine, you could be saving an estimated $650 per year on pool sanitization costs.

Another money-saving modification to consider is a swimming pool pump that will increase energy efficiency. "You can find pumps on the market with variable-motor speeds, that use different amounts of energy," says Villalpando. When your pool does not need the pump to operate at a high speed, the pump slows itself and uses less energy. Beyond that, using a variable speed pump precludes the purchase of several pumps that only operate at a single speed. "Instead of three pumps, you can use just one pump," says Villalpando.

Investing in a variable speed pump is a trend that may be well worth following. With more control over the energy a pool uses, pool owners also have more control over keeping the cost of that energy at an affordable figure. Since these pumps waste less energy than others, they are environmentally friendly or "green" pumps.

Williams, who owns a 15,000-gallon fiberglass swimming pool with a chlorine cleaning system, estimates her annual pool costs at "about $800 to $1000. Unless you let it go like I just did this past winter. In which case add another $500 for a professional leaf cleaning,"

She offers a final way to cut the cost of pool upkeep. Except for emergencies, she says, "I maintain my pool myself. I don't have to spend tons of time and money getting it back into shape." Williams advises cleaning the pool regularly to curb professional-sized messes. And she cautions against letting the task slide if you're not in the mood or lack the energy: "As soon as the weather gets warm, you will be battling algae until Christmas."

For Williams battling that gunky stuff is a form of relaxation: "At least four or five hours a week, I vacuum my pool to pick up algae particles and little pieces of dirt that fall in," she says. "It's really quite a therapeutic task. I actually enjoy it."

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