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Time to Dive into Chlorine Pools

By Tom Saxton Rise Writer
Jul 5, 2021

It's summer in the northern hemisphere and pool season for many. Record temperatures are being broken, and people are looking to cool off. Chlorine has been the conventional pool option for decades now, with salt being the most common alternative. Other alternatives include biguanidebromine, ultraviolet, and even natural and living pools. Some pools use a combination of treatment techniques to combat harmful pathogen establishment in the water. Let's examine how it stacks up.

How Do You Maintain a Chlorine Pool?

In chlorine pools, you need to add chlorine regularly. Forms of chlorine include granular, tabs, and gas. You likely will need to use other chemicals such as cyanuric acid, pH balancers, algaecides, and clarifiers for various purposes. With this system, you will want a pool filtration system to circulate water and keep it clean.

How Long Do Chlorine Pools Last?

Chlorine pools can last a very long time - decades even, depending on the structure of the pool. Chlorine systems minimize the use of electrical appliances as compared to saltwater pools. The main elements you would need to replace are pool filters that last between 1 and 3 years. 

Are Chlorine Pools Cheaper Than Salt Pools?

Chlorine pools are often described as the cheapest option overall. But, when comparing salt versus chlorine systems, when maintained regularly, both have similar costs over the long term. The increased cost of buying salt-chlorine generators is offset by the need to purchase chlorine chemicals regularly.

Pool Chemicals

What Chemicals are Used in Chlorine Pools?

Generally, homeowners need to treat chlorine pools with the following chemicals: chlorine gas, sodium hypochlorite (liquid bleach), calcium hypochlorite (granular or tablet), lithium hypochlorite, or chlorinated isocyanates. These chemicals react with water to release hypochlorous acid that sanitizes the water. Stabilizers are also added to reduce chlorine loss from sun ultraviolet rays. 

What Are the Health Risks of Chlorine Pools?

The chemicals used in chlorine pools can react with organic matter – dirt, sweat, urine, and even skincare products all brought in by swimmers themselves, and form unwanted disinfection byproducts (DBPs) that can be considered toxic at certain levels. Swimmers will be exposed to DBPs in the water or even in the air around the water. It is unlikely that these compounds will reach toxic levels, but chronic exposure over time could add up. There are hundreds of potential DBPs that can be found in pool water.

The Candian Center For Occupational Health and Safety does not list chlorine as a carcinogen. The majority of municipal tap water could have more chlorine than your pool. However, chlorine used in pools does bring potential health risks, however small. The US EPA describes chlorine as an irritant to the lungs, upper respiratory tract, and eyes with acute or chronic exposures. The exposure levels in a pool should be low enough that most people have a low risk and might not necessarily exhibit symptoms from exposure. The most common ailments from exposure to concentrations of chlorine found in pools are dry skin, acne, and red eyes. It's recommended to hire a professional to help maintain chemical balances in either system or become highly educated yourself.

Family in Pool

What Are the Pros of Chlorine Pools? 

Chlorine systems are less expensive upfront, with smaller but regular chunks of expenses over time. Your utility bills and electricity demand will be lower than if you used salt because chlorine systems don't need to power a salt-chlorine generator to get chlorine in the water; you add it manually. You will still need electricity to filter pumps, as with all pool types. Chlorine likely won't damage materials over time like salt can. These systems have been around longer than salt systems, and so people are more familiar with maintaining and operating them than the alternatives. 

What Are the Cons of Chlorine Pools?

Chlorine systems need to use concentrated chlorine to operate versus just adding salt. Potent chlorine chemicals are hazardous and must be used properly and stored securely. You might need to add balancing agents to the chlorine chemicals regularly. Overall, chemical use can be higher in chlorine systems, and you'll need to pay closer attention to the water pH.

The potentially higher chlorine content in these systems can be more irritating to the skin and eyes. The health risks with chlorine, however minor in the concentrations in pools, could be slightly elevated compared to those with salt systems. The classic chlorine pool smell caused by chloramines is typical with these systems, and your skin and bathing suit might smell afterward.


What Are The Environmental Implications of Chorine Pools?

From a water conservation standpoint, pools are not ideal. On average, uncovered pools lose 1% of their water daily, resulting in a complete water turnover every 100 days. That's a lot of water. On top of that, many areas across North America source their water from dammed rivers. We have dramatically increased our freshwater surface area across the continent, and at the same time, the planet is warming. Between reservoirs and backyard pools, that's a lot of water evaporating.

Regional Environmental Considerations

Pools vary in their environmental impact in different regions and climates, which are diverse in their evaporative influences on the pool. Research has shown that pools with the most significant ecological footprints are in hot or dry climates where evaporation rates are highest, and pools are often used year-round. More specifically, researchers have found that these regions have a water and energy footprint five to six times larger than more temperate regions. Arid areas like this include the majority of the western interior of the United States (particularly the southwest) and parts of the southern interior of British Columbia. Pools in warmer but more humid climates like the southeastern United States have a higher impact than milder, humid climates of the northeastern/Midwestern United States or Canada. The warmer the temperature, the more water evaporates, and the more water is consumed by needing to refill the pool. Just this week, Seattle (Washington), a city with a mild climate, broke back-to-back all-time triple-digit heat records three days in a row. As our climate warms, even the temperate regions will experience an increase in embodied footprints for pools. 

Pool Leakage

A large number of pools have leaks which increase water use on top of evaporation. When pools leak, they aren't just leaching water into the ground, but also all the chemicals used to treat the pool, which is harmful to biota in the soil and water. When pool owners discharge their pool water improperly, chlorine pools can dramatically pollute nearby streams and wetlands.

When the water in pools evaporates, chemicals used to treat the water, such as chlorine, turn to gas. Chlorine is a reactive chemical that readily combines with other chemicals to form secondary compounds that can pollute surface water and create toxins in fish that eventually transfer to the animals that feed on the fish, like humans. Your small chlorine pool in the backyard might not seem like much, but evaporated gases like chlorine can have a significant environmental impact when considering all the other pools. 

How Much Energy Do Pool Pumps Use?

From an energy perspective, pools are hogs. In 2001, the US Department of Energy estimated that private pool pumps that aerate the water and circulate chemicals comprised 0.9% of the entire country's residential energy consumption. That might sound like a small number, but it's a significant impact for a single appliance that most people don't even own. Conventional chlorine systems have a bonus of lower electricity use than salt systems, but they still require electricity to operate and maintain.

Pool Cover

How Can You Reduce Environmental Impacts of Pools?

The environmental impact associated with pools can be reduced in several ways, including:

  • Using pool covers
  • Incorporating proper drainage
  • Using efficient energy pumps
  • Reducing chemical usage
  • Considering shared/community pool options.

Pool Covers

This is one of the most significant steps you can take in reducing your water and chemical use. Regardless of where you live, using a pool cover will cut back dramatically on your water consumption. Use them as frequently as you can – a day-to-day basis is ideal. There are automatic covers that will operate at the flip of a switch and manual covers that aren't difficult to manage and run on a track. Regardless of manual or automatic pool covers, the shape of the pool will impact the ease of regular covering, so stick to rectangular shapes that are easy to install and operate pool covers in an efficient way. Pool covers will reduce chemical evaporation and chemical use, help the water retain heat, keep debris out of your pool, and, if appropriately fitted, can be a safety measure for all types of life when the pool is not in use. All of these factors make pool covers an excellent long-term economic investment despite their initial cost. Pool covers are a win-win all around.

Proper Drainage

Don't drain downhill towards a stream, forested area, or into a storm drain. Both salt and chlorine pools have chemicals that are harmful to aquatic ecosystems. Follow local regulations with discharging pool water. If you are draining your pool, you'll want to balance the pH of the water - you especially don't want to release acidic water into the environment. Before draining, allow sanitizer and algaecide chemicals to drop to low levels. When draining, be sure to move your hoses frequently to avoid soil erosion and chemical concentrations.

Energy Efficient Pumps

To cut back on energy consumption, pool owners can run pumps less often while still running enough to keep algae from establishing in the pool. You can program variable speed pumps to meet specifics requirements for your pool and will run as needed. Try to purchase ENERGY STAR-rated pumps. Rise offers home energy monitoring systems to help determine how much power is being consumed by individual appliances like pool filters.

Reduce Chemicals

Try not to buy more pool chemicals than you'll use in a season - they lose effectiveness over time. Make sure pool chemicals are inaccessible to children and stored according to instructions.

Shared and Community Pools

Overall, community facilities have a much lower environmental impact than backyard pools. Sometimes these facilities are indoors, so if you live in climates with the highest energy footprint of pools, that's a bonus because the evaporation will be reduced in an indoor setting. Another unique option is to join a group of friends fiscally support building one pool between all of you to share. 

Maybe No Pool?

Perhaps you can get by without this luxury and limit your global impact. 7.5 billion and counting can't all have private pools. Maybe a nearby stream or water body will work just fine for you, but remember to be mindful of polluting waterways with sunscreen and cosmetics.

Floating in Pool

Chlorine pools have been the go-to for a long time. Some believe there's a reason for that and stick with them, while others say alternative pool treatments are superior. Weigh the pros and cons, and remember there are options beyond chlorine pools. Whatever you decide, always remember that clean freshwater is the scarcest natural resource we have on the planet. It must be respected, conserved, and not taken for granted. 

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-05T20:35:02+0000
Tom Saxton

Article by:

Tom Saxton

Based in Washington State, Tom's education focuses on holistic land management that sustainably grows renewable building materials in a way that replenishes natural systems. His interest is in building systems that combine old techniques and modern science.