Dive in Pair popular salt water pools with the right furnishings
Marc Barnes -- Casual Living, May 1, 2010
For many outdoor furniture retailers, a sale to customers who plan to place chairs and lounges around their new swimming pool may well be a mixed blessing.
The sale has been rung up and the check has cleared but down the road, given that most new pools use salt water, the question will likely arise as to whether the furniture will corrode — and therefore prompt a return trip by the consumer.
According to a spot check of furniture manufacturers and those in the pool industry, the answer is yes, no and maybe.
Not surprisingly, whether or not the furniture will corrode if placed around a salt water swimming pool comes down to two things: The furniture and the pool.
Sometimes, cast aluminum is tainted by recycled material, which can cause air voids to bubble to the surface. That means an already porous surface becomes more porous. Couple that with a failure to properly seal and coat the surfaces that are exposed to salt water, or use the wrong kind of metal fasteners to attach the pieces together, and corrosion can be accelerated.
At the same time, experts in swimming pool processing systems say some consumers will allow their filtration systems to run the salt content too high, which tends to damage the pool filtration equipment and the furniture itself.
Sometimes, it's both the pool and the furniture. Some new pool designs have a shallow wading pool in one end — and some consumers have been known to put the furniture into the pool. Do that and it doesn't matter whether it's salt water or a more conventional chlorine filtration system — the furniture will corrode.
What to do? Kirstin Pires, director of communication for the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, said outdoor furniture retailers would do well to include selections from furniture lines that have been successfully used in oceanfront applications or on cruise ships.
"Anything that would work for a seaside application would be fine for a salt pool," Pires said. "Salt pools that are correctly balanced have a much lower salinity rate than the ocean."
Beyond that advice — and beyond expecting customers to maintain both their pools and their furniture with the proper percentage of salt content and spending some time hosing down their furniture with fresh water — the debate over the effect of salt water will likely continue.
One factor seems evident: Salt water pools aren't going anywhere. Various industry estimates place the percentage of salt water pools at 80% to 90% of new pool installations.
Bruce Aronson, managing member of the Pool & Patio Center in Metairie, La., writes in a Casual Living blog that salt water pools work through the use of a chlorine generator. Salt is added, either into a tank next to the generator or into the pool water itself. The generator converts the salt into sodium and chlorine — and the chlorine kills harmful bacteria, the same way a conventional chlorinator does.
Aronson said he has found it useful to solve problems at the outset by asking customers whether or not they have a salt-water installation — and if they do, to steer their choices accordingly. Wrought iron rusts more easily, thus Aronson advises them to consider aluminum.
Even so, Aronson says, there are some differences in how much salt should be used, with some manufacturers requiring 2,800 parts per million for its generator, others up to 4,000. Compare that to the ocean, which runs at 30,000 parts per million. Aronson said one salt water test kit says that going beyond its recommendation can corrode metal parts and fixtures.
Not surprisingly, those who make swimming pool filtration systems sometimes find that customers do just that.
"We have a phrase in our business and that is, 'Consumers happen,'" said Melodie Polanco, a technical support specialist with Vista, Calif.-based Zodiac Pool Systems.
Put simply, if a handful of salt tossed into the deep end of the pool would suffice, some customers will figure that a 60-pound bag will work much better. Polanco said the systems her company sells will shut down and flash a warning that the salt content is too high.
"If you are tasting it and it is burning your eyes, it defeats the purpose entirely," Polanco said.
Ronald Barnes, chief executive officer of Prozone Water Products in Huntsville, Ala., said his system may be an answer, because it combines a chlorine generator that uses a lower salt concentration with ozone, which he says reduces the possibility for corrosion.
But Barnes is quick to point out that there are two other possible causes for corrosion. One is that the chlorine generator produces two byproducts, which are chlorine and sodium hydroxide, which is one of the main chemical ingredients in drain cleaner — and which he says is effectively neutralized by the addition of ozone.
"You aren't just subjecting the furniture to salt water," Barnes said. "You are subjecting it to Drano."
A second possible cause for corrosion is galvanic corrosion. If two dissimilar metals touch and are exposed to water, corrosion will result. That presents a particular problem where pool ladders are made with steel bolts on aluminum frames, which Barnes said could fail within a matter of weeks.
Homeowners should have another motivation to perform routine maintenance beyond the furniture that surrounds their pools. Barnes noted pool water can ruin landscaping plants that surround a pool — and Bob Harper, general manager of Pristiva, which manufactures salt systems, said care must be taken with pool decks.
Harper suggests consumers avoid porous, low-density natural stone. The material should be treated each year with a sealant and be rinsed regularly.
Having consumers take some responsibility rings true for casual furniture manufacturers.
So many consumers were putting furniture into the pools that Suncoast Furniture decided submerged furniture won't be repaired or replaced under its warranty, said Rick Baker, Suncoast national sales manager. Two years ago, Suncoast changed its finishing process with cast aluminum to include using aluminum that does not contain recycled material, and then finishing it with state-of-the-art cleaning, priming and an acrylic powder coat.
Baker finds it's best to educate consumers about the risks. Wrought iron will rust from the inside out; cast aluminum is more susceptible to corrosion than extruded aluminum, but will corrode if not properly coated. When furniture will be used in an oceanfront application, customers need to be told to wash it down regularly to keep the salt off, which Baker says is good advice for saltwater swimming pools, as well.
Manufacturers like Pride Family Brands have their own foundry and are better able to control the quality, said Rory Rehmert, vice president of sales and marketing.
"We do a lot of business in South Florida and we have no issue with it," Rehmert said. "It does start somewhat with the metal, because if the castings are not done properly, it is tough to paint."
Rehmert said it comes down to two steps: Making certain all of the air pockets are out of the casting as it is cooling, and that all of the chemical agents that are used to prepare the metal for finishing are properly applied.
"It's all about using the right alloy, the right pre-cleaning, the right finishing sealer and the right top coat," Rehmert said.
The pool and the outdoor furniture industries could benefit from alliances with each other, said Timothy Petsch, managing director of TMI Salt Pure Corporation.
"We have had customers who have had a salt system in their pools for 15 or 20 years and they have always done it correctly," Petsch said. "Whatever product you have, you follow the instructions and you get support from a reputable dealer, distributor or manufacturer."
Instead of blaming salt water pools for problems with corrosion, a high quality outdoor furniture manufacturer or retailer could make an alliance with a reputable manufacturer of pool systems, Petsch said. As consumers are picking out everything they need to install a new pool, they could be directed to a line of furniture that's made for poolside challenges.
"You ask yourself, 'How can I make a niche out of this and how can I draw it down deeper?'" Petsch said. "That's how I would look at it. Don't walk away from it. Embrace it, find a way to solve it and make money from it."