As Long As The Grass Grows And The Water Flows How to Troubleshoot a Salt Chlorine Generator

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How to Troubleshoot a Salt Chlorine Generator

Salt chlorinators, so-called salt water pool systems are very popular these days and rightfully so. There is no better or cheaper way to keep your pool disinfected. Modern units have sophisticated circuitry that requires very little supervision and are generally quite reliable. Most last for years with only occasional cell cleaning. However, when they stop working, pool owners often need help identifying the source of the problem and this article is written with that in mind.

If you regularly check the chemical composition of the water, the first sign of a problem could be a sudden lack of chlorine in the water. If your salt system’s display appears normal, the first thing you need to further check is the water; have it checked for phosphates and make sure the cyanuric acid (stabilizer) is at the proper level. Phosphates are a more common problem than ever before; perhaps due to unusual weather conditions. If necessary, purchase PhosFree treatment and read below 100 PPB.

If you don’t regularly check the water chemistry, the first sign of a problem will likely be algae in the shallow parts of the pool. Whether the generator is running or not, you may need to immediately treat the pool with a granular shock and algaecide to prevent a full bloom of algae. It is always cheaper to attack algae early and aggressively than to wait. It grows quickly in warm weather.

Now that we’ve eliminated the possibilities described above, it’s time to take a closer look at the salt chlorinator system. If the unit is completely dark and there is no sign of life, check the power source and ensure that it is receiving power. Ideally, check the source with a voltmeter. If proper voltage is getting to the unit, check to see if the chlorinator control unit has a reset button or internal fuse. They protect the unit from a short circuit in the cell. All it takes is a bit of grass or a ball of hair to momentarily settle between the titanium plates to activate the reset button or blow the fuse. If the cell is covered in calcium and the plates are bridged, that’s clearly a problem. Clean the cell, change the fuse and you should be good to go.

If the control appears to be working normally, it’s time to check if the cell is producing chlorine gas. If your unit has a transparent cell body, you can simply observe the cell while it is working and if you see mist coming down from the plates, it is working. If the fog is minimal, the cell may be worn out. Most brands have cells that last around 8,000 hours, and a few brands have cells that last 15,000 hours. Using your history of working hours per day, you can calculate and determine if the cell is at the end of its life. If you’ve ever cleaned your cell with too strong an acid solution, or if you’ve ever made the mistake of leaving it soaking for too long, all bets are off and you could be facing early cell failure. Take out the old Visa card. Some pool stores have a device that tests the salt cell, but many technicians question the validity of these machines. (Cell Failure = Commission)

If your salt system has an opaque cell body, the only way to test for activity is to capture some of the water coming out of the pool nozzles and test it for chlorine. Use an empty coke bottle or similar, hold your thumb over the opening and place it against the pool’s return jet. Try not to let the sample get too diluted with water from the rest of the pool. If your system is working, you should see a difference in the chlorine level in this sample compared to the reading in the far corner of the pool.

In some cases, salt systems work as they should, but the display shows incorrect salinity and/or temperature readings. This is usually a sign that the calibration circuit has been compromised by an electrical shock. Many units can be recalibrated on site by the homeowner. Check your owner’s manual or Google for calibration instructions for your model. If your display or warning lights show a “water error” or “water flow” problems, check that water is flowing freely through the generator cell. If the water is flowing, you may have a bad flow switch. Most units have a separate flow switch, but some have this function built into the cell. Some may show a water fault indication if the aforementioned calibration is drastically off. In all cases, carefully examine the electrical connections between the cell and the control and between the flow switch (if present) and the control. These joints must be clean, firm and dry. Often, a little sandpaper on these terminals can bring a dead system back to life.

Even if you can’t start the generator, going through these steps will prepare you for the phone call to the factory technicians. Most manufacturers expect their installers to fix problems, but if you try, you can usually talk to one of their technicians and get their help. Like everything else, salt chlorinators are not complicated once you understand how they work.

Thanks for reading and happy swimming!

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