Waveline 80: Trichlor Shortage

Jun 15, 2021 | Waveline™

A summer without swimming?

A look at the potential new directions in the pool industry set in motion by the tricolor shortage

Memorial Day traditionally marks the opening of community and club pools, but in much of the U.S. it has already been hot enough for daily dips for pool owners. One thing everyone has on their mind is the chlorine shortage, particularly trichlor, which has had nonstop coverage by the news. Trichlor tabs, in limited supply since the BioLab plant was damaged, are a staple in pool care. They are efficient, stable, and long-lasting. Although some coverage of the shortage is likely overblown panic (or the result of a slow news day), and plenty of companies won’t be affected, there will undoubtedly be ramifications throughout the industry.

Likely to affect homeowners, equipment manufacturers, and pool builders, the shortage can already be felt in rising chlorine prices. Homeowners investing in constructing or remodeling a personal pool are going to think twice about traditional water sanitization; the fear of not being able to use their pool, and increased prices for chemicals, may lead homeowners to look for alternative sanitization solutions. In addition, pool maintenance providers will be pressured to bear the increased cost of materials without passing it on to their customers.  ​

Even perceived shortages can cause changes in a market, both short-term (e.g., hoarding) and long-term (e.g., alternative products coming to market.) What are the alternatives, and how viable are these solutions?

Alternative chemical sanitation

The short-term solution will see pool owners relying on alternative chemical sanitation, (excluding salt systems, which require specialty equipment) including cal hypo tabs and liquid chlorine, as well as biguanide. Each of these has their own positive and negative attributes, and availability may eventually be squeezed as former trichlor customers buy up supplies. Changing chemicals is the short-term alternative; long-term alternatives will be seen starting in the next few months and continuing over the next year or so.  

Longer-term alternatives offer a wider range of solutions that could take the manufacturers and builders in new directions. Unsurprisingly, none of these make for a quick fix; the future of the industry will lean to retrofitting existing pools and constructing pools with alternate filtration and cleaning systems. ​

Salt systems

While the salt itself is still subject to the supply squeeze expected when customers shift to alternatives, the shortage sets up a unique opportunity for salt chlorine generator equipment manufacturers. While the residential pool build boom that started in 2020 continues, we may see a trend shifting more new pools to salt systems. The added salt gives the swimmer a different water experience, which may entice customers to convert to salt once they dip their toes (so to speak) into a salt pool.

Natural pools

Sometimes called natural swimming ponds, natural pools rely on organic filtration in the place of chemical filtration systems. Most natural pools feature a “regeneration zone,” separate from the swimming area, that features live plants, including a small amount of algae. The plants in this miniature wetland, as well as a biological filter relying on (good) bacteria keep water clean and swimmable. Possibly the most unlikely option (at least on a large scale), natural pools are a colorful and growing area of the industry.

UV and ozone

UV/ozone systems, including hydroxyl-based Advanced Oxidation Process (AOP), sanitize with far less chlorine, relying instead on the germicidal properties of a UV lamp and O3.  Like SCG/salt systems, UV/Ozone systems may see an opportunity in a market scrambling for more options going forward. Another effect of a shift toward AOP is the increased service requirements these systems call for, which will increase demand on service pros.

The panic is somewhat overblown – after all, the rest of the chlorine supply is intact – but trickle-down effects can still spread disruption, as mentioned above within the residential pool industry, and even spreading further. For example, residential pools rely much more on trichlor tabs, while commercial or club pools use other sanitation methods. With pressure on their usual supply, commercial pool management might see a shortage as well.

Construction of new pools and equipment sales, as well as the creative solutions industry players develop, will indicate the new directions of residential pool sanitation. Consumer sentiment and demand has already surprised us recently, and we only have more to look forward to this season.