GreenYour Swimming pool
Create a natural swimming pool
By creating a natural swimming pool, also known as a natural swimming pond, you are helping the environment in several ways: you’re saving energy and water, lessening chlorine pollution, and starting a micro-environment that helps shift the general environment toward a healthy direction.
Find it! Natural swimming pool designers
Landscape designer Michael Littlewood uses renewable energy, recycling of wastes, water harvesting, and wildlife habitats to create a sustainable environment.
How to build a natural pool
A natural pool is much like a conventional pool to swim in—the water is clear and warm enough to be comfortable, and there is no murky bottom. But because nature is used to build and maintain it rather than manufactured materials and chemicals, a balanced, self-contained, self-cleaning ecosystem is created that is based on pure water surrounded by plants and flowers like lilies and trumpet vines; you'll be swimming with butterflies and hummingbirds. These are the general steps to building a natural pool:
- Hollow a hole in the ground. You can make your pool any shape, and as shallow or as deep as you want, but the key is to make sure the sides slope so the natural walls you’re creating support the pool.
- Seal the pool by applying a layer of bentonite clay. It works as a glue, bonding with the soil particles and preventing pool water from seeping into the ground. You can also use a less environmentally-sound but easier option, and line the pool with rubber or reinforced polyethylene, preferably in black to attract heat from the sun.
- If you prefer more conventional pool construction, consider using Rastra block, a material made from cement and recycled foam plastic.
- Cover the bottom of the pool with 4 to 5 inches of clean gravel.
- Create a separate zone of plants close to the pool. This shallow area holds specific plants that purify the water by enriching the pool with oxygen, using friendly bacteria to convert contaminants into plant fiber, and taking nutrients away from algae so it won’t appear. These plants include marsh marigolds, water lilies, water primrose, cattails, and rushes. Rocks can be added to filter out particles. Water flows back and forth between this regeneration zone and the swimming area. The water is cleaned by the plants, and because the zone is so shallow, the water is also warmed there. Differences in the temperature between these two zones also keep the water circulating.
- Have an electrician add a pump for further circulating water between the pool and the plant zone, as well as a skimmer and filter to keep the pool free of debris. You may also want to have an ultraviolet light added for further cleaning of the water.
- Finish the edges by putting plants all around the perimeter of the pool to stabilize it. They’ll anchor the soil and keep it from eroding.
You can find much more detail in Mother Earth News. Or you can buy a self-build kit that takes you through the process. There are also specialists who will build a natural pool for you; local landscapers and anyone involved with creating water features should also be able to help.
Creating a natural swimming pool helps you go green because...
- It saves energy. Since the sun and water circulation heat a natural pool, and the pump and filter used are much simpler than in conventional pools, much less electricity is used overall.
- It saves water. A natural pool doesn’t get drained at the end of every season as conventional pools usually do. It is only filled once.
- You aren’t using the materials you’d use to build a conventional pool that contain chemicals, which use a lot of energy to produce and transport, such as fiberglass and steel.
- Since the pool cleans itself, you won’t be using chlorine, thereby keeping chlorine pollution out of the air, water, and earth.
- You are creating an entire little ecosystem with many benefits: plants absorb carbon dioxide, pure water supports a healthy environment, and a habitat is created for creatures like dragonflies, fireflies, and birds.
- There's less maintenance. Once you get the pool going, it only needs to be checked out about once a year to keep plants pruned and filters efficient. There is no testing of water, and no chemicals to add. It is self-maintaining; for instance, the pool will naturally develop friends like frogs that keep bugs under control.
- It's less expensive. A natural pool can he constructed for as little as $2,000 if you do it yourself. Of course it can also cost much more, but you save money in the long term because of all the things you don’t have to buy to add to it over the years.
- A natural pool is a scenic environment all year round. In the spring, wildflowers come up around it; in the winter, it ices over and becomes a skating pond; in the fall, duck families may visit.
The land razed to build a conventional pool drives out plants, grasses, birds, and all the other life that exists within a small ecosystem. Conventional pools use large amounts of energy and water, and their high concentration of chlorine contributes to chlorine pollution.
The amount of chlorine used in chemicals to clean pool water is very high; as much as 95 percent (household bleach has about 5 percent.) In the upper atmosphere, chlorine molecules from air pollution eat up ozone; in the lower atmosphere, they bond with carbon to form organochlorines, which include hazardous compounds like DDT, PCBs, chloroform, and dioxins. Dioxins are believed to be the most carcinogenic chemicals known to science.
Natural pools were developed in Europe to counteract this problem; they have been very popular there for a couple of decades. One of the biggest public natural pools, measuring 5,000 square meters, is near Leipzig, Germany. During high summer, more than a thousand people use the pool in a day; testing of the water has shown it to be of drinking quality.
By filling up your pool only once. as in a natural pool, you are saving an average of 20,000 gallons of water a year, or 200,000 gallons over 10 years. That means the average of almost 7,000 gallons of water it takes to top off a natural pond per season can be supplied for three years by the 20,000 gallons of water saved by not having to refill the pool in just one year. Saving water is saving energy--pumping, treating, and cleaning water in wastewater plants after it's used accounts for approximately 50 percent of a city's energy bill. By using the sun to heat a natural pool, and using a less consumptive system of filters and pumps, you are saving in energy roughly the equivalent of what it takes to power an average home for three months. By removing chlorine from your pool, you are taking an average of 500-700 gallons of chlorine per year out of the environment—from the air, water, and soil.
Related health issues
The chlorine used in many pools and inhaled or absorbed through the skin has some possible bad effects. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined that dioxins, furans, and trihalmenthanes (similar in structure to PCBs) can arise when chlorine comes into contact with organic matter such as dirt and dandruff, and can cause a possible increased risk of cancer; possible damage to the liver, kidneys, and nervous system; and possible increased risk of birth defects for pregnant women.
A study from Belgium's Catholic University of Louvain found that chlorine might be linked to childhood asthma. Chlorine may also cause skin and eye irritations and longer-term respiratory problems. People working at pools with chlorine have been found to be at unusually high risk for breathing problems.
- Mother Earth News - Natural Swimming Pools
- The Ecologist - Natural Swimming Pools
- Permaculture Magazine - Taking the Plunge Naturally
- HGTV - Remodeling: The Natural Pool
- Inhabitat - Natural Swimming Pools Catch On
- SAHRA - Residential Water Conservation: Swimming Pools
- The US Environmental Protection Agency - Learn About Chemicals Around Your House: Swimming Pool Chemicals, Chlorine
- weblife.org - Chlorine
- Light Party - Naturally Speaking: Speaking About the Dangers of Chlorine
- The Ecologist - Natural Swimming Pools
- Rochester Green Business Network - Penfield Fitness Club Eliminates Use of Hazardous Chemical
- Consumer Energy Center - Pools and Spas
- Consumer Energy Center - Pool and Spas
- Grist - Levels of Risk
- E Magazine - The Digital Debate, Chasing Paper and Swimming Green
- BBC News - Swimming pool use link to asthma
- BBC News - Swimming pool use link to asthma