Eco Pools: Nature pools for the eco conscious

By November 17, 2020Pool Safety

Written by Sami Mericle and published on

With the rise of climate change and awareness of our environmental impact on the world, many of us are trying to incorporate everyday practices that reduce our environmental footprint. Ensuring appropriate use of our natural resources, such as water, is one consideration. Whilst we can limit water use in the garden, there has been one glaringly obvious backyard addition that has traditionally been overlooked.

Eco swimming pools are a new style of pool that is emerging into the mainstream arena. Eco pools are essentially any pool that uses a natural purification system rather than traditional chemicals such as salt or chlorine. Whilst the concept is not new (the movement for backyard eco pools started in the 1980’s), the creation and maintenance of these types of pools is more environmentally beneficial when compared to conventional pools.

Can a Swimming Pool Be Ecofriendly?

Swimming pools may be the quintessential symbol of summer. Nothing says relaxation like lounging by a pool, perhaps with a trendy inflatable swan floating by.

No one wants to ruin the fun by bringing up the environmental impact of pools, but that’s our job here at Sierra. Traditional pools invoke the trifecta of environmental destruction: high water use, high energy use, and harmful chemicals. As with other home systems, the specific impact of your pool depends on your electric and water sources. Is your home powered by solar or coal? Is fresh water abundant in your region, or is it pumped in from miles away?

So, how to reduce the impact of your pool? “My first recommendation would be to convert it into a rainwater storage tank or a hothouse for growing tomatoes,” says Dr. Nigel Forrest, coauthor of a comprehensive 2010 study on the environmental impact of pools. Forrest’s research also touts the value of community pools, which, by cutting the need for household pools in their immediate area, conserve water and energy.

We don’t deny the appeal of backyard pools, though. If you’re not willing to give yours up, here are some tips for how to make it more ecofriendly:

1. Cover up!

The best thing you can do to save water and energy is to use a pool cover. This is particularly important in hot, arid regions, like Southern California and Arizona, where pools are constantly losing water to evaporation. Covers also keep pools cleaner, which allows you to reduce your pumping schedule (see tip #2).

Ideally, you should cover your pool whenever it’s not in use. If you can’t commit to covering it every summer night, at least consider extending your pool’s “off season”—keeping it covered for a few extra weeks each year can save hundreds of gallons of water.

In addition to saving energy and water, a tightly fitted safety cover prevents your luxury from becoming a death trap for pets and wildlife. The last thing a nature-loving pool owner wants to discover is a drowned frog, rabbit, or baby bird.

2.  Prime the pump

Pool pumps, which push water through pools’ circulation systems, use a whole lot of energy. In fact, besides heaters and air conditioners, typical varieties guzzle the most electricity of all household appliances. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimated in 2008 that pumps in the U.S. are responsible for 10 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually—the equivalent of 1.3 million cars.

Many pool service professionals recommend that pumps run anywhere from six to 12 hours per day, long enough to push an entire pool’s worth of water through the filter. However, most debris is only found at the top of the pool—meaning you can likely run your pump for less time, without adverse effects. Variable speed pumps can be programmed to meet the specific needs of your pool, and meanwhile save you hundreds of dollars each year. For maximal efficiency, try a pump certified by Energy Star.

3. Go natural

Most pools use chlorine and other harsh chemicals to kill bacteria and algae, but frequent swimmers know that these substances can irritate skin and eyes. Such chemicals also carry significant transportation and manufacturing impacts. Chlorine’s manufacturing, for instance, leads to mercury emissions. And once dumped in a swimming pool, chlorine may contribute to local ozone pollution.

Saltwater pools have been gaining popularity as an alternative to chlorine, but here’s an even better solution: natural pools (pictured above). These pools, more common in Europe than the United States, rely on natural biological processes to purify the water. The best use aquatic plants native to its given area, and thus act as part of the local ecosystem.

“It’s the same process that Mother Nature uses to clarify and purify water,” says James Robyn, president of BioNova Natural Pools, a New Jersey-based network of landscape architects, designers, and architects that implement natural swimming pools. “What we do with a natural swimming pool is we use that same process that Mother Nature uses, and we do it in an optimal fashion, so we do it very efficiently.”

Depending on how comfortable you are swimming with reeds, you can get different models of natural swimming pools. Some separate the plants from the main swimming area, while others integrate them, creating a pond-like aesthetic.

Unfortunately, natural pool installation tends to run at about twice the cost of traditional pools, according to Robyn. However, they will save you money on electricity, as most pumps are not pressurized, and thus use much less energy.

4. Or, go partly natural

If you don’t have the funds, or desire, to convert your pool into a fully natural swimming hole, you can still rely on plants to reduce the need for chlorine and other heavy chemicals. Minneapolis-based Creative Water Solutions sells sphagnum moss for use in swimming pools and industrial operations. The moss limits bacterial growth and absorbs some metals. In contrast to natural pools, the moss is submerged, so as to maintain that classic swimming pool aesthetic.

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