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What is a Natural Swimming Pool?

The last few decades have brought a movement towards all things eco-friendly and put an emphasis on “natural” living. From organic food, to clean cosmetics, consumers are focused on painting their daily lives in a deeper shade of green. “Naturally”, this movement has expanded to include backyard design. Cue the natural swimming pool!

Popularly used in other countries for a while, the natural swimming pool movement has recently been making a splash in the United States. If you’ve never heard of natural swimming pools, you may be envisioning a pond-like, murky hole in the ground. Thankfully, this isn’t the reality. So what is a natural swimming pool, and how does it work? And could it be the right choice for your family? Read on to find out.

What is a Natural Swimming Pool?

Natural swimming pools are pools that use plants and other natural biofilters to clean the water in your pool. Unlike other “chemical-free” alternatives such as saltwater pools, which still produce cleansing levels of chlorine, a natural swimming pool is chemical free. Due to the absence of chemicals, natural pools behave a bit differently to a typical backyard pool.

Grab your ice skates or hockey sticks! If you live in a cold weather climate, you can expect an unheated natural swimming pool to freeze over in winter months. Without the chemical additives, there is nothing to prevent ice crystals from forming. In spring, your pool will thaw with the rest of the world. This only emphasizes the “natural” feeling of the installation.

How does a Natural Swimming Pool Work?

As mentioned, a natural swimming pool uses plants and natural biofilters to clean and filter pool water. This is done by splitting your swimming pool into two parts- the swimming area, and the regeneration area.

The main body of water is free of plant and other bio-material and can be built to look exactly like your typical swimming pool. Next to the main body, however, is the regeneration area, containing specifically selected plants which keep your water clean. But how?

In the regeneration area, pumps cycle water in on a constant loop, keeping it moving at all times during the swimming season. The plantings, microbacteria, and microorganisms feed hydroponically on the water, filtering out and consuming bad bacteria. After this process, water typically passes through a secondary filter containing aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, flowing back into the pool. The result is clean, swimmable water without any added chemicals.

Some homeowners may decide to leave the construction there. However, more extensive cleaning and filtering can be done by adding elements such as traditional pool skimmer. This will help to catch any large particulate or unwelcome debris. If you’re looking to really reinforce the system, consider adding a natural UV sterilizer.

Benefits of a Natural Swimming Pool

There are a lot of reasons a homeowner may give traditional chlorine pools a pass in favor of natural swimming pool solutions.

Eco-Friendly

Concerned about your environmental impact? Natural swimming pools provide an eco-friendly solution for homeowners concerned about the impact of installing a chemically treated pool. Because no chlorine is present, the water poses no risk to the environment around it. This means you can wave goodbye to worrying about how your poolside landscaping will fare long-term.

Health

Many advocates for natural pools cite potential health benefits as a motivating factor. If you’ve ever emerged from a public pool with burning skin or stinging eyes, you know chemically treated water can leave you feeling itchy, dry, and uncomfortable. While we’re not anti-chlorinated water by any means, we do understand this point of view.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable that the same chemical that fades swimsuits within a few weeks may feel uncomfortable after too long on our skin. Natural swimming pools eliminate this issue. Without the chemical additive, the water is less irritating, less drying, and won’t alter the color of your brand new suit.

Cost & Maintenance

Yearly treatments of chlorinated pool water can get costly. No one likes to dole out a big chunk of change on something as yawn-worthy as a pool cleaner. Eliminating this necessity means you can save that money for something else. Over the years, you’ll likely save hundreds of dollars you would’ve put toward maintaining your pool’s pH levels.

The lack of regular treatment also means that maintenance of natural swimming pools is less intensive than their traditional counterparts. While you should still skim and remove debris, that’s about it. For the most part, the eco-system created in natural swimming pool construction is hands off, taking care of itself.

Flexible Design

Finally, natural swimming pools are some of the most flexible in design. Unlike what you may have imagined previously, natural swimming pools are not constructed with mud or rocky bottoms. Rather, they are created very similarly in structure to pools you are probably used to.

You can certainly lean into a natural, pond-like look for the swimming area of your pool. Grottos, waterfalls- you name it. Dream it and today's contractors make it a reality. But if that’s not your style, natural swimming pools can be constructed to mirror traditional swimming pools almost entirely. That is, of course, with the exception of the regeneration area. 

Still when done right, the regeneration zone should be anything but an eyesore. Rather, homeowners should feel like they are getting a natural swimming space and beautiful water garden all in the same installation. Not a bad deal, if you ask us.

Drawbacks

Of course, natural swimming pools aren’t perfect. There are plenty of reasons that homeowners consistently choose to bypass them when constructing their own backyard pool. Firstly, they are expensive to build.

While maintenance and cost of upkeep are very low over time, the initial build will have your bank account hurting. To properly execute a natural swimming pool, you will need to bring in someone familiar with the niche. Even though they have been gaining traction, there are still only a small subset of contractors who specialize in this project. And what happens when there’s a growing demand for a specialty service? You guess it- higher pricing for time and labor.

Not to mention, a natural swimming pool is actually two pools- one you swim in, and one that cleans the water. The more elements added to any swimming pool, the higher the final cost will be.

Additionally, natural swimming pools are typically not great choices for space-limited homeowners. Regeneration zones are effective, and can be incredibly beautiful, but they are not small. In fact, the most effective biofilters take up an area almost as large as the main swimming area itself. 

To understand what this means spacewise, take the desired footprint of your swimming area, and then double it. For small properties, this can push natural swimming pool solutions out of the picture entirely.

Are natural swimming pools safe?

While you may not love the idea of diving into a pool of chlorine-heavy water, the chemicals in traditional swimming pools are there for a reason. Wherever standing water is present, the opportunity for bacteria to breed and flourish is present as well. But that doesn’t mean chemically treated water is the only way to keep you and your loved ones safe.

A properly constructed and maintained natural swimming pool will do a satisfactory job at keeping your pool clean and swimmable. The natural environment is an efficient filter. Combined with skimmers and frequently circulating water, your pool is likely to be much cleaner than your local public-use body of natural water. 

If you wouldn’t hesitate to dive into the lake on a hot day, there’s no reason to be wary of a well-functioning natural swimming pool.

What about animals? Insects?

Some people think of installing a natural swimming pool as providing local small animals and insects with a particularly beautiful watering hole. The concern is understandable, but think about it this way.

Yes- your natural pool is likely to attract additional wildlife and insects. But not at a shockingly higher rate than natural pools. In fact, it’s more likely that you are simply providing safer water for the deer who would’ve taken a sip from your chlorinated pool anyways. Homeowners worried about attracting wildlife can help rectify the situation by installing a quality fence- something they likely should be doing, anyways.

Is a natural swimming pool right for me?

The choice to install a natural swimming pool in your backyard is a big one. Thankfully, once you know what you’re getting into, it’s unlikely to feel torn over the decision. Put simply, they either fit what you’re looking for, or they don’t.

Maybe you're focused on creating a chemical-free environment. Maybe you hate chlorinated water, and are focused on green living, natural pools feel like a “natural” choice. As long as you are realistic about the space you have and the initial investment, you’re unlikely to be unhappy with the final result.

However, there are some spaces where a natural swimming pool just won’t work. Whether you don’t like the idea of your pool water freezing over, are worried about attracting animals to your yard, or just can’t get comfortable with the idea of plants cleaning your water, your level of comfort is what matters. In this case, you could look into saltwater pools for a more natural approach to chlorination. Still, at the end of the day, chlorine pools are always there for you if you decide you need them.

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