The Benefits of Natural Swimming Pools

Converting a conventional swimming pool to a natural one is easier than you would think – and infinitely rewarding.

| June 2011 Web

McGrath pool after 2

Conventional pool post conversion to a natural swimming pool

Photo Courtesy Michael Littlewood

The following is an excerpt from Natural Swimming Pools: Conventional Pool Conversion by Michael Littlewood (Ecodesignscape, 2011). The excerpt is from the Introduction.

Imagine a swimming pool, and what do you see? A slab of sterile blue water, surrounded by tiles? It doesn’t have to be like that: imagine instead a pool of fresh, clear water, fringed by native plants and visited by dragonflies. Plenty of people are doing just that: the upsurge of interest in natural swimming pools, which I introduced to Britain in 2000, has convinced many owners of conventional pools to aspire to a natural one. The good news is that converting a conventional pool is usually possible – and much easier and cheaper than starting from scratch.

Natural swimming pools stay clean without any chemical treatment; instead, they emulate the ecosystem of a healthy pond. The principle, conceived in Austria more than 20 years ago, is to establish the elements of a natural system – and then let nature take over. The pool needs to have a surface area of at least 50 square metres and consists of a swimming area, at least 2m deep, which is serviced by a second, shallower body of water. This ‘regeneration zone’ is planted up with locally appropriate marsh and water plants in a gravel substrate. The plants create a habitat for the microorganisms which break down potential pollutants, while the gravel bed acts as a natural filter. Though the swimming area is separated from the plants, you are surrounded by them as you swim – and this seamless blending of environments makes the experience very special.

Once you list the other advantages of a natural swimming pool, it’s not hard to see why many owners of conventional ones are thinking about conversion. Some conventional pools are elegantly designed, but most are visually uninspiring. In winter many are emptied, and they can become an eyesore. A natural swimming pool, on the other hand, is an attractive garden feature all year round. While estate agents routinely warn householders that a conventional pool cannot be expected to add value to their home – potential buyers may view it as a liability rather than an asset – a natural pool can enhance the appeal of your property.

Converting your pool to the natural system will also reduce your maintenance bill. There are no costs for chemicals, energy costs are absent or minimal (the water warms up naturally as it circulates through the shallow regeneration zone), and there are huge savings on water as, unlike conventional pools, natural pools do not have to be emptied every year.

Then there are the health benefits. The chlorine used in conventional pools is a skin irritant, associated with conditions such as eczema, and has also been documented to aggravate asthma. Chlorinated water also contains chemical compounds called trihalomethanes, which are known to be dangerous.

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