Do you like the idea of a natural swimming pool but get squeamish thinking about mud between your toes and tadpoles clinging to your hair? Environmentally friendly, chemical-free natural swimming pools have low ongoing maintenance costs and are healthy alternatives to conventional pools. They’re fairly common in Europe but less so here in the U.S., largely because of misconceptions. Follow along as we bust some common myths about these beautiful outdoor features.
Myth #1: They’re Expensive
Natural pools cost about the same as traditional swimming pools — construction costs start at about $50 per sq. ft. However, because there are no chemicals to add, yearly maintenance costs are hundreds of dollars less. With natural pools, adds Mick Hilleary of Total Habitat in Bonner Springs, Kan., folks tend to add extensive landscaping to complement the natural look.
Myth #2: Natural Pools are a Lot of Work
You’re building a natural ecosystem that basically takes care of itself. Monitor chlorine? Nope. Balance the pH? Relax. The most you’ll have to do is skim fallen leaves off the surface. There aren’t any filters to monitor, either, so you don’t have change out anything. Bonus: No electricity needed to run the filter system.
Myth #3: I’ll be Swimming with Weeds
Most natural swimming pools feature two connected pools — one for swimming, and a shallow pool to hold plants. The root structures of aquatic plants — cattails, water lilies, and duckweed — remove bacteria and other contaminants. Check your state extension service for localized water plants.
Myth #4: I’ll be Swimming with Tadpoles
Any animals attracted to your natural swimming hole, such as dragonflies and frogs, keep to the plant side of the system, which is their natural habitat. And yes, you want them: They eat mosquitoes and their larvae, keeping your backyard free of biting pests.
Myth #5: The Bottoms are Mud
Sterilized soil is good for the plant pond, but for the swimming pool, you can use concrete, a synthetic or rubber liner, or bentonite clay. At about 35 cents per sq. ft. (not installed), a 3-inch-thick layer of waterproof bentonite is the cheaper option. Adding 3 to 4 inches of pre-washed gravel to the bottom of your plant pond provides a habitat for beneficial bacteria that biodegrade any organic materials.
Myth #6: The Water Gets Stagnant
While it’s true that standing, unmoving water can get brackish, it’s easy to continually move water over and around your plants’ roots so they can do their job of natural cleansing. A simple water pump will do the job at much less cost than a standard pool filtration unit. Adding a bubbler to your pool introduces oxygen that plants love. You’ll pay $1,000 to $1,200 for a pro-installed pump and bubbler.
Myth #7: They’re Too Untraditional
Actually, you can build a natural swimming pool that’s a dead ringer for a regular pool, complete with concrete sides and bottom, and a traditional sky-blue pool color. You can even substitute an out-of-sight gravel filter for the plant pond. Of course, making your natural pool look like Ye Olde Swimming Hole ain’t bad, either.
Myth #8: The Water Isn’t Clean
Natural pools use one of two types of biological filters to create water that’s clear, clean, and chemical-free. Water is circulated by pump through either a gravel filter or a plant filter, depending on your preferences and, to some degree, your climate (gravel filters are better in warmer climates). Maintenance is easy: Once a month, remove any loose sediment with a pool vacuum cleaner.
Myth #9: You Have to Drain Them in Winter
Not so. Natural pools simply do what any pond would do — freeze over until spring, when the plant cycle begins again. Pipes for circulating water are underground and protected from freezing.
Natural swimming pool requires no harmful chemicals, is fairly low-tech, and once established call for only a modicum of management. You won’t have to drain the pool each autumn. Except for topping it off now and then, you’ll fill the pool only once.