As temperatures warm and the rainy season becomes a distant memory, the thought at the…
by Lizzy Montgomery
If I could change anything about my Los Angeles apartment, it would be the swimming pool. Don’t get me wrong – I love that I can dive in on a sweltering day for an instantaneous cool off, a little exercise, and family fun as well. But, in the back of my mind, I do wonder about the environmental implications of having a pool. A major concern in drought-addled southern California is of course the water use. Due to evaporation, it is estimated that city-wide, 2,000 acre-feet of water is lost from pools every year1. Generating electricity to run the pool filter also requires water from the environment, not to mention about $3.002 a day for the average pool owner. Contributing to the cost, a pool care professional comes to my pool once a week to clean the filter, test balances and no doubt add a concoction of conventional pool chemicals, mostly chlorine. And, according to the EPA, chlorine can cause irritation to the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. Chlorine treated pools should never be drained into a natural waterway, where the chemicals can cause significant harm to plants and animals.
Even in my own backyard, wildlife may be negatively affected by my pool. I frequently observe a hopeful dragonfly depositing her eggs on the pool surface in vain, just to be sanitized by the sterile, and unnatural conditions of my devoid-of-life watering hole. Surely, I wouldn’t mind sharing my own lovely dips in the pool with some baby dragonflies, and benefiting later while they snatch up mosquitoes from my yard. Alas, the conventional pool surely takes its toll on the environment.
Fortunately for all those pool lovers out there, we have healthier, eco-friendly alternatives to improve your backyard swimming pool. From minor changes to major renovations, read on to find out more about reducing your pool’s environmental footprint.
POOL COVERS AND ENERGY-EFFICIENT FILTERS
First and foremost, if you don’t already have a pool cover this is one of the easiest improvements you can make on your journey to creating a greener pool. Pool covers can reduce evaporative losses by as much as 97%, saving thousands of gallons of water each year. Plus, a pool cover will keep your pool a little warmer at night, meaning more days of swimming fun as the weather cools.
Another simple improvement is installing an energy-efficient, or better yet, solar-powered filter. This will minimize the use of fossil fuels in cleaning your pool.
Once you have added a pool cover and solar pump, there are a number of alternatives that do away with, or greatly reduce, the use of harsh chemicals.
SALT WATER POOLS
One option to reduce chemicals in your pool is to go saltwater. While these types of pools still use chlorine, they combine it with salt to form hypochlorous acid that vaporizes algae and bacteria, and the concentration of chlorine is much less. Maintenance costs might also be lower: just add about $10 of salt to the pool once a month, and clean the filter once a year to prevent calcium deposits. While you may suddenly be more buoyant, and your skin softer, keep in mind this type of pool still introduces chlorine in to the environment, and requires electricity to maintain.
IONIZED AND OXIDIZED POOLS
Other filter types, such as ionizers and oxidizers, rely on non-chemical mean of sterilization. Copper and other metal ions are used in an ionizer, while oxidation employs UV light or electricity to sterilize water. Another alternative, sonic cleaning, uses ultrasonic waves to destroy living things at a cellular level. While these methods do away with the use of chemicals, they still require electricity to run the filter. You may need to do a little research, but there are many different filter types and natural chemicals to choose from. There are even filters that use sphagnum moss, which is being increasingly employed in commercial-sized pools such as Treasure Island and the University of Maryland. You can find out more about chlorine-free pool filtration options here.
Are you really ready to make a splash in creating an eco-friendly pool? Go natural. Natural pools, which have been popular in many European countries for some time now and are starting to turn heads in the US, do away with both the use of chemicals and electricity, all while creating a healthier, more aesthetic, and wildlife-friendly swimming experience. The primary filtration power in a natural pool is plant life and gravel, which purify the water of harmful bacteria and contaminants, similar to a pond or lake. Two major design types either combine the aquatic plants such as cattails, tule, and water lilies (or other native species) along the shallow edges of the swimming area, or separate the pools for swimming and water purification, with water flowing between the two. A simple solar-powered water pump keeps your pool from becoming stagnant and oxygenates the water to keep plants happy.
Maintaining a natural pool is easier than you might think. You can remove loose sediments with a pool vacuum cleaner and skim debris from the surface. Any unwanted algae growing in the swimming area can be removed by brush or vacuum. Live in a climate with cold winters? Natural pools can safely freeze over with no need to drain.
Conventional pools can be easily converted into a natural oasis. Some modifications to the plumbing, as well as installation of filtration equipment, are needed. As the surface area of the filtration zones should be equal in size to the swim area, you will either need to expand your pool to accommodate vegetation or cede a little swimming space. Surprisingly, the cost per square foot for a natural pool is about equal to a traditional pool, and they actually require less financial commitment in the long run without electricity or chemicals inputs. You can check out these beautiful pools here and here.
So, while you may encounter a frog or duck while doing laps, chances are most animal life will stick to the vegetated areas, allowing you ample space to splash while keeping the pool clean. Your pool will be more affordable, require less maintenance, and provide a backyard getaway for your swimming enjoyment. Add landscaping around the pool to create a true backyard oasis that will be appreciated by both your human and wildlife friends.