Consider an environmentally responsible pool for your outdoor living design.
Photo courtesy of Artemis Landscpae Architects and Freddy’s Landscape Co.
Imagine a landscape as serene, peaceful, and natural as the swimming holes you grew up with, sites of endless summer afternoons and carefree dips in the cool water. Now, imagine such a space within your own backyard, built to your personal specifications and complete with the most desirable pool features—including lighting, remote automation, and vanishing edges—that homeowners have come to expect from their outdoor living space. Now, also imagine the added bonus of that swimming space being completely without chemicals.
That’s what pool owners get with natural pools, which clean the swimming water with materials from nature instead of using chlorine or saltwater.
“It’s a type of system that uses a biological filtration process to clean the water. It’s completely chemical free. We’re mimicking the high mountain lake,” says Tristan Fields, COO of BIOTOP Natural Pools.
Hugely popular in Europe, where they were first developed, natural pools are slowly gaining recognition in the United States as people become more health and environmentally conscious. With that in mind, people are turning to natural pools for many reasons, from rejecting the use of chemicals for their own health, to wanting to have a pool that’s more sustainable and eco-friendly.
Natural pools are “inherently compatible with how Mother Nature clarifies and purifies water,” says James Robyn, president and CEO of BioNova Natural Pools.
Plus, natural pools eliminate the need to support the processing, packaging, and transporting of packaged chemicals.
“All of that energy and all of that carbon footprint is completely mitigated with a natural swimming pool,” he says. “It is sustainable.”
In a natural pool, the water is cleaned by filtering it through a simulated wetland. Sometimes the filtration system is hidden under the pool’s decking, allowing for the look of a conventional pool. More commonly, the filtration system is above the surface, and looks like a natural wetland, with beautiful plants visible all around.
Although plants used to clean the water can be planted directly in the pool, most often the plants are located in a separate “regeneration zone” that’s completely apart from the pool itself.
“The water is filtered through a plant and gravel regeneration zone,” says Jesse Dutra, owner and designer at Nantucket, Massachusetts-based, Waterscapes. “You’re creating habitat instead of removing.”
When the two pools are separated in this way, swimmers won’t actually be in the water with the plants, leading to a swimming experience that combines the best of both natural ponds and swimming pools.
Natural pools can resemble nature or be modern like these from BIOTOP Natural Pools.
Photo courtesy of BIOTOP Natural Pools.
Loving the look
Pool owners often want to incorporate natural-looking elements into their poolscapes—from rock walls to waterfalls—and natural pools take that aesthetic to the next level. Since natural pools use aquatic plants to clean the water, plants can be incorporated into the pool design in a completely organic and even more immersive way.
“The homeowner who really enjoys the natural world and the natural ecology tends to gravitate toward the natural pools,” Fields says. “If you want something that really integrates into your landscape, the natural pool really does lend itself to that in terms of landscaping.”
That’s because the lack of chlorine allows for much greater flexibility in how plants are used in and around the pool. For instance, a natural pool breathes new life into the troughs where water flows in a vanishing-edge pool.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if that trough was full of aquatic plants?” says Dutra.
Robyn agrees, saying that the water plants can also beautifully transition to terrestrial gardens, further marrying the natural swimming pool and the landscape.
Using plants in and around the pool also allows designers to create defined outdoor living “destinations” that marry the natural world with the luxurious spaces that pool owners love, says Skip Phillips, president of Questar Pools and Spas.
“You purely blur the distinction between the contained vessel and the environment,” he says.
A luxurious and award-winning design from BIOTOP Natural Pools.
Photo courtesy of BIOTOP Natural Pools.
The sky’s the limit
Just because a pool is natural doesn’t mean that it can’t be as beautiful and luxurious as a conventional pool.
“It’s for people who want a luxury product, but they want one that’s socially responsible,” Robyn says.
In fact, one of the only limitations of a natural pool is with heating the water, which wouldn’t be conducive to healthy aquatic plants. Other popular elements, though, such as automation, water features, variable speed pumps, lighting, fire features, vanishing edges, geometric shapes, and more, are all possible.
“It’s about the design,” says Dutra. “Your design possibilities are endless. You have so much more you can do design-wise because you’re using aquatic plants in your swimming pool.”
For instance, with a natural pool, perimeter overflow knife edges can flow directly onto the edge of the lawn, whereas such a design element with a chlorine pool would kill the lawn.
“You could build however you want,” he says. “If you want a little tiny plunge pool in your backyard we can make a natural pool.”
He points to other natural pool projects he’s worked on as well, highlighting one that was built into the hillside with huge rock slabs that you could jump off of into the swimming pool; a smaller, lower area for kids; and a wall separating the planted area from the swimming area. Another was in a small yard with a walkway that led from house to middle of pool and steps over the water, with the swimming area on one side and the planted area on the other.
“You had that illusion of always being on the water,” he says.
Although natural pools are very popular in Europe, both for residential and public swimming, misconceptions abound in the United States. Perhaps the biggest worry is that the water in natural swimming pools isn’t clean without chlorine. But the experts argue that it is in fact, just as clean, if not cleaner, than the water in conventional swimming pools and come with the added bonus of creating a healthy and beneficial microbiome that’s absent in chlorinated water.
People also worry that natural pools will breed mosquitoes, but that’s not true either, since the water is always moving. Moreover, beneficial microorganisms and insects, such as mosquito-eating dragonflies, will live in the plant-filled regeneration zone, perhaps even reducing the number of mosquitoes in the outdoor space.
“It doesn’t matter where you live. There won’t be mosquitoes in your pool because it’s flowing, moving water,” says Fields.
Dutra says that “the hardest thing is changing the mentality in people of what a pool is supposed to be.”
But Fields thinks it can be done, saying, “We believe that is the future.”