Innovative solutions for creating healthy, efficient, eco-friendly homes

Letting Nature Clean the Pool

The problem with swimming pools is what goes into them. To keep them safe, you have to add chemicals like chlorine, which not only detract from the swimming experience but cost serious money as well. Europeans, however, are increasingly turning to nature for an alternative. "Natural pools" aren't kept clean with chemicals. Instead, about half of the pool (or pond, as some call it) is set aside for plants that cleanse water naturally, such as lotus and water lilies.
Natural pools were pioneered by an Austrian company named Biotop, which has built more than a thousand of them in private homes, community centers and hotels, mostly in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. But they have yet to make much of a splash in the United States. Proponents say the pools offer a more natural swimming experience without the taste and smell of disinfectants. They note that rivers and lakes are constantly regenerated by the plants that line them and that natural pools, because they are largely self-cleaning, require less maintenance.
Natural pools can look more like swimming holes, with curving sides and tufts of vegetation giving them a softer look. The swimming and vegetation areas are usually divided, separated by an underwater wall that prevents earth other matter from seeping into the swimming section but still allows the circulation of water. The pool can be filtered, and air is pumped through the water to discourage algae and aid plant growth.
Largely, though, the water is kept clean by the plant life at its edges. Michael Littlewood, a British landscape designer who has designed natural pools, wrote in a recent issue of the British publication Permaculture, "The advantage of a natural swimming pool is that it is part of the landscape or garden and it is aesthetically pleasing at all times of the year. And, he might have added, it won't turn your hair green.