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Nature lover or simply hate the smell of chlorine? A living or natural swimming pool could be the answer to enjoying a swim without being loaded up with chemicals.
So, you’ve survived another summer without a pool. You’ve sweltered under air con, overstayed your welcome at your next-door neighbours and even resorted to blowing up an unsightly kiddy pool in the garden.
If you’re considering putting a pool in time for next summer, as we find out from Wayne Zwar of Natural Swimming Pools, it’s worth considering installing a living or natural pool in your backyard.
The difference between a living and natural swimming pool
Both natural and living pools rely on nature to filter the water, including the good bacteria and bio-organisms that attack the algae. “In a controlled environment, we’re starving the algae of food. If we can do that, we can have a pool without any chlorine in it,” says Wayne.
The natural swimming pool concept developed in Europe about 30 years ago using gravel beds.
“As the water passes through the gravel, it filters the water and creates a habitat for the bio-organisms to live,” says Wayne. “The other part of the regeneration zone is underwater plants that strip the nutrients out of the water.”
For the natural swimming pool to function optimally, you need to have a one-to-one ratio of pool and regeneration zone. This requires a relatively large footprint if you wish to have a full-sized pool in your backyard.
A living pool is a concept developed by the Austrian company BIOTOP. “It’s a pool with no plants,” says Wayne. “We rely on a bio box that’s installed beside the pool, usually under the deck.” Many who opt for a living pool choose to have water-loving plants beside the pool purely for the aesthetic value.
A biological filter removes any impurities and bacteria from the water. Any phosphorus found in the impurities is then broken down into phosphate. A pump, which runs continuously on very little power, pumps the water through another filter where an adsorption process binds to the phosphate. The filtered water continually returns back to the swimming pool.
A natural or living swimming pool versus a conventional pool
The key difference between a natural or living swimming pool and a conventional pool is the lack of chemicals. The former is living water. “Conventional pools are dead water,” says Wayne. “Whatever lands in the water dies due to the chlorine element.”
A natural or living pool is “like the rivers and lakes…it’s living”.
Is algae safe to swim in, especially for kids?
“Algae to us is not a dirty word. We frown upon the use of chemicals and chlorine,” explains Wayne, who suggests if you are freaking out over the presence of algae, this pool concept is not for you.
“We need a type of biofilm for it to work, just like in nature. It can be totally controlled. Most of our clients don’t mind a bit of algae and biofilm as long as the water is clear. What’s the alternative? Chemicals.”
Will the pool be inundated with mosquitoes?
Natural and living pools are as close to swimming in nature as you’re going to get in a suburban backyard. So, it’s easy to think it will be a breeding ground for unwanted pests like mosquitoes.
“That’s a myth,” laughs Wayne. “When you create an environment with moving water, natural enemies of mosquitoes like water striders turn up,” he explains. “They run across the water and vacuum up any sort of mosquito larva, if there is any about. The key is moving water.”
Living pools require very little maintenance
One of the bonuses of living pools over natural pools, besides the reduced footprint, is that the maintenance is minimal. With a natural pool, you require a gravel regeneration zone the same size of the swimming pool. Essentially, you’re creating an underwater garden which requires maintenance, says Wayne.
The maintenance of a living pool is very minimal. As the water is purified without the use of chlorine, it’s natural for some biofilm to develop on the walls of the pool. This is easily removed by a pool robot. In fact, in some of the living pools Wayne has installed, it’s hard to tell they’re not chlorinated due to their clarity.
Living pools can be heated so you can use them all year round
A heat exchanger can be installed in a living pool, heating the pool up to 26°C. There are also various options that can be combined with a living pool system that will help minimise heat loss, such as a cover.
The costs of a living pool versus a conventional pool
There’s no doubt about it, the cost of installing in a living pool is more than a conventional pool, but the quality is first class.
“Everything is handmade in Austria”, says Wayne. The living pool system is made from recyclable polypropylene and hand welded before being sent to Australia.
“I liken it to comparing European cars versus Australia or Asian cars. Yes, there is a price tag to them, but the quality is unrivaled”.
The initial cost may be more than your chlorinated pool, but you’re not pouring in thousands of dollars’ worth of chemicals or accumulating a hefty electricity bill. The European pumps used in living pools are extremely efficient. Proving they are effective, Wayne’s latest living pool to be installed (pictured above) runs off-grid.
“The initial cost is high, but they tend to pay themselves off over 10-15 years,” says Wayne.
The demand for living pools is growing
“We’re very far behind in a lot of things when compared to Europe, especially in pools,” says Wayne. The demand for living pools in Australia, however, is steadily growing. Wayne is the first to admit he was slightly dubious and ignorant about living pools until he thoroughly explored the concept.
When his Swedish-born partner Annika insisted Wayne install a natural pool on their property, he made his first attempt of moving away from the chlorinated pools he knew too well. Openly admitting his first attempt failed, Wayne flew to Europe and partnered up with BIOTOP to bring living and natural swimming pools to Australia.
“Our clients embrace what it’s like to swim out in nature,” says Wayne. “80 percent of our clients love having the plants beside the pool. The other 20 percent are after the living pool without the chemicals.”
For Wayne, the popularity of the living pool concept has been welcomed since he switched from being a conventional pool builder. He says: “The reward clients get from the living pool is so great, it’s hard not to get passionate about it.” The pools become more than a place to swim in. They become a meeting place where you can sit back and watch the dragonflies play about the water’s surface. A living pool encourages nature to come right up to your back door; an educational experience which is great for kids.
“We’re just mirroring what nature does but, in a confined environment.”
Images: courtesy of Natural Swimming Pools.