The natural pool trend began in Europe several decades ago. Since then, natural pools—as opposed to traditionally rectangular, chlorine-filled swimming pools—have been slowly gaining popularity in the United States, Australia, and other regions with sunny and warm climates.
What Is a Natural Pool?
A natural pool is often designed to imitate pools, ponds, or other bodies of water. They can have irregular shapes, along with rocks, waterfalls, and boulders.
Naturally, not every pool built to look like a natural body of water with realistic rocks and boulders is a natural pool. Unlike most sparkling blue swimming pools, natural swimming pools or ponds (NSPs) are filtered organically rather than by chemicals.
Another pool called a regeneration zone is built nearby, which is where the water enters either a gravel filter or a constructed wetlands made of plants that clean the water. This resembles the process by which aquatic plants clean ponds in nature and results in a pool that's no less clean than one with chemically-filtered water. The natural pool and its regeneration zone actually build a small ecosystem that changes over time, and animals or insects often are attracted to the zone (but not the pool, thankfully—it doesn’t contain the environment they’re looking for).
These organic ponds are gaining popularity across the U.S., but there are some pros and cons that you should carefully consider before deciding to install a natural rather than a conventional pool.
Lower year-to-year costs
Adaptable and more flexible in design than traditional pools
Work in all climates
More environmentally friendly
Higher initial cost to build
Requires more space
May not look as clear and blue as a conventional pool
Needs to be built by a contractor familiar with natural pools, which may be difficult to find
Natural Pool Benefits
Natural pools are very adaptable. Though they may conjure an image of a brown pond with mud at the bottom, most are actually filled with concrete, and if you wish to make your natural pool look almost exactly like a traditional pool, you can—the gravel filter can be placed underground and hidden. Or you can go the other direction and design a pool that looks just like the type of pond or pool you might find in the woods, complete with rocks and boulders. Generally, these are more flexible in design than traditional pools.
Natural pools have the advantage of being environmentally friendly—the chemicals required for traditional pools, on the other hand, can damage the environment.
Organic or natural pools require much less maintenance than a conventional pool, and their year-to-year costs are lower after construction is finished. They don’t require chlorine, chemical filtration, pH balancing, or any of the other side costs and numerous daily and weekly chores that go with keeping a normal pool clean. They should still be kept well-skimmed and free from debris, but that’s really the extent of the maintenance you’ll need to do with your pool.
Natural pools work well in all ranges of climates—during the cold winter months, they’ll freeze over just like a pond in the wild.
The Downsides of Natural Pools
The flip side of the low maintenance costs that come with natural pools is a higher initial investment. Building a natural pool can get quite expensive—remember, a natural pool requires an entirely separate pool nearby for filtration. Because they’re more unusual than traditional pools, it may also be difficult to find a good contractor to build one. For a NSP that looks good and will last, hire a pool and pond builder who specializes in this kind of environment and who can show you pools they have designed and built.
The regeneration zone also means that it requires more land to build a natural pool; the zone should generally be as big as the pool itself. If space is a factor, you may be better off building a traditional pool, like a lap pool, rather than a natural pool that's half as big with a regeneration zone.
The aesthetics of a natural pool can put off some swimmers who are used to perfectly clear, blue, chemically filtered water. Organic water can take on a brownish tint depending on the presence of algae, and it’s impossible to completely remove sediment and some life from the pool. Though the water is perfectly safe to swim in, your natural pool may not look as nice as a Grecian, sparkling blue traditional pool.
Over the long run, they are cheaper than traditional pools due to their lower maintenance costs, but if you think selling your property within a few years is a possibility, then you risk spending more on your natural pool (and not recouping your investment) than you would have on a traditional one.