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How to Build Your Own Natural Swimming Pool
Build your own natural swimming pool and eliminate the need for chemicals, electric pumps and higher water bills. No concrete, rebar, or contractor needed. Learn more here.
It's been said that natural swimming pools are common in Europe, but uncommon in the United States. In standard suburban backyards, that's entirely true. In the country, we call them stock ponds or "swimming holes."
They're miniature eco-systems, teeming with plants, wildlife and natural filters. The plants roots filter the water, natural bacteria and microorganisms eliminate waste and harmful organisms.
Begin with the Zoning Board
Arm yourself with information about natural swimming pools and go to your zoning board or building permit board. If they are unfamiliar with anything but the standard concrete or above ground pools, educated them (politely) about the eco-friendly options afforded by using a natural system.
Harmful chemicals, acids and more aren't needed, because the eco-system takes care of itself.
Be prepared to hear yes or no. The board may point out that mosquitoes, other bugs and wildlife (if you live in an area that attracts wildlife) will see your swimming pool as a potential home. That could cause problems for you and your neighbors.
Dig the Hole
Plan to dig your hole as a "bowl shape." The sides should slope down at a 1:3 ratio- that is, one foot down for every three feet wide. If there is no slope, the walls will collapse. The reason most pools are built with concrete is to keep the sides straight.
Dig shallow trenches or shelves around the pool's perimeter. Plants will live on these shelves. Plan on at least 50 percent of the surface area dedicated to plants. The roots of the plants are the biological filters for your pool.
The shelves on the outside rim should be three to six inches deep, and the shelves nearest the swimming area should be at least eighteen inches deep for submerges aquatic plants.
Keep in mind that you're going to attract frogs, whose tadpoles feast on mosquito larvae.
Water Circulation and Aeration
The board and your neighbors could express concern that you're building a swamp or bog. If you don't provide circulation for the water or aeration (oxygen), they'd be right.
Solar-powered pumps for ponds will work to aerate and circulate the water in your swimming pool. Planning for a waterfall that aerates the pool and using a solar-powered pump is also a great idea.
You can use standard electrical pumps and pond aerators, but they are expensive, and require safe electrical hookups to your house's power. This tends to eliminate the move to the natural.
If the board states this equipment will be necessary to approve your pool, then by all means have a contractor install it safely.
Dealing with Debris
Electronic skimmers work to remove leaves and other debris that fall into pools. In your pool, you may certainly use these, but a daily workout with a screen can do just as well. Keep in mind that anything that falls to the bottom of your pool will decompose.
The decomposing material lets off tiny amounts of methane, an oxygen destroyer. With enough debris, your pool will die and it will smell like a stagnant swamp.
Any pool, concrete or natural, requires maintenance.
You can line your pool with a synthetic pond liner, or with bentonite clay. The clay bonds with the soil, creating a surface preventing water from getting through. Depending on how much clay or sand your soil has, you could use as little as 6 pounds per square foot or as much as 12.
Spread the clay while wearing gloves and a mask. Compact it into the soil with a compactor. Make sure you line and compact the walls, too.
You can install a synthetic pool liner over the bentonite for further protection. Choose a PVC or ethylene propylene diene monomer, EPDM. The EPDM is more expensive, but will last longer and stand up to the UV rays of the sun. It also resists tears and freezing in the winter.
If you have rocky soil or lots of tree roots, choose 60mm over 30mm for the best protection. Before laying the liner in the pool, Cover the bottom and walls with old carpet or several inches of old newspaper for further protection.
This is part of your biofiltration system. Use only clean gravel for this process. Fill the bottom of the pool with four to five inches of gravel. Tumbled or manufactured gravel, or expanded shell aggregates are fine for this purpose. This gives a place for beneficial bacteria to live as they help break down leaves and other things that your skimmer misses.
Protect the Sides of your Pool
Building a cobblestone, brick or other path to your pool helps protect the pool's sides, and keeps grass and dirt from being tracked into the water. Building a ramp, dock or ladder into your design for entry/exit from the pool also helps protect the walls of the pool.
Surround the pool with a gravel, cobblestone or other artificial pathway. Compact the soil first to help keep the pool's walls stable. Adding plants also helps stabilize the soil.
If your local ordinance board insists on concrete, many pool contractors will work with you to help create a natural-looking design. The current trend in pools is a natural "swimming hole" effect, so don't get discouraged.
Depending on the materials and if you're going to do all the digging/compacting yourself, you could spend under $5,000 for your new pool.
One piece of advice I could give for digging a large hole- get a rototiller. Till back and forth over your area, until you reach the deepest part the tines will dig. Get a shovel (or rent a bobcat), and begin removing soil. It does help to have friends/relatives.
If friends/relatives won't help dig, watch how many show up at your pool opening party.
Source: Douglas Buege and Vicky Uhland ,"How to build a Natural Swimming Pool," Mother Earth News, August/September 2002