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Natural Swimming Pools 101

By Alan Weene

Tell us a little bit about your company and its foundation.

Natural Swimming Pool (NSP) technology started over 30 years ago in Austria. The first Badeteich, or bathing pond, was invented in 1983 by Werner Gamerith. These early predecessors to modern-day NSPs were built without pumps or filters, but they met all three fundamental criteria to be qualified as Natural Swimming Pools: 1) containment with a waterproofing membrane; 2) separation of swimming area and planted regeneration zones; and 3) no chemicals or mechanical devices to disinfect or sterilize the water. Today, NSPs have evolved into something much more sophisticated, and over 20,000 NSPs have been built across Europe. Based on principles of limnology (freshwater science), hydraulics, and modern pool construction techniques, NSPs built by BioNova® are completely chemical-free, eco-friendly, healthful and safe for swimming, and provide optimal water clarity and quality.

BioNova® Natural Pools was founded in 2008 and is headquartered in northern New Jersey. Globally, BioNova® is represented by Partners in 45 countries around the world. Backed by a US and Canada patent for the biological filtration of swimming pool water, there are now 14 independent businesses currently licensed to build BioNova® NSPs in North America. BioNova® provides design and construction services for private residential as well as large-scale public and commercial Natural Swimming Pools across the United States and Canada.

What are the benefits of a natural pool vs. a typical in-ground pool?

First and foremost, a Natural Swimming Pool is completely chemical-free. This is not a salt water pool and the water is not sterile or disinfected in any way - it is a biologically active living system. This means there is no UV, no ozone, no copper or silver ionizers, and certainly no chlorine used in an NSP. NSPs are much safer for humans and the environment. In addition to new construction, almost any traditional pool can be converted to a chemical-free BioNova® Natural Swimming Pool.

To purify the swimming pool water, the NSP ecosystem utilizes beneficial microbes as well as carefully selected aquatic plants which are hydroponically rooted in a specially constructed wetlands area known as the regeneration zone. Water is mechanically circulated through the regeneration zone where the plants extract nutrients from the water and outcompete algae for available resources, while the microbes break down impurities in the water the way Nature intended.

BioNova® Natural Swimming Pools are extraordinarily energy efficient compared to traditional swimming pools. The biological circulation loop can be operated 24 hours a day with approximately the same amount of energy as two 100W light bulbs. Because of the decreased energy use and the lack of chemicals, the long-term operational costs of NSPs are significantly less than for traditional pools. Additionally, NSPs promote biodiversity and habitat restoration, offer a very low carbon footprint, and are the most environmentally sustainable alternatives to traditional pools available on the market.

What is the overall process of designing and installing a natural pool?

Our clients work directly with local resources to design and build a BioNova® Natural Swimming Pool on their property. We start with a Preconstruction Planning Agreement and a site visit to fully appreciate the client's landscape. As part of our Integrated Planning Process, we work hand-in-hand with the client, pool contractor, and landscape designer to arrive at a design which is consistent with the client's landscape goals and budget. BioNova® NSPs are always designed and permitted as swimming pools, so once a construction proposal has been accepted we then apply for a building permit and begin site prep. The construction of the NSP is much like that of a traditional pool (with a few exceptions) - the hole is excavated, the shell is formed, trenches for plumbing and electrical conduit are dug, pumps and filters are installed and connected to the plumbing, the regeneration zone is constructed and planted, and finally the pool is filled with water and the mechanical equipment is started. The big difference is that the construction of an NSP is really like building two pools - one for swimming and one for plants.

A general rule of thumb is that the planted regeneration zone must be approximately equal in size compared to the surface area of the swimming zone. Depending on the construction method, the regeneration zone can actually be as small as 30% of the total footprint. From a design perspective, these two chambers can be contained within the same vessel, adjacent to each other, or completely separate and interconnected with underground plumbing.

How long does this process typically take?

The design and planning phase can take weeks, months, or even years depending on the client's design goals and the scope of work. Typically, once we break ground the entire Natural Swimming Pool can be built within 2-3 months. The NSP is safe to swim in immediately after the system is started, however it will take a few weeks for the ecosystem to stabilize and reach optimal water clarity.

What factors are going to affect the price of a natural pool?

Cost is a function of many variables, including material selection, size, style, amenities, landscaping, and availability of approved substrates and source water. Generally speaking, the price for a BioNova® Natural Swimming Pool starts in the high five-figure range.

What different variables exist in natural pool design (e.g. concrete, underground/above)

Construction methods vary depending on the client's budget, design goals, and the climate in which the NSP is being constructed. Gunite or shotcrete shells with pebble plaster finish are common in areas that do not experience subfreezing temperatures in the winter. Concrete block, steel, or polymer walls lined with 60 Mil Reinforced PVC membrane or EPDM are common construction methods in northern regions. Regardless of the way the NSP is built, design flexibility is nearly limitless. NSPs can be designed to look like naturally occurring bodies of water with the plants surrounding the edge of the pool, or they can be designed to look like conventional swimming pools with separate water gardens - and of course everything in between! All of the amenities that you would typically associate with traditional pools (e.g. slides, diving area, massage jets, infinity edge, play structures, automatic pool cleaning robots, heaters, underwater lighting, etc.) can also be accomplished with a Natural Swimming Pool.

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Shelley Wilbur

Can a natural swimming pool be enclosed so it can enjoyed during the winter months as well?


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