What are some ideas for a “greener” pool in my backyard?
A variety of alternatives to chlorine are being used to keep pools clean. Salt is probably the most common today, but salt systems have their downside along with their upside. They do evaporate slower, so you save some water. And they do cut the amount of chemicals in your pool, so they’re definitely a step in the right direction.
But salt systems still use chlorine-in fact, the salt itself is turned into chlorine, albeit in much smaller concentrations than a chlorine system. But you still have many of the same health risks as you do with chlorine, and you’re still contaminating the ground and surface water sources with chlorine when you backwash your pool. There are completely chemical-free pool cleaning systems out there, however.ECOsmarte makes systems that use copper ionization and liquid oxidation to sanitize pool water, using no dangerous chemicals in the process. Meanwhile, the company’s Filter Glass technology uses 100% recycled, post-consumer waste glass. Better yet, ECOsmarte contributes 5% of its profits to a non-profit organization (of your choosing) that works toward cleaner water and a healthier environment. There are also clean pools known as “natural pools,” which use plants to keep your pool clean. Not only are they chemical free, they also use natural materials to build the pools, giving you something quite close to a naturally occurring swimming hole in your backyard. The plants can either be in the pool, out of the pool, or both, and even conventional swimming pools can be transformed into natural pools.
Save Water and Energy
No matter what kind of pool you have, there are a number of things you can do to lessen its impact on the environment and your health. Here are a few handy suggestions:
Pool covers save water, decrease energy expenditures, and can help to keep your pool from polluting the air. In hot, arid areas, pools can lose 30 to 50% of their water volume per year due to evaporation. That water must be replaced from limited resources that are already in high demand. Worse yet, as pool water evaporates, it carries the harmful chemicals in your pool into the atmosphere. Installing a pool cover therefore not only saves water, it prevents pollution. Installing a pool cover can also help to retain heat in colder areas, saving up to 70% of the energy that would have been spent heating your pool. For the lowest impact, look forpool covers made of recyclable or organic material. Another option: liquid barriers produce a clear, molecule-thick layer of alcohol on top of the water. The odorless, tasteless film lasts for several weeks. Chlorine becomes toxic and even carcinogenic when it combines with organic matter-like dirt, leaves, skin, or hair, for instance. Showering before you get into the pool helps to reduce the amount of organic matter present in your pool that reacts with the chlorine.
If possible, set your pool’s filter and sweeper systems to run only during off-peak hours. When demand gets too high during peak hours, energy companies can be forced to use backup generators that are not as efficient as their main generators, and they’ll probably charge you more for the privilege, too.
Don’t run your filter and sweeper as long during the fall and winter months when you will not be using your pool anyway. A pool cover will help to keep it clean enough, and you’ll save on energy costs.
Installing a timer on your pool pump so that it does not run full time can save up to 60% of its energy use. Longer running times do not necessarily filter the pool better. Many people are happy using the pump only 3-6 hours per day. Start by having the timer run 6 hours per day (two hours at a time spaced evenly) and monitor the pool. If it is clear, try decreasing the pump time. If it gets cloudy, increase the time by a half hour total per day until your pool is clear. Using an efficient pump can cut energy consumption by as much as 75%. Variable-speed pumps — which use the same permanent magnetic drive as hybrid cars — slow the water flow, which lowers resistance and therefore reduces energy consumption. If special features require a higher flow rate than just turning the water, the pump can be revved up for a set amount of time. The carbon savings is equivalent to driving about 10,000 miles a year less or planting about 3,000 trees. Variable-speed pumps cost about twice as much, $1,400 vs. $700 but homeowners can recoup the costs quickly. On large pools with multiple features, such as those at hotels and other commercial settings, the payback can come in one season. A bonus: Variable-speed pumps whisper compared to the 80- to 100-decibel roar of standard pumps.
Getting creative with the landscaping around your pool can have aesthetic benefits and keep your pool cool in the summer and warm in the winter. When designed as a windbreak, landscaping can even help to prevent evaporation.
While pools don’t need heaters in summer, spas do. And some pool owners opt for heaters to extend swim season a few months. Today’s heaters are about 40 percent more efficient than those made 15 years ago, and an efficiency rating in the 80s is desirable. After an up-front investment, pool owners can heat the water free using the sun. For most residential pools, solar panels will cost about $5,000. A gas heater costs about $3,000, he says; propane about $5,000. A 15,000- to 30,000-gallon pool will require seven 4-foot by 12-foot solar collectors, on average. An alternative to solar panels is a system that diverts water to the attic for heating. As the small unit sucks hot air from the attic, it also cools the home. Pipes carrying water from the pool to the attic and back usually areplaced along rain gutters and through soffit vents, he says. Estimated cost: $5,500 with average payback in two years.
Traditional halogen pool lights are 400 to 500 watts and last about 2,500 hours. LED bulbs give the same light for about 70 watts and a 25,000-hour bulb life. Replacing a fixture will cost about $1,000.
If your pool needs a professional cleaning-wherein the entire pool is drained and the sides scrubbed with acid-make sure to use a green pool service that recycles your old pool water. This can save as much as 30,000 gallons of water!
If you live near an unpolluted lake, pond, or swimming hole, you’re one of the lucky ones because you get to swim in a pure, self-cleaning body of water. For now, city-dwelling swimmers will often have to settle for man-made pools, and hopefully these will all be as clean and clear as pristine mountain lakes some day. And if that’s what we hope for in the future, the future is already within our grasp…
For more information on how to make your pool energy efficiency, see the attached article.
Natural Swimming Pools
One exciting green design option that is slowly gaining acceptance in the U.S. is the natural swimming pool, which offers a refreshing, beautiful alternative to reliance on chlorine or other toxic chemicals.
Natural swimming pools have been somewhat popular in Europe for a few decades (where they are often called natural swimming ponds), and they work by fostering the balance of a small natural ecosystem. Managed properly, natural pools have alpine lake-clear water that requires no chemicals to maintain. They have lower maintenance costs than conventional pools, and their installation costs are typically not much more. The key is to establish a zone of aquatic plants around or adjacent to the swimming area, which filter out contaminants from the water.
There are a few companies designing such green oases in the U.S., and it’s likely that demand will increase sharply, as more and more consumers take interest in sustainability, and want to avoid industrial chemicals. Chlorine is known to be harsh on skin and hair, and a number of studies have linked inhalation of the chemical by swimmers to increased asthma rates.