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Swim ponds – The au naturel backyard

By Derek Lippert

A growing number of industry professionals have started to offer natural swimming pools (NSPs) as an option for their clients.

When most homeowners think of adding a backyard pool, they picture pristine, blue water and expertly installed tile in a myriad of stunning colours. Few people jump to pond waters replete with frogs and wildflowers, but a growing trend in the pool and spa industry looks to change this.

Enter the natural swimming pool (NSP), an innovative alternative to the traditional aquatic playgrounds that dot homes across Canada. Also called a natural swimming pond, this unique twist on the standard pool has relatively little in common with its better-known counterpart, aside from the obvious.

Indeed, NSPs more closely resemble something one would stumble across in a pasture or buried deep in a forest. Yet, for some out-of-the-box thinkers, the natural pond represents a much more appealing option for homeowners looking to add a pool to their backyards.

Gaining ground

First developed in Western Europe in the ’80s, NSPs have only started to gain ground in the Canadian market in the past decade. Although the concept is still somewhat of a rarity, a growing number of pool professionals have started to offer these pools as an option for their clients.

As more Canadians embrace this eco-sensitive substitute for a traditional pool, some experts wonder whether the trend could be indicative of a large shift within the pool and spa landscape.

The first creators of NSPs hailed from Austria. These innovators aimed to recreate the esthetic charm of a natural pond or lake, while simultaneously giving pool owners a safe place to enjoy some fun in the sun. For the environmentally conscious consumer, the novel idea made perfect sense. The resulting pools are not only beautiful, but also practical.

Much like the name implies, NSPs do not rely on a traditional assortment of chemicals. Instead, they rely on a unique combination of microbes and vegetation to keep the water treated. Rather than chlorine, these pools use aquatic perennials such as Pontederia cordata to keep the pond water crystal clear.

In fact, while the phrase ‘natural pond’ might conjure up images of marshy lagoons full of stagnant water, a NSP is nothing of the sort. Just like a traditional backyard pool, these natural alternatives must efficiently deal with the bather loads and rid themselves of the harmful nitrates that could otherwise contribute to algae blooms. Natural or not, most people do not want to emerge from a dip in the pool covered in sticky green slime.

Sophisticated treatment program

The overall treatment process involves a sophisticated series of steps. Just like traditional water treatment systems, there is an art involved in finding the right balance of different components to keep the water safe and pure. For this reason, pool professionals interested in offering natural options to consumers need to focus on their own education, developing the skillsets necessary to ensure a successful installation.

In place of a chlorinator, most NSPs feature a small section cordoned off from the main swimming zone called the regeneration area. This portion of the pool features several layers of gravel, which hide a network of plastic piping that contains the used pool water. The gravel itself is home to a thriving colony of microbes.

A pump continually moves the water from the pool to the regeneration area, where it begins its cleansing journey. The healthy bacteria hungrily consume the nitrites in the old water, transforming them into nitrates. In turn, the nitrates serve as food for the selection of plants living in the regeneration area. While the exact array of plants present varies greatly from pool to pool, many professionals include water lilies, irises, and a wide assortment of submergible species among their pool’s plant life.

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