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Designed by Madeline Blanchfield Architects and built by LandForms, this freshwater pool in Coogee uses no chemicals to keep clean.

Backyard pools are meant to provide an escape, help keep us fit and keep the kids cool over summer, but they can quickly become frustrating and expensive with the amount of maintenance required to keep them clear and functioning – not to mention all the chemicals required to achieve this. In recent years, however, a genuine alternative to the traditional pool has emerged, requiring no chemicals once it is all set up.

Natural pools, as they are known, purify the water by creating a micro-ecosystem akin to those in the natural environment. The use of biofiltration and hydroponically rooted plants means the harmful bacteria is managed in a far more sustainable way, though it does take a little time for the system to find its balance before it can be used, time you’ll gain back in the long run. A living or natural swimming pool could be the answer to enjoying a swim without being loaded up with chemicals every time you go for a dip.

The plants that keep natural pools functioning can become part of the landscaping.

The natural swimming pool concept developed in Europe about 30 years ago, using gravel beds, but is only now gaining popularity in Australia. Julien Roy of Sydney’s Land Forms suggests that natural pools “now account for 80 of new builds – especially in the higher end of the market”. Of course with any new development the early adopters incur a greater cost and a natural pond is more expensive to set up than a traditional pool. At least, the initial cost is high, but the pools tend to pay themselves off in 10 to 15 years due to the lack of chemicals and energy used.

Both natural and living pools rely on nature to filter the water, including the good bacteria and bio-organisms that attack the algae. In a controlled environment it starves the algae of food meaning it’s possible to have a pool without any chlorine in it. As the water passes through the gravel, it filters the water and creates a habitat for the bio-organisms to live. The other part of the regeneration zone is underwater plants that strip the nutrients out of the water.

For the natural swimming pool to function optimally, you need to have a one-to-one ratio of pool and regeneration zone. This requires a relatively large footprint if you wish to have a full-sized pool in your backyard.

A biological filter removes any impurities and bacteria from the water. Any phosphorus found in the impurities is then broken down into phosphate. A pump, which runs continuously on very little power, pumps the water through another filter where an adsorption (the adhesion of atoms, ions or molecules from a gas, liquid or dissolved solid to a surface) process takes place. The filtered water continually returns back to the swimming pool.

The bio-filtration process can be hidden as in this Fairlight lap pool by LandForms.

One of the bonuses of living pools over natural pools, besides the reduced ecological footprint, is that the maintenance is minimal. With a natural pool, you require a gravel regeneration zone the same size as the swimming pool. Essentially, you’re creating an underwater garden, which requires very little maintenance.

Today in Europe, there are over 20,000 of these outdoor bio-baths in existence with the largest able to cope with 5000 swimmers per day. That is a bit bigger than your average suburban swimming hole, though size is a factor, as the larger the pool the better the ecosystem functions.

A living pool encourages nature to come right up to your back door – an educational experience that is great for kids.




All images courtesy of LANDFORMS