Green Swimming Pools, Part One

Referring to a swimming pool as 'green' is typically not a positive thing, conjuring images of green, slimy algae in a pool that hasn't been cared for properly. In our case, we're considering whether having a swimming pool can fit into plans for an environmentally-sustainable green home.

The Traditional Pool

Before we look at whether or not a swimming pool can be built 'green' or not, let's look at some of the reasons why traditional swimming pools are often looked at as an environmental nightmare.

A backyard swimming pool has often been looked at as the ultimate status symbol for a home, and there's no denying the hours of fun and relaxation a swimming pool provides on a hot summer day. But all that fun comes at a cost to the planet in several significant ways:

Water: Obviously, any pool, even a smaller one, is going to require lots and lots of water. An average residential pool holds several thousand gallons of water, which is in short supply in many areas of the country due to overuse and drought. In other parts of the world, water supplies are critically limited, causing disease and death.

While there are no ways around using water in a swimming pool, there are ways to make sure the water in the pool stays there and isn't wasted. We'll take a look at those in a bit.

Energy: All that water in the pool needs to be heated, and that means using some type of energy. Traditional pools use natural gas or electric heaters to warm the water, because swimming in icy water just isn't as much fun as diving into nice, warm water.

These traditional pool heaters rely on fossil fuels such as natural gas or coal for creating electricity. Burning these fuels contributes to air quality issues as well as add lots of climate changing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. As you'll see in part two of this article, there are ways to dramatically reduce or even eliminate the need for gas or electric heaters to keep your pool water comfortable.

Chemicals: In order to keep your pools' water from literally turning green, some type of treatment is necessary to keep it clean and safe. For decades, pool owners have turned to chlorine and other highly toxic chemicals to keep pool water clean. While they do a great job killing organic contaminants, and are generally considered safe when diluted into a pools' water, there are concerns associated with the use of chlorine-based pool chemicals.

Undiluted chlorine or over chlorinated pools can be extremely harmful to humans and other animal life. Exposure can cause irritation to eyes, nose and throat. More severe exposure can cause damage to the esophagus, stomach, and digestive tract. Luckily, exposure to chlorine and other pool chemicals in a swimming pool is short-lived and safe for most swimmers.

The "chlorine smell" of a swimming pool comes from chloramines. Chlorine kills germs and bacteria in water and on our bodies by forming chloramines. A 2008 summary of research in the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences journal Environmental Health Perspectives focuses on the suggested relation between asthma in children and atmospheric trichloramine in indoor pools, suggesting chloramines may be as toxic as chlorine itself.
Other studies focused on cancer, reproductive processes, skin, gastric and digestive problems have been inconclusive. The American Chemistry Council points out that study of chloramines is incomplete and that the way to minimize the environmental impact of pool chlorine at this point is to use it carefully and encourage good swimmer hygiene.

What if we could build a swimming pool that didn't rely on these chemicals to stay clean and safe? It's possible today!

Swimming pools are often looked-down on by environmentalists as being wasteful symbols of our decadent American lifestyle. In many cases, traditional swimming pools are guilty as charged. But that's changing; advancements in swimming pool design and technologies are helping to 'green' the image of the swimming pool. In part two of this article, we'll take a look at some of these new ideas that are helping to make the swimming pool healthier and greener.