Swimming pools and the environment. Is your pool eco-friendly?

Photo courtesy of Miguel Mc Conell at Flickr.com.

A resort in Chile just finished building the biggest swimming pool in the world– it’s a kilometer long and big enough for sailboats! The crazy thing is that it’s only about 100 feet away from the ocean. If somebody wants to go sailing, why not walk down to the beach and do the real thing?

Photo courtesy of Naked [ø] at Flickr.com.

The environmental impact of swimming pools is stunning, and mega-pools are only the tip of the iceberg. Sure, they’re not as easy to see from orbit, but the volume of water in backyard pools adds up too. More and more people are moving into homes with pools our adding pools to their existing homes. “In 1950, Americans owned only 2,500 private residential swimming pools; by 1970 they owned 713,000.” There are more than 7 million private swimming pools in America today.

Photo courtesy of nina_theevilone at Flickr.com.

As you may know, pools use a lot of water to fill and maintain. For example, the typical uncovered pool in Arizona loses 4 to 6 feet of water a year to evaporation. Since water supplies are running low throughout the country, it would help if more people used pool covers to reduce evaporation and conserve water. Chemicals also evaporate away and pool covers reduce the need for additional chemicals too.

Pool covers reduce the amount of make-up water needed by 30 to 50 percent and reduce chemical consumption by 35 to 60 percent. Reflective pool covers can also be used to reduce the amount of light reflected by the average pool (a significant factor in urban heat islands). In cold areas of the country, dark pool covers are useful in reducing heating costs (because they warm up in sunlight). Oh, and properly designed pool covers can even prevent children and small animals from drowning in the pool!

If you have a pool, here are 8 ways to conserve water and electricity:

1.) Install a pool cover. As much as 70 percent of a pool’s heat loss is caused by evaporation. It also will keep your pool or spa cleaner and reduce the need to add chemicals.

2.) Reduce your pool’s water temperature and the number of months you heat your pool. This lower energy use will reduce your carbon footprint and cut your bill down to size.

3.) Keep your pool’s cleaning and heating equipment clean and lubricated . Well maintained equipment is more efficient and will last longer before it needs to be replaced.

4.) Switch your pool filter and sweeper operations to off-peak hours. When it’s hot outside, air conditioners suck a lot of power out of the grid. During these peak times, many electric companies have to run dirty backup generators and they also charge higher prices. If you have a time-of-use meter, running your pool equipment only during off-peak hours can save you money. Off-peak times are generally between 6 p.m. and noon weekdays and all day Saturday and Sunday.

5.) Install a new water-saving pool filter. A single backflushing with a traditional filter uses 180 to 250 gallons of water. You can see the different types of pool filters that are available online.

6.) Shorten the operating time for your swimming pool filter and use the automatic cleaning sweep. In the winter, two hours a day of filtering could cut your filter’s energy use by 40 percent to 50 percent, without any noticeable difference in clarity or sanitation.

7.) Create a windbreak around your pool with native plants and shrubs. This wind break will prevent breezes from reaching your pool and keep hot, dry air from sucking away moisture. It also makes the pool a more attractive and enjoyabe place to relax.

8.) Use a “green” pool cleaning service. The traditional way to clean a pool is to drain all the water, acid wash the lining, and then refill the pool with thousands of gallons of additional water. In drought stricken Phoenix, a company came up with a way to save water during the cleaning process! Calsaway Pool Service pioneered a cleaning method that filters the pools contents and then pours the water back in! Their process also takes less time, and because it conserves 10,000-30,000 gallons of water per pool, it offers massive cost savings too.

There are even bigger changes you can make to you pool to save water, reduce chemicals, and minimize electric costs. Salt water pools are one option – they have slightly lower evaporation rates and use fewer chemicals than other pools. Whenever I use a pool with heavy chlorine, I always have to go take a shower to keep my hair from turning green. So, salt water pools reduce water use in that way too!

Photo courtesy of milksss ×Þ at Flickr.com.

You can even do away with your pool altogether! Drain that pool, and you’ve got a half-pipe for skateboarding…

Photo courtesy of db_cooper at Flickr.com.

…or an oversized planter for gardening! If your yard doesn’t have room for a vegetable garden, think about streamlining by filling your pool with soil. You don’t even have to tear out the concrete lining, just add dirt and – viola! – you’ve suddenly got the biggest planter on the block (although you may want to layer the bottom with crushed rock to ensure proper drainage)!

Photo courtesy of larry st at Flickr.com.

Steven Morber July 28, 2008 at 7:52 am

A lot of good information here. If only people would start paying more attention to things like this.

Steven Morber

11ten design March 18, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Pool covers are great but all I can find is vinyl type materials – where are the pool covers made from more friendly eco materials? I don’t know if the water saved from evaporation is worth the environmental price of the production of vinyls?

Martin Holladay May 12, 2009 at 5:00 am

I’m trying to contact db_cooper, who provided the photo of the swimming pool filled with dirt and grass, for permission to use the photo. If you can provide me with contact information for db_cooper, I’d be very grateful. Thanks.
Martin Holladay
Green Building Advisor

Christine September 26, 2009 at 9:32 am

The people next door cut down around 75 trees, some over 100 yrs. old to put in a pool with a large stone patio. The drainage goes on our property. I don’t care how eco-friendly a salt water pool is, vegetation is dying in the run off area.

99garderer October 4, 2009 at 2:20 pm

I need to help my child on a science project and he’s doing it on what pool chemicals reduce the amount of evaporation. no website he has found has it. Please help.

george October 5, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Christine – Have you talked with your neighbors about their pool spilling onto your property? It sounds like a major code compliance issue, at the very least. In many cities, cutting down 100 year old trees wouldn’t get through the permit process!

On the plus side (I always try to look for the silver lining, even with storm clouds), if they have a salt water pool then the runoff is less harmful than it could be. I know – that’s kind of like saying “At least they ran you over with an economy car instead of an SUV,” but it’s something.

Good luck getting that mess cleaned up – issues with neighbors can be a real pain.

george October 5, 2009 at 5:03 pm

99garderer – I’d like to help, but you didn’t leave an e-mail to reply to. Since you found this page, you probably already know that salt water has a lower evaporation rate than chlorinated water. You might want to check pool supply stores for more information. Also, if you want to be clever, you could have your child look up the chemical formula for cotton of PVC (because adding a pool cover makes a huge difference).

One word to the wise – if you get roped into doing one class project, you’ll never have a moment’s peace!

D. Cooper-Rooney October 11, 2009 at 3:02 pm

I am trying to help a local municipality to go green with their pool. I have heard of many filter systems that do not require the use of clorine. Due to the number of older people salt is not a good option. What do you know of sand filters or the ozonator?

Peter April 10, 2010 at 1:01 am

Many companies are going the eco friendly route in regards to pool/water purification. One such company which I know for a fact, places alot of emphasis on eco friendly pool technology and research is purapool. Look them up for yourself.

Val May 25, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Great ideas and would love a pool cover but will not go vinyl. I have an ionizer pool system from Sigma Systems and LOVE it. It’s been awhile since I did my research on salt water systems but I wasn’t impressed – hard on the environment and the equipment. Love the ideas about plants – just make sure they are meant to be by a pool for the reflective heat as well as the water splashing on it that may contain chlorine in some form.

B. August 28, 2010 at 3:44 pm

The reason they built this pool in the article so close to the beach is because the surf is always too rough to engage in water sport of any kind. So although I agree that it does seem egregiously consumptive, there was the reason why people don’t just walk down the beach to sail if they want to sail. So they made the pool big enough to accommodate sailboats. Seems it would get hectic in there.

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