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Posted by Carl Seville | Apr 16, 2012

Making Your Pool More Environmentally-Friendly

The Green Curmudgeon talks about greening your swimming pool.

Can a swimming pool be ecologically sound? You be the judge. Photo by Stephen J. Sullivan/sxc.hu.Pools, and other water features like fountains and ponds, are pretty seriously inefficient when it comes to both electrical workings and water, so the most efficient thing to do is not have one.  If you have one, instead of repairing it, maybe you should take it out and make it into a nice, sustainable, xeriscaped yard or maybe even a vegetable garden to feed your family.  But OK, I get it, the Dallas concrete (or wherever you live) has created an urban heat island effect and you can't imagine not being able to cool off with a swim in your own back yard, so you are going to keep it.  So here are some suggestions to make it more efficient and better for the environment.

Heating Your Pool More Efficiently

If you plan to heat your pool, solar heaters cut down (or if you are lucky) completely eliminate the natural gas or other fuel used.  But maybe you should just not swim when it’s cold.  If you do heat it, use an insulated cover to keep the heat in when you’re not swimming.  

Using Your Pool Pump More Efficiently

Standard pool pumps are single speed and big enough to pump at the highest flow rate when needed, including jets for your luxury spa. The problem is that this big, honking pump uses way more energy than it needs to because it probably doesn’t need to pump as much water most of the time it’s on.  Make sure you put in a variable speed pump.  Variable speed pumps adjust to pump the amount of water needed, using less power in the process. You should also put your pump on a timer so it only runs when you need it.  Depending on how much swimming you do, your pool may work fine with the pump running between 6 and 18 hours a day instead of full time.  More energy saved! 

To wrap up the pump discussion, the pipes that the water moves through should be as big a diameter as possible with really wide, sweeping turns.  Small diameter pipes and tight turns put up a lot of resistance to the water flow, making the pump work harder, using more energy in the process.  Those bigger pipes and wide turns can allow you to put in a smaller pump.  More energy saved!  Isn’t this easy? 

Finally, think about using solar photovoltaic panels to run the pumps.  I know I’ve said some mean things about solar panels, but since you’re spending boatloads of money on that fancy pool, you can fork over a little more to save energy running the pumps.

Switch to Salt-Water or Constructed Wetlands to Lessen Environmental Impact

These last ideas don’t exactly fall into the efficiency category, but it is important in terms of environmental impact.  Fresh water swimming pools must be purified with added chlorine for health and safety, and chlorine is a pretty nasty, toxic chemical.  If you absolutely must have a pool, think about installing a salt-water pool.  Salt-water pools generate chlorine from salt added to the water or through the filter equipment.  Salt-water pools do avoid the need to handle chlorine directly, though you do have to balance the water chemicals regularly.  Chemicals used in pools can be corrosive to finishes and equipment, so regular maintenance and repairs are important.  Kind of like having a boat – it requires a lot of maintenance and for some boat owners their happiest days are the day the buy it and the day they sell it. This might apply to some pool owners as well.

A really cool alternative is a natural pool that is filtered by running the water through something called “constructed wetlands.”  Now, you may ask, “What is a constructed wetland?” Well, I’ll tell you.  It’s a treatment system that sort of recreates a natural wetland that uses different of plants and soils which naturally filter the water. It can also be a landscape feature near the pool or it can be farther away and hidden behind plants.  The pool water is pumped through the constructed wetland where the plants love to take in the impurities in the water.  They use them for nourishment, returning clean water to the pool.  Now these things aren’t cheap to build and you need lots of extra space for them, but they do lessen the need for chemicals and if done right, they can look kind of cool. 

So if you insist on having a pool, even if you’re only pretending to be in the 1% crowd, make a little extra effort and make it an efficient one that has less of an impact on the environment.

Green building consultant Carl Seville writes for Networx. Get home & garden ideas like this on Networx.com.

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