Friday, July 24, 2009

Backyard Swimming Pools

When I was a kid, growing up in the Pacific Northwest, the only swimming pools available were the public variety found at community centers. From the moment I touched the water, at my first swimming lesson, I was in love with it. When I was eight, my family took a vacation to California ... I remember looking down from the airplane as we descended into Los Angeles, surprised to see built-in pools in backyards. Until then, the only pools in backyards that I had seen were the small, blow-up variety, with water that went up to a kid's ankles.

Years later, I lived in Arizona and then Florida where backyard pools are a common occurrence. In fact, there are over 7 million backyard pools in America today.

The apartment complex, where I now live, has two pools. The other day, while dangling my feet in one of them, I started thinking about the environmental impact of these recreational oasis's. There's the obvious impact ... they use a lot of water. But what about the not so obvious impacts ... the chemicals used to keep the water bacteria free and the electricity used to filter the water and heaters used to keep the water at the perfect temperature? And what about jets and spas?

While I wiggled my toes in the water, I wondered if there were ways to have a pool while minimizing the energy and water usage ... to make pools a little more Eco-friendly. And, of course ... there are. Here are some ideas:

  • Install a cover. Did you know that that 30-50% of the water in a pool is lost to evaporation? A cover will save a lot of water. And, if the pool is heated, a cover will reduce the amount of energy required to keep the water at the perfect temperature by as much as 70%. Try a solar cover (also called a solar blanket) which absorbs the heat from the sun and transfers it to the water, reducing the need for a heater even further. To get the greatest benefit from pool covers, leave them on until right before the pool is to be used. And when swimming is over, put them back on. Covers keep the water cleaner, preventing leaves and other debris from falling in. An added benefit to pool covers is safety ... many covers prevent kids from falling in and some have security features such as locks.

  • If a heater is a must, consider an environmentally friendly version. Try a solar heater.

  • Turn down the temperature on the heater ... or better yet, turn it off. During hot weather, when most pools are used, there really isn't a need to heat a pool ... the sun will do a fine job. During cooler months, turn the heater down a few degrees. Just like the temperature inside a home, turning the thermostat down by even a few degrees will save a bunch of energy.

  • Be sure the water filter has a timer and run it only during off-peak hours. And, run it only for 3-6 hours ... that's enough time to do the job. During the winter, cut it down to 2 hours.

  • If a total cleaning becomes necessary, use an environmentally friendly cleaning service. Most companies will drain the pool, clean the walls with an acid base cleaner and then refill the pool. That's a lot of chemicals and a lot of water. A company in Arizona came up with a cleaning method that filters the pools contents and then pours the water back in! It takes less time and conserves a lot of water.

  • Keep the pool's cleaning and heating equipment in good working order ... it'll be more efficient and use less energy.

  • Keep the pool's water clean without using harmful chemicals. Consider non-toxic methods such as ionization. One note ... every method for keeping the water clean has it's environmental impact. So, learn about the various options and choose the one with the least impact.

Of course, the most environmentally friendly pool is no pool ... but if you're going to have one, these steps will maximize your enjoyment while minimizing the environmental impact.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!


  1. Since I don't have a pool, it doesn't really apply; however, we did have the small plastic one.

    I also grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Whereabouts did you hail from?

  2. Hi Teachinfourth ... thanks for dropping by.

    I grew up in Seattle ... a beautiful place. How about you?

    Hope to "see" you again!


  3. Those are all excellent suggestions. I will tell my in-laws to run their pool pumps on a timer..

    I've never had a backyard pool, but I do work with filtration on a daily basis (for fish, not humans). I wonder which has the bigger impact: The electricity to run a an ozone or UV filter or the chemical impact of chlorine filtration? Interesting thought. -kate

  4. Useful tips.

    Here's an interesting question that I'm sure there are no answers for.

    I know that when I've gone swimming in other people's pools on hot days, that I've been much cooler myself for the remainder of the day and we've often turned the a/c off afterwards. I wonder how much of the impact of the pool is/can be mitigated by adjusting home cooling bills.

  5. Hi Kate ... that's a great question and one that I tried to find the answer for in writing this piece. I really couldn't find one clear, concise answer. In my opinion, using the ozone/UV filter for minimal time (approx. 3 hours) seems better than the use of chemicals. Like I said ... it's just my opinion. I'll keep searching, though, and if I find a better answer, I'll be sure to update everyone.

    Hi Quirky Mom ... I think that's an excellent point, especially if one takes care to make a pool as energy efficient as possible.

    Take Care!

  6. No pool here but I would like to remind your readers that we are doing the Farmers Market Challenge at my blog this weekend. There is still time to get your photos posted join the fun.

    I hope everyone will stop by and take a look at The Road to Here

    The idea is to spread the word about buying locally. There will be new posts all weekend so visit often.


  7. Hi Small..Greetings from far away Singapore. I have given you an Award - My Fav Blog. Please drop by and collect you Award. Keep up the GOOD work.

  8. SF, once again you have found a subject that many of us take for granted and never stop to consider the impact on our environment. Well done that girl!

    I don't have a pool anymore, more's the pity, a dip on a hot day was always a treat.

    Off-topic, can you please drop me an e-mail for your address. Since I kicked in the restored, rejuvenated, rennovated pc, I have lost my e-mail list, the old master HD has decided it doesn't want to be read. Personally, I think it's sulking.


  9. Thanks for leaving a great post. Being that I live in South Florida, the evaporation is a HUGE issue. Fortunately, when it is rainy season, it works to our advantage....and the earth's.

    My aunt in Canada has a built-in pool and converted her pool to asalt-water pool. I will look intothe pros and cons and get back to you.....

    Thanks for always posting insightful info!

  10. I can see why you have so many are such a NICE person. I'll be back soon.......still fighting the depression

  11. Great advice, as always.
    Unfortunately, the following comment I have has no useful information, but after reading about pools, it brought back memories of my Ninja Turtle Swimming pool I had when I was younger. I loved it--until one day my mom decided to fill it up with dirt and created an herb garden instead. We lived in an apartment building and there was obviously no land to grow anything.

    This explains why I can't swim.

  12. Hi from New Zealand,
    I've read several of your blogs and you've got some awesome ideas. My husband and I are pastoral dairy farmers in Southland, New Zealand and base our farming practise on being not only profitable (we have to eat too), but sustainable, and family friendly. Please visit my blog at
    for balanced discussion on some issues that affect how our food is produced all over the world. i would absolutely welcome discussion. Cheers, from 4cowgirls.