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!