How to Build a Natural Swimming Pool

Douglas Buege and Vicky Uhland explain how to build a natural swimming pool on your homestead, includes information on pool zoning, natural filtration, sealing the pool and algae control.


| August/September 2002



Rushes, sedges and water lilies not only provide a beautiful border around your natural swimming pool, but they keep the water clear and clean.

Rushes, sedges and water lilies not only provide a beautiful border around your natural swimming pool, but they keep the water clear and clean.

PHOTO: COURTESY BIOTOP

Learn how to build a natural swimming pool in order to create a cooling summer retreat for your homestead.

Whether you like to practice your dolphin dives or lounge away the day on a raft, swimming is one of summer's perfect pleasures. With a minimum of materials and without an arsenal of chemicals, you can build an idyllic water oasis right in your own back yard and thwart summertime's sultry dog days.

Though fairly common in Europe, natural swimming pools (like the one pictured above in an Austrian family's backyard), are in their infancy in the United States. Ask most American swimming-pool contractors to build a backyard pool and chances are they'll roll out a long list of goods, including rebar, gunite, fiberglass, chlorine and an energy-sapping filtration system. But in recent years, a few builders and a growing number of homeowners have learned how to build pools without relying on a mass of manufactured materials and chemical additives. They've found it's possible to construct pools that are more about building with nature and blending into the natural landscape. Natural swimming pools use gravel stone and clay in place of concrete or fiberglass, and aquatic plants instead of harmful chemicals and complicated mechanical filtering systems. The plants enrich the pool with oxygen, support beneficial bacteria that consume debris and potentially harmful organisms, and give habitat to frogs, dragonflies and other water life. The result is a beautiful, ecologically diverse system that is relatively inexpensive to construct. (A natural pool can he constructed for as little as $2,000 if you do it yourself, while conventional pools can cost tens of thousands of dollars.) Natural swimming pools require no harmful chemicals, are fairly low-tech, and once established call for only a modicum of management. You won't have to drain the pool each autumn. Except for topping it off now and then, you'll fill the pool only once.

Dig It: Creating a Natural Swimming Pool by Hand

The cheapest and most ecologically sound way to build a swimming pool is simply to hollow a hole in the ground. You can make your pool as shallow or as deep as you want, but the key is to make sure the sides slope: Otherwise the soil will cave in. The ratio should be a 1-foot vertical drop for every 3 horizontal feet. "It's not a bathtub effect, but more like a soup bowl," says Tom Zingaro, partner with Denver-based Blue Lotus Designs, a pool-and pond-architecture company. One of the main reasons traditional swimming pools are constructed with a steel framework is to ensure the walls stay vertical and perpendicular to the bottom surface of the pool. Construct a pool with sloping sides and you'll eliminate the need for any steel reinforcement.

Zoning Your Pool

Reserving at least 50 percent of your pool's surface area for shallow plants, either at one end or in a ring around the sides, eliminates the need for chlorine and expensive filters and pumps. You'll want to separate the swimming area of your pool and the filtration area, or plant zone (see the illustration in the image gallery). A rim within an inch of the water's surface keeps plants in their place but allows water from the swimming area to move to the plant zone for filtering, As water passes through the fibrous root structure of the plants, bacteria concentrated on the plants' roots act as a biological filter, removing contaminants and excess nutrients in the water. Decomposer organisms, also found in the plants' root zones, consume the bacteria, effectively eliminating underwater waste buildup.

Inside the plant zone, the water should get steadily deeper, reaching a maximum depth of 18 inches near the swimming zone. The outermost 6 inches of the plant zone will be 2 to 3 inches deep, providing a home for taller aquatic plants. Submergent and floating vegetation occupy the deeper area.

architrendinc
11/18/2017 10:11:59 AM

Do anyone know a contractor that can assist in building a natural pool in the Southwest Michigan area? I also have a 5 acres natural spring lakes on my 50 acres property, is it possible to turn the entire lake into a natural pool?


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3/15/2016 3:32:50 AM

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imperialpools
8/9/2015 8:40:35 AM

When you have a swimming pool you and your family are able to not only have fun, but get fit in a way in which it doesn’t really feel like exercise! Even swimming laps in a pool doesn’t feel like work because you glide through the water, get a great cardiovascular workout and don’t have to break a sweat! Talk with your http://imperialpoolsinc.com/2015/08/04/get-healthy-in-your-swimming-pool/ from Imperial Pools, Inc and you will likely uncover other get fit tips including:


mary
7/29/2015 9:16:28 AM

There must be depth indicators and signage to prevent an accident of divers, since the sides are sloped and shallow!! Also - there is a tradition of US swimming holes. I saw a youtube of a middle eastern family building a gorgeous tiled DIY circular wading pool with seating built in all around,


dave
6/20/2015 3:40:10 PM

Has anyone built a swimming pond in Massachusetts or New Hampshire, would really like to take a look at it! Thanks Dave


dave
6/20/2015 3:26:03 PM

I would like to know if there is a formula for planting area vs. water volume. Information on pump sizing and aeration would also be helpful. Has anyone already completed a natural pool, if so, what is your feedback. Really pondering this project. Thanks Dave


kate
5/29/2015 1:29:39 PM

If your thinking of building a natural swimming pool then consider a bio filtration system to avoid constantly battling algae and keep the water crystal clear. Find out more at www.clear-water-revival.com


ramon
4/5/2015 1:57:00 PM

Hello, VictoriaC! It is great to hear from a neighbor with a common interest...AND SO CLOSE TO ME! The recent thaw has re-awakened my yearning for a natural pool. Feel free to email me at romachado@yahoo.com so that we can compare notes. Respectfully, Ramon


seahorsepools2
2/19/2015 2:34:44 AM

A http://www.seahorsepools.com is the perfect opportunity to showcase your beautiful oasis to all of your family and friends. Let them marvel at your swimming pool’s awesomeness and stare at your stunning backyard in awe.


seahorsepools2
2/19/2015 2:30:51 AM

A pool party is the perfect opportunity to showcase your beautiful oasis to all of your family and friends. Let them marvel at your swimming pool’s awesomeness and stare at your stunning backyard in awe.


victoriac
1/28/2015 3:25:02 PM

Hi Ramon in Salem....I am in Argyle NY and have a pond, but would love a natural swimming pool. Please let me know if you found any good information out, etc. Thanks!


swimmingpondbuilder
12/3/2014 5:52:43 PM

I am currently building one of these in New Haven Connecticut. Should be finishing up in another week. Working with Natural Habitat out of Kansas City. I have been building ponds in California and Connecticut for the past 30 years.


ramon
7/10/2014 12:25:52 PM

I live in Upstate New York. My girlfriend and I just bought a house in Salem, NY, and we have our hearts set on building a natural swimming pool. One of our concerns as we begin the planning process of our pool is...what do we do in the winter? Aside from the obvious need to drain any water from the pump and plumbing, do we need to remove the plants from the natural pool? I would imagine that the water will freeze several feet in depth depending on the severity of the winter. Any thoughts on our concern? Thank you in advance for your replies...


monikasmith
6/20/2014 8:01:45 AM

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jason charles
5/13/2014 12:34:44 PM

My friends were always telling me about the benefits of salt water in a pool. The important benefit to me is that saltwater is way eco friendly and less corrosive to the skin. Frankly, I didn’t like monitoring my chlorine maintained pool that often, so I did something about it and looked more online for saltwater alternatives to a swimming pool around my area in Davie. Miami Pool Tech provided me with an immediate solution when I skimmed through their website. They were ready and willing to install, renovate and recheck at my convenience as soon as I got unto them. After hiring their team of pool attendants, my new saltwater pool was frequently checked and maintained crystal clear. For more of their eco-friendly installation services, look them up on http://miamipooltech.com/.


jason charles
5/12/2014 10:49:14 AM

Miami Pool Tech provides complete cleaning service for your pool. By testing, maintaining, checking the water chemistry and sanitizing pool water. The company is mainly focused in providing all solutions to your pooling problems. They are fast, reliable and have a great customer service. Visit them at www.miamipooltech.com for more information.


arnaldo
4/21/2014 5:46:33 AM

Building a natural swimming pool, means you doing your bit to save environment. But that's not all you should do. There are steps like using the right stuffs to clean the pool so that the natural beauty of the pool can be remained. There are pool cleaning service providers who focus on being as gentle to the nature as possible. http://beachwoodpools.com/services.html


mdoyle
3/7/2014 3:41:12 PM

We are looking to build one of these for a client with some added concrete elements but building codes are very tough in the city we are working in. I'll put some images up if and when we get it done at http://www.bayareaconcretes.com


angelsdany
2/1/2014 4:14:41 AM

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blob
8/16/2013 3:41:26 PM

I have a spring fed natural pond with a run off babbling brook that leads down to wetlands below. I would love to be able to swim in it, but it is very murky, and has snapping turtles. Any advice on making it safe on a budget? I'm sure it would include lots of gravel, which is only 1/4 mile away, but I'm worried about snappers and snakes.


countrygirl
7/24/2013 3:29:40 PM

rainie.flores.7you are obviously an advertiser for your swimming pool company that pushes chemicals! This is Mother Earth News, we do not want chemicals :) The point of natural swimming pools is too avoid all the toxic chemicals getting on and in our bodies. Now that you have made your comment, go elsewhere!!


adnan
7/20/2013 3:57:34 AM

I live in Punjab Pakistan where we have 5 seasons.Mild and short winters 2 - 2.5 months. Minimum temperature never go below zero . Spring feburary to early april. Then summer hot dry spell mid april to june end . Temperatres hit 48 c degrees. Then rainy season July and August ( temp 34- 38)  and finally autumn. 

I want to put a natural pond on my  farm  covering 2500 to 3000 sq feet of area. Water to fill the pond will come from a tube well. We will pump the water from the ground, pour it in the pond and take it out to irrigate the land. Hence every week water will be recycled. 

1.Do we need to aerate the water ? If so can it be done without using a pump or electric devise.

2. Most side of the pond have gentle slope planned except one side perhaps 30 feet long where we want a sharp fall 45 degrees. Can this be done without reverting to concrete??


the.nathaniel.bailey
7/16/2013 10:24:33 AM

A very nice post with some great images! But I have a question about "Establish your plant beds around the outside perimeter to naturally filter and clean your pool", how exactly do the plant beds around the pool naturally filter and clean it?

I mean don't you need to use pool chemicals and a proper pool filter/pump like those sold at www.splashandrelax.co.uk and many others? I was hoping to build my own inground swimming pool, but that's the only bit that put me off, not know if it would cost more to due to having to install a filter and pump system to keep it clean, but you are saying that the plants around the pool can do this, how?

Thanks,
Nathaniel


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greg.lesher.7
6/20/2013 10:25:36 PM

The problem with a modern pool, is you are bathing in a toxic gas chamber... A natural pool or pond is no worse than water skiing in a lake, not much danger of contracting some disease because the water is balanced. Just do not drink it, but then again who drinks water from a public pool? The chemicals in it will wipe out your immune system. At least the lake or pond will not do that!


tygerrrt
6/20/2013 6:37:29 PM

What about snakes? I live in Texas. I'm sure a water moccasin would love to take up residence in a natural pool.


tanya.goldsmith.9
6/19/2013 3:03:39 PM

We have had POOL  with skeeters. We now have a large pond and enjoy floating in the tu and be among the lilypads and nature each evening,and we live in Florida. We do not put our faces  under water though.we have less skeeters on the pond because we have fish, dragonflies and bats. My property is fenced and i have never had a gator but always count my ducks first LOL If one is missing then Ill look for a gator! It isnt for everyone,obviously you cannot apply oils to your skin and if you do not want fish nibbling,frogs hopping and sand between your toes it isnt for you. But if we were at the beach just minutes away we would worry about sharks and jellyfish !


woodart
6/19/2013 11:07:38 AM

Do you want a swimming pool or a pond? If it's a swimming pool, I don't think there will be all that much "natural" about it. If it's a pond you want, then natural is the only way, using only nature's resources to kep it clean and wholesome. We used to jump into pools along with the frogs, bugs and other critters, and never got sick, injured, or anything else. It was probably because we had immune systems built up from just such activities, but in today's sterile society, that would not be wise, I guess!


rainie.flores.7
5/15/2013 2:40:37 AM

I think it would be best to hire a professional builder or company to buld your swimming pool. It is more convenient, less time consuming, although you may pay an extra amount of money for that, in the long run, it will still save you time and money. Plus you have the assurance of a nice-looking and sturdy swimming pool. - https://www.swimaloha.com/


t brandt
7/15/2011 5:18:55 AM

Around here, we call that a pond, not a swimming pool. Not everyone wants to swim with frogs, worms, leaves and other natural detritus. Not everone has the extra space required to build a swimming hole with gradually sloped sides. If you still need mechanical aeration, then you haven't gained the energy benefit of having no mechanical filtration.


rick nichols
7/14/2011 6:52:17 AM

does anyone know how to spell mosquito's. i already own enough of them. i sure don.t want to raise them


abbey bend
7/13/2011 11:48:21 AM

Nice article but why does Mother Earth keep recycling the same old articles over and over. There is new information and companies out there, but one would never know it reading the articles. Also on these old articles the companies and even materials mention, are often out of date or non-existant. :(


philippe honore
3/15/2011 7:07:29 AM

Thank you very much for all of those advices to build a natural pool. I wish I had enough space in my garden to do so but I will not build a pool other than a natural one. Hope some intelligent company will provide us with those in Florida, it is time!


christian gaze
7/24/2010 6:53:30 AM

We have built ourselves a swimming pond. It is 23 meters by 14 meters and 2.8 meters deep. It wasn’t complicated to build and required no specialist knowledge. I have set up an internet forum, www.swimpondcentre.com for people who want to swap ideas about self-building and maintenance. It occurred to me that if you could get a bunch of passionate amateurs to swap their observations then you could end up with a really useful resource. A professional will build a pond and then only visit it at intervals. An amateur will be there all the time, he won't be able to leave it alone, he will notice the smallest change. I am down at our pond checking things out every day; two and three times a day if work is dull.


john_157
8/6/2009 2:36:39 PM

It appears that many people are interested in natural pools. Why doesnt Mother do a follow up on their article that was presented in a 2002 issue. I have explored the bio-top source but its difficult to communicate overseas with this company. Surly there are some good examples and how-to info on these type of pools in US. HELP !!!!!


cindy_47
7/24/2009 11:44:29 AM

Is anyone building natural pools in Kansas?


cindy_47
7/24/2009 11:35:46 AM

Is anyone building natural pools in Kansas?


rob_20
6/7/2009 3:38:37 PM

I want to Build a 3 1/2 Acre Lake 50' Deep at Lowest point to support Trout and Swimming, as well as CatFish for cleaning of bottom of lake. (will this Work) also I will be adding all kinds of water Plants for natural Oxigination of lake and a 10'W x 1000' Creek and Waterfall that dumps in to Lake While Recirclating water ( good or bad Idea)with water plants and Cat tails as well. Then I will be adding 4-6 Different Species of Trees for Shading of lake as well to provide Air filtration (keeping Bigger Particulates from entering Lake)around 7/8 of the lake and would love to have a Sandy Beach area ( good or Bad). I will be adding Solar and Wind Mills for the powering of the Pumps as well as Some sort of Filter to remove Arsinic from water that naturally Occures in Nevada any Help in this area would be wonderfull. Also The water for the Lake will be Provided from it's Own Well, also in a side note If I Run the well water through a Series of Cisterns Having one with Carbon Media Or other Media and then pump the water to the top of My Creek will that help Neutralize any Contaminants? I have 2 Black Labs as Well and would love to have Ducks and Gees Visit my lake, Do I need to add or Modify the Plants and Fish that I am Planning to have a Sustainable Enviroment? I want To Creat A Living Eco System That My Family and Friends Can Enjoy For Decades To come, There might even Be a Pontoon boat on the Lake as Well. What do you Think, Does this sound like I'm headed in the Right Direction? Oh also I want to add Hydro Electric to the Creek waterfall to Power My Shop through A Battery System. The amount of Volume I will generate is roughly 50 thousand gpm


swerlybird
10/20/2008 7:17:45 PM

I am looking into building a natural pool in a summer house in France. I will only be there for 6 weeks in the summer and 2 weeks in the Spring. Would it be possible within that timescale to build a pool? Could I maintain a pool over many years when i'm only there sporadically?. Also - Is there anyone building natural pools in france? Thanks


art_5
12/4/2007 1:02:56 PM

Are therer any good books on making natural pools? Please email aet14@csufresno.edu


art_4
12/4/2007 1:01:26 PM

Are there any books on making natural pools?


flo_1
11/22/2007 12:15:15 PM

Louis Richard: If we are in Quebec sometime, could we stop by and see your pool? Or anyone else in Northeastern US or Eastern Canada? Please email flo@sustainableharvest.org


erik_2
9/6/2007 5:33:40 PM

How about natural pools in colorado, where the temp is very cold in the winter. Wont this kill off the plants. Also, I want to do it myself but probably need design help. Any affordable designers in Denver.


rainer
8/31/2007 9:27:13 AM

natural swimming pools could be made at every type of climate. we made this type of pools in europe and australia. For this climate - and also Arizona, Texas .... you have to use special plants. The other important thing is to make a good hydraulic. A lot of people think, that no pump is neccasary. But the warmer the water, the more important is to circulate the water through the plant filter. In canada there is a company in Montreal called "Topia" and in USA there is company in Scottsdale (Arizona) called Supreme pools. Both can help with natural pools


louis_8
8/18/2007 11:32:16 AM

I have made an eco-pool in the province of Québec,Canada and can help you build yours even if my english is poor!!!


dina_2
7/31/2007 11:23:38 PM

can you put fish in the pool? i want to build a BIG pond for my husband to fish in, but i'd also like to swim in it. we live in hawaii on lava rock; will the bentonite work? Mother responds: People regularly swim in natural ponds that have fish in them. You will have to take into account the waste from the fish in terms of the amount of plant matter that can filter and clean the water, in addition to any food you might feed the fish.


gonnadothis
7/8/2007 12:24:46 PM

Re: Tony about snakes and such. That's an interesting point you raise. But it's not unique to natural pools. Chlorinated swimming pools often get snakes in them. We have a pool in our community that gets about one a week and even more when it rains because it is adjacent to an agricultural area and has no real effective barriers. This issue has more to do with the access to the area than with the type of pool. If this is a big concern then you'd want to build perhaps tall masonry walls around the pool or something of that nature. Of course they're usually more scared of you than you are of them.


mike_46
7/5/2007 9:51:43 AM

Is anyone building natural pools in Maryland?


mike_45
7/5/2007 9:49:52 AM

Is anyone building natural pools in Maryland?


lisa_63
7/3/2007 2:20:37 PM

How can I find someone who builds natural pools in our area (western NY state)?


wanda_6
5/15/2007 2:11:17 PM

Is Texas a good place for a natural pool/pond? or is it too humid?


manu_4
4/23/2007 3:14:11 PM

I'm trying to build one in India... I dunno what plants to use... help?! Anyone!! in the surroundings I have water hyacinth, lilies and reeds. is this enough? Also, looking for testing kits. dunno what to test for other than pH!! manu www.istay.in


tony_14
3/14/2007 9:39:07 PM

Natural Swimming Pools// how would you keep the snakes and turtles out we live in arkansas and have outher ponds with plunty of them critters/ the wife don't want to swim w/ them!






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