Are Swimming Pools Bad for the Environment?

Are Swimming Pools Bad for the Environment

Swimming pools can have a negative impact on the environment if you aren’t careful with how you’re disposing of the sanitizing chemicals.

This is something many people don’t want to hear because they just want to relax in their pool during the summer. Besides, how much of an impact are you, as an individual, making to the environment?

But if everybody thinks that way, then that is how the problem persists. Conversely, if we can get everybody to think differently about how to be more responsible with disposing of their pool waste, then great change can occur.

Some of the ways swimming pools are bad for the environment are: through chemicals being discharged improperly, through excessive water consumption, and through excessive energy consumption to operate the pools.

In this article, I want to talk more about how these factors can impact the environment, and how you can go about making an eco-friendly swimming pool to reduce the environmental impact.

How chemically treated pools can harm the environment

Potent chemicals

Chemicals such as chlorine are essential for disinfecting pool water by keeping it sterile and safe for humans to swim in.

Even though we are aware that chlorine is a potent irritant that can irritate our eyes, lungs, and upper respiratory tract, its ubiquitous use in pools means that we have accepted that its benefits outweigh its negatives.

Other than how it affects our health, I want to focus on how chlorine can affect the environment when it is improperly discharged – it can kill your plants or end up draining into a nearby stream and harming aquatic life.

To safely drain your pool water, you should make sure that the chlorine in it has been given enough time to dissipate.

You can speed up this process by leaving it exposed to sunlight – the UV rays will destroy chlorine on a molecular level. Wait at least one week for all of the chlorine to dissipate.

To ensure that enough chlorine has dissipated, you should use a chlorine test kit and the result should read that there are no detectable levels of chlorine before discharging the water.

When you discharge the water, make sure it’s not flowing to someone else’s property or even your own; try to discharge the water directly into a sanitary sewer instead.

The excessive amount of water can easily drown your plants or increase groundwater levels such that your pool is at risk of popping out.

If a sanitary sewer is unavailable, then you have no choice but to discharge it onto your own property. Make sure the water does not flow into your neighbor’s yard or flow into a stream or storm sewer.

Water waste

Even when you are not discharging the water, plenty of water is wasted each year due to evaporation and leaks.

You can drastically reduce water evaporation by covering up your pool, but understandably, most pool owners don’t like the hassle of covering up their pool when not in use.

And since pools are left uncovered during the hottest months of the year, it’s not unusual for an inch of water or more to evaporate each day.

Not to mention, plenty of chlorine is being wasted and the pool heater also needs to work extra hard to keep the pool warm.

As the pool owner, you will be forced to replace the evaporated water and chlorine and pay for the cost of heating.

While some water evaporation is to be expected, even with a pool cover on, the chemicals that are released to the surrounding atmosphere are not. These evaporated chemicals will result in an increase of greenhouse gases.

Unfortunately, even with a pool cover on, there’s a possibility that your pool is leaking water. You should occasionally inspect the vinyl liner and keep a lookout for any tears in the liner.

With a water leak, chlorine and bromine are seeping into the earth, and these chemicals are damaging to the soil and organisms living in the dirt.

Energy consumption

Swimming pools consume as much as 8,000 to 15,000 kWh annually depending on the size of your pool and any other equipment you operate, which translates to thousands of dollars a year in costs.

The pool pump and heater are energy hogs and are the biggest contributors to that number. For reference, a pool pump typically consumes 1 kilowatt per hour (kWH) which is comparable to running a 100W light bulb for 10 hours straight.

The biggest energy-savings to be had is if you replace your single-speed or two-speed pool pump with a variable speed pool pump. Multi-speed pumps can reduce energy consumption by 50-80%. The upfront cost to purchase a variable speed pump is expensive, but the savings you will have over the years will make up for it.

As for the heater, you should consider upgrading to a solar pool heater. As the name suggests, it is a pool heater that is powered via the energy provided by solar panels installed on the roof. Other than the upfront costs, you can essentially reduce the pool heater energy costs to zero.

To complement the solar pool heater, you should also get a solar blanket (remember to face the bubbles downwards) for your pool. Cover the pool with the solar blanket when not in use to trap the heat and help the pool stay warm even overnight.

Consider building a natural swimming pool instead

There are many eco-friendly upgrades you can make to your swimming pool, but the best thing you could possibly do to make your pool truly environmentally-friendly is to build a natural swimming pool.

A natural swimming pool does not use any chemicals, and instead relies on plants, dirt, gravel, and natural filtering principles to filter harmful microorganisms out of the water. This allows for a backyard pool that is sustainable, healthy, and aesthetically pleasing. But that’s not all.

A major selling point of a natural swimming pool is that it requires almost no maintenance since the pool does not require any chlorine or for the pH to be at a certain level. The only maintenance you need to do is to clean the yard and skim the surface of the pool occasionally.

Unfortunately, a major deterrent to a natural pool is its exorbitantly high cost. However, it’s not like building a traditional inground pool is cheap either, so if you can afford that, then you may be able to afford a natural pool as well.

Photo Credit: Michael Yon (CC BY-NC 2.0)