Solutions for Self-Reliance

Why I Love Natural Swimming Pools – And How To Build One


In the video above you’ll see David Pagan Butler’s natural organic pool at his home in the Norfolk countryside of England.

What is a “natural pool”, you may ask?

Simply put, a natural swimming pool is a pool that has clear and clean water without using nasty chemicals. In its simplest form it’s just a natural pond, but many people also add a deeper swimming or plunge area, and a simple filter and pump to enhance the circulation and cleaning of the water.

Now, where I live we’re blessed with an abundance of fresh water lakes and streams (and mosquitoes) to swim in so I can’t really justify the cost of building a natural pool. But not everyone are as blessed with lakes and mosquitoes as I am, which is why a natural swimming pool could be a magical addition to homes and communities around the globe.

“If you want a really healthy water, you want it full of life; not devoid of life.”

– David Pagan Butler

These pools (or ponds) rely entirely on the plants and animals to condition the water (well, almost. David does use a pump in his design to help circulate the water through the plants). This is so effective that David’s pool has been tested and shown to be of drinking water quality.

Natural plunge pool

A natural plunge pool. Image: David Pagan Butler –

Here are some of the advantages of a natural pool / pond compared to a swimming pool:

  • Through the continual natural “cleaning process” the pool water never needs changing, saving water.
  • It’s chemical free so it is healthy for people and wildlife. Instead it relies entirely on the plants and animals to condition the water without the use of chlorine or other disinfectants.
  • It melts into the natural surroundings and brings you closer to the wildlife you share your land with.
  • If needs be, the pond can store water for the garden or orchard in times of drought.
  • No need for professional contractors to fit the liner, plumbing or electrics. Indeed, there doesn’t have to be any electricity at all near the pool.
  • It attracts wildlife such as water beetles, dragonflies, brids, frogs, and more. These insects, birds and amphibians not only help create a natural ecosystem in the pool / pond, they can also be beneficial for the rest of your land.
  • It’s much cheaper to build. A conventional sterile pool will typically cost around $80,000 but a 180 m2 (2,000 ft2) organic pool like the one above only cost David about $10,000 to make.

Cristopher Alexander includes pools as a design patterns in his classic book A Pattern Language. Under No.64 ‘Pools and Streams’ he notes:

…where nourishing contact with water is missing, then each project [home] should make some attempt, on its own and in combination with other projects, to bring water into the environment

Key Points relating to Natural Swimming Pools

From a Permaculture Voices podcast episode with David Pagan Butler:

  • Air pumps enhance natural filtration and circulation.

  • Natural pools are isolated from the ground water.

  • Keep the water less than 30 degrees C, so if you have higher water temperatures then you need more deep zones.

  • No fish.  Fish eat daphnia (which you want) and add nutrients to the water which can lead to algae.

  • The goal is to try to keep nutrient levels low and keep as much life in the pool as possible.

  • The greater the amount of water in the system, the more stable the system is.  Less water means less biological inertia.

  • The planted zone should be greater than or equal to the area of the swim zone. At least 50% of the area dedicated to plants.

More Natural Pool Inspiration

The Plunge Pool – Possibly the Smallest Natural Swimming Pool

Case Study: Ben Law’s Organic Pool

Building an Organic Pool in 3 Minutes

Step-by-step natural pool build

What’s your impression of natural pools? Want one?

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