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Natural Pools – The Pros & Cons of Going Au Naturel

We look at the Pros and Cons of Natural Pools and discuss the chemistry & science behind NSP’s. With guests Rudy Stankowitz & Allen Schnaak.

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Natural Pools - The Pros & Cons of Going Au Naturel - Are NSP's (Natural Swimming Pools Safe?)

The chlorine shortages we’ve been facing this pool season has consumers looking for viable alternatives to a traditionally chlorine sanitized pool. Natural pools first started as a trend a few decades ago in Europe and over the past few years have slowly been gaining traction in the United States and Australia.

A Natural Pool BioNova built in Germany.

What is a Natural Pool?

A natural swimming pool typically doesn’t use chlorine for sanitization. NSP’s use plants to filter the water chemistry naturally, without chemicals. In most applications, the swimming pool is divided into two different sections: an area for swimming, and a dedicated regeneration zone with living plants that feed hydroponically on the water.

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How does a natural pool work?

The water itself is naturally filtered by microorganisms through biological filtration plant life in the regeneration zone. The water is cleaned and filtered as it passes through the regeneration zone, and then back into the swimming area. A pump allows slow moving water to passively filtrate and the movement helps prevent mosquitos from breeding.

Small aquatic animals, such as microscopic algae-eating daphnia, snails, and amphibians, will typically colonize the regeneration zone of a natural pool environment over time.

This photo of a natural pool appears to have the blue water U.S. consumers expect in a chlorine pool.

Natural Pools Are Becoming More Popular

Allen Schnaak, Vice President of Business Development for BioNova Natural Pools thinks this could actually be a pivotal moment to introduce the pool industry to a new way of looking at how to filtrate and treat bodies of water. Recently Schnaak spoke with the Wall Street Journal touting the virtues of a chemically independent pool environment, and suddenly folks have begun to seriously pay attention.

BioNova is one of a handful of companies around the United States that are specializing in building NSP’s (natural swimming pools). Schnaak, who has appeared in numerous articles on the subject, has been working to educate consumers as well as the pool industry about the benefits of bio filtering swimming pools without the use of chlorine or other chemicals.

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The Value Proposition of owning a Natural Pool

“Biological filtration in a natural pool has the same objectives as chemical applications.” said Schnaak who has a long history in the pool industry and worked on the chemical side before embracing natural pools. “The purpose of adding chemicals to the pool,” continued Schnaak, “is the same purpose of biological filtration and that is to reduce and suppress the opportunity for pathogens to exist and thrive in the water.”

“We’re seeing this play out in natures backyard in Tampa Bay right now with the red tide influenced by a greater amount of nutrients than the ecosystem can consume which gives these pathogens an opportunity to thrive.” said Schnaak referring to a toxic algae bloom which has ravaged marine life and killed millions of fish over 100 square miles of Florida coastline.

The Red Tide has devasted many parts of the Florida Coastline this season. - Photo Credit: Edwina Pickles/The Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax Media/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Edwina Pickles/The Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax Media/Getty Images

We’ve seen plenty of articles discussing natural pools, how they work, and why consumers should consider building one. In my discussions with Schnaak prior to our interview, I asked him if he would be willing to have a frank and open conversation with Rudy Stankowitz who has openly expressed his disdain for natural filtration and disaffectionately refers to NSP’s as “ponds”. Schnaak jumped at the opportunity to address Stankowitz one on one on the Pool Magazine podcast.

The timing for Schnaak to pitch the value proposition for natural pools couldn’t come at a better moment. With the current shortages consumers are facing, plus a new emphasis on eco-consciousness, the opportunity is there for bio pools to pick up enormous traction. The problem however, is winning over the pool industry. Folks like Rudy Stankowitz, one of the foremost experts in swimming pool algae have their own ideas about how viable bio filtration truly is in comparison to using chlorine.

Girl enjoying a dip in a natural pool environment

Advantages of Natural Pools

  • Natural pools are eco-friendly and can work in a range of different climates.
  • Natural pools do not rely on chemicals like chlorine to sanitize the water in the pool.

Disadvantages of Natural Pools

  • Require larger lot sizes to build essentially two pools, one for swimming and the other to function as a regeneration zone.
  • Water color and clarity is not identical to that of a chemically treated chlorine pool.

“It is not necessary to chemically treat a pool in order to make it viable and healthful for someone to swim in.” said Schnaak, “Our opportunity in the market has certainly increased, and we’re definitely anxious and interested in getting more of our pool industry cohorts to consider that there is a viable option outside of chemical treatment.”

An Opportunity To Convince Non-Believers

Stankowitz, who recently authored a new book “How To Get Rid of Swimming Pool Algae“, has appeared on the Pool Magazine podcast when we discussed the chlorine shortages and the trajectory this years supply chain would take. Extremely knowledgeable when it comes to swimming pool chemistry, Stankowitz is a 30 year veteran and CEO of Aquatic Facility Training / CPOClass.com.

Allen Schnaak goes head to head in a discussion on NSP's with Rudy Stankowitz, Algae Expert
Allen Schnaak and Rudy Stankowitz went head to head in a thought prevoking discussion about the pros and cons of natural pools.

We felt that having Schnaak and Stankowitz go head to head would make for a compelling dialogue and we weren’t wrong. Stankowitz’s expertise and viewpoint create the perfect counterpoint for a dynamic conversation about natural pools. Schnaak and Stankowitz go way back and have a mutual respect for eachother, but currently they sit on opposite sides of an important issue. Whether natural pools are as safe to swim in and ultimately as cost feasible as chemically treated pools.

Are natural pools as cost efficient to build and ultimately maintain as traditional chlorine inground pools?

“Really, I’m not a fan” said Stankowitz, “I am a fan of algae being used for other things. Things are progressing, there’s been a lot more fuels. Even in waste water treatment, algae has become a major player. My problem is that this is basically a pond and it looks like a pond.”

“As long as anything living gets into it, there is going to be constantly things that are introduced to that body of water that are not able to be eradicated quick enough that it can’t cause a potential problem for human beings. The follow up to that which is just as heavy is water clarity. We know that 10% of all drownings are attributed to cloudy water situations.” said Stankowitz.

Schnaak says that people need to rethink the notion that natural pools are green messy bodies of bond water.

“The preconceived notion that all natural pools are green messy bodies of pond water are just a misimpression. We’ve done pools with water clarity easily down to 12 feet. I’m a big believer in safe water environments. In fact the swimming pools we design are built to ICC and ANSI standards. The vessels are safe, and to that point water clarity is not an issue.” said Schnaak.

“If your only experience with a natural pool is looking at a green cloudy pond, then there’s a greater exploration of opportunity. We’ve got a 20,000 square foot public pool up at Webber Park with a 13 foot diving well that is totally clean with a 500 person bather load.”

Webber Parks Natural Pool in Minneapolis
Webber Park’s Natural Pool in Minneapolis
  • Swimming pool is 21,000 sq. ft. (500,000 gallons water)
  • Regeneration basin is approximately 16,250 sq. ft.


“The Opportunity Is On You”

Stankowitz replied “We’re giving you the benefit of the doubt. The opportunity is on you…” in reference to changing perception in the market that not all natural pools are ponds. “I’ve only seen the pictures that people put out there and honestly I have never in any magazine, in any post or anywhere seen a natural pool that is not green. So the opportunity for education is on you. I’ve known you a long time and I believe you.”

Natural Pools utilize a regeneration zone to biofiltrate water back into the pool.

“From the standpoint of the industry and where it is in the United States, natural pools are not nearly as prevalent in the U.S. as they are in Europe. 16% of the recreational water in Europe are natural swimming pools. Probably less than 0.3% in the U.S. can be termed as a natural pool.” said Schnaak.

“The opportunity for helping the industry recognize that this is a viable method for maintaining recreational water is on us, you’re right; and it’s really up to the market as well. There certainly is an increasing interest by those looking for more sustainable options for pool care.” continued Schnaak.

“The opportunity for nutrients to be put into a body of water is going to be defined by the footprint that it has in the landscape.” said Schnaak. “As any pool is constructed it’s always built so that it does not allow surface runoff to enter the pool.”

Debating The Safety of Natural Pools

“We do know that with a given square footage there is an anticipdated amount of environmental depositions of nutrients that are constantly bombarding the pool.” said Schnaak, “In a chemical environment they are referred to as contaminants because everything that can be oxidized, reduced or killed has to be killed as soon as you begin taking out the beneficial microbial life that would be consuming it.”

“I don’t necessarily know that I agree with you that if you have diatoms present in a body of water that you will not see cyanobacterial biofilm.” said Stankowitz.

“I understand the process that we’re feeding the water with phosphates and silicates so that diatoms can outgrow and use up the nitrates so that nothing else can have them therefore they don’t grow. In theory, that works great. The problem is just like there are carbon fixing diatoms, there are nitrogen fixing cyanobacteria so you will still have these biofilms, and these biofilms do harbor many other disease causing organisms such as Legionella and Naegleria fowleri (the brain eating amoeba),” continued Stankowitz.

“I’ve done extensive studies on black algae which is cyanobacteria and in those biofilms I’ve found diatoms living happily. It’s not an incompatible relationship if you have the right diatoms and the right cyanobacteria.” said Stankowitz.

“It’s interesting that diatoms are a participant,” responded Schnaak, “they are part of the population, but they are not the only microbial life. When you consider phytoplankton, zooplankton, the entirety of population of beneficial bacteria that has been specialized for the nitrogen reduction cycle.”

Schnaak suggested that copepod zooplankton like Daphnia which grazes in fresh water environments on cysts like Cryptosporidium and Giardia and harmful viruses to which Stankowitz responded with a few different “what if” scenarios. “To your point about Daphnia, it feeds til it explodes and releases that back into the water. That’s also the problem we are having with the red tide. Daphnia doesn’t last long enough to contain it all and then if it’s consumed by an animal, a person can eat that animal, or it can be defecated or released into the atmosphere and that could make it’s way back into the pool.”

Webber Park Natural Pool built by BioNova Natural Pools

Changing Perception That Chlorine Is King

“I think the major challenge for you,” Stankowitz said to Schnaak, “is chlorine does kill these things. We have proof that chlorine kills those things. What we need then if this is true, if this system takes all these things out, we need to get that research out and make that common knowledge because that’s how you gain more acceptance in the pool industry,” continued Stankowitz.

Schnaak agreed and said that as a member of the council for the Model Aquatic Health Code that they’d begun participating in an ad-hoc committee for the evaluation and potential implementation of biological filtration for public aquatic venues. Schnaak agreed there is much that is still misunderstood about natural pools and that each project has to account for the specific environment, size, bather load and unique characteristics.

No One Size Fits All Solution

Natural swimming pools are very dependent on maintaining ideal conditions for the plant life which bio filtrates and allows useful organisms to thrive. “There isn’t a one size fit’s all, neither is there in chemical applications. There’s not a pool out there where you couldn’t find a pathogen or organism living in that environment. The presence of chlorine does not indicate a sanitized environment.” said Schnaak.

Ultimately, Stankowitz still had serious questions pertaining to how long harmful pathogens can survive in the biofilm in a natural pool and insists that chlorine is still the most reliable solution for sanitizing pools. Schnaak is adamant that the system that BioNova has created is capable of biologically filtering swimming pools to the point where they are viably safe swimming environments.

Stankowitz said that while he’s open minded to the concept of natural pools, he needs to see more conclusive research on the subject before he’s swayed from using tried and true chlorine sanitization methods, which prompted Schnaak to invite him and as well as others interested in learning more about natural filtration methods, to seek out more information on the Association for Swimming Ponds and Natural Swimming Pools website.

Natural pools and ponds have become increasingly popular with the recent chlorine shortages

Why Have Natural Pools Been Slow To Catch On In The U.S.?

While natural pools are becoming increasingly popular in Europe, there is no denying that they have a nominal marketshare in the United States. In this humble editors opinion, there are several impediments towards more acceptance beyond those early adapters.

One is the public perception that all pools must have crystal clear blue water. Another are the requirements for constructing a natural pool. Given the need for an additional regeneration zone, most natural pools are typically built on larger sized lots. The initial build and configuration cost for a natural pool is also much more than your typical inground pool. There is definitely some give and take in terms of initial cost concerns versus ongoing chemical costs.

There are also a good portion of consumers that while aware of natural pools, have a tendency to believe a popular misconception; which is that NSP’s maintain themselves. Natural pools, just like chemically treated pools still require routine maintenance and to some extent even more attention than a chemically treated pool in order to ensure a harmonious water environment.

Still Schnaak remains a champion for the bio filtration cause and says a growing percentage of environmentally conscious homeowners yearn to go chlorine free. As such, he will continue to facilitate and fan that interest to generate more excitement and awareness about natural pools.

Q&A Fact Sheet About Natural Swimming Pools – NSP’s courtesy of Allen Schnaak – Vice President of BioNova Natural Pools

Listen to our entire interview with Allan Schnaak and Rudy Stankowitz on the Pool Magazine podcast.

Featured Photo Credit & Article Photo Credits: BioNova Natural Pools

4.8/5 - (27 votes)

Editor in Chief of Pool Magazine - Joe Trusty is also CEO of PoolMarketing.com, the leading digital agency for the pool industry. An internet entrepreneur, software developer, author, and marketing professional with a long history in the pool industry. Joe oversees the writing and creative staff at Pool Magazine. To contact Joe Trusty email info@poolmagazine.com or call (916) 467-9118 during normal business hours. For submissions, please send your message to submissions@poolmagazine.com

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Tesla Pool – Automaker Adds Swimming Pool To Charger Station

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Tesla Swimming Pool

One of the primary reasons consumers opt to purchase a Tesla is the robust availability of convenient charging stations. Recently, the automaker has experimented with adding amenities to its charging stations. New cube lounges at a Supercharger station in Germany come equipped with automated coffee, food, and more. Tesla is also adding other options and fun activities for drivers to enjoy while they wait for their vehicles to charge. The newest amenity they’re currently experimenting with is an above ground swimming pool.

A clip of the pool being installed prior to launch was shared with news sources.

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The swimming pool can be used by up to 4 people at a time for 10 minutes, giving folks just enough time to change into their swim suits and enjoy a quick dip while their vehicle charges. There are even Tesla-branded beach balls to play with while they’re swimming in the shipping container style above ground pool.

This promotional popup will open at the Tesla charging station in Hilden, Germany; which incidentally is one of the largest in the country with 40 chargers and 8 superchargers. The pool will be open from Thursday until Sunday. Tesla owners can drop in for a swim from 2:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.

What do you think about this idea? Is this something you’d like to see in the United States? Sound off in the comments and let us know.

5/5 - (1 vote)

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Pool Rental App Swimply Is The New Side Hustle For Homeowners

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Pool Rental App Swimply Is The New Side Hustle For Homeowners

Pool rental marketplace Swimply has created the ultimate side hustle for homeowners. Spending upwards of $100,000 to create the ultimate luxury outdoor living area is an investment some are willing to make. This is especially true if one can be confident they will recoup that investment quickly. Renting the pool to friends and neighbors is one smart way to do just that.

The Pool Rental Concept

Pool rentals are sweeping the nation and the innovative online marketplace Swimply is leading the charge. Described as “Airbnb of swimming pools,” Swimply debuted last year. According to the firm, there are over 20,000 swimming pools in all 50 states, as well as in Canada and Australia.

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After recently raising $40M in funding from AirBnB and Lime co-founders last year, Swimply is poised for tremendous growth moving into 2023. The service has been rapidly gaining traction with consumers who are attracted by the ability to rent a swimming pool by the hour.

Renting a pool by the hour may can be very profitable. Swimply has created the marketplace for renting a pool.
Renting a pool by the hour may can be very profitable. Swimply has created the marketplace for renting a pool.

Swimply’s Business Model is Unique

In the sharing economy, Swimply, definitely deserves recognition for their offering. Providing a marketplace that allows buyers and sellers to connect and rent a pool is at the core of the company’s business plan. The model is simple, Swimply takes 15% of the booking fee from hosts and 10% from guests.

Swimply’s pool rental marketplace can be lucrative for hosts and may not be as weird as it sounds. As water recreational facilities were shut down by COVID in the last two years, Swimply has emerged to fill the vacuum. Consequently, the company has grown exponentially.

We spoke with Swimply Co-Founder and COO Asher Weinberger last year about the revolutionary new technology which is connecting homeowners with an open marketplace of consumers looking to rent a backyard for a few hours.

Listen to our conversation on the Pool Magazine podcast:

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Pool Rental Marketplace Grew 5,000% During Covid

After a soft launch back in 2019, Weinberger quickly realized that the public was elated with their offering. “There was a tremendous amount of interest and at the time we could only meet 10 to 15% of the demand,” said Weinberger. “That helped set the stage for us because we learned a lot about what people wanted and how they were using the platform.”

“We caught huge tailwinds in light of Covid and grew roughly 5,000% year over year,” said Weinberger. Since then, Swimply’s marketplace has exploded with consumers searching for a safe recreational experience with friends and loved ones in an open outdoor setting. This has been true both on the guest side and the host side.

Homeowners Look To Monetize Their Pool

It appears that word has definitely begun to spread that renting your pool is a sweet new side hustle. One man in particular recently made the news after he reportedly netted $177,000 just by renting out his pool and backyard.

Jim Battan of West Linn, Oregon, told news sources, “I love to say that the pool has paid for itself and more. I built a man cave last year, and also credit that to my Swimply pool.”

Swimply As a Side Hustle

Being a Swimply host isn’t for everyone, according to Battan. The side hustle does require a fair amount of work on the part of the host. Maintaining the pool between guests involves much more than simply setting out fresh towels. His 26-foot by 18-foot pool and its accompanying pool house has cost him roughly $37,000 in maintenance over the last decade. On a typical week, Battan estimates that he and his wife Lisa spend approximately 12 to 14 hours cleaning and testing the water’s chemicals as well as managing all of their bookings.

“I love the income, but I generally caution people from it,” Battan told reporters. “Unless you’re retired or don’t have a day job, it takes a lot of time to learn about pool chemistry and management. It’s not good enough to just rely on a once-a-week service to come out look at your stuff. I look at my pool chemicals probably five to 10 times a day.”

Renting Your Pool By The Hour Can Be Profitable

It’s also important to note that Battan’s pool represents the best-case scenario. Currently, he’s Swimply’s top earner out of 25,000 pools in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. The average host earnings are between $10,000 to $20,000 per year.

Ned Gilardino is another top earner from Aurora, Colorado who is cashing in on the lucrative side hustle. Last year he rented his pool out roughly 500 times clearing close to $50,000 in the process.

“Not only has the extra money paid for the cost of maintaining the pool,” Gilardino told news sources, “it has actually brought in an entire new revenue stream for my family.”

Pool rentals vary by price and can be filtered to meet price, features, and amenities. - Photo Credit: Swimply
Pool rentals vary by price and can be filtered to meet price, features, and amenities. – Photo Credits: Swimply

Homeowners who are looking for MSI’s (multiple sources of income) can certainly put Swimply on their list of resources. Typically most swimming pools on the platform rent between $15 and $75 an hour. However, there appears to be no limit on how much hosts can earn. We’ve seen some pools in premium areas such as Beverly Hills rent for as much as $200 an hour. Those with luxury amenities in their backyard obviously can charge towards the higher end of the spectrum.

Guests can search for an ideal backyard in their price range to throw a pool party and even filter their search to show properties that have specific amenities. Finding a backyard with a fire pit, or an outdoor grilling area, or one that allows pets, is easy. Swimply made it simple to narrow down selections with the ideal features consumers are looking for.

The interface is simple and intuitive to use on both ends. Swimply also made it super easy for homeowners to track their reservations, communicate with guests and quickly get their pool rental up in their easy-to-use marketplace.

Swimply’s Contribution To The Shared Economy

Given that public pools are closing at an alarming rate, Swimply has also started filling a gap in underserved communities, much the way Uber and other sharing economy platforms have.

While the shared economy is a young concept itself; Swimply’s arrival simply ushers something we will undoubtedly see even more of in years to come. Though unexpected and a newcomer; one thing is certain, homeowners and consumers have embraced the concept of renting a pool by the hour.

4.8/5 - (16 votes)

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Sinkhole in Swimming Pool Kills Man, Swallows Guests

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Sinkhole in Swimming Pool Kills Man, Swallows Guests

A man was found dead after being swallowed by a sinkhole that opened up in a private swimming pool. The incident transpired in Israel where authorities are still trying to figure out what caused two men to be swept away by the receding water after a sinkhole sprang up within an inground swimming pool at a private property in central Israel. One was recovered dead at the scene on Thursday afternoon.

The body was located by search crews in the town of Karmei Yosef after a four-hour recovery operation conducted by rescue personnel who were lowered deep underground. The search was hampered by concerns that tunnels extending from the sinkhole could lead to a second collapse.

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It took rescuers several hours of searching before they were able to uncover the body of the man who had gone missing. The other 34-year-old man who had been trapped for some time, was saved and treated for minor injuries to his lower body.

Rescuers worked for hours to find the missing victims body. - Photo Credits: Fire and Rescue Services
Rescuers worked for hours to find the missing victims body. – Photo Credits: Fire and Rescue Services

Employees of a private company were having a pool party when the incident occurred. About 50 people were present at the time of the accident, according to one guest.

“The water level suddenly started receding and a hole opened up, creating a vortex that swept two people inside,” the guest told news sources.

She said a sinkhole opened a vortex formed which swallowed up the victim in a matter of seconds. She yelled at her coworkers to get out of the pool as the sinkhole emerged, but they initially assumed it was a game. Authorities say, fortunately, there were only 6 people in the pool at the time or injuries and casualties could have been far greater.

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“Seconds later, the ground just dropped… I watched two people just disappear,” she added.

According to police, an investigtion into the incident is currently underway, and they plan to find out if the pool was operating with the proper license.

4/5 - (8 votes)

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