Since the 1960s and 70s, natural swimming pools have been a hit in the United States. What started as a passion project for a group of Austrian researchers has transformed into a new way of living (and swimming). Rather than use chlorine, saltwater, or other chemicals, natural swimming pools rely on biological components and plant life to keep the water healthy.
As impressive as they are, nailing down an exact price range for natural swimming pools can be challenging, but not impossible. Here’s a breakdown of your natural swimming pool cost with rough estimates and a list of the different expenses you should expect.
- Total cost
- Cost by size
- Landscaping and wildlife costs
- Maintenance and equipment
- Other costs to consider
Natural Swimming Pool Total Cost: The Simple Answer
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how much a natural swimming pool costs. Some homeowners might only build the bare minimum and spend $50,000, while others spend over $100,000 with landscaping costs.
As far as averages go, you can usually expect to spend around $100 (maybe a little less) per square foot of swimming pool. Depending on where you live and the contractor you hire, it might only be $50 or $75 per square foot, but that’s a conservative estimate.
Remember that these are still rough numbers, and you’ll still need to consider size, maintenance, landscaping, and special features.
Calculating the Cost of the Size of Your Natural Swimming Pool
Size can vary with natural swimming pools, but most contractors will probably tell you that the bigger your pool is, the better. Natural swimming pools are prone to developing algae issues, but more surface area can work in your favor.
For a natural pool that has a swimming area of 30 x 20 feet, you can expect to pay around $60,000 to $70,000. Keep in mind that size can deal with more than just square footage. Natural swimming pools can come in different shapes too — in fact, most of these pools tend to be circular (rather than rectangular like a chlorine or saltwater pool). This can make calculating the exact footage a little more tricky.
What’s important is to remember that most homeowners still end up paying around $50,000 for their natural pool, regardless of size. Even if your natural pool isn’t much bigger than a hot tub, you still have to worry about purchasing plant life, biofilters, and excavating the landscape.
Common Landscaping Costs
Landscaping is essential to any pool, but it’s especially important for a natural pool. Although your natural pool might rely on plant life and microorganisms for cleaning purposes, that doesn’t mean it has to look like a pond. Many natural pools might look like any other chlorine pool, especially if the homeowner has done a lot of landscaping.
There are plenty of different construction materials you can use on the walls and base of your pool — some of which can save you a few bucks in the long term.
|Concrete||$55 to $75/sq. ft||● Allows for straighter walls |
● A good choice for adding a deck and stairs
|● Can sometimes affect the “natural” appearance of the pool|
|Crushed Gravel||$1 – $2/sq. ft||● Usually required for the base of the pool |
● Protects your pipes and tubing
|● People with sensitive feet might not like the “feel” of crushed gravel on the bottom of the pool|
|Bentonite Clay||>$1/sq. ft||● Sustains the “natural” look of the pool |
● Much cheaper than concrete
|● Limits design and construction options|
Bentonite clay and concrete are options for lining the sides of your natural swimming pool, but there’s usually no avoiding the crushed gravel you’ll need for the base. Most natural pools use around five to six inches of gravel to protect the pipes and water system underneath.
Other Landscaping Enhancements
One thing that draws many people to natural pools is their appearance. With lush greenery, waterfalls, and border walls, much of the landscaping happens out of the pool. Here’s what these special features can run you:
- Sand: Many people like to use sand around the border of the natural pool to make it feel more like a beach. Depending on where you buy it from, sand can cost around $1 per square foot.
- Waterfall: A tiny waterfall is a great way to add appeal to your natural pool, but installing even one can cost around $1,000 to $1,500.
- Border Wall: If you’ve got a sloping backyard, you might consider investing in a border or retaining wall. These walls can help add more room to the swimming area in your pool, but they can also cost you $5,000 or more.
- Lighting: Unfortunately, the one thing a natural swimming pool doesn’t do is light itself. Even if you don’t plan to swim at night, adding lights can still prevent a safety hazard. Many homeowners opt to use “landscape lighting” and disguise traditional lights with greenery or shrubs. Most of the time, you won’t be able to light your pool for less than $2,000, and the price tag just continues to climb from there.
Wildlife and Plants
Landscaping features like a retaining wall or a waterfall might make your pool look great, but the aquatic plants and wildlife you add to it are crucial. Without the proper plant life, your natural pool won’t clean itself correctly, and you’ll end up with algae and other sanitary concerns.
You can add plenty of different plants, but many homeowners opt to include water lilies for an important reason. Daphnia, one of the most crucial microorganisms in your natural pool, grows near the bottom. Water lilies can prevent damage to this microorganism from UV rays and slow down algae growth. Price-wise, pool owners can expect to pay around $10 for a single live water lily.
Other essential plant life includes different types of zooplankton that can help keep the water clean. You can purchase pre-made blends of zooplankton, but if you’re trying to fortify your new natural pond, you’ll probably spend more than $100.
While floating plants like water lilies or microorganisms like zooplankton serve a fundamental purpose, many homeowners also purchase plants solely for aesthetic reasons. Perennial grass, for instance, isn’t crucial to your pool’s environment, but it can block the sun and add texture.
The price of perennial grass can vary by type, but a single plant of flame grass might cost you less than $10. Blue paradise perennial grass, however, can often run closer to $20 or more for a single plant.
As far as wildlife goes, adding fish or amphibians isn’t necessary, but many people opt to do it anyway. Not only does it add to the “natural” feel of your pool, but amphibians like frogs might be able to help prevent insect issues too.
Adding fish, like goldfish or Betta fish, could cost anywhere from $10 to $30 per fish. If you add ten goldfish to your swimming pool to start with, you’re looking at a price range of $100 to $300.
Many homeowners want to add Koi to their pools, but this could be a mistake. Not only can a single full-grown Koi fish cost around $100, but these fish tend to be aggressive. Rather than protecting the environment, they might be more likely to destroy it.
With wildlife and plants, there is no shortage of options, but you should always check to make sure anything you buy will be a friend to your pool’s ecosystem and not an enemy.
Maintenance and Equipment Costs
It’s a common misconception that natural swimming pools come without any equipment and maintenance costs. While the maintenance is relatively low and these pools don’t require you to purchase chemicals, you’ll still need some equipment to get it up and running.
Unless you only plan to use your swimming pool for decoration, you’ll probably want to invest in a heater. The good news is that most natural swimming pools will run with a conventional pool heater. While a small natural swimming pool might work with a $200 heater, you could spend up to $1,000 if your pool is extremely large.
Like a traditional chlorine pool, you’ll also need to invest in cleaning equipment. Your natural pool might be capable of dealing with bacteria or algae, but it can’t get rid of debris or dirt. Net skimmers can cost as little as $10, but if you’re looking for something a little more heavy-duty, a parachute skimmer usually has a price tag of over $100.
Many natural swimming pools also use pump filters to clean the water more effectively, especially at the start of the season. Most pond filters cost around $1,500 to $2,000, but this doesn’t account for the installation costs.
The good news is that natural swimming ponds don’t require a lot of regular maintenance or expenses compared to a traditional pool. Once you’ve got your pool completely installed and operational, maintaining it is relatively cost-effective. You might need to replace floating plants on a semi-regular basis or add more zooplankton to your pool, but other than that, there’s not much you need to spend your money on.
Other Costs to Consider
Unfortunately, the expenses don’t stop there. While materials and equipment make up most of your bill, you’ll still need to account for permits, labor, and construction costs.
The labor cost can vary from contractor to contractor, but most professionals charge at least $20 an hour. Since labor can take two or three months from start to finish, you can expect to pay $40,000 or more for the labor and the equipment and machinery that these professionals will use.
Keep in mind that not all pool contractors are willing to build natural pools or are familiar with the concept. If your options are limited, you might not have a lot of opportunities to shop around for the cheapest labor.
Your Energy Bill
Many homeowners aren’t always prepared for the effect a natural swimming pool will have on their energy bill. There might not be an increase throughout the year, but while running the pump during swimming season, you can expect to see your energy bill go up.
A 50 ft. natural swimming pool can cost around $5 a day to operate, especially if it’s using multiple energy-efficient pumps. The exact cost can depend on how big your pool is and whether or not you use a pump, but it could be close to $300 a year.
Most states require that homeowners obtain a permit to install a residential pool, even if it’s a natural one. Different municipalities calculate permit fees differently. For instance, one city government includes fees for reviewing the plan, zoning, and obtaining the permit for an inground pool.
Setting aside at least $300 for permit fees is generally a good idea. If you want an exact estimate, you can either talk to a permit official or contact the contractor you plan on hiring. If you plan on building your own DIY natural pool, you’ll have to get these yourself. Most pool builders are familiar with local regulations and can tell you what fees you’ll rack up. If you plan to build a natural swimming pool DIY, you’ll have to get these yourself.
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Natural swimming pools tend to be the most expensive type of pool, but also the most difficult to calculate. From waterfalls and landscaping to construction materials, you can customize your natural pool in almost any way you want. On average, most homeowners must budget at least $65,000 for their pool. That includes labor, construction, and materials, but purchasing plants and wildlife can tack on several hundred more dollars.
If you’re trying to come up with a budget, the first step is figuring out all the details — once you know the size of your pool and the landscaping features you want, you can begin talking to contractors for exact estimates.