Natural Pool Cost Breakdown

Written by Michael Dean
February 27, 2024

natural swimming pool next to a cost analysis

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 using chemical sanitizers such as chlorine, bromine, or biguanides, 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.

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. If you want a large natural swimming pool, you can even expect to spend well over $200,000! In general, most homeowners spend at least $85,000 on average to install a decent-sized natural pool.

As far as averages go, you usually spend around $40-$100 per square foot for a natural swimming pool. But, depending on where you live, the contractor you hire, the features of the pool, and the materials you use, the price can go up to nearly $200 per square foot.

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. This is because you only end up using half of the pool to swim in. The other half of the pool is used as a natural filtration and regenerative area. So, a lot of the extra cost involved with installing a natural swimming pool comes from the larger size. If you have a 600-square-foot natural pool, you’ll only swim in 300 square feet of it. 600 square feet is generally the minimum size for natural pools as they need to be quite large.

For a natural pool with a total area of 600 square feet and a swimming area of 300 square feet, you can expect to pay around $50,000 to $90,000.

If you want a pool with a total area of 1,400 square feet and a swimming area of around 700 square feet, you can expect to pay a minimum of $80,000 and up to $130,000.

Natural pools with a surface area of 3,200 square feet and a swimming area of 1,600 square feet will cost between $130,000 and $200,000.

While most homeowners choose simple rectangular natural swimming pools, they can come in different shapes too, affecting the cost.

Common Landscaping Costs

Landscaping is essential to any pool but 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.

Construction Materials

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
● Durable
● A good choice for adding a deck and stairs
● Can sometimes affect the “natural” appearance of the pool
Crushed Gravel$1 to $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
Vinyl Underlayment$1/sq. ft● Generally required as the main pool liner for natural pools
● Much more affordable than fiberglass or concrete
● May tear and need to be repatched over time

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 $4 per 50 lbs, which will give you around 1 cubic 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 $10,000, depending on the size of the waterfall.
  • 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 around $20 per square foot. So, building one to level an area for a large pool can cost $5,000 to $12,000.
  • Lighting: Many homeowners opt to use “landscape lighting” and disguise traditional lights with greenery or shrubs. However, some natural pools may be able to support an in-pool light. But it depends on whether you are able to electrically wire a light into your pool, which can be a surprisingly tedious process. This can cost between $500 to $2,500.

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 a putrid pond of green water full of algae and other sanitary concerns.

You can add plenty of different water plants, but many homeowners opt to include marsh marigold, galingale, aquatic iris, and water lilies. Water lilies are an important plant to include because they help shield microorganisms that grow at the bottom of the pool, such as daphnia, from UV rays and slow down algae growth. 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 to $20 for a single live water lily.

Other essential plant life includes different types of zooplankton that can help keep the water clean by feeding on algae. You can purchase pre-made blends of zooplankton for around $25 per bottle, 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 help block the sun and add texture to the regenerative area of your natural pool.

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 can also help prevent insect issues.

Adding fish, like goldfish, pleco, or loach, can help reduce the algae in your pool, as these pond fish feed on algae and help keep the water clean. Expect these fish to cost anywhere from $10 to $30 per fish. If you add ten fish to your natural swimming pool, 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.

Most homeowners will end up paying around $50,000 at the absolute minimum for their natural pool, regardless of size. Even if your natural pool isn’t much bigger than a hot tub. This is because you still have to worry about purchasing plant life and biofilters, excavating the landscape, and installing the pool.

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.

Equipment Costs

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 $2,500 if your pool is 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.

Natural pools don’t necessarily need to use traditional pool filter systems because they have a natural filtration area with soil, gravel, sand, etc. That said, many natural swimming pools also use pond 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.

Maintenance 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, since the pool doesn’t require chemicals.

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.

Labor Costs

The labor cost can vary from contractor to contractor, but most professionals charge between $8,000 and $30,000 to install a natural pool. Labor can take two or three months from start to finish, so these costs can quickly pile up. Generally, the installation is already factored into the total price when you purchase a natural swimming pool.

Natural swimming pools are less common than traditional chlorine or saltwater pools. So, most pool contractors won’t be willing to build natural pools or may be unfamiliar with the concept. So, 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 natural swimming pool can cost around $3 to $10 a day to operate during the swimming season, depending on the features installed, the size of the pool, and how many hours per day you run the pump. The exact cost can depend on your pool size and whether you use a pump, but it could be close to $300 a year.

Permit Costs

Most states require homeowners to obtain a permit to install a residential pool, even if it’s natural. 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. However, complex projects in some municipalities can cost over $1,000. If you want an exact estimate, you can talk to a permit official or contact the contractor you plan to hire. 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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Final Thoughts

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 $85,000 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.

To compare natural pools to other types, check out my other research:

Questions? Let me know!

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