Who Should Build NSPs: Pool Builders or Landscape Contractors?

James G Robyn0711Natural swimming pools (or NSPs) are a crossover between the swimming pool, with which pool builders are familiar, and the pond, with which many landscape contractors are familiar.

In German-speaking Europe in the 1980s, the early ideas of natural swimming pools evolved from landscape professionals. Most of the designs throughout the 1980s and ’90s were based on the concept of pools that resembled natural bodies of water; for example, a pond with a twist in that a separation wall divided the swimming zone from the planted regeneration zone. Some technology, namely pumps and skimmers, was applied to assist the natural processes of water filtration and cleaning.

As the building techniques evolved and the NSPs started to become more popular, European swimming pool builders took notice. But instead of adopting and absorbing the ideas of the NSP, they apparently viewed them as an insignificant competitor to their chemical pools. In fact, in the early stages of development, NSPs looked predominately like ponds and posed no real “threat” to the traditional, chemical pool market. 

In the early part of the last decade, however, BioNova founder Gerhard Brandlmeier and his disciple, Rainer Grafinger, decided that they could build a natural swimming pool that looked like the familiar, traditional swimming pool. The trick to pulling this off was to invent the “two-pot” design. In this design, two separate vessels are constructed: one vessel that looks like a swimming pool and is intended for swimming, and one vessel that looks like a water garden and serves as the regeneration zone.

Prior to this development, the words used to describe the original designs were either “swimming pond” or “bathing pond” (in German, “schwimmteich” or “badeteich”). A new term emerged for the two-pot design pools: “natural swimming pool,” or in German, “Natur Pool.” The German magazine Natur Pool, a publication of the venerable German pool industry periodical Schwimmbad und Sauna, referred to these as “swimming ponds with pool character.”

In Western Europe, the NSP has remained solidly in the domain of the landscape contractor. To my knowledge, no one in the traditional swimming pool industry in Western Europe has offered the NSP as an addition to their product mix.

In 2007, when my wife and I first traveled to Germany to learn about NSPs, we didn’t have any preconceived notions that the NSP would be only marketed by landscape contractors. As a swimming pool contractor and operator of retail stores where we sell pool chemicals, supplies, etc., it never occurred to me that these pools would not be built by pool contractors — it seemed to me that the NSP should be just another option in our product line. 

I still believe that should be the case. The NSP is simply a different way of purifying and clarifying swimming pool water. For the client who wants a swimming pool, we can ask, “Do you want sterile water or natural water?” (This most excellent question was originally posited by BioNova Partner Mike Logsdon of Land Design in San Antonio, Texas.) The question opens the dialog with the client to explain the NSP and, after an appropriate explanation of the differences and similarities, the client can make an informed choice about chemical versus natural pools. Either choice is fine with me, as long as they build a pool instead of buying an RV, a boat or a weekend cabin in the mountains.

Historically, pool builders and landscape contractors in the US were two entirely different companies. But over the last 30 years, we’re starting to see more blending: pool companies that also do landscape design/construction, and even more frequently, landscape design/build firms that also do pool construction. These are the firms with the breadth of vision that is necessary to build NSPs. However, to date, only two of our BioNova Partners in the US, myself and Skip Phillips, came from the traditional chemical pool business — all the others have rootss in landscaping.

Does this mean that traditional pool contractors won’t or can’t become NSP builders? In my opinion they can, and will find their NSP knowledge actually engages and inspires them to become better at what they do when building chemical pools.

Will we wind up like Europe, where only landscape contractors will build NSPs? Or will traditional chemical pool builders seize the opportunity and offer the NSP as another product in their marketing mix? I that both types of firms build NSPs — the mixing of the gene pool will be best for the evolution of the industry.

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