Monday, May 12, 2008

The Greening of the Swimming Pool

The following article appeared in the May/June edition of New Jersey Countryside Magazine and is reproduced with the permission of the publisher. Please visit NJ Countryside Magazine at

The greening of the swimming pool
by Lindsay Bosslett
Organic, chemical-free pools are making a splash all over Europe. James Robyn, owner of Rin Robyn Pools, hopes to bring one to your New Jersey backyard.
If there's one thing James Robyn knows about, it's pools. You don't spend most of your life working with them without learning a thing or two.
But it's more than that. Robyn, owner of Rin Robyn Pools, has a passion for pools: the art of the design, the technology that creates and maintains them, the chemistry involved, and even how the pool works with the world around it.

This past winter, he and his wife, Hae-Sun, also an owner of Rin Robyn, spent two months in Austria attending a conference by BioNova, a European swimming pool company that specializes in the creation of all-natural, chemical-free pools. For the past 20 years, Austrians have been looking at pools in an entirely different way than Americans have. If your neighbor said he had a "green pool", well, you might offer him another chlorine tablet. But, in reality, Mother Nature has been making "green pools" all along - the Austrians just figured out a nifty way to re-create them in your backyard. And Robyn, along with BioNova USA, wants to bring them to New Jersey.
Now in New Jersey, no matter what type of pool you own, it requires chlorine and other chemicals to keep the water clean.
"There is a trend now toward saltwater pools, and even 'natural' mineral sanitizers, but all these still require the use of chlorine," Robyn says. Chlorine works to sanitize pools by killing basically everything in the water, good microbes with the bad. Although effective and obviously perfectly safe when used properly, chlorine is, at heart, a poison.

PHOTOS Clockwise from top: The owners of this natural pool wanted to create an island effect using natural stones and more regeneration zone plants. This pool is surrounded by natural lake plants, and even includes lily pads to complete the organic look. A wooden footbridge over the regeneration zone adds a unique touch to this pool. Photos courtesy of BioNova.

"We still design and build chlorinated pools, but bringing all-natural green pools to the area is just part of the overall greening movement - another option for a customer to consider. And it appealed to us; it makes sense. We used to be able to drink directly from lakes or pools because nature had created a system that cleaned the water safely and naturally. This isn't the case anymore for most natural water sources, but it can be re-created."
First seen in Austria in 1985, green pools work by sectioning off a part of the pool for plants and microbes that "eat" the bad stuff that floats in the water, such as algae or dangerous impurities. Called the "regeneration zone," this creates, as Robyn puts it, "actual living water." And it's safe for your kids and pets to swim around in, and even accidentally ingest. Like normal swimming pools, there is still a pump and filter that keeps the water moving and eliminates debris and leaves from the surface. The process is so effective, homeowners all over Europe are not the only ones to build them - many public and hotel pools have gone green too, even pools that see 3,000 swimmers a day. BioNova now has partners in 22 countries around the world, including Australia, Canada and the United States.
And it makes sense that so many people are enthusiastic about natural pools. Not only are they more earth-friendly, they're beautiful: clear, clean water instead of neon blue, and lush green plants landscaped however you wish. Many natural pools are designed to look like actual ponds or lakes, with beaches and rocks jutting out of the water. Organic pools create the effect of having your own personal backyard lake or oasis, only they are perfectly landscaped, groomed, pest-free and romantically lit at night.
"There are no green pools in New Jersey yet - none east of the Mississippi, in fact - but when we build them here, we'll use indigenous New Jersey plants, energy-efficient pumps and filters, and all the modern conveniences we've developed in America for the pool owner, like automatic skimmers and covers," Robyn says. Rin Robyn also offers many safety devices, including a state-of-the-art sonar technology pool alarm that goes off poolside and in your house if something should jump or fall into the pool. They also offer a removable mesh fence that goes next to the pool's edge to keep out toddlers, younger children, pets and wildlife.

And with a green pool, owners no longer have to worry about getting the pH balance correct, flooding the pool with shock or testing the chlorine levels. In addition to the usual maintenance - filtering, skimming, maintaining the pumps, etc. - they will just have to worry about ... well, a little bit of gardening.

"The regeneration zone needs to be tended like any garden," Robyn says. "Plants will have to be cut back occasionally, some will eventually die and need to be replaced, and you may have to weed." Pool owners will also have to wait in the spring for the plants to regrow before the water-cleaning process can begin again, but the plants will be ready by the time swimming season comes about again anyway. The "good" microbes that eat impurities will also regenerate on their own.
Many people might worry about mosquitoes in a non-chlorinated pool, but Robyn and BioNova assure that they aren't an issue. "The water in this pool is moving - mosquitoes only lay eggs in stagnant water."" Plus, green pools contain natural predators that take care of any overly ambitious mosquitoes.

Green pools work by sectioning off a part of the pool
for plants and microbes that "eat" the bad stuff that floats
in the water, such as algae or dangerous impurities.

Top: This all-natural pool uses the traditional coping, or stone border, you'd see around a typical pool, which integrates seamlessly with the plant-filled regeneration zone. Below: Green pools are as safe as chlorinated pools for kids and pets. Photos courtesy of BioNova.
Natural pools are not luxury-free, either. Heated water is also an option. The Austrians pretty much leave that to the sun, but Rin Robyn offers a whole slew of options, from earth-friendly heat pumps and solar panels to more traditional methods. The plants, however, work best if the water maxes out at 82 degrees.
As a partner with BioNova USA, Robyn is the leading local expert for the all-natural pools. Having been in the pool business since 1966, Robyn started out as an installer, and eventually inherited the business from his father, Rin, and mother, Betty. With credentials that include a degree in astrogeophysics, postgraduate study in computer modeling and simulation, a master's degree in business administration and, apparently, the ability to speak fluent German, Robyn brings a unique and studied perspective to his profession. After college, he spent a few years in the corporate world, but he's been heading Rin Robyn Pools since 1988. To further bolster his pool-pertise, Jim is a member of The Association of Pool and Spa Professionals, The Ultimate Swimming Pool Association, The Association of Professional Landscape Designers, a gold member of the Genesis 3 Design Group and a partner with BioNova USA.
Using his knowledge of computers, Robyn is able to design detailed, scaled drawings for each client electronically. If you decide to build a green pool in your little piece of the countryside, the process from conception to completion can take up to two years, but in the end you won't just wind up with a swimming pool - you'll have a work of art in your own backyard built by people who know, and love, pools.
For more information about all-natural pools, call Rin Robyn Pools at (909) 879-9411, e-mail them at or visit Rin Robyn has locations in both Bernardsville and Hackettstown. NJC
Lindsay Bosslett is a former managing editor and a frequent contributor to New Jersey Countryside.