Ecological impact of an private pool

I didn’t think it was necessary to do an article on the individual pool. That was before I looked at the numbers: I didn’t realize the order of magnitude at all.

Indeed, with 3 million private swimming pools (and more than one million in the Southeast), France is the second most equipped country in the world, behind the United States. The market is boomingand has not really suffered from Covid: the world leader in in-ground pools, Desjoyaux, for example, has been recording sustained growth for more than five years, with a historic turnover of 115 million euros for the year 2020.

According to the Federation of Pool and Spa Professionals (FPP), the number of pools built, already up +6% in 2019, is expected to reach +6.3% in 2020, or nearly 175,000 additional pools, including 58,000 in-ground pools. The market is equally divided between in-ground and above ground pools.

Why and how to calculate the ecological impact of an individual pool

As summers get hotter and hotter, the individual pool will become an increasingly coveted luxury item. It’s always nicer to take a dip when it’s 40°C outside… than to be in a Parisian apartment without air conditioning. But when we are responsible, we must ask ourselves what impact each of our actions has. That’s what this article is about: what is the carbon footprint of an individual pool? For what size? Heated or not? What weight does water have in this footprint?

For the occasion, a simulator was built to estimate the carbon footprint of your individual pool. Of course, if you are wondering what a carbon footprint is and why you should know yours, I invite you to read this dedicated article.

NB: the simulator is open source, the data are public in order to benefit from the different feedbacks and to improve the simulator.

What criteria should be taken into account?

Here are the criteria to take into account when building an individual (in-ground) pool, and then to maintain it:

  • Surface : this is the most structuring parameter. A limit here, we set the volume with a depth of 1.5m.
  • Heating: do you heat your pool? If yes, how? Heat pump or gas?
  • Usage time : how many months per year do you use your pool?
  • Filter pump : integrated by default in all pools

On purpose, the price is left out of this article. But after a quick search, in 2017, it was 22,000 euros, and two years later, “only” 18,000 euros. While this market was still anecdotal in the early 2000s, it is logical that the number of above-ground pools over 10 square meters is now equivalent to that of in-ground pools. And their price is much lower: an above-ground pool rarely exceeds 15,000 euros, while it is necessary to count from 15,000 to 45,000 euros, or even more, for an in-ground pool (earthwork and installation included).

The carbon footprint simulator of an private pool

Let’s get to know the carbon footprint!

NB: There are several limitations to the calculation:

  • The figures given by the Fédération des Professionnels de la Piscine et du Spa are not transparent: it is impossible to find a detailed report. Moreover, the figures come from external firms.
  • Our estimate of the construction footprint is based on a 32m² concrete pool. We extrapolate the value according to the size of your pool. Of course, you will build your pool only once, so the weight of the carbon footprint of the construction depends on the amortization (number of years of use, fixed here at 30 years by convention).
  • There are other types of pools, much rarer, therefore not taken into account
  • weather conditions can have a significant impact on evaporation, and therefore on the life cycle. This is what anAmerican study indicates (thanks to @ThomasGibon for the precision)

You should also take into account some elements that are not included in the simulator. This can range from 100 to 200kg CO2eq in total:

  • Protective barrier
  • Alarm, security cover
  • Shelter covering the entire pool
  • The installation of lighting (LED or not)
  • Cleaning products
  • The type of water: network? Recovered otherwise?

Building a pool has more than just a carbon impact

If it was necessary to remind it, building a pool is not trivial. It is essential to keep certain aspects in mind before having one built, or wanting to use it excessively:

  • The private pool is a privilege that only benefits a few and is an injustice in times of pandemic (public pools are closed). So if you have one, share it, rather than your friends building a new one!
  • Artificialization of soils and destruction of soils by digging in the ground: we have a duty to protect natural environments, to reduce heat islands and vegetation to limit the sealing of soils (concreteization) and reduce the risks of flooding.
  • The important consumption of water while the droughts are intensifying and we must all be very vigilant about our water consumption (we are already in a drought before the summer is even here). Moreover, some people called for their closure during the great national debate, banning the construction and filling of private swimming pools with water.
  • Since individual pools are more likely to be reserved for wealthy households, your carbon footprint is certainly well above what is needed to meet our climate commitments. I have rarely seen a person with a very low carbon footprint (below 3tCO2eq) having an individual pool…

If you are a pool builder, these ecological considerations are obviously to be taken into account. The role of the pool builder is essential from the first contacts with the owner of a pool project. Layout of the pool, sizing and volume of water to be treated, protection of the pool and safety of children, choice of treatment and comfort equipment: all this advice will help the customer to choose equipment that consumes less and emits less. Just a reminder: knowing how to say no is also a right. Everyone will have to do their part.

The last word

If we had to remind it again, global warming will lead to an increase in practices that are not very virtuous with regard to the preservation of natural resources, such as the development of swimming pools and air conditioning (socially unjust, as this study reminds us). This is stated in the National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy. Beware of these bad solutions that will end up making the problem worse (a bit like air-conditioning stadiums for a soccer World Cup in Qatar...).

Mayors will have a very important role in the development or stagnation of markets that are a little too buoyant. In a perspective of Net Zero Artificialization (ZAN) foreseen by the French law, refusing to give its agreement for the construction of private swimming pools will be anything but harmless. Also, since we can’t all end up in a pool in 2050, it might be wiser to mitigate warming. Let us conclude here with the words of Magali Reghazza, member of the High Council for the Climate: “It is therefore necessary to accelerate mitigation efforts, correcting their potentially negative effects, while preparing societies to cope with future shocks. Adaptation is not just an effort required of individuals and territories: it is a set of public policies that are part of actions to reduce vulnerability.

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