An outdoor swimming pool barrier is a physical obstacle that surrounds an outdoor pool so that pool access is limited to adults. “Pool,” in this context, includes outdoor hot tubs and spas. This barrier is often referred to as “pool fencing,” although walls made from brick or stone can be acceptable as well. Children should not be able to get under, over, or through the barrier.
Why are pool barriers important?
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), approximately 250 children drown every year in residential swimming pools. In states where swimming pools are open year-round, such as Florida, Arizona and California, drowning is the leading cause of death in and around the home for children under 5 years old. Many of these deaths result when young children gain unsupervised access to swimming pools due to inadequate pool fencing.
Inspectors may want to cite visible defects in pool barriers or recommend that they be evaluated by professionals, especially if their clients have small children. Inspectors should be careful, however, to make their clients aware that defect detection does not constitute inspection. It is better for clients to know that an inspector has not provided a service than to allow them to assume that the service has been provided. Pool inspection is outside of the scope of InterNACHI’s Standards of Practice. Inspectors should disclaim pool inspection wherever pools are present, if they have not provided this service.
Codes concerning pool barriers vary by jurisdiction. Some states, such as Arizona, Florida and California, have compiled their own laws concerning pool barriers, while other locations rely on the International Residential Code (IRC). The CPSC has thoroughly researched pool-related hazards and has compiled its own set of codes for pool fencing. The Australian government, too, has placed tremendous emphasis on the development of pool barrier codes in an attempt to reduce the number of deaths due to drowning in that country. The code below is taken mostly from the 2006 edition of the IRC and is substantially similar to the other codes previously mentioned. A few helpful parts of the Australian code are listed as well.
2006 International Building Code Pool Barrier Requirements:
AG105.2 Outdoor swimming pool. An outdoor swimming pool, including an in-ground, above-ground or on-ground pool, hot tub or spa, shall be surrounded by a barrier which shall comply with the following:
1. The top of the barrier shall be at least 48 inches (1,219 mm) above grade measured on the side of the barrier which faces away from the swimming pool. The maximum vertical clearance between grade and the bottom of the barrier shall be 2 inches (51 mm) measured on the side of the barrier which faces away from the swimming pool. Where the top of the pool structure is above grade, such as an above-ground pool, the barrier may be at ground level, such as the pool structure, or mounted on top of the pool structure. Where the barrier is mounted on top of the pool structure, the maximum vertical clearance between the top of the pool structure and the bottom of the barrier shall be 4 inches (102 mm).
2. Openings in the barrier shall not allow passage of a 4-inch-diameter (102 mm) sphere.
3. Solid barriers which do not have openings, such as a masonry or stone wall, shall not contain indentations or protrusions, except for normal construction tolerances and tooled masonry joints.
4. Where the barrier is composed of horizontal and vertical members and the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is less than 45 inches (1,143 mm), the horizontal members shall be located on the swimming pool side of the fence. Spacing between vertical members shall not exceed 1-3/4 inches (44 mm) in width. Where there are decorative cutouts within vertical members, spacing within the cutouts shall not exceed 1-3/4 inches (44 mm) in width
5. Where the barrier is composed of horizontal and vertical members and the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is 45 inches (1,143 mm) or more, spacing between vertical members shall not exceed 4 inches (102 mm). Where there are decorative cutouts within vertical members, spacing within the cutouts shall not exceed 1-3/4 inches (44 mm) in width.
6. Maximum mesh size for chain link fences shall be a 2-1/4 inch (57 mm) square unless the fence has slats fastened at the top or the bottom which reduce the openings to not more than
1-1/4 inches (44 mm).
7. Where the barrier is composed of diagonal members, such as a lattice fence, the maximum opening formed by the diagonal members shall not be more than 1-3/4 inches (44 mm).
8. Access gates shall comply with the requirements of Section AG105.2, Items 1 through 7, and shall be equipped to accommodate a locking device. Pedestrian access gates shall open outward, away from the pool, and shall be self-closing and have a self-latching device. Gates other than pedestrian access gates shall have a self-latching device. Where the release mechanism of the self-latching device is located less than 54 inches (1,372 mm) from the bottom of the gate, the release mechanism and openings shall comply with the following:
8.1 The release mechanism shall be located on the pool-side of the gate at least 3 inches (76 mm) below the top of the gate; and
8.2 The gate and barrier shall have no opening larger than 1/2-inch (13 mm) within 18 inches (457 mm) of the release mechanism.
9. Where a wall of a dwelling serves as part of the barrier, one of the following conditions shall be met:
9.1. The pool shall be equipped with a powered safety cover in compliance with ASTM F 1346; or
9.2. Doors with direct access to the pool through that wall shall be equipped with an alarm which produces an audible warning when the door and/or its screen, if present, are opened. The alarm shall be listed in accordance with UL 2017. The audible alarm shall activate within seven seconds and sound continuously for a minimum of 30 seconds after the door and/or its screen, if present, are opened and be capable of being heard throughout the house during normal household activities. The alarm shall automatically reset under all conditions. The alarm system shall be equipped with a manual means, such as touch pad or switch, to temporarily de-activate the alarm for a single opening. De-activation shall last for not more than 15 seconds. The de-activation switch(es) shall be located at least 54 inches (1,372 mm) above the threshold of the door; or
9.3. Other means of protection, such as self-closing doors with self-latching devices, which are approved by the governing body, shall be acceptable, so long as the degree of protection afforded is not less than the protection afforded by Item 9.1 or 9.2 described above.
10. Where an above-ground pool structure is used as a barrier, or where the barrier is mounted on top of the pool structure, and the means of access is a ladder or steps:
10.1. The ladder or steps shall be capable of being secured, locked or removed to prevent access; or
10.2. The ladder or steps shall be surrounded by a barrier which meets the requirements of Section AG105.2, Items 1 through 9. When the ladder or steps are secured, locked or removed, any opening created shall not allow the passage of a 4-inch-diameter (102 mm) sphere.
AG105.3 Indoor swimming pool. Walls surrounding an indoor swimming pool shall comply with Section AG105.2, Item 9.
AG105.4 Prohibited locations. Barriers shall be located to prohibit permanent structures, equipment or similar objects from being used to climb them.
AG105.5 Barrier exceptions. Spas or hot tubs with a safety cover, which complies with ASTM F 1346, as listed in Section AG107, shall be exempt from the provisions of this appendix.The 1994 edition of Australia’s Building Code offers the following suggestions concerning fence gaps:
"If a fence has gaps, they should be of such a size that a young child is prevented from slipping through, but the gaps also need to have dimensions such that any part of a young child's body cannot be trapped."
Currently, the IRC makes no mention of regulations for “danger” or CPR signs that should be contained on pool barriers. The Australian Building Code offers the following concerning CPR signs:"The CPR sign needs to be durable, and placed in a conspicuous place near the pool. It must detail the procedures necessary to undertake cardiopulmonary resuscitation."
In summary, it is helpful, although not required, for inspectors to be able to spot defects in pool fencing.
by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kenton Shepard