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
Chimneys are among the heaviest and most structurally vulnerable of all exterior components of a building. Accidents caused by their collapse can lead to death. A collapse can also cause costly structural damage to the building and its surroundings. Inspection, maintenance and preparedness are critical safeguards against chimney collapse.Wind and other elements may cause an already weakened chimney to collapse. An elderly man in Britain was crushed by a wind-toppled chimney as it fell from the roof of the managed-care facility where he lived. This case is, unfortunately, fairly unremarkable, as such accidents occur often for a variety of reasons -- from weathering and wind, to falling tree limbs and poor design.
Chimneys collapse by the hundreds during major earthquakes, typically snapping at the roofline. More than half of the homes in Washington State inspected by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) following the Nisqually Earthquake in 2001 sustained chimney damage. Chimney collapses were widely reported following the massive-magnitude 7.1 earthquake that struck New Zealand in September 2010.
Earthquake damage and injuries can be caused, in large part, by bricks and stones as they fall from chimneys onto vehicles, structures and people. These collapses happen suddenly and without warning. Collapses can also cause implosion-type destruction as the chimney makes its way through the roof and attic, demolishing part of the living space and injuring occupants below. For these reasons, it is crucial that chimneys, especially in seismically active regions, be inspected periodically for signs of weakening. Following an earthquake, it is even more vital that chimneys be inspected for indications of imminent or future collapse.
Chimneys should be inspected for the following defects:
The following additional precautions may be taken:
In addition to collapse hazards, leaning chimneys can also make using the fireplace dangerous. Hearth cracks, side cracks in the fireplace, openings around the fireplace, and chimney damage all present the risk that sparks or smoke will enter the living space or building cavities. Check for evidence of fireplace movement. Following an earthquake, homeowners should have their chimney inspected before using the fireplace.
Commercial chimney collapses are rare, but they deserve mention due to the devastation they cause. In one terrible incident in central India, more than 100 workers were killed when a 900-foot (275-meter) tall chimney collapsed on a construction site. One of the worst construction site disasters in recent history, the collapse was blamed on heavy rain. While safety standards are generally more stringent outside of India, commercial chimneys everywhere require inspection.
In summary, chimneys should be inspected to prevent deadly, expensive collapses.
by Nick Gromicko, CMI®
The following items are essential tools, but this list is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to ask an InterNACHI inspector during your next inspection about other tools that you might find useful.
A clogged sink or toilet is one of the most inconvenient household problems that you will face. With a plunger on hand, however, you can usually remedy these plumbing issues relatively quickly. It is best to have two plungers -- one for the sink and one for the toilet.
2. Combination Wrench SetOne end of a combination wrench set is open and the other end is a closed loop. Nuts and bolts are manufactured in standard and metric sizes, and because both varieties are widely used, you’ll need both sets of wrenches. For the most control and leverage, always pull the wrench toward you, instead of pushing on it. Also, avoid over-tightening.
3. Slip-Joint PliersUse slip-joint pliers to grab hold of a nail, a nut, a bolt, and much more. These types of pliers are versatile because of the jaws, which feature both flat and curved areas for gripping many types of objects. There is also a built-in slip-joint, which allows the user to quickly adjust the jaw size to suit most tasks.
4. Adjustable WrenchAdjustable wrenches are somewhat awkward to use and can damage a bolt or nut if they are not handled properly. However, adjustable wrenches are ideal for situations where you need two wrenches of the same size. Screw the jaws all the way closed to avoid damaging the bolt or nut.
5. Caulking Gun
Caulking is the process of sealing up cracks and gaps in various structures and certain types of piping. Caulking can provide noise mitigation and thermal insulation, and control water penetration. Caulk should be applied only to areas that are clean and dry.
None of the tools in this list is of any use if you cannot visually inspect the situation. The problem, and solution, are apparent only with a good flashlight. A traditional two-battery flashlight is usually sufficient, as larger flashlights may be too unwieldy.
7. Tape Measure
Measuring house projects requires a tape measure -- not a ruler or a yardstick. Tape measures come in many lengths, although 25 feet is best. Measure everything at least twice to ensure accuracy.
A hacksaw is useful for cutting metal objects, such as pipes, bolts and brackets. Hacksaws look thin and flimsy, but they’ll easily cut through even the hardest of metals. Blades are replaceable, so focus your purchase on a quality hacksaw frame.
9. Torpedo Level
Only a level can be used to determine if something, such as a shelf, appliance or picture, is correctly oriented. The torpedo-style level is unique because it not only shows when an object is perfectly horizontal or vertical, but it also has a gauge that shows when an object is at a 45-degree angle. The bubble in the viewfinder must be exactly in the middle -- not merely close.
10. Safety Glasses / Goggles
For all tasks involving a hammer or a power tool, you should always wear safety glasses or goggles. They should also be worn while you mix chemicals.
11. Claw Hammer
A good hammer is one of the most important tools you can own. Use it to drive and remove nails, to pry wood loose from the house, and in combination with other tools. They come in a variety of sizes, although a 16-ounce hammer is the best all-purpose choice.
12. Screwdriver Set
It is best to have four screwdrivers: a small and large version of both a flathead and a Phillips-head screwdriver. Electrical screwdrivers are sometimes convenient, but they're no substitute. Manual screwdrivers can reach into more places and they are less likely to damage the screw.
13. Wire Cutters
Wire cutters are pliers designed to cut wires and small nails. The side-cutting style (unlike the stronger end-cutting style) is handy, but not strong enough to cut small nails.
14. Respirator / Safety Mask
While paints and other coatings are now manufactured to be less toxic (and lead-free) than in previous decades, most still contain dangerous chemicals, which is why you should wear a mask to avoid accidentally inhaling. A mask should also be worn when working in dusty and dirty environments. Disposable masks usually come in packs of 10 and should be thrown away after use. Full and half-face respirators can be used to prevent the inhalation of very fine particles that ordinary facemasks will not stop.
15. Duct Tape
This tape is extremely strong and adaptable. Originally, it was widely used to make temporary repairs to many types of military equipment. Today, it’s one of the key items specified for home emergency kits because it is water-resistant and extremely sticky.
by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Ben Gromicko
Backdrafting is the reverse flow of gas in the flues of fuel-fired appliances that results in the intrusion of combustion byproducts into the living space. Many fuel-fired water heaters and boilers use household air and lack an induced draft, which makes them especially vulnerable to backdrafting when indoor air pressure becomes unusually low. Inspectors should try to spot evidence of backdrafting in homes.
How does backdrafting happen?
Fuel-fired water heaters, boilers, wall heaters, and furnaces are designed to exhaust the byproducts of combustion to the outdoors through a flue. These hot gases rise through the flue and exit the home because they are not as dense as indoor air. The pressure differential that allows for the release of combustion gases can be overcome by unusually low indoor air pressure caused by a high rate of expulsion of air into the outdoors through exhaust fans, fireplaces and dryers. When this happens, combustion gases can be sucked back into the house and may potentially harm or kill building occupants. Improperly configured flues or flue blockages can also cause backdrafting.
How can InterNACHI inspectors test for backdrafting?
In summary, inspectors should try to spot evidence of backdrafting.
by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kenton Shepard