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.
Reasons why swimming pool fences are 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.
Your Home Inspector may want to cite visible defects in pool barriers or recommend that they be evaluated by professionals, especially if their clients have small children. Home 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.
A pool inspection is a brief, non-invasive inspection. As a home inspector I will note any leaks, visible damage, or possible concerns with the system(s). Also any unusual wear and tear or any issues requiring routine maintenance.
Per the 2006 International Building Code Pool Barrier Requirements:
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.
In summary, pool fencing can save lives, avoid possible lawsuits and ensure proper safety for all persons that utilize the pool. Your Home Inspector should note any incorrect or improper issues and recommend a qualified professional repair as needed. As with many rules/regulations these have been adjusted several times and will continuously be revised should they need to be.