Now that warm weather has returned and some of you have a pool on your property, it is a good time to discuss pool safety. According to the US Federal government, approximately 350 children under the age of 5 years old drown each year in pools and another 2,600 children are treated in hospitals for near-drowning incidents. After car accidents, drowning is the leading cause of death for children less than 5 years old. Many people assume that childhood drownings occur when the family is outside using the pool, but a very common problem is children wandering out of the home unsupervised and falling unseen into the pool. Pools can greatly increase a home owner's liability risk.
The inspection of pools and fences is considered well outside the scope of a home inspection, per the Standard Of Practice of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). In the course of a home inspection, some home inspectors will do a very basic evaluation to ensure a fence or other barrier is installed when a pool exists. Confirming proper permits and that any/all requirements are met for the pool installation and its fence/barrier with the local city/township is strongly recommended. Many home owners, I have found from years of experience, do not know that permits are generally required for pool installations (even for small wading pools in many cases). Along the same lines, most home buyers never question a seller regarding whether proper permits were pulled with the township/city or if proper inspections were performed when a pool was installed.
"Drowning happens quickly and silently, often without any splashing or screaming," said Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Chairman Ann Brown. "It can occur in just the couple of minutes it takes to answer the telephone."
While the International Residential Code (IRC) does not have specific code requirements for pools, many authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) do have requirements. The AHJ will normally be your local township, city, or borough. Some AHJs have incorporated standards into their local codes and these standards should be used for pools, hot tubs, as well as spas. To find the standards used in your specific area, contact your local AHJ’s code enforcement official.
The CPSC has a booklet of useful guidelines to use when a pool exists on your property. The booklet is entitled “Safety Barrier Guidelines For Home Pools” and can be found on their website: www.cpsc.gov and is publication number 362 or you can click on the link below. I strongly recommend that every home owner with a pool on their property, download and read this booklet thoroughly and make needed modifications in their yard if the below standards are not met. I recommend that Realtors involved with a home sale where a pool, spa, or hot tub is included provide this information to their clients. Click here to download the CPSC Pool Safety Guidelines booklet.
All pools should have 4’ minimum high fences and/or walls installed fully around the pool’s perimeter which should prevent a child from getting over, under, or through the barrier. The barrier also should be flat vertically as to prevent climbing. If a fence, similar to a picket fence, is used which often has horizontal rails to support the vertical pickets, the horizontal rails should be on the inside of the fence (on the pool’s side) since a child may be able to climb the rails like a ladder from the fence's outer side. Like deck and porch railings, the spacing in pool railing balusters or spindles should not exceed 4”. This prevents a child from getting his head stuck in the railing. Trees and bushes should not be located near pool fencing since the vegetation could allow a child to climb it in order to get over the fence.
For above-ground pools over 4’ high, the ladder or staircase up to the pool should be removed when not in use or a proper fence or gate should be installed to prevent access to the ladder or staircase. The design of the gate into the pool area should have a locking device which is out of the reach of a child and the gate itself should open out from the pool, be self-closing, and self-latching.
This pool is readily accessible to small children and pets since part of the fence has fallen down. Pools need to be properly closed off to help prevent small children and pets from accessing these areas. This fence failure presents a considerable liability to the home owner.
If the house forms part of the barrier to the pool, then the door(s) from the home leading out to the pool area should have an alarm installed that alerts the home’s occupants when the door(s) is opened. The alarm should last at least 30 seconds and start immediately after the door is opened. The alarm should meet the requirements of UL 2017 General Purpose Signaling Devices. The alarm should be at least 85 dB (measured from 10’ away) loudness and should have a distinct sound, unlike those common with doorbells or telephones. The alarm should be able to be heard in all areas of the home’s interior as well as outside.
When the pool is not in use, a power safety cover can be used to cover the pool. This is a motorized barrier that covers the pool and prevents physical access into the pool. Keeping rescue equipment readily accessible next to the pool and knowing CPR is critical. If a child is missing, always look in the pool first. Just a few seconds in delay can mean the difference between a successful rescue and death.
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© 2014 Matthew Steger
Matthew Steger, owner/inspector of WIN Home Inspection, is a Certified Level 1 Infrared Thermographer, an ASHI Certified Inspector (ACI), an electrical engineer, and a US Dept. of Energy Home Energy Score Assessor. He can be reached at: 717-361-9467 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WIN Home Inspection has provided a wide array of home inspection services in the Lancaster, PA area since 2002. This article was authored by Matthew Steger, ACI - owner of WIN Home Inspection in Lancaster, PA. No article, or portion thereof, may be reproduced or copied without prior written consent of Matthew Steger.