How to Install a Pool Fence

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Pool fences come in a variety of material types, styles, and colors to suit the taste of virtually every pool owner, and installation can be accomplished with a few basic skills. Installing the fence is usually the last step of the in-ground pool installation process, but without a doubt it is one of the most important as far as safety goes. The average pool enclosure is about 150 to 180 linear feet, and the cost of an installed pool fence ranges from $35 to $45 per foot, making a do-it-yourself installation very attractive. Today, the most popular DIY pool fence material choice is ornamental aluminum, and it's no coincidence that it is also the fastest growing segment of the retail fence market. Aluminum pool fence sections come either disassembled or fully assembled and ready to install. Aside from the frustration of putting together 20 or more sections, there's the very real potential of scratching the powder coat finish, so most DIY installers elect to have the pool fence sections delivered fully assembled.

If your pool is still being installed and you're just starting to research pool fence panels, now is a good time to photograph the feed and return filter lines as well as the electric line that is to be buried. Be sure to get enough of the area into the photograph so that you have reference points for locating where the lines are once they are covered. Pictures will be incredibly useful later when it's time to install the fence: they can help you to avoid damage. Likewise, once you've decided on the layout of the fence, it's important to measure from the edge of the in-ground pool or the patio/deck and note other permanent fixtures on a site plan that you can use as you install. If purchased on the Internet, pool fence can take several weeks to be shipped, and you will want to have an accurate record of where the measurements were taken to be sure you have enough pool fence panels to complete the enclosure as originally planned.

When your pool fence materials arrive, comprehensive do-it-yourself installation instructions should be included, but that's not always the case. You may hope that the posts and sections will simply throw themselves together, but (regrettably) installation of a pool fence involves some actual work. Many manufacturers do not offer specific do-it-yourself instructions; instead they rely on the professional installer to know proper installation methodology, which includes post drainage and providing a deep enough (usually 4') post hole to accomodate freezing and heaving in colder regions, among other things. It's a good idea to ask if the manufacturer from which you're planning to buy pool fence material offers a step-by-step installation guide or if anyone from the manufacturer will be available to answer questions if you run into difficulty.

A key point of consideration for DIY pool fence installers is local pool enclosure codes. While most states use the Building Officials Code Administrators International (BOCAI) pool code as the model for their barrier regulations, it is important to know that local governments can make standards more restrictive. If you are going to do it yourself, it is imperative that you study the requirements and understand what they mean. For instance, the BOCAI code says, "where the release mechanism of the self-latching device is less than 54" from the bottom of the gate" and goes on to specify what must be done to make that latch secure. This area is frequently misinterpreted as 54" from the ground – the measurement must be made from the bottom of the gate, an important distinction. Another area of confusion is the distance allowed from the bottom rail to the grade. In Safety Barrier Guidelines for Home Pools, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) suggests a clearance of less than 4". However, the BOCAI code states, "The maximum vertical clearance between finished ground level and the barrier shall be 2" measured on the side of the barrier which faces away from the swimming pool." If the manufacturer from which you're buying your DIY pool fence does not provide accurate information, maybe you should look elsewhere. While these may seem like minor points, home pool drowning statistics are quite sobering.

Backyard In-Ground Swimming Pool Statistics

  • Three-quarters of children involved in pool submersion or drowning accidents were between 1 and 3 years old. Boys between 1 and 3 years old were the most likely victims of fatal drownings or nearly fatal submersions in residential swimming pools.

  • Eighty percent of child deaths and more than 60% of injuries occur at a residence. Home pools are the most common drowning site for children under age 5, with 65% of the accidents in a pool owned by the victim’s immediate family and 33% in pools owned by relatives or friends. Less than 2% are a result of a child trespassing on property where they don’t live or belong.

  • More than 75% of the victims had been out of sight for five minutes or less, and were being supervised by one or both parents at the time. Almost half of the incidents are attributed to an adult losing contact or knowledge of the whereabouts of the child, and the child accessing the pool during this time period.

  • Most children who drown in home pools enter the water without their parent’s or caregiver’s knowledge. Nearly 70% of children who drowned in home pools were not expected to be in or around the pool but were found in the water.

  • Most young children who drowned in pools were last seen in the home before the pool accident occurred. About a quarter of the victims were last seen on the porch or patio or in the yard. Sixteen percent of drownings resulted from barrier compromise or circumvention, and 11% of incidents occurred after the victim was last seen in or near the pool.

  • In-ground pools account for the largest percentage (49%) of home pool accident sites, followed by above-ground pools and portable pools.

Isolation fencing is the preferred installation because it provides an additional layer of protection. The National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA) defines "isolation fencing" as "fencing that completely separates the pool or spa area from the house or other structures. It restricts unauthorized access from neighbors’ yards, other nearby buildings, and from inside the house. Isolation fencing is the preferred configuration for pool and spa protection." The NDPA recommends a 5' tall barrier of the isolation fencing type. Most areas of the United States still allow a portion of the house to compose part of the pool barrier, but certain precautions are required. As with the pool fence gate, the door providing access to the pool area must open "away from the pool." Section 9.2 of the BOCAI code reads in part, "All 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 its screen, if present, are opened. The audible warning shall commence not more than 7 seconds after the door and door screen, if present, are opened and shall sound continuously for a minimum of 30 seconds. The alarm shall have a minimum sound pressure rating of 85 Dba at 10 feet and the sound of the alarm shall be distinctive from other household sounds such as smoke alarms, telephones, and doorbells." Additionally, alarms that detect motion of the water and retractable pool covers may be mandatory in your area.

Very frequently, installation of the actual in-ground pool itself goes over budget. New pool owners can realize significant savings when opting for a do-it-yourself pool fence installation. Some may even find it very satisfying. Not only is there value in the "sweat equity," but if you take the time to properly plan and carefully install the barrier to meet local standards, the fence will be aesthetically pleasing and provide safety for years to come.

Last modified on Tue, May 07, 2013
More in this category: «Fences and Gates
Gerry Rogan

Gerry Rogan is a retired N.Y.C. fire lieutenant, a member of the American Fence Association, and a 2005 graduate of the AFA Field Training School. Gerry has been involved in fence installation since 1985. He has studied Risk Management at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Labor Relations at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations and has been certified in Building Construction by the National Fire Academy and in FEMA, Educational Methodology, Fire Behavior and Arson Awareness, Fire Cause and Origin Determination, Haz Mat First Responder Operations, Fire Instructor Level 1, and Fire Officer Level 1 by New York State.


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