Pool fences keep people safe – especially young children. Most local building codes require them wherever a pool depth exceeds 24 inches, and for good reason: the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports nearly 300 accidental drowning deaths each year for children under the age of 5. As a result, the requirements of an aluminum pool fence are much more defined than for a privacy fence, or the picket fence in your front yard.
A pool fence needs to keep kids out. And as we know, children love to climb, jump, and otherwise scramble over anything they encounter – especially when they perceive something fun on the other side.
In this article, we’ll break down pool fence design, whether aluminum pool fences, chain link fences, or vinyl pool fences. We’ll look at how they’re constructed, and what makes a pool fence different from other fences.
Does My Pool Need a Fence?
International Building Code (IBC) stipulates that any permanent pool — above or in-ground — must have a fence if the water depth exceeds 24 inches. The IBC goes on to specify requirements for pool fences in terms of dimensions, clearances, and openings.
Because the International Building Code serves as a basis for hundreds of local building codes, these guidelines apply in most jurisdictions throughout the U.S.
As we’ll see, not just any fence can be used to fence in a pool. Choosing the wrong design for your pool fence not only would compromise safety; it would also fail inspection and require a costly replacement.
Pool Fence Measurements
Pool Fence Height
Pool fences must be high enough that they’re difficult to climb over.
According to the IBC, the standard pool fence should measure at least four feet (48 inches) in height. Some jurisdictions require pool fences that are five feet (60 inches) high. A shorter pool fence might not prevent a child from climbing over the top and accessing the pool.
Even when meeting height requirements, a pool fence might be breached if other climbable structures (like pumps, filters, and heaters) are close by. As a result, the IBC also mandates a 36-inch “clear zone” around the fence itself.
Pool Fence Opening Dimensions
Pool fences have small openings and low ground clearance. This means that an aluminum pool fence, for example, should have narrow spacing between pickets, and only 2–4 inches of clearance from the ground.
Pool fence openings must not allow for climbing. This translates to minimal horizontal bars, which could provide a surface for stepping or pulling as well as keeping openings small. The code does allow for wider openings of up to 4 inches, but only if the horizontal members are at least 45 inches apart. In other words, too high to climb from one to the other. For an aluminum pool fence, this means using long vertical pickets, with rails only at the top and bottom of each panel.
When pool fence construction contains openings higher up on the fence, the IBC requires them to be no wider than 1 ¾. This means that for chain link pool fences, each opening should be small enough that a child’s foot can’t fit inside the diamonds. For vinyl pool fences, any gaps or decorative elements must fall within this range.
Pool Fence Ground Clearance
Of course, these pool fence code requirements exist to keep children from climbing over the fence. What about crawling under? Depending on the composition of the surface, the distance from the bottom of a pool fence should be only a few inches above grade. This provides a very small opening that prevents children from squeezing under. Code dictates 2 inches of clearance for softer surfaces like grass and gravel, and up to 4 inches for concrete surfaces.
Requirements for a Pool Fence Gate
Pool fence gates also have very specific IBC requirements that help ensure that adults may operate them, but that children will be unable to open the gate. The most climb-proof pool fence is useless if its gate is easy to bypass.
Pool fence gates must:
Self-Close – making it impossible for the pool fence gate to be left open.
Latch automatically – The pool fence gate must have a latch that automatically engages when the gate shuts. This latch should be at least 54 inches from the ground OR on the inside of the gate. If on the inside, the latch must be covered within 18 inches of the release to prevent a child from reaching through the fence.
Swing outward from the pool area – If for any reason, the gate fails to fully close and latch, pushing the gate will close it securely.
What Makes a Pool Fence Different?
At a glance, pool fences may look like typical fencing that you’d find in other applications. But as we see above, there are dozens of code requirements and design elements that go into designing safe, building-code-compliant pool fencing. Fortunately, the helpful experts at Nobility Fence are here to help. Our elegant, precision-engineered aluminum pool fences are built for decades of hard-wearing use, designed to meet IBC and other requirements.
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This article is for informational purposes only, and is not a complete guide to pool fence compliance. Please check your local building codes to build in compliance to your area specifications.