Swimming Pool Blog

Designing Pool Safety

Designing Pool Safety
by Rob Cox, December 19, 2012
Designing Pool Safety in 10 ways

When building an inground pool, a good pool designer naturally incorporates some elements of safety such as visibility from the house, and pool fencing requirements in your local area.

Some pool designers may be familiar with building Layers of Protection around a pool, and mention these things during your time together. But some may not - so be sure to ask about ways to make your pool inherently safer by design.

Layers of Protection means to use many layers of pool safety features, design and equipment. For instance, from the outer perimeter fence, to the pool water, one could add interior fences, pool covers or pool alarms as additional layers of protection. Pools can have access restricted on one or more sides, or use creative landscaping and planters to keep accessible areas limited.

Your pool fence is the main layer of protection around a pool. 4-sided fences are safer than 3-sided fences, but aren't winning any beauty contests with their stark, angular appearance. They look like a jail cell for your swimming pool.

Pool Fence requirements. Your particular city or county may have more stringent rules, but generally, a final approval will require a four-sided fence, 48 in. tall, with slats no wider than 3-4 inches. Gates must be self-closing and self-latching. In many areas, a 3-sided fence can be used, with the fourth side being the house. In these cases, door and window alarms are usually required for doors leading from the house to the pool.

I spoke with Jeff Gable, of Hunt Country pools, in Middleburg, Va about how to bake safety into the design process, and we got to talking about pool fences. "I have had people that would not build a pool if they had to put a 4-sided fence around it. They don't like the look, so I give them some alternatives to the standard perimeter fence."

Alternatives can be expensive, especially if the land is very flat. These include building retaining walls and moving a lot of dirt around. "They still have a 4-sided fence" Jeff says. "But it doesn't look like one anymore." With a mix of fencing, boulders, walls, grading and landscaping, he can usually overcome the fence hurdle with new clients.

This blog post is about ideas for creating safer pool environments without having to sacrifice beauty in design. A tight, 4-sided pool fence may be the cheapest route, and they are quite safe - but if you are looking for alternatives to the standard aluminum pool fence, I humbly submit to you the following list of safe pool design ideas.

Here's some ways to design a safer swimming pool by adding layers of protection in ways you may not have thought of until now.

1. Use large plants to conceal a fence.

Azaleas, Cypress or Sage bushes can be used. With proper care and feeding, growth can reach 4 feet in 4 years if you buy plants of large size. In this photo, the fence is concealed on a sloping hillside behind the Hydrangeas.

2. Use large trellis planter boxes.

These support fast growing ivy, and blooming perennials of the climbing type. These may be allowed to substitute for a fence in some areas, or they can be used as stand-alone barriers, to direct traffic flow and isolate the pool area. Use them on the far sides, where they don't block the view from the pool.

 3. Use Retaining Walls on one or two sides of the pool area

Retaining walls are normally used to hold back hillsides, but not necessarily. They are great for housing water features and blocking access to an entire length of the pool. Behind the wall, dirt is backfilled, and large bushes or evergreens planted to conceal a small fence.


4. Build your Pool On the Ground

An On-Ground pool has part of the wall aboveground, with a wrap around pool deck. This raises one end of the pool off the ground by 4 ft, similar to a walk out basement. Wrap a nice looking wood deck and safety rail, and a separate internal fence if the deck connects to the house.


5. Build a Negative Edge Pool

Negative edge pools, aka Infinity edge pools, have an edge that spills over a wall into a shallow catch basin below. Improves the view, and can block access to small children along the edge.


6. Add an Automatic Pool Cover

It used to be (long time ago) that you could use an automatic cover in lieu of a proper pool fence. No longer the case in most areas, but an automatic pool cover, when closed - is a very strong layer of protection around any rectangular pool. 


7. Raised Bond Beam

Fancy way of saying raised pool wall. A unique idea, using a negative edge on more than one side. Because the pool is raised up from the surrounding deck or floor, it's a bit safer for toddlers to be around.


8. Build into a Hillside

If you already have a hillside in your back yard, you can use this to it's advantage with proper grading. Boxwood conceals a fence line in the photo below. Or, incorporate a rock waterfall or cascade to serve as retaining wall, safety barrier and water feature.


9. Glass Pool Fencing

If you have a 3-sided pool fence, adding an internal perimeter fence to separate the back porch or entertainment areas from the pool area makes good sense. Think of it as fencing in the patio, not the pool! Glass pool fencing is sleek, see-through and ultra modern.


10. Pool Houses, Outdoor Kitchens and Living Areas

Effectively serving to block off one end of the pool area, or a large portion of one side, entertainment areas or changing room / bath houses break up the fence line and can add a bit more security to your swimming pool.


In addition to these overall pool safety design ideas, plan on things like safety grip bullnose coping, a safety ledge around the deep end, or shallow areas like shelfs and swimouts.

Planning a swimming pool is hard work, so think through all of the options that might suit your location. Plan for pool safety as you design the pool, and you'll have a safe, functional and beautiful swimming pool!


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