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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Installing a Child-Safe Pool Fence for Peace of Mind

Growing up in Florida, I used to desperately envy the kids that had pools. They would throw parties at any opportunity, and every kid in the neighborhood would show up. My parties, on the other hand, were great successes if I could get one or two people to show up. Apparently, my friend had a similar experience. Shortly after his son was born, he bought a house with a pool expressly for his son to enjoy. Until he is ready for it, a mesh screen safety fence stands between the kid and those invitingly cool waters.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, though, the kid gave us a reason to question the effectiveness of this particular fence. While my friend and I were having a conversation on the back patio, the child in question decided to announce himself by running full tilt and taking a flying leap into one of the screens. He was rewarded with a pretty impressive rebound and an alarming creak from the posts supporting the screen. He also learned a couple of new vocabulary words from my friend and me. He thought all of this was hilarious, which increased our alarm. My friend started to consider a sturdier child safe pool fence that his son wouldn’t view as a toy.

Pool Fences Reduce the Risk of Drowning

According to the CDC, about 3,536 people drown in non-boating related accidents every year, and about 1 in 5 of those are children, or around 700 children a year younger than 14. Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children younger than 4. According to the same source, one of the best ways to prevent this is by surrounding the pool with a four-sided fence rather than a three-sided fence. At first glance, this recommendation is a bit confusing, but it’s referring to a special fence that separates the pool from the home it is attached to, as opposed to a fence just around the backyard (which might keep the neighbor’s kids out of the pool, but not your own).

Most of these “fourth side” fences are temporary, and they take the form of posts anchored to the pool deck with flexible screens between the posts. Usually, these pool safety fences also have a metal bottom rail that runs between the posts in order to keep the child from crawling beneath them, and a gate that closes through a hook and eye-style latch. This is the sort of fencing my friend put up, and although it has worked well, some flaws are starting to become apparent as his son gets older.

The flaw we discovered this weekend is that the child has come to view the safety fence as a toy, treating it as a vertical trampoline. Another flaw is that the gate latches with a hook and eye that is on the outside of the fence. At three years old, his son can reach it, if only just barely, and it won’t be too long before he has the dexterity to open it. At the very least, a pool fence gate needs to be self-latching, and it helps if that mechanism is on the inside of the fence where only an adult can reach over and open it. It also needs to be difficult to climb and to knock over. These considerations made my friend start thinking about installing permanent fencing.

Permanent Fencing Is a Better Option

Permanent fence systems have many advantages over temporary safety fencing (including looks), but the most important of these are safety advantages, such as:

  • More substantial latches: Because there is significantly more post for the latch to bolt onto, gate latches on permanent fencing systems are able to be much more sturdy. Many fence systems also offer self-latching latches that close gates securely when no one is holding them open, and which have to be opened by reaching over the fence.
  • The ability to add a padlock: It’s possible to lock a sturdy permanent fence latch using a padlock, which is an advantage during the period when a child can’t be trusted to swim unsupervised but has grown to the point where they can easily operate a latch.
  • Better durability: Instead of being made of plastic screen or mesh, permanent fences are made of sturdier materials like wood or metal. These are much stronger than temporary pool safety fences, and tend to discourage the kind of testing my friend’s son was doing.

All of these features are fairly standard across the various types of fencing that are available. Chain link, wood, and steel fences that look like wrought iron all have these features. At first glance, it may seem like a challenge to choose between them. However, choosing the perfect fence to keep your kids safe and to complement your backyard is easier if you consider the features you’ll need.

What Features Should You Look for in a Child-Safe Pool Fence?

I would argue that, of all the fencing options available, a metal fence is the best choice for a child-safe pool fence. That’s because a good-quality metal fence, such as a well-coated aluminum or steel fence, has the advantage of the following features:

  • Visibility is greater with metal picket fences than other types of fencing. No fence is absolutely foolproof in securing an area, and an inattentive moment like propping the gate open while cleaning the pool can invalidate a fence’s security. In these moments, being able to look out through a window and see that someone is in the pool area is a vital safety feature. The same feature that increases visibility--the vertical pickets--also prevents climbing.
  • Flexibility is another strength of wrought iron-look steel or aluminum fencing. This type of fencing is generally available in a range of heights, whereas basic, temporary pool safety fencing is usually only available in the minimum four-foot height required. Four feet is excellent for keeping a toddler out of the pool, but doesn’t work as well for a six-to-eight-year-old child. A taller fence is more effective for a longer period of time.
  • Easier installation is one big plus for metal fencing systems. Your typical metal fence of this type has a base plate with four holes. You simply use one these as a template to mark where your holes go, and drill them. The post installs with anchor bolts through the plate and into these holes. This is actually less destructive to a concrete deck than your typical pool safety fence and pretty much any fencing alternative, which usually install to deeply buried posts. Installing a wood, chain-link, or vinyl fence around your pool will likely require buying additional brackets that might not be commonly available.

After reading the CDC’s fact sheets on accidental drowning, I’m even more concerned about pool safety on behalf of my friend. My plan is to recommend a medium-height steel panel fencing system that has features like add-on finials that will make it much more difficult to climb if it is still needed after a few years.

The Versai fence from Fortress Building Products meets all of my requirements. It is a wrought iron-look fence whose vertical steel pickets discourage climbing children. A range of heights is available, from low 34-inch panels to 70-inch ones which will discourage hopping the fence when the kid is twenty. The taller versions of this fence also meet ICC pool code. A big plus in terms of durability is the e-coating applied to these fences beneath the powder coat, which makes them perfect fences for a wet area and will allow them to stand up to a high-chlorine environment better than hot-dipped galvanization. Going a little bit further to make a truly attractive, longer-lasting outdoor products is part of Fortress Building Products' philosophy, and they apply it to their fencing, to decking, and railings.


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