Removing a pool fence

Q: We’d like to remove our pool fence once our kids get a bit older. When is it safe to take it down?

There’s no easy answer on this one, but experts agree it’s best to err on the side of caution.

Arizona laws mandating minimum standards for pool enclosures apply only to homes where there is a resident younger than 6. But some experts question whether elementary-age children should live in fence-free homes. Injury Prevention Specialist Tomi St. Mars, of Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa, suggests that parents wait until all children are at least 12 before seriously considering removing a pool fence. Even for families with older children, it’s hard to find a down side to keeping a pool fence.

Today’s fences and barriers have more cosmetic appeal than the fences some of us remember. If you keep your pool fence in place, your home may be more appealing to a future buyer who’d rather not pay to have a pool fence installed.

You’ll also have fewer worries when friends and relatives bring young families for visits, notes Jeff Reichard, owner of Arizona SafePool Company in Phoenix. And, if you’re away for an extended period of time on a business trip or vacation, it’s added protection if neighborhood children, or even pets, get into your backyard.

To maximize the effectiveness of your pool fence, make sure it meets or exceeds the minimum standards required by state law and city ordinances, recommends Reichard. Search your city’s official website for fence-related ordinances.

Arizona Revised Statute 36-1681 requires the following for swimming pools, (including some above-ground varieties):

  • a fence that is entirely enclosed by at least a five-foot wall, fence or other barrier at least 20 inches from the water’s edge
  •  a fence that has no openings through which a spherical object four inches in diameter can pass
  •  a fence that has gates that are self-closing and self-latching, or secured by a padlock or similar device that requires a key or electrical opener

The law does not apply to pools built before the legislation was passed. When a wall of your home forms part of the barrier, other considerations apply. Parents fond of fine print can read more at the state legislature’s website.

Every summer, we seem to read more stories of tragic child drownings. They happen over and over.

Never assume a pool fence is foolproof. Determined young neighbors and visitors may still be able to get inside. A pool fence is just one deterrent, says St. Mars. And just because children are older, they aren’t drown-proof. Anything can happen. An older child can drown trying to rescue a friend in distress, or hit his or her head somehow and lose consciousness in the water. Your kids still need adult supervision. And all the old rules — like not drinking alcohol when supervising kids near the pool — still apply.

Arizona law continues to evolve on the pool barrier issue, observes Reichard. Eventually, he predicts, all private pools will require fencing or other barriers, whether or not there are young residents in the home.

Now the father of a 2-year-old, with a second child on the way, Reichard says he plans to keep his pool fence forever. “There’s no reason not to,” he says.

“What harm is it to leave that fence up just a little bit longer?” reflects St. Mars. “It may keep you from going to a funeral.”