Thursday, March 15, 2012

What is the ICC Pool Fence Code?

As a homeowner / DIY'er, trying to figure out how to build your pool fence to code can be a frustrating game of alphabet soup.  Search for "pool fence code" and you'll likely come across such acronyms as BOCA, ICC, IBC, and IRC, and ... you get the picture.  It's enough to make you want to say "the heck with it, I'll fill the pool in and plant a garden." (we have fences for that too.)

But, don't give up yet.  In this article, we are going to save you the pain of searching and tell you exactly where to find the list of pool fence codes, but first, here's a little background that might clear up some of the confusion 

Note: If you really don't care about any of this and you just want to find a code compliant pool fence, click here.

What's this BOCA code I keep hearing about?

If you've been planning a pool fence for a while, then you've probably heard about something called the BOCA Pool Fence Code.  BOCA (which stands for Building Officials and Code Administrators) Code was a regional building association that published standards for the construction industry from around 1950 to 1994.  In 1994, BOCA was rolled into an organization called the International Code Council (ICC).  The pool barrier code is still widely referred to as BOCA Code, even though, technically, thats no longer its name.

The ICC and the IBC

The ICC (International Code Council) is a non-profit organization that started in 1994 through the joining of three regional building associations: BOCA, SBCCI, and ICBO. The ICC arose from the need for a nationally uniform set of building standards; and so in 2000, the council published the International Building Code, or IBC, which is a comprehensive set of codes, standards, and guidelines that cover everything from plumbing to fire safety.

If the ICC is a non-profit organization, and not a state or federal government entity, why should we care what their codes say?  After all, anybody can publish a set of codes or standards, but they don't mean anything unless they are enforced. 
The ICC is important because their codes (the IBC) are widely adopted by both state and local jurisdictions (and they do have the ability to enforce it).  In fact, there's a good chance that your local building codes come directly from the IBC; maybe with a few additional rules thrown in for good measure.
More information about the ICC can be found at http://www.icc.org

The IBC as it Relates to Pool Fences

The part of the IBC that we care about for the purpose of this article is small, only a few paragraphs related to outdoor residential pool barriers in Appendix G of the International Residential Code: SECTION AG105 BARRIER REQUIREMENTS.

The codes, which encompass both fences and other barriers like stone/masonry walls, define the minimum safety requirements for a barrier around a swimming pool, spa, or hot tub.  The intent the codes is to reduce the likelihood of drowning and injury by effectively restricting access; particularly unsupervised access by children. 
Below is a short summary of the most relevant codes.  The entire pool barrier section can be found at the link above.
  • Installed pool fences should be at least 48” high from finished ground level, as measured along the outside of the fence and should have no more than a 2” gap from the bottom of the fence to the ground .
  • The fence should block anything more than 4” in diameter from passing through one of its openings.
  • The fence or barrier must not be climbable. If made of stone or brick (ie. a brick wall), it should not have protrusions or indentations other than normal construction tolerances and tooled masonry joints. It must also be positioned far enough away from permanent structures so that they do not provide climbing assistance.
  • Pedestrian Pool fence gates must be self closing, must open outwards from the pool, and must have a self latching/locking device. Gates that are not meant for pedestrian use must have a self latching device.
The following code applies to chain link pool fences.
  • Chain link fences should have a mesh no larger than 2 1/4 inches unless the fence is provided with privacy slats fastened at the top or bottom which reduce the opening to 1 3/4" or less.
The following code applies to fences with diagonal members such as lattice pool fences
  • Lattice type fences should have no opening more than 1 3/4 inches between diagonals.

An Important Note Regarding Pool Safety:

A pool fence is an important line of defense against accidental drownings, but it is not the only step that can/should be taken.  Visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission for some excellent resources regarding swimming pool safety.

ICC Code Compliant Pool Fences
*Make sure that any fence also meets your local codes by calling or visiting your local building department.

The Good news is that most fence manufacturers have pre-fabricated fence panel styles that meet ICC Codes (and often, but not always, local codes).  All you have to do is install the fence according to the manufacturers instructions and choose code compliant hinges and latches for your gates. 

4 comments:

  1. Why is the bottom of the fence two inches but everything else is 4" or less opening?

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  2. That is a great question! I can think of a couple of reasons, but you would have to refer to the ICC for the official reason. First, if the bottom horizontal rail is more than 2 inches above the ground, it shortens the effective height of the fence. For example, if you have a 48" fence with a bottom rail that is 4" off the ground, then the fence is effectively only 44" tall since the bottom rail can be used as a climbing platform. In that case, it would also violate the rule that fences must be at least 45" between the top rail and the bottom rail.

    Second, the lower the bottom rail is to the ground, the harder it is to dig under, which protects both pets and children.

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  3. This code has a printing error.

    "Chain link fences should have a mesh no larger than 2 1/4 inches unless the fence is provided with privacy slats fastened at the top or bottom which reduce the opening to 1 3/4" or less."

    should read,

    "Chain link fences should have a mesh no larger than 1 1/4 inches unless the fence is provided with privacy slats fastened at the top or bottom which reduce the opening to 1 3/4" or less."

    This printing mistake is present in most code enforcement agencies.

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  4. I've seen where green welded fence wire, mounted to green metal poles that look to me are temporary in nature, ie. designed to be mounted in the ground by stepping on foot pegs, butted up against a row of hedges used as a pool fence. Is that compliant to BOCA?

    ReplyDelete