Do I need a fence around my pool? What if I have a retractable safety cover?

Decorative aluminum pool fencing
The easy and short answer is....'Sometimes' and or 'It depends' particularly when a safety cover is the proposed barrier. The complication stems from the multitude of building departments, zoning departments, and different guidelines at each. For some homeowners a lack of any governing department at all may actually work in this case to their benefit.

Decorative aluminum pool fencing
Let's start at the top...The State of Ohio has its own residential building code. The building code was developed and implemented to give the construction industry some desperately needed standardization in the industry. This state code DOES require a 48" vertical barrier (typically a fence) but also recognizes a horizontal barrier (safety cover) in lieu of a fence. The code was to be adopted by each local building department in the state by 2009. Great plan right? Well not so fast.

Horizontal barriers are allowed in some municipalities
The 1st problem is some municipalities are small and don't have a full time department let alone resources to adopt and implement a new code. If you fall in this category it may not REALLY BE a problem and you may be able to do whatever the heck you want! The second issue is that some municipalities not to name names...(Delaware County, Powell, Upper Arlington, New Albany, Westerville, Grove City...) have simply said "we don't subscribe to state code because we have our own." There are channels that one if so inclined could take to put a little pressure on these departments to adopt or at the very least allow you to forgo the fence. The question is if that battle is worth the effort to get what you're after. While on the topic…. kudos to the City of Columbus. Keith Wagenknecht the Chief Building Official has (as the rest should have) adopted the state code and has been very helpful in working through the process. The last problem faced is that even if the building department HAS adopted the state code they can simply say 'The fence is required by zoning and has nothing to do with building code.' Unfortunately that sort of stops the conversation. A zoning department can implement a 'purple fence only' requirement if they want to and there is not anything that you can do about it. If you want to live there you are choosing to follow it.

What are your options? If you live in an area that requires a fence and you would rather have a safety cover, your first option is to apply for a variance. There are obviously no guarantees but it's the first logical step. The second option... SOME of our clients have decided to install their own fence after we install the pool. Come to find out later...they never put the fence up...and for some reason we never heard back from the building departments. Hint hint...nudge nudge. Keep in mind these pools are on several acre parcels out in the country NOT in a neighborhood. We certainly don't endorse installing a pool without the proper permits and follow code...We are very much a fan of inspections and code as it keeps you safe and is an endorsement from the inspector to you that WE did it right. The fence on the other hand is a bit of a mystery. My guess...and I am only speculating here...the building departments simply don't want to have the fight. The permit was pulled, the building inspections were completed, the building department got their fees, the county is getting their property tax and I think they just don't want to fight a battle they'll ultimately loose when and if it goes to the state building review board.

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