This is a guide to help pool owners understand the pool fencing requirements of the Building Act 2004. Residential pools are required to have barriers that restrict access by unsupervised children under five years of age to protect them from drowning.
Follow the rules and stay cool this summer – a quick guide for pool safety requirements
If you own or are considering buying a pool, it is important to be aware of the pool safety legislation. The rules are designed to protect young children from the danger of drowning. All residential pools that can hold 40cm (400mm) or more of water require a physical barrier to restrict access to unsupervised children. This includes portable and temporary pools. If you are purchasing a pool which holds 40cm or more of water you will need to install a barrier or fence, which may require a building consent.
You can find information below about the requirements for pool fencing. Contact your local council and enquire about the consent process. Each council keeps a record of all the pools its district, and the barriers surrounding each pool needs to be inspected every 3 years.
Pools that require a barrier
Any pool or spa normally used for swimming, paddling, or bathing that is capable of holding a depth of water of 40cm or more, is required to have a physical barrier that restricts access to the pool by unsupervised children under 5 years of age.
Below is a list of common pool types that require a barrier. This list is not exhaustive, and if you are unsure, you should check with your local council if a barrier is required.
- Inflatable, portable and temporary pools – These are treated in the same way as other residential pools. They must have barriers that restrict unsupervised access by young children if they can hold water to a depth of 40cm or more and have water in them (even if the pool is only partially filled). Regardless of how much water is in the pool, if the height of the pool is 40cm or more it will require a barrier.
- Outdoor pools – Pools that are filled or partially filled are required to have a physical barrier to restrict access by unsupervised children under the age of 5 years. This applies to both in-ground and above ground pools.
- Above ground pools - There are some situations where the walls of a pool can form the barrier to the pool. These are explained in acceptable solution F9/AS1 section 2.3.1. However, any ladder used to access a pool with 120cm sides must have an enclosing barrier and gate around it.
- Indoor pools – Young children are at risk if they have unrestricted access to pools whether the pool is inside or outside. Therefore, indoor residential pools are now subject to the same barrier requirements as other residential pools. For example, children must not be able to readily open the doors to the pool room. Pool room doors need to be self-closing or have an alarm.
- Spa pools - Spa pools require a barrier. Some "small, heated pools" may have a removable cover rather than a surrounding barrier, provided they comply with the requirements set out in acceptable solution F9/AS2. Larger spa pools, or those that do not meet all the requirements will require a fence.
- Inflatable spa pools – You are likely to need to fence your inflatable hot tub or spa pool. This is because only a pool that meets all the criteria for 'small, heated pools' is able to use a cover as a barrier – most inflatable pools do not have covers that meet the requirements, so they will need to be fenced, even if they are temporary.
Why fence pools?
Research shows that fencing reduces drowning of young children in home pools. It can take only a small amount of water and very little time for a child to drown. Babies and toddlers can drown in as little as 4cm of water. Drowning is often silent and happens very quickly.
Drownings decreased dramatically after the Fencing of Swimming Pools Act was made in 1987. Before pool fencing legislation was enacted, on average 10 young children per year drowned in residential swimming pools. This average has reduced to two young children per year. Most of the children who have drowned were under three years of age. This clearly shows that by restricting accidental, unsupervised access to the pool, the barriers help keep young children safer.
The pool barrier requirements apply regardless of whether any children are living on the property. Research shows that most homes with pools have young children among their visitors, and that young children are six times more likely to drown when they are visiting someone else's home than when they are at their own home.
Building Code clause F9 requires barriers around residential pools to prevent unsupervised access by children under five years of age. Barriers can be fences, walls or parts of buildings, and include gates and suitably constructed doors. There are requirements for the minimum height and configuration of the barrier. For example, gates need to open away from the pool area and be self-closing and self-latching.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has published two acceptable solutions that provide ways of constructing pool barriers that are deemed to comply with the requirements of Building Code clause F9. F9/AS1 covers pool barriers such as fences and building walls. F9/AS2 sets out the requirements for covers to "small, heated pools".
Safety covers for small, heated pools
Safety covers can be the barrier that restricts access to a small heated pool, such as a spa pool, where:
- the water surface area is 5m2 or less
- the side walls of the pool are at least 76cm (760mm) high above the adjacent floor
- the side walls cannot be easily climbed.
A safety cover must have signage indicating its child safety features, and must be able to:
- restrict entry of children under five years of age when closed
- withstand a foreseeable load
- be readily returned to the closed position.
Generally inflatable hot tubs or spa pools will require a fence as the covers do not meet the requirements in F9/AS2 for small, heated pools.
The installation of a safety cover for a small, heated pool is covered under Schedule 1 of the Building Act. This means it will not require a building consent.
Applying for a building consent
You must obtain a building consent before installing a pool barrier, even if the pool itself is temporary.
The only exception is for a safety cover for a small, heated pool, which is exempt from needing a building consent.
Check if you need a consent using MBIE's Can I Build It tool - canibuildit.govt.nz
For information about applying for a building consent contact your local council.
Mandatory inspections every three years
Residential pools must be inspected every three years. These mandatory inspections do not apply to small heated pools, such as spa pools and hot tubs, where the barrier is a safety cover.
Pool owners can choose who undertakes the mandatory inspection of their pool – either the territorial authority, or an independently qualified pool inspector (IQPI). The IQPI is a person accepted by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) as qualified to carry out periodic inspections.
Trading Standards' Independently Qualified Pool Inspectors has more information - poolinspectors.mbie.govt.nz
In addition to three yearly inspections, territorial authorities also have discretion to inspect any residential pool at any time, including small, heated pools, to determine whether the pool barrier requirements are being complied with.
Better enforcement powers
The Building Act sets out several offences and penalties for non-compliance with the residential pools fencing requirements.
Councils are responsible for enforcing the pool barrier requirements. Councils can issue a notice to fix a non-complying pool. People who fail to comply with the notice to fix could receive an infringement notice or face prosecution. The fines for convictions can be as much as $20,000 for individuals, and $60,000 for body corporates.
The Can I Build It tool helps you find out if you need a building consent - canibuildit.govt.nz
If you have questions or need guidance about your pool, please contact your local council.