Is Installing A Backyard Pool Worth the Risk?

swimming pool

Summer is a wonderful time of year: warm weather, blue skies, and a myriad colors in bloom. Once the weather gets hot, many of us start thinking about adding a pool to our yard. While this decision seems refreshingly simple, adding an attractive nuisance to your yard could be costlier than you think.

Costs of Having a Pool

A recent article by US News & World Report shows that the average installation cost for a new in-ground swimming pool is almost $40,000. In addition to the upfront costs of installing a swimming pool, it is important to consider the additional yearly costs of repairs and maintenance.

Experts claim yearly maintenance cost to be about 10-15% of the purchase price depending on who handles the work. While the amount of maintenance each pools needs varies, it is suggested that if you plan to do the pool maintenance yourself then look to allocate about four hours a week.

Insuring Your Pool

In addition to maintenance, it is also important to understand the impact adding a new pool may have on your personal insurance. The additional risk you incur by adding a pool often means you will have to pay somewhat higher homeowners insurance premiums.

In addition to adjusting your homeowner’s coverage, it is also an excellent time to reconsider purchasing excess liability coverage, called a “personal umbrella.” We recommend all pool owners seriously consider adding at least a $1,000,000 excess liability policy. For those with substantial assets or significant future earnings, it may be a good time to review your overall insurance plan.

Municipal Requirements

Before you decide to take the plunge, it is important to check local zoning requirements. Many municipalities require a minimum of four -foot-high fencing, and some have even greater restrictions regarding the area around the pool.

When looking at options one recommendation is to, “install a four-sided, climb-resistant (e.g. not chain link) fence that is at least four-feet high (or higher if required by local ordinance) and has a self-latching, self-closing gate that opens away from the pool.” It is important to note that one study found the correct fencing could reduce the risk of drowning by about half.

One important thing to note is many municipalities do not have rules governing “portable pools.” Though your may not have a requirement to build a fence around your portable pool, the American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that portable pools pose a “significant risk” of drowning for kids age 5 and younger.”

Children and Drowning

Almost 350 children under five die from drowning in pools each year in America

The greatest concern attached with pools is the potential for drowning. Unfortunately, drowning is a very real concern. On average almost 350 children under five die from drowning in pools each year. In an average year, almost 2,500 children require medical treatment due to near-drowning incidents.

As the sales of portable pools continue to grow, studies are finding this less permanent option can prove just as problematic. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission found that from 2001-2009, there were 209 fatal accidents and 35 non-fatal accidents in portable pools. Of those accidents, 94% involved kids under the age of 5, and 73% occurred in the child’s own backyard.

What makes the majority of these incidents worse is that “a lapse in adult supervision is the single most important contributory cause for drowning.”

How to Recognize Someone Drowning

Drowning is not the violent, splashing call for help that most people expect. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for is rarely seen in real life.

The statement above shows what most of us are accustomed to thinking about drowning–that it is a loud struggle where someone is readily yelling for help. Unfortunately, most of us have never heard of the instinctive drowning response and are not conditioned to look for its signs.

During aquatic distress, someone is still able to yell for help and assist in their own rescue. After aquatic distress and once the instinctive drowning response begins the person is unable to communicate or assist in their rescue.

In Mario Vittone’s article, Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning, he makes an excellent suggestion for parents: “Children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why.”

According to expert Dr. Francesco Pia,

You have to understand that the struggle of the drowning person lasts between 20 and 60 seconds. Young children struggle less than adults. The drowning movements of a young child can look like they’re actually doing the dog paddle in the water, when they’re actually drowning.

 What Drowning Looks Like

  1. You won’t hear a scream or cry for help. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help.
  2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water.
  3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
  4. From beginning to end of the instinctive drowning response people’s bodies remain upright in the water.
  5. This doesn’t mean that a person who is yelling for help and thrashing isn’t in real trouble – they are experiencing aquatic distress, which often lasts for less than a minute before the instinctive drowning response takes over.

Teach Children Water Safety

For a number of years it was recommended that children under four do not learn to swim as it was thought to prove little to no benefit in the prevention of drowning. This information and recommendation has since changed with the publication of a study by the National Institutes for Health that found:

Providing very young children with swimming lessons appears to have a protective effect against drowning…and because even the best swimmers can drown, swimming lessons are only one component of a comprehensive drowning prevention strategy that should include pool fencing, adult supervision, and training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

This same study showed a possible link between an 88% reduction of risk from drowning for toddlers and infants that have had formal swim instruction. It seems true that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Tips for Keeping Your Backyard Pool Safe

  • Teach kids basic water safety
  • Keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings to avoid entrapments
  • Have a portable telephone close by at all times when you or your family are using a pool or spa
  • If a child is missing, look for him or her in the pool or spa first
  • Share safety instructions with family, friends and neighbors
  • Post safety numbers around pool area where they can be seen

Owning a pool can easily provide a lifetime of memories, and being a prepared pool owner can go a long way towards preventing a tragedy. Even the most careful of pool owners could experience an unfortunate incident. It is for all these reasons we recommend properly setting up your pool and backyard for safety as well as having a well-structured personal insurance plan in place.

About Kevin O’Brien

Kevin O’Brien is Client Services Coordinator for Willis Personal Lines, responsible for that practice's marketing…
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