Why early-stage pool design planning is critical

Pool design trends and why early stage pool design planning is critical to the long-term outlook on lowering SA’s drowning statistics.

When it comes to fitting a solid safety cover, the perfect pool is one with clean lines, no extruding features that will interrupt the cover, a single level pool and 600mm of durable/sturdy paving or decking on the long edges and 800mm on the shallow and deep ends.

In recent years, the South African homes have become far more focused on blended indoor/outdoor living and common spaces, with swimming pools becoming the focal point of these areas. Within the design trend, one can see South Africans (slowly) starting to respond to the call to action on more sustainable living especially when it comes to being water efficient, but pools are still not being planned or designed correctly for safety, and this is having a direct impact on child drownings, according to PowerPlastics Pool Covers, the leading pool cover supplier in South Africa.

“We get the calls all the time. ‘Just finished building or refurbishing my pool and outdoor area. Can you come out and design a pool cover as I have small kids?’ We get excited, knowing we can add a beautiful finish to the new pool area, only to find the pool actually can’t be covered. Either it’s a rim flow pool, or it has a fountain or some kind of water feature, a fire pit, multiple levels with a jacuzzi on the side, etc. And there is just no way we can secure the pool for children. Basically, their pool builder and architect haven’t given a thought as to how the pool can be made safe,” says Caryn Formby of PowerPlastics Pool Covers.

The topic of pool safety legislation has been on the cards for a long time and for good reason. Local drowning statistics are too high. This is one form of child mortality that is entirely preventable.

“This was once going to be approached as an enforceable municipal by-law but the process was changed and it has become a SABS recommended Standard and falls under the Building Regulations. The SABS has just been through a public participation process to agree on the Standards around what constitutes safety around private swimming pools (SANS 10134). This Standard is also referred to in the National Building Act, SANS 10400D where it addresses public access to pools.

“But Public Access is not the only key area where children drown. The neighbour’s child is one of the areas which would be covered in Public Access but, in addition, one needs to protect the child of the worker on site, the unsupervised child when adults are partying around the pool area, etc. These are difficult areas for the National Building regulators to enforce laws as they cannot make you shut the fence or place the safety cover or net on the pool.

“The Western Cape Government has also recognised the extent of the child drowning problem and has recently launched the Western Cape Drowning Prevention and Water Safety Strategy which prioritises programmes that will promote water safety, including safety around domestic pools. This initiative is of immense importance and has high level support from local government, municipalities and authorities including the Medical Research Council and the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI).
“So with the SABS Building Standard only being a Public Access recommendation and although the Western Cape is tackling this at an educational level, it must still fall to a responsible parent and / or a responsible pool builder and architect to ensure the pool is secured properly,” says Formby.

This means a considered design to the pool. Making it safe is as important to the overall build as any engineer or architect, and a pool cover specialist must be a part of the project team from the start. To plan the placement of a safety pool cover, it is critical to communicate a number of different things such as how frequently the pool will be used, the age of any children in the home, extended family, and visiting children, access from neighbouring properties, if natural pool heating is required, if pool cover automation is required, if pets are at risk of drowning, etc.

According to PowerPlastics Pool Covers, pool industry watchdog, the National Swimming Pool Institute (NSPI), has a lot to answer for.

“The NSPI openly congratulates pool builders showing a flagrant disregard for child safety. Out of the 30 winning pools at the 2018 NSPI National awards ceremony, 23 could not be made safe in our opinion. For 15 years we’ve been on a mission to inspire the pool industry to help lower drowning statistics by understanding pool safety and protecting children when designing and building pools, but to no avail. A few years ago, the NSPI introduced a Pool Cover section to their awards but that was then dropped after two years.

“We understand that homeowners may want these elaborate pools and outdoor spaces but as an industry, pool builders and architects need to be held accountable. They need to actively discourage such designs. They are simply not asking the homeowner if the sexy rim flow pool or beach entry design or the flower bed in the middle of the pool is worth a child’s life. They also need to understand that even if the pool can still be fenced off, it will still be heavy on power, water and chemicals as the water is exposed to the elements. A solid safety cover addresses both drowning prevention and sustainability at the same time. It’s only when we come in that the homeowner realises just how impractical their award-winning pool is.

“Glossy lifestyle media also unwittingly promoting impractical, unsafe pool designs but this is largely down to a lack of technical knowledge about pool cover installations. We are also educating them as influencers,” says PowerPlastics Pool Covers.

When it comes to fitting a solid safety cover, the perfect pool is one with clean lines, no extruding features that will interrupt the cover, a single level pool and 600mm of durable / sturdy paving or decking on the long edges and 800mm on the shallow and deep ends.  This allows for a cover such as the PowerPlastics Solid Safety Cover, which meets USA safety standards. The most important criteria for a safety cover are that it prohibits any object measuring 114mm in diameter from accessing the water / slipping under the cover; the fastenings / securing points must not be workable by a small child; it must have a tensioning system and a weight tolerance of 220kg; and after rainfall or if garden sprinklers are used, the water must drain off unaided and the cover must be dry within five minutes.

Small pools with simple designs can be quite striking with the right paint or a pretty gunite finish and beautiful decking or paving. PowerPlastics Pool Covers has recently launched an internal process to offer special design approaches to accommodate unique pool shapes and designs. This comes at a higher, customised price to the consumer but at least the majority of pools are then made safe.

“A pool can certainly look good and still be safe. But if fewer children are to drown, we need to tackle the legislative framework and awareness in a far more constructive manner. The obvious place to keep keep applying effort is from within the build and design industry, and work with municipalities too. We welcome participation from the design, architectural and building sector as we continue with our efforts to lower local drowning statistics within the domestic swimming pool sector and reduce the environmental impact of domestic pools,” concludes PowerPlastics Pool Covers.

PowerPlastics Pool Covers is SA’s oldest pool cover manufacturer, with a national supply network and branches in Cape Town and Johannesburg, as well as an e-commerce ordering system. The full range includes safety, GeoBubble thermal covers, energy-saving covers and fully automatic slatted covers for the top end of the market. The company is also the founder of TopStep, the home of pool safety, an online educational resource for the industry, packed with tips on how to prevent drownings and tools for pool safety.

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