It’s summertime. It’s hot. And most kids would jump at the chance to cool off in a backyard pool.
However, there are regulations on pools, hot tubs and spas that some owners may not be aware of, and the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management has been checking on some pools recently, finding they are not in compliance.
This summer is not any different than any others, said Harry Knight, permits coordinator for land use and growth management. “It’s the annual rush of swimming pools,” he said, which do require a permit if the pool contains 24 inches or more of water.
All pools 2 feet deep or more require a 4-foot-tall security barrier around them, Knight said. But a 4-foot-tall, above-ground pool can serve as its own barrier, as long as its ladder is retractable. But a 4-foot, chain-link fence is not acceptable.
It’s complicated, but such requirements are designed to protect children from drowning, said Phil Shire, director of land use and growth management.
A small child can more easily climb a 4-foot chain-link fence than other barriers, Knight said. A mini-link fence or a wooden fence, in most cases, is acceptable as a pool barrier.
The electrical systems for larger polls have to be installed by a master electrician. Electrical extension cords stretched across wet yards are not safe, Shire said.
The St. Mary’s regulations are driven by federal requirements, which began in the 1970s, Shire said. “It’s not our choice being federal law. It’s a life safety issue. It’s a potential for accidents.”
So, this summer, as in past summers, county inspectors have responded to neighbor complaints about suspect pools. “It’s not an initiative” by the county government, Shire said.
“Inspectors don’t change what they do. It’s just pool season,” Knight said.
Brian Taylor, code inspector, said there have been 35 cases of pools out of compliance so far this summer. The majority of those have been corrected. Owners either took the pool down, got a permit or a proper barrier and inspection.
The county inspectors come out when they’re called. “Sometimes we get a person who gets upset, who gets a citation and they start to point fingers” at others, Shire said.
The inspectors “are not going out on a witch hunt,” said Commission President Jack Russell (D). “If you get a call ... you gotta go look and that’s where this comes from.”
Russell himself was notified by a county inspector this summer his tenant’s pool in Piney Point required a permit. “As a landlord, one of my tenants had a small pool,” he said. That’s how he learned of the process, he said. “The pool regulations, most of them are federal and state regulations enacted a number of years ago. It’s oriented around safety concerns, especially for kids,” he said.
“The county commissioners don’t have the luxury of not issuing permits — it’s not their choice. Not issuing permits is not an option,” Shire said.
In most cases, a household bought a smaller, temporary above-ground summer pool without factoring in the cost of a fence or an electrician, Knight said. A taller pool, at least 4 feet, that’s a win-win for everybody,” Knight said, because it serves as its own barrier.
The cost for a one-time pool permit is $51, and $21 less for those on central water and sewer.
The number of pool permits issued by the department of land use and growth management has steadily declined since 2006, especially after the housing market dropped in 2008, Knight said. The number of permits issued in 2006 was 158. Last year there were 82 new pool permits and so far this year there have been 58.
The commissioners could adopt amendments for storable pools next month when they begin to update the building code, Shire said.