Pool alarms required for new backyard pools

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Child deaths from drowning are considered a public health crisis, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children ages 1 to 4. Ongoing safety efforts to prevent drowning include requirements for safety devices in new pools around Tennessee.

If you've never heard of alarms for your home pool, you're not alone. Many homeowners are like Jim Caughron, whose new place in Blount County came with a pool a couple of years ago. Caughron takes other safety measures, like parental attention when his daughter is swimming, even 24-hour video surveillance of his above-ground pool. Yet, he hadn't heard about pool alarms since he wasn't buying and installing a new pool himself. "You can't really be too safe, so pool alarms are probably a good idea," said Caughron about possibly adding one to his pool.

On the wall of Campbell's Pool and Spa is a sign now required by law that states, "State law requires a pool alarm be installed."

Campbell's Pete Condon explained that every pool, hot tub and spa he sells needs that accessory. "A part of our construction process is that the alarm is included. We have to put it on there." The store also sells the alarms separately. A basic alarm is under $100, while alarms with added features can run more than $300.

The alarm is designed to ring loudly (at 50 decibels or more) when a person or object weighing at least 15 pounds falls into the pool.

Knox County Building Official Dennis Nations said, "You have to have to an alarm. It's sort of like a toilet bowl float. Anything that falls into the pool that weighs 15 pounds or more creates enough waves and it will set the alarm off." In Knox County, inspectors look for pool alarms along with other local requirements to prevent a child from accidentally falling into a pool unattended. Inspectors provide this service in several other East Tennessee cities and counties. However, even in areas where local governments do not provide pool inspections, state electrical inspectors check for the pool alarms before providing their final approval.

The alarm is meant to be set for times when the pool is empty, and can be turned off when adults are monitoring and using the pool. The state law requiring an alarm for new pools has been in place since 2011.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission said pool alarms can be an extra way to add safety to a home pool, but they should not be the only way. CPSC says four-foot-tall fences or walls are essential, as well as self-closing and self-latching gates. If your pool backs up to your house, then the CPSC says you should have alarms on back doors to alert you if a young child tries to enter the pool area. It also recommends rescue equipment next to your pool.

Pool alarms are required in residential pools because of Katie Beth's Law, which retired Tennessee Senator Charlotte Burks sponsored because of the drowning of her great granddaughter.

Here are contact numbers to ask about pool inspections in your local county or city:
Knox: 865-215-2325
Knoxville: 865-215-2119
Blount: 865-681-9301
Hamblen: 423-581-1373
Loudon: 865-458-4470
Roane: 865-717-4230
Sevier: 865-774-7120
Counties that do not inspect residential pools:
Jefferson, Union

Here is a link with the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance to find out if you are required to obtain a state inspection for your backyard construction projects, including pools.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers advice for parents on drowning prevention.

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