Residential Swimming Pools

The 2012 International Residential Code, Appendix G, defines a swimming pool as “any structure intended for swimming, recreational bathing or wading that contains water over 24 inches deep.  This includes in- ground, above ground and on-ground pools.” 

The IRC further controls the design of barriers for residential swimming pools.  These design controls are intended to provide protection against potential drownings and near-drownings by restricting access to swimming pools.

Appendix G (IRC) and Section 3109 (IBC)


The standards below apply to residential swimming pools, spas, and hot tubs.

Barrier Specifications

Outdoor swimming pools (including in-ground, above-ground or on-ground pools, and hot tubs/spas) must be completely surrounded by a barrier or fence that meets that following standards:

  • The barrier must be at least 4 feet high (measured on the exterior side), with the bottom of the fence no more than 2 inches above the ground as measured from the outside. (If an above-ground pool has a barrier placed on top of the pool structure, the maximum space between the top of the pool and the bottom of the fence is 4 inches.)
  • The barrier should not have any openings that allow the passage of a 4-inch-diameter sphere.
  • Solid barriers without openings (i.e. masonry or stone walls) must not have any indentations or protrusions (except normal construction tolerances and tooled masonry joints).
  • If the fence is made of horizontal and vertical members, the following apply:
    • If the tops of horizontal members are less than 45 inches apart:
      • Horizontal members must be located on the pool side of the fence.
      • Spacing between vertical members or within decorative cutouts must be 1.75 inches or less (in width).
    • If the tops of horizontal members are more than 45 inches apart:
      • Spacing between vertical members must be 4 inches or less.
      • Spacing within decorative cutouts must be 1.75 inches or less.
  • Chain link mesh (if used) must be a 2.25 inch square (unless slats fastened at the top or the bottom of the fence reduce the openings to 1.75 inches or less).
  • Any diagonal members (such as lattice fence) may not form openings greater than 1.75 inches.

Gate Requirements

  • Any gates or doors must have a lock and comply with the general barrier requirements above.
  • Gates used to access the pool must open outward (away from the pool) and be self-closing and self-latching. Other gates (such as service entrances) should be self-latching.
  • If the latch release is less than 4.5 feet above the bottom of the gate, it must be located at least 3 inches below the top of the gate on the pool side, while the gate and barrier within 18 inches of the latch release should not have any openings larger than ½ inch.

Dwelling Walls

If a dwelling wall serves as part of the pool barrier, one of the following safety measures must be taken:

  • The pool must be covered by a powered safety cover that complies to ASTM F 1346
  • Doors that provide direct access to the pool must have an alarm (listed and labeled according to UL 2017 standards) that produces an audible warning when the door or its screen are opened. The alarm deactivation switch must be at least 4.5 feet above the door threshold.
  • Other protections that are approved by the local governing body (self-closing and self-latching doors, for example) must provide protection equal to an alarm or power pool cover.

Above-Ground Pools

When a barrier mounted on top of an above-ground pool or the pool itself are used as barriers, the ladder or steps used to access the pool must be secured, locked, or removed to prevent access when the pool is not in use; the removal of the ladder/steps should not create any opening that would allow the passage of a sphere 4 inches in diameter. Alternatively, the ladder/steps must be surround by a barrier that meets the requirements outlined above.

Indoor Pools

Walls that surround indoor pools should comply with the standards for pool enclosures that incorporate a dwelling wall as part of the barrier.

Barrier Locations

Pool barriers should be located so that permanent structures, equipment, or similar objects cannot be used to climb the fence.


Spas or hot tubs with a safety cover that complies with ASTM F1346 are exempt from the barrier requirements described above.

PLEASE READ THIS LIST OF DETAILED DESIGN CONTROLS IN IT’S ENTIRITY AS THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS TO THE PRESCRIPTIVE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE SWIMMING POOL BARRIER.  It should also be noted that a Final Inspection by the Rutherford County Building Codes Department for compliance of the barrier requirements MUST be completed prior to the swimming pool being used. 

What do I need to do prior to obtaining my pool permit?

In order to verify that your swimming pool will not encroach your septic tanks, lines or designated duplicate area, you will need to provide a copy of the design layout of your Subsurface Sewage Disposal System (septic system).  If you do not have a copy of this form, please visit the Tennessee Department of Environmental and Conservation office (Room 215 of our office building).   A Zoning Compliance Form will also need to be obtained from the Rutherford County Planning and Engineering Department (Room 200 of our office building) prior to permit issuance.  You will be asked to locate the proposed location of the swimming pool on grid paper, this drawing does not have to be to scale but the dimensions, etc. must be accurate. Please click here for a diagram form and here for an example of how to fill it out.  The building inspector will use all of the above mentioned paperwork to complete you Final Pool Inspection, in order to avoid unnecessary delays in permit issuance or completing the inspection, it is advised that you take the time to take measurements and know the exact location of your pool prior to coming down to our office to obtain your permit.

Issuance of the Building Permit for Swimming Pool

To issue a Building Permit for a residential swimming pool permit the Property Owner must sign a Swimming Pool Barrier and Alarm Agreement and have it notarized (can be completed at Building Codes Office when permit is issued if homeowner is obtaining the permit him/herself).  This form ensures that you, as the property owner, understand all the barrier design controls required prior to the Final Inspection.  In addition to the Building Permit fee which is charged based on the value of your pool, there is a fully refundable deposit of $100 due at the time of permit issuance.  This deposit will be fully refunded to the recipient upon completion of the Final Inspection within 6 months from the date of permit issuance.  This should not, however, be misinterpreted as having 6 months to call for your Final Inspection.  As mentioned above, the swimming pool cannot be used until all the Barrier requirements have been met and a Final Inspection has been completed and passed.  It is the responsibility of the Property Owner/permit holder to call for the Final Inspection.  If a Final Inspection is not requested and the 6-month time period expires, this does not relieve you of the requirements of the Barrier Agreement you signed.  If a Final Inspection is not requested, the permit will become null and void and the swimming pool will be deemed an illegal structure.

Forms and Checklists

Safety Barrier Guidelines for Home Pools

Swimming Pool Barrier and Alarm Agreement

Swimming Pool Diagram

Final Swimming Pool Inspection Checklist

Swimming Pool Final Inspection Deposit Agreement

ICC Pool, Spa and Hot Tub Safety

Example of Pool Diagram

Protect Your Pool, Protect Your Kid

Self Closing and Self Latching Gates