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Safety and home insurance for pools and spas
A backyard swimming pool captures the joys of summer and provides years of fun as your kids grow up. But fun can turn to tragedy in an instant.
Each year, roughly 300 children under age 5 drown in swimming pools and spas, and most of those deaths occur at home, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Drowning is the No. 2 leading cause of accidental death for children age 1 to 14 years. For every child who dies from drowning, another four children receive emergency care for submersion injuries, which can cause brain damage, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Pool and spa ownership comes with heavy responsibility. Home insurance companies recognize the risk associated with swimming pools and spas. In fact, owning a pool or a spa can increase your home insurance rates due to the increased risk -- it depends on your insurance company. If you own a pool, check with your insurer.
Follow these seven steps before you dive in.
1. Educate yourself
The American Red Cross and National Swimming Pool Foundation offer a two-hour online safety course for pool and hot tub owners, called "Home Pool Essentials." The course covers ownership risks, essential safety equipment and explains how to maintain a safe and clean pool, prevent entrapment hazards and respond to an emergency.
Make sure everyone in your family learns to swim well. The American Red Cross offers swimming classes, which include basic water safety, for adults and children. But remember that even swim lessons can't make you "drown-proof." In addition, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first-aid classes are recommended.
2. Install safety barriers
Most children who have drowned in swimming pools were not supposed to be near or around the pool at the time of the incident, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The organization recommends installing a minimum four-foot-high fence or wall around the pool with self-latching, self-closing gates that open outward, away from the water. Latches should be out of reach of small children. For another layer of protection, install gate alarms and safety covers. (Remove covers completely when the pool is used to prevent children from getting trapped under them.)
For above ground pools, remove or secure the steps or ladder and put on a safety cover when no one is using the pool. Toys attract young children, so keep them out of sight and away from the pool or spa area when it’s not being used.
Some home insurance companies may insist that you install certain safety barriers around your pool or spa before insuring you – or they may give you a discount.
3. Prevent swimmers from getting entrapped and tangled
Suction from drains in swimming pools and spas can trap people underwater. Install a drain cover that complies with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.
The federal law is named after a 7-year-old who died in June 2002 after getting stuck on a hot tub drain. The drain's suction was so strong that it took two men to free her. The youngster, who was the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker, had been swimming unassisted since she was 3 years old and was a member of a community swim and dive team.
Install a Safety Vacuum Release System, which automatically shuts off the pump if it detects a blockage, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says, and hire a professional to inspect your pool or spa regularly for entrapment or entanglement hazards. Mark the location of the electrical cut-off switch for the pool or spa pump, and shut off the pump immediately if someone gets trapped. Put your hand between the person and the drain to break the suction seal, rather than trying to pull the person away.
4. Supervise your pool/spa
Never leave children unattended near water. Even older children need supervision. The American Red Cross even recommends against adults swimming alone. In addition, it recommends having young children or inexperienced swimmers wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets around water, but those are no substitute for supervision.
Keep your children within an arm's reach and don't focus on other activities, such as reading or talking on the phone, when you're supervising.
5. Keep rescue equipment handy
Keep life-saving gear and a cordless phone next to the pool. Equipment should include ring buoys, life jackets, rope, a pole and a first aid kid.
6. Maintain safety rules
The American Red Cross recommends these additional safety rules:
• Keep bottles and glass away from the pool.
• Don’t run or push near the pool.
• No diving, unless the pool meets safety standards.
• No alcoholic beverages for people supervising or swimming.
7. Buy home insurance
Talk to your home insurance agent before you buy or install a pool or spa, says Insurance Information Network of California spokesperson Tully Lehman.
When adding a pool or spa, find out what safety features your home insurance company requires, such as a fence around the pool or a gate alarm, and whether there are any restrictions, Lehman says. Some home insurance companies might not cover a slide or diving board, for instance, or might have certain requirements, such as a minimum water depth under the board or a restriction on the board's height.
Anytime you consider buying a home, including one with a pool or spa, talk to your insurance agent about the risks and cost of insurance. A standard home insurance policy will probably cover the extra liability of having a pool or spa, Lehman says.
"However, the homeowner may want to consider increasing the liability limit to $500,000 or perhaps purchase an umbrella policy providing coverage up to $1 million or more," he adds. "Swimming pool accidents can be costly not only in terms of medical costs associated with an accident, but also in terms of costs associated with a lawsuit should you be sued and found liable for an accident. Umbrella policies can range from $200 to $300 per year."
Buying a pool or spa is a big decision. Learn about the risks, make sure you have appropriate home insurance coverage, and commit to living up to the highest safety standards.