Swimming pools are a source of pleasure, fun and relief from the heat in a warm-summer state like Tennessee. But when adults and kids are encouraged to cool off in a private swimming pool, there is a public interest in making sure that the pool is safe.
That's why Tennessee requires a permit to build a private swimming pool anywhere in the state. Towns and cities can and do enact their own rules about zoning, barriers, gates and alarms. Anyone living in Tennessee and considering putting in a pool will benefit from an overview of Tennessee laws for private swimming pools.
What Is a Private Swimming Pool?
What exactly is a private residential swimming pool in Tennessee? That may seem like a silly question with a "I'll know one when I see it" answer, but, in fact, state laws in Tennessee define this term quite precisely.
Under Tennessee law, a residential swimming pool is any structure intended for swimming, recreational bathing or wading that contains water over 24 inches deep.
This definition includes in-ground, above-ground and on-ground pools. If it's less than 24 inches deep, don't call it a residential swimming pool.
Swimming Pool Permits in Tennessee
The state of Tennessee requires a building permit to install or construct a private swimming pool. Remember, it's only a swimming pool in this state if the water is over 24 inches deep.
Tennessee is not unique in this regard. Homeowners in every state will likely need a pool permit before beginning construction on a pool – it's even more likely that they will need several permits. All pools require plumbing, and many also need electrical work. Separate permits can be required for each specialty.
Exactly what permits and regulations will be necessary? That depends not just on the state the homeowner is in, but also the city and county. There are sometimes many layers of ordinances to keep track of, and to comply with, with different rules for different types of pools.
For example, in Rutherford County, Tennessee, there must be at least a 25-foot setback between an in-ground pool and a septic tank, and the pool must be at least 5 feet from the edge of the owner's property line.
For above-ground pools, the required setback is 10 feet from a septic tank, but there is no requirement for a setback from the property line.
How to Find Pool Safety Regulations
Find out what regulations are in force by contacting an experienced pool contractor in the area or by visiting a local building inspector. Ultimately, the homeowner requires a site plan describing the proposed construction work and electrical and septic requirements of the pool.
They must also establish that the pool will be constructed entirely on the owner's property. Yes, permits are required, but these, too, depend on location.
The best place to start, however, is to visit the local municipality zoning office – the spot a homeowner goes to for permits, often situated in the regional governmental center.
The office probably offers pool packets containing all the information a homeowner needs to get current on the requirements, zoning issues and fees.
Swimming Pool Safety Barriers
One of the most obvious risks presented by a swimming pool is drowning. Tennessee imposes barrier regulations to prevent this. The BOCA Pool Barrier Code applies to every residential swimming pool in Tennessee. That law requires each pool to have a barrier, such as a fence or a wall, surrounding it.
Pool barriers in Tennessee must rise to at least 48 inches above the finished ground level on the side of the barrier that faces away from the swimming pool. The vertical clearance between finished ground level and the barrier cannot be more than 2 inches.
This measurement must be taken on the side of the barrier that faces away from the swimming pool. The wall or fence barrier is not permitted to have any footholds or handholds that could be used to climb over it.
Municipal Swimming Pool Rules
Some cities, like Mt. Juliet, provide detailed rules for swimming pool barriers. Different rules apply in that city for different kinds of barriers.
For example, there are specific rules for swimming pool barriers:
- Composed of horizontal and vertical members, and the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is less than 45 inches.
- Composed of horizontal and vertical members, and the distance between the tops of the horizontal members more than 45 inches.
- Composed of chain link fencing.
- Barriers with 48-inch high gates with latches mounted less than 54 inches from the ground.
Swimming Pool Barrier Gates
In Tennessee, barriers around private swimming pools must have access gates at least 48 inches tall that are equipped with locking devices. Pedestrian access gates must be self-closing, have a self-latching device at least 54 inches above the ground, and open outwards from the pool.
Gates other than pedestrian access gates must have a self-latching device at least 54 inches above the ground. Any drive-through gates must be secured with padlocks.
Swimming Pool Alarms
All private swimming pools built in Tennessee built on or after January 1, 2011, are required to have an alarm. The law provides:
"Each person, enterprise, agency or entity that purchases or acquires a swimming pool to be installed after January 1, 2011, shall install and maintain a pool alarm before using or making available for use such swimming pool."
The definition of swimming pool in this section includes in-ground pools, above-ground pools, non-portable spas and hot tubs that contain water that is more than 36 inches deep.
Pool Alarm Requirements
The pool alarm required in Tennessee is a device that emits a sound of at least 50 decibels whenever a person or object weighing more than 15 pounds enters the water. The alarm must be fixed to the pool.
This requirement is not met by a swimming protection alarm device designed for individual use, such as an alarm attached to a child that sounds when the child exceeds a certain distance or becomes submerged in water.
Note that this is a statewide requirement. The law specifically states that city and county governments cannot issue a building permit for the construction, or substantial alteration, of a residential swimming pool unless the project calls for a functioning swimming pool alarm to be installed prior to the completion of the construction project.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.