Swimming pools are a backyard staple for summer fun in the Northeast. The scene is generally a happy one –— energetic children splashing around among lush grass and good company. But home pools aren't always as joyful as they look when news of accidents, safety issues and negative effects on property value surface each year before the season ends.
"Pool ownership certainly brings enjoyment for the entire family," says Brooke Chaffee-Zayas, licensed real estate salesperson with Monticello Real Estate. "But it also requires a level of responsibility in keeping everyone safe."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 people died each day in the U.S. between 2005 and 2014 from unintentional drowning. About one in five people who die from drowning are children aged 14 or younger. Contributing factors include lack of swimming skills, unsafe pool grounds and inadequate adult supervision.
These pool pitfalls can leave homeowners and buyers wondering if owning a pool is worth the potential risk. But there is a protocol to follow for safe pool use.
Proper fencing, gates and locks are essential for the exterior area surrounding the pool, in addition to being vigilant and supervising children around or near a pool. For homeowners with young children, choosing a lock that makes a sound when it opens adds extra protection and value.
Chaffee-Zayas also recommends taking another step to ensure additional locks on exterior doors of the home like a sunroom, garage or basement door that leads to the backyard. It's important that all locks are out of a child's reach.
And in the winter months when the pool is closed, homeowners should be confident that the pool cover can also stand to prevent accidents from occurring this time of year.
"Many homeowners still use tarp to cover their pool during winter months," says Chaffee-Zayas. "If you use this method, homeowners must be hypervigilant in keeping everyone away from the pool at all times: Even an excellent swimmer would have a difficult time escaping a fall into a tarp-covered pool."
The safer alternative is a mesh pool cover; resembling the texture of a trampoline. This cover is generally maintenance-free. From an aesthetic perspective, it looks much better for home buyers buying a home when the pool is closed, added Chaffee-Zayas.
Swim instruction and supervision
For homeowners concerned with safety at their own pool, at-home swimming lessons are a personalized alternative to large group swimming classes at local clubs or YMCAs.
Excel Aquatics, a local learn-to-swim program, offers "Our School at Your Pool" lessons, tailored to the family's specific needs with one-on-one sessions in their own home pool.
The program was started by Bridget Smith, mother of a 3-year-old, Charlotte, who loves to swim and grew up around the water. Before starting the Excel Aquatics program, she took classes at the local YMCA in a group setting.
"I'm grateful that she feels comfortable in the water," says Smith. "But at times, it's stressful, because she feels she can do things she can't actually do yet. That's why I felt it was even more important for her to take lessons in the pool she is always around."
"For a child with no swimming experience, getting acclimated with their own backyard is key," said Thomas Kearney, assistant director of the Excel Aquatics program in Albany and Schenectady. "From the gate to get in, to the edges of the pool and most importantly, the depth and danger of the deep end — the child must learn to feel comfortable in the environment."
Danielle Freeman, mother of a 3-year-old also named Charlotte, chose the program because of its laid-back, individualized structure. Freeman and Smith enrolled their girls in at-home lessons together. Both moms are in the pool during the girls' half-hour lessons.
It's not uncommon for swim classes to make parents realize they aren't strong swimmers, Kearney says.
"It's very eye-opening for the parents, to watch their kids progress through the class and learn to swim confidently," says Kearney. "The parents often realize, if there were an emergency situation, they aren't as skilled as they would like to be to take matters into their own hands."
Excel Aquatics offers programs for adults as well.
Our School at Your Pool program
Student-to-instructor ratio: 1:1
Rent a Lifeguard
Each lifeguard is CPR/AED, First AID and Lifeguard Certified
Minimum of two years of experience as a lifeguard
Lifeguards come equipped with a rescue tube, basic first aid kit and pocket mask
Recommended ratio of 1 guard per 15 swimmers
Cost: $30/hour per lifeguard
Taylor Rao is a frequent contributor to the Times Union. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or @whodatgirl_2bd.