Not Really Pool People | fence + gates

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pool barrier 

Finally, the fence. The end of this project, and the summer, is in sight. Bring it on.

pool code

The NYS Division of Code Enforcement references the Residential Code of NYS Appendix G for pool barrier requirements. It requires the fence to be 48″ high and cannot allow the passage of a 4″ sphere to pass through anywhere in the barrier. There are other, specific requirements. It is all geared toward preventing small children from entering the pool area unattended. If you are really, really bored (or want to build a pool fence in NYS): https://www.dos.ny.gov/DCEA/pools.htm.

Because of the way the code is written, it was not very clear whether our idea of horizontal boards would meet code. You are not allowed horizontal boards on a pool fence (like a ladder), but our boards are spaced so closely that it might as well be a solid wall. I met with our local code official and talked through a sketch of our idea, and thankfully he approved.

pool barrier design

We didn’t like the look (or cost) of vinyl fencing. We didn’t like the look of all wood fencing. All metal fencing was costly as well. We ended up going with a hybrid of pressure treated posts and black aluminum infill panels with solid wood on the ends.

The fence consisted of two different panel types:

  1. 4’ tall x 6’ wide black, powder coated aluminum panels with 1”x1” spindles from Lowe’s (Freedom Standard Easton Black Aluminum Decorative Fence Panel and Ironcraft Accessory Fence End Cover brackets)
  2. 12’ long 2×4 and 2×6 softwood lumber stained with Bayer Waterproofing Stain and Sealer, semi-transparent, color- chocolate.

The posts are 4×4 pressure treated with plastic, solar caps. We used wall-mount brackets to attach the aluminum panels to the posts. The posts are spaced about 6′ apart. We used horizontal wood slats at the ends to give us some privacy from our neighbors while we’re in the pool.

The gaps in between the horizontal slats were created consistently by making spacers out of paint stir sticks. Taping two together created about a 3/16″ gap. This will allow plenty of room in between the boards for expansion and contraction and be small enough that a small child can’t climb.

install time

its starting to look like a fence

First we stained the wooden fence posts with Bayer Chocolate semi-transparent deck stain, 2 coats. We did not want to have to stain these once the aluminum panels were up. Then we installed the aluminum panels since that was the low hanging fruit and we were about fed up with the orange construction fence we’d been using temporarily. This part was pretty self-explanatory; measure the opening between the fence posts, cut the ends of the panel to fit, and install them with brackets. The panels were slightly wider than 6 feet so since we set the posts about 6 feet on center, we had to trim the ends to fit. Its always a good idea to verify exact measurements for each opening anyway (nothing is ever a perfect fit). We had to deal with a few posts warping quite a bit too which of course affected the opening. We could cut the panels, but we couldn’t make them longer.

stain, lots of stain

Once the aluminum panels were installed, we began staining the lumber. We purchased a sprayer for this task; the Wagner Opti-Stain Plus Handheld Sprayer. Well worth the $50. Heck, I would have paid much more than $50 for the convenience this provided. We set up 12 boards at a time on 2 sets of saw horses, sprayed the boards with 2 coats of the stain, flipped the boards over and repeated on the other side. It took about 5 minutes to coat 12 boards. With a brush, this would have taken an hour. The sprayer did a pretty good job at avoiding drips but we went over the boards with a foam brush while the stain was wet to smooth out any drips or streaks.

measure four times, cut once

When it came time to install the fence boards, we had to measure and cut the boards so they fit with the seams centered on the fence posts. We also staggered the seams so some would span between 3 fence posts and others would span across 2 fence posts (no real reason, just like making things interesting). We used 2 paint sticks as spacers to leave roughly a 3/16″ gap between boards. We pre-drilled the holes on the boards, an important step to prevent splitting the wood. Another important step is to stain the cut ends (before or after installing as long as they are accessible) so they are less susceptible to water damage.

work smarter, not harder: use a jig

If you’re wondering how we insured the screws were in the same spot every time, wonder no longer. We made a jig! This was truly a game changer. I created a jig with 6 holes. This allowed 4 different situations in the same jig: 2×4 sharing a post with another 2×4, 2×4 spanning across a post, 2×6 sharing a post with another 2×6, and 2×6 spanning across a post. Slide the jig into the corner of your board, and drill through the applicable 2 holes. This meant I only had to measure in order to make the jig, and the predrilling process went very quickly.

wood choice, theories, opinions, blah blah

No, we didn’t use pressure treated wood (other than the direct buried posts) and you’re probably wondering why. We were afraid of the PT board warping and looking like crap. Not only that, when wet wood (like PT board) dries very rapidly in the sun, the wood fibers can’t adapt to the fast change in dimension and tend to create checks in the wood (splits); these are no Bueno, they hold moisture and bugs and are very hard to seal. We also would have had to wait a season to stain it to let the wood dry out and we didn’t want to install the entire fence and let it sit through the winter only to regret it in the spring once all the boards warped. Yes, we will have to stain the wood probably every other year but we’re okay with that. We did place a pressure treated 1×6 board on top of the wooden fence to help prevent water from infiltrating in the cracks between the posts and the boards and to help protect the top (end grain) of the posts. If this cap ever needs to be replaced, its a relatively inexpensive and easy process vs replacing the boards or posts. Think of it as a sacrificial cap.

End grain is the most vulnerable to moisture and I don’t care what kind of wood it is, if you have end grain on a horizontal plane (like the top of posts), you need to protect it some how. We installed solar powered light caps on the remaining posts that support the aluminum fence panels.

gates of hell

We built a gate with the left over lumber (one more gate to be built later) and installed it with self-closing hinges.  Of all the fence posts, only 2 warped really really badly; of course the worst one was directly next to the gate. This meant the gate opening was a challenge to say the least. On top of that, in typical Kyle style, I over-complicated it and have learned some lessons through the process (we will share later). Essentially, 4×4 posts are not beefy enough to really handle a decent sized gate. I wanted my gate to blend in with the fence and look the same, this created a very heavy gate (I estimate around 100lbs). I bought hinges that are rated for this weight, but I never accounted for the torque this would have on the post. The gate tilts away from the hinge and causes some issues on the latch side. The gate does its job, but its far from perfect and I plan on redoing it at some point.

We have one more gate to build (TBD how later since the original plan did not go so well), and we will also stain the PT board on top after a season or so of drying out.

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