DIY Modern Pool Fence
Blood, Sweat, and Gluten-Free Beers
Here in the desert Southwest, we sadly hear way too often about babies falling into pools and drowning. The mere thought of losing Max brings an immediate lump to my throat, so it wasn’t much of a decision to get a pool fence installed once he was both mobile and curious.
We had a few Must Haves:
- Inexpensive as we could get.
- Something that doesn’t look like it was purchased from a big-box store.
- Fit the style of the home
- Meet pool security standards (or as many as possible!)
- Did I mention budget?
The first step was asking The Googlez what types of pre-fabricated pool fences were out there. I was not surprised to find that what greeted me barely ticked my “cool!” meter. Not to mention everything is in pre-sized sections, which might work for many folks, but not with our layout. Well, not without massive modifications to the panels, and if I’ve had to put a ton of work into it, why not just design and build it myself?
YAY!(?) ANOTHER DIY PROJECT!
Changing the search term to “modern pool fence” came up with more interesting results. But, okay, we’re far from millionaires (surprise) so most were going to cost more than we wanted, even DIYing it. So I set out to come up with my own design that wasn’t TOO costly, and also met Arizona pool safety standards.
Thankfully, our rectangular back yard is very neatly divided in half, with the brick patio on the south side, and the pool on the north. Which meant I didn’t need to wrap the entire pool with a fence, but merely put a single section that ran between the east property wall and the house itself.
Being a graphic designer, I got pretty geeked out about measuring everything, then re-creating the backyard in Adobe Illustrator. Inches became Picas. Easy, right? Well, maybe not. A bit more re-measure, re-design, copy/paste, repeat. I wanted something mostly made out of wood (cheap!) but have a bit of modern flair. Eventually, my Illustrator design was complete and accurate, so I created a quick mock-up in Photoshop to see if the style and design fit what we were looking for.
The posts are 4″ square, with a 2×4 rail running along the top edge, and another 2×4 rail along the bottom. Inset on the rails are 1×3 boards with approximately 10 1/2″ holes drilled, spaced evenly. These holes anchor 1/2″ aluminum tubing as the “slats” in each section. I used aluminum because I didn’t want them rusting or tarnishing too quickly. There are two gates for access, both with heavy-duty interior door hinges and a top-rail mounted latch system that isn’t accessible to little hands.
After we were satisfied with the design, I visited Home Depot (should have supported local Grant Road Lumber, but lesson learned. Note to Self: Do so for all future projects!) and purchased about $1200 worth of lumber, a couple needed tools, and the rest of the remaining supplies. What got me REALLY excited was finding a local wholesale metal dealer, Industrial Metal Supply. They had the the exact aluminum tubing I needed for the project, and were very helpful and friendly in both e-mail and phone conversations. I told them what size I needed and what quantity, and two days later, it was custom cut to length.
Home Depot delivered the raw material and I was both intimidated and excited at the stack of lumber. This pile of kiln-dried pine would not only provide the pool security fence, but a couple other backyard fence projects. I bought a step above construction grade lumber so I actually had to throw out a few pieces due to them warping, despite them being kiln-dried. Another Note to Self: Buy better lumber! It equals less headaches.
So in the heat of Tucson summer, I got to work.
I first dug the post-holes using my DIY post-hole digger. It cut right through that tough, Tucson soil with ease, which allowed me to dig out the holes with a traditional post-hole shovel. As with any old-home project, I found surprises such as buried, inactive electric lines, ever-present 67-year old galvanized plumbing, and nature’s concrete: caliche.
Setting the posts was pretty easy, really! Due to the above “challenges” I wasn’t able to dig the holes wide or deep enough to meet commonly-agreed-upon specs. But after the concrete dried, the posts were rock-steady. Besides, the fence design wasn’t going to be too heavy or need to hold up to wind. I didn’t pre-cut the heights of the posts, but lopped them off at the correct height once the posts were set. The east and west posts were actually mounted to the wall and house using ¼” anchor bolts.
I then set the bottom horizontal pieces, after drilling 80 – ½” holes for the aluminum vertical tubes/slats. I thought I got quite fancy by notching out each vertical post so the bottom pieces slid into them easily. I then secured them with a couple angled screws. (Be careful or you’ll split the wood!)
Forgive the lack of photo updates here, but I was anxious to get it done and failed to document all the remaining steps. But, here is a rundown:
- One of the hinges for each gate is a self-closing hinge, which is required by law. You can adjust the tension of the spring so your gates don’t slam.
- Gates were tough to do, as (at the time of this blog) I don’t have a table saw OR a compound miter saw. Very difficult to get the gates square with a 10” circular saw and uneven ground. But they came out well enough.
- Because the gates were of an open design and would sag and twist easily, I purchased a couple of gate sag kits. I was unhappy with the cheap quality of the kit (as will a lot of the other latches, locks, etc.) but they will allow me to easily twist a turnbuckle to bring the gates back to square should they sag.
- Cut 80 more ½’ holes for the TOP rail. Mounted two top-mount latches on the horizontal top bar, like this, though mine are brushed metal/silver to match.
- We used Thompson’s Water Seal in the semi-transparent Woodland Cedar color. Due to the cheaper wood, it didn’t seem to soak up as well, so I ended up doing two coats (though only one is needed to seal it). I also sealed/painted EACH PIECE individually, let it dry, and THEN installed it. This allowed me to seal the ends of the wood pieces. Otherwise, you’d always have raw wood in the joints that would let in the elements. Will this help? Time will tell.
Word to the Wise
Make sure to NOT put a 8-foot length 2×4 loose on the top of the fence posts and then attempt to work on the bottom of the posts. I remember the sound of it falling, then the dull, vibrating thud as the corner hit my skull. Then I remember stars. Trish knows to expect a fairly steady stream of curses coming from any of my projects (invest in earplugs if toddlers are near). But when she just hears a loud “OUCH!” and then silence, she knows something is up. But she held her cool while blood poured down my scalp. I tried to brush it off until she took an iPhone picture of the gash, and promptly sent me to the nearest Emergency Clinic. Three staples, a couple glasses of wine, and the next day, I was back at it.
So, for about $1500, two months of weekend labor, and one trip to a Quick Care clinic for staples in my scalp, our fence is done. Is it really cheaper than buying the pre-built stuff? Eh, maybe not. But we sure like it a lot more, and I got to beat my chest, use power tools, drink (gluten-free) beer, and have the satisfaction of looking at something I built myself. And the material purchased was for THREE fences, not just the pool fence. Read more about the other two fences here.
The bottom rail is a bit too far off the ground for pool requirements (on the east side) but I had to do this because the brick patio on the west side forced me to move up the lower rail. Turns out the Chihuahuas can squeeze under the rail, but Max can’t, so I’m fine with that.
We absolutely love it, and so far it’s held up to Max’s curiosity. We also have a house alarm system that beeps at us when a door is opened, AND I installed a couple simple hooks high up on each patio screen door so Max can’t get to them. We feel confident that it will keep out great little guy safe, though he’s never really out-of-sight anyway.
Would love to hear what you think!