Your swimming pool could be a home insurance claim waiting to happen

Mary Lou Jay

A backyard pool can bring many hours of enjoyment to you and your family -- but it also opens you up to the risk of accidents and lawsuits.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission CPSC) says that between 2007 and 2009, there were an average of 4,200 pool or spa-related submersion injuries each year, as well as an average of 385 deaths a year between 2005 and 2007 involving children younger than 15. So if you're going to own a pool, you'll likely need extra home insurance.

The Insurance Information Institute recommends that pool owners consider upping their liability insurance policy limits to $300,000 or $500,000. For added protection, an umbrella policy can provide up to $1 million of liability coverage for a few hundred dollars a year.

Before you sign any agreement to build or purchase a pool, you should become familiar with your local jurisdiction's laws and building codes. Do you need permits for installation work? Do you need to install a locked fence around the pool? Your insurance agent will want to know that you're complying with relevant local codes.

Preventing backyard accidents will help keep your home insurance premiums under control by making claims unnecessary in the first place. CPSC recommends and many jurisdictions require) that all residential pools be enclosed by a barrier at least 4 feet high with self-closing and self-latching gates. If one side of the barrier is the house itself, secure the doors and install alarms so that you'll know if a young child exits the house. Never leave young children unsupervised around the pool -- not even for a few seconds -- and remove any toys or other objects that are likely to lure them into the water.

Beware of pool drains; their powerful suction can trap a child or an adult. Don't use a pool if the drain cover is broken or missing. Replace old drain covers with newer, safer covers.

State Farm recommends removing diving boards or at the very least frequently checking the bolts that hold them to the ground. Because slides are another major source of pool injuries, never allow anyone to go down head first. Don't allow anyone to swim alone.

Keep rescue equipment like reaching poles, ring buoys and a fully charged phone poolside. You'll want to be able to quickly call 911 for assistance.

Although liability insurance protection gets the most attention when it comes to pools, you may also want to check with your agent to make sure that your home insurance is sufficient to cover damage to the pool itself. If vandals severely damaged your pool, for example, would you have enough insurance coverage to rebuild it?

Owning a pool can be a big responsibility. But by following basic pool safety rules and having the right home insurance coverage in place, you can help ensure that your pool is a source of pleasure instead of stress.

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