Form and function: installing pool fencing that won't ruin your client's outdoor aesthetic

Landart Landscapes
By Matt Leacy, Founder and Creative Director, Landart Landscapes
Wednesday, 17 May, 2017

Form and function: installing pool fencing that won't ruin your client's outdoor aesthetic

With more than 1.2 million Australians owning a pool and council laws across the nation requiring many property owners to have pool fences — even if retrospectively installed — the balance between legal compliance and great landscape design is becoming increasingly difficult to strike. And it’s important to get it right. After all, our clients can potentially lose thousands of dollars in property value if they install a pool fence that detracts from their outdoor aesthetic.

One of the key problems is that retroactive laws are requiring many Australians to install or change pool fences in backyard spaces that weren’t initially designed to accommodate a pool fence in that way — the layout, the gardens, the surrounds have all been designed to the legislation of the time, not realising that these legislations could be changed without consultation with associations or the industry, costing many people a lot of money.

Because property owners are often in a rush to comply and minimise installation costs, they bring a certifier in and get the job done quickly without properly considering how the fence is going to affect the look and landscape of their backyard — and the overall value of their property.

If you get it wrong and the fence looks terrible, you’ve potentially taken thousands of dollars off your client’s sale or accumulative rental price — aside from inflicting on them the horror of looking at their backyard in a bad state. The wrong pool fence can be an eyesore, which is not only a problem for your client: you’re less likely to get referrals for new business if your client’s new pool fence spoils their poolscape.

Collaboration is key

Involving a good landscape designer from the start of the process will ensure that proper design considerations are factored into the installation plan. A landscape designer is going to look at things from a different angle and can help your client explore avenues that may not seem open to them if they’re speaking solely to the council or a certifier.

There’s more than one way to install a pool fence while still meeting legislative requirements, but if you don’t know what your options are and what to look for, you’re likely going to just do the basics, which can yield a result that may not be as easy on the eye as it could be.

The ideal solution is for the pool owner to arrange a meeting with their certifier and landscape designer at the same time. This way, the three parties can have an open conversation and throw around ideas to arrive at the best outcome for the client: a beautiful poolscape that also meets council requirements.

Changing levels is one way to make a pool fence 'disappear' into the poolscape. Image credit: Landart Landscapes. Photography: Jason Busch.

Changing levels is one way to make a pool fence ‘disappear’ into the poolscape. Image credit: Landart Landscapes. Photography: Jason Busch.

Material choice

In terms of what pool fence materials look the best, it always depends on the individual property, but glass is usually a pretty safe bet.

There are plenty of different options — glass-finish, powder-coated aluminium, mesh, palisade and timber. Glass, when out in the open, is the most seamless and can disappear into a landscape more than other materials, but it will cost more than a standard aluminium fence.

If there’s a large area to do and your client doesn’t want to incur too much expense installing the whole area with glass, you might consider using glass for the main visual of the fence to keep the area open and visible, and then turn to a black-top aluminium fence that can be hidden in the garden and disappear around plants and the like.

If you choose a powder-coated aluminium, go for a black colour as it disappears more than green if it’s up against plants. And whatever you do, steer clear of creams, reds and lighter colours because they stand out and often ruin the aesthetic of the backyard.

Material longevity

Durability is also an important consideration, with glass also being a top contender when it comes to low maintenance and repairs.

Most people automatically assume that aluminium fences will require the least maintenance, but when it comes down to it, glass is super strong and often held in place by really high-quality stainless steel and reinforced concrete.

There’s rarely any issues with glass fences coming loose and when things go wrong with glass it’s very obvious, whereas sometimes the screws and fittings on aluminium fences come loose and remain unseen for some time. I rarely see a glass fence that’s moved or failed because they’ve usually got the right foundations. Glass is also, in essence, more difficult to climb than other materials because it’s just a slippery front-faced surface.

Regardless of what material you use, it’s most important to make sure that you have a certified product — and this is essential, regardless of whether your client is a home owner residing in their own property or an investor leasing it out.

Disappearing act

Each pool and garden is completely different — good design is never one-size-fits-all. The type of fence you use is important, but even more important is how you integrate that fence into the landscape.

Design-wise, when it comes to a pool fence, it’s all about trying to make it disappear as much as possible — but not necessarily by choosing glass for every job. Integrating the pool fence into the surrounding landscape is the ultimate aim.

In the bad old days of pool design, you used to have the pool, the pool coping and then a pool fence right next to that, which really isolates the pool as a space where you go to swim and that’s it. I believe the pool should be more integrated into the landscape so that whether you’re in or out of the pool area, none of the spaces feel like they’re separate or divided from each other.

To integrate the fence, you might use a level change in the property. For example, the pool fence can sit on a lower level to the pool. Even if it is only 400 mm, the separation between the spaces will be softened. It can still be compliant, but the pool fence will be much less visually intrusive.

Or you could make the fence transition through a garden bed, so it visually disappears in certain areas. You can even use different materials for different parts of the design to help it disappear into the garden. Visually breaking up the flow of the fence will make the whole space feel more cohesive.

Integrating the pool fence into the surrounding landscape is the ultimate aim. Image credit: Landart Landscapes. Photography: Jason Busch.

Integrating the pool fence into the surrounding landscape is the ultimate aim. Image credit: Landart Landscapes. Photography: Jason Busch.

Compliance and design can be friends

It goes without saying that it’s vital to understand what the pool fence laws are in your state and to ensure that you don’t install a fence which doesn’t meet the requirements.

Installing a pool fence isn’t cheap, so for your client’s sake (and yours!) you want to make sure that you get it right the first time around. If the pool area backs up to one of the boundary fences, then you need to ensure the boundary fence is also compliant.

To create a beautiful poolscape for your client, the main thing is to have a close relationship with the person who’s going to be certifying the pool fence, whether it’s the certifier for the overall build or a pool fence certifier for a property that already has a pool. There’s a lot of interpretation around pool fencing legislation and different certifiers can have quite different takes on the same situation — but you want to be able to assure your client that you’ll deliver a certified product the first time around.

It can pay to develop a relationship with a certifier — someone whose experience and judgement you respect, and who you can call on for any projects that need certifying. You’ve really got to find someone who knows their stuff and is going to adhere to the legislation, but who can also think outside of the box to certify a design that’s in accordance with the landscape.

It’s really worth working through these things with a certifier at an early stage in the project rather than late, when you’ve already half-installed everything and the plans are in place. It’s about ensuring that what you’re proposing to do is deliverable and, just before you’re about to install the fence, getting it double-checked. A site visit from the certifying body at this stage really is worth the extra time and effort.

This does require a lot more work, and a lot more hours to get the job done — it’s not as simple as just hugging the pool coping with a fence. However, if you’re prepared to go the extra mile, you’ll deliver a better result for your client.

Safety is the number one priority as we don’t want any accidents. Second to that is aesthetics. If you install a fence that ruins the overall look and feel of the backyard, the property value is more than likely going to suffer. The potential loss your client stands to incur in property value terms far likely outweighs what they’d pay a landscape designer to make sure the fence looks great.

While it might cost a bit more up-front to ensure that compliance and design both come out on top, the initial outlay is often worth it in the long term.

Editor’s note: Pool fencing legislation varies throughout Australia. Please make your own enquiries to ensure you are adhering to the relevant legislation in your state or territory.

Founder and Creative Director of Sydney-based Landart Landscapes, Matt Leacy has more than 20 years’ experience in design, construction and maintenance services across landscaping and pool installation for both residential and commercial properties. A qualified horticulturalist and former president of the LNA Master Landscapers Association, Matt is a regular media commentator and column writer and also co-hosted Channel Nine’s ‘Garden Gurus’ and three seasons of ‘Domestic Blitz’, as well as recently featuring in ABC TV’s ‘Dream Gardens’.

Image credit: Landart Landscapes. Photography by Jason Busch.

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