Q. What is a swimming pool alarm? How does it work, and who has to have one? Should a parent ask if a home has one before leaving a child there for a playdate?
A. swimming pool alarm sounds an alert both at the pool and inside a house when a child weighing at least 19.5 pounds enters the water. An apparatus inside the pool uses motion, sonar or other means to detect a disturbance in the water; a unit connected inside the home sounds the alarm there as well. New York State has a law that any pool built since Dec. 14, 2006, needs to have a pool alarm that meets required standards. The exception is pools with automatic power safety covers.
"We're thinking of children younger than 6 years old," says Paulette Pitrak, deputy executive director of the Northeast Spa and Pool Association, a trade organization for New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut whose members sell, install, manufacture, repair or service pools and hot tubs.
Some municipalities have additional requirements; the state also requires a 4-foot- high fence around all pools.
If you're concerned about whether a home has a pool alarm -- perhaps the pool was installed before 2006 -- "I definitely would ask," Pitrak says. You might even ask people with a newer pool, because people sometimes install the alarm to pass the required codes and later remove it because it's annoying. Parents can then decide whether to send a young child there.