03.Types of pool fence
Flat top or loop top fence
As with our 2004 test, the majority of fences that failed strength and rigidity – five out of six – were of the flat-top design (see the results table). The vertical bars of these fences are fixed and welded inside flat horizontal upper and lower rails. In loop-top fences, sections of tubular pipe are bent through the upper rail so that each section of pipe forms two vertical bars rather than one.
Each style of fence is about the same overall height of 1.2m, but in a loop-top design the upper horizontal rail generally sits a little lower than in a flat top fence. This means the section of vertical bar between the two horizontal rails is shorter in a loop top fence, which could help make that section more rigid.
Flat-top fences aren’t necessarily inherently weak; four of those tested passed for strength and rigidity. However, our results show once again that a loop-top fence is a safer bet.
Bunnings, Willow and Wattle
We tested three other pool fences that are neither flat nor loop top (see the table). The Bunnings Double Top fence has two upper horizontal rails with decorative metalwork incorporated. This results in a similar effect to the loop-top design, with a shorter section of vertical bar than in an equivalent height flat-top fence. This was the only one of the three Bunnings panels to pass our test.
The other two fences are the wire-based ARC Willow and Wattle, both of which also passed. These use 8mm diameter vertical wires or rods instead of tubular rods. Equivalent ARC fences also passed our 2004 test. These fences are more expensive per panel than the flat and loop top fences on test, but are well worth considering. Wire-based fencing can be bought in galvanised or powder-coated finishes.
Steel, aluminium or glass?
Some manufacturers and suppliers told us that tubular aluminium fencing is increasingly popular over steel. Aluminium is less susceptible to rusting, which can be a concern if you live near the ocean or have a saltwater pool, and steel prices have recently risen, although we found fence prices were very similar for each material. However, steel pool fences are usually powder-coated (as are aluminium fences) or galvanised, so there should be no significant risk of rusting provided they’re kept in good condition.
Our latest results indicate tubular steel fencing is stronger and more likely to pass the standard tests than its aluminium equivalent. However, as with the flat-top versus loop-top debate, there’s no guarantee; one steel fence failed our test, and three aluminium fences passed. Quality of construction and design count much more than the material used.
Safety glass is another popular material for pool fences. It’s made from solid sheets so there are no gaps for a child to squeeze through (provided the panels are correctly installed). Glass fencing is also less obtrusive than most steel or aluminium fences. However, safety glass panels are almost three times more expensive. We didn’t test any glass fencing, as few of the standard tests we use normally apply to it.