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Pool Lifts – How to get in, out, up, and down


Janis Kent, Architect, FAIA, CASp ©April 2016

Pool lifts have very specific requirements which many times have been overlooked – from the mechanism itself to the level clear floor space adjacent to the water edge. Lifts are typically required for both pools and spas, although there are other alternative means of entry into the water that are also acceptable. This requirement first became mandatory on March 15, 2012 but an extension was provided until January 31, 2013 for existing pools. What was cause for great confusion at the time was the difference between the industry language of portable lift versus fixed and the ADA requirements. Basically the ADA states that the lift has to be fixed – whether this means a portable lift that is fixed in place or a typical fixed lift – both appear to be acceptable as long as they meet the other lift requirements.

Aside from the technical requirements for the lift itself and its location, the intent is that a person who needs a lift to get in and out of the pool or spa can do so unassisted. In other words, the controls are to be available both from the water as well as the pool deck. Since more than one person needing the use of a lift can be swimming at the same time, it is critical for controls to be accessible from both the deck and the water regardless of where the lift actually is.

I have seen a multitude of pool lifts but very few of the installations actually meet this requirement of control locations. Some have an attachment on the back of the lift chair. This makes it very difficult if one needs both hands to transfer from a wheelchair – either they have to hold the controls in one hand while transferring or have to twist around to reach behind once they are in the lift chair. In this case the controls are located only where the chair is at the moment.

Another situation I have seen is where the controls are located only at or on the arm rest. This is easier to use and travels with the chair into the water. The issue is, if several people are using the lift. If the only controls travel with the chair, someone may be stranded in the water with no means to call the lift down that might now be located over the deck, or visa versa.

In addition to electric or battery operated lifts there are also pneumatic lifts. This is another alternative to explore. The concern with the batteries is they tend to be stored so they are continually charging and the battery no longer holds a charge. This becomes a constant source of frustration for maintenance as well as users. Many times staff remove the batteries to make the lift unusable when they feel the lift is not needed. The rationale behind this for unsupervised pools, is that children may play with the mechanism causing an accident. Perhaps a better solution for this situation is to have a locking device that a guest room key or other card key can unlock so the lift is always immediately available.

When specifying a pool lift, be aware that a set of controls needs to be reachable both from the water and the deck and that the user has to be able to operate the lift while seated in it. This is an ADA requirement and is also a requirement for pools in multi-family housing per California Building Code Chapter 11A. The lift should be installed and operable whenever the pool is open to the public. And like many other products out on the market, just because a manufacturer places an International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA) it does not mean the lift actually meets access requirements. So when designing an area for a lift and specifying the lift itself, be sure to review the actual requirements in the ADA Standards and other regulations.

Be aware that your local City or County may have additional requirements that are more restrictive and providing greater access than the State or Federal requirements. Also, this article is an interpretation and opinion of the writer. It is meant as a summary – current original regulations should always be reviewed when making any decisions.

© Janis Kent, Architect, FAIA, CASp 2016