Home > Tip of the Day > Electrical Tip of the Day: Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI’s) required for pools, spas, hot tubs, and more…

Electrical Tip of the Day: Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI’s) required for pools, spas, hot tubs, and more…

These days we are surrounded by portable spas, inexpensive all-in-the-box inflatable pools, hot tubs, spa garden tubs, steam baths, and any number of new water related play time products.  Electricity and water typically do not play nice together… when you take a vessel, fill it with water, then wire it up with more then enough electrical potential to cook and elephant you have created a uniquely dangerous situation.  In my experience most people take this for granted, and tend to make the assumption of  “it must be safe” or they would not sell it, right?

All of these types of products MUST be  GFCI protected.  The National Electrical Code has complete section of the code book (2008 NEC – Article 680) dedicated to this topic.  Everything from little wading pools to that fancy new pond your thinking about putting in this spring.

I found this CPSC write up on the subject I thought I would share.  In the end, what it comes down is that if it mixes WATER and ELECTRICITY you need to be very careful.  Please take some time to find out about how and when to use the proper GFCI protection for your application.

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Consumer Product Safety Commission

Safety Alert

Install Ground-Fault Circuit-Interrupter Protection for Pools, Spas and Hot Tubs

CPSC Document #5039


The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends installing and using ground-fault circuit-interrupters (GFCIs) for protection against electrocution hazards involving electrical circuits and underwater lighting circuits in and around pools, spas, and hot tubs.

CPSC is aware of more than a dozen electrocutions and a similar number of electrical shock incidents involving circuits around swimming pools between 1997 and 2002. Electrical incidents involving underwater pool lighting were more numerous than those involving any other consumer product used in or around pools, spas, and hot tubs.

The greater danger associated with electrical shock in a swimming pool is that anyone in the pool may be rendered immobile and unable to rescue themselves or to call for help. Drowning becomes a likely outcome, even if the current is not immediately lethal. Bystanders and would-be rescuers risk serious injury if the current flow isn’t stopped before they make contact with a conductive fixture, such as a ladder, or enter the water to try to help a victim.

While grounding provides essential protection for pool, spa, and hot tub equipment, GFCIs are the most effective means for protecting people against electrical shock hazards of this nature.

A GFCI constantly monitors the flow of current through a protected lighting fixture, pump motor or appliance circuit and senses any loss of current to an outside path. If the current flowing into an electrical appliance or fixture differs by a very small amount from what flows

back out, the GFCI instantly interrupts the current flow to prevent a sustained, lethal level of electricity from reaching the consumer. The consumer may feel a painful shock but should be protected from electrocution.

The National Electrical Code (NEC) requires GFCI protection for cord- and plug-connected pumps on pools, spas, and hot tubs; 120-volt underwater lighting fixtures; and receptacle outlets in the vicinity of pools, spas and hot tubs. Today, the code prohibits electrical installations closer than five feet from water and requires GFCI protection for all electrical equipment, including 240-volt equipment located five to 10 feet from the water and for receptacles within a 20-foot perimeter.

Older pools, spas and hot tubs may not have adequate GFCI protection. In particular, pools older than 30 years may not have GFCI protection on underwater lighting circuits. Because the NEC provision for spas only became effective in 1981, even somewhat newer spas or hot tubs may not be protected.

CPSC urges consumers to have an electrician who is qualified in pool and spa repairs install adequate GFCI protection for all pool, spa, and hot tub electrical equipment and for underwater swimming pool lighting fixtures. Additionally, outdoor outlets that could potentially be used to plug in electrical appliances (e.g., radios, pumps, washers) used near the pool also should be equipped with GFCI protection. Remember to test the GFCI regularly to be assured of continued protection.

TO PREVENT ELECTROCUTION:

  • Install GFCIs
    • On underwater lighting circuits operating at more than 15 volts.
    • On all electrical equipment used with pools, spas and hot tubs, including heaters operated on 240-volt circuits.
    • On all outdoor receptacles and any indoor receptacles that could potentially be used to power electrical appliances within 20 feet of the water’s edge.
    • In accordance with applicable local codes and the NEC.
  • Test GFCIs monthly to assure continued protection. Infrequently used and portable or cord-connected GFCIs should be tested before each day’s use.
  • To test a GFCI:
    • Plug a nightlight into the outlet and turn it on.
    • Press the “TEST” button. Did the light go out? If not, replace the GFCI.
    • Press the “RESET” button. Did the light come back on? If not, replace the GFCI.
Types of GFCIs

05/14/03

Consumers can obtain this publication and additional publication information from the Publications section of CPSC’s web site or by sending your publication request to [email protected].

This document is in the public domain. It may be reproduced without change in part or whole by an individual or organization without permission. If it is reproduced, however, the Commission would appreciate knowing how it is used. Write the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Office of Information and Public Affairs, 4330 East West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814 or send an e-mail via CPSC’s On-Line Form.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from thousands of types of consumer products under the agency’s jurisdiction. The CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard. The CPSC’s work to ensure the safety of consumer products – such as toys, cribs, power tools, cigarette lighters, and household chemicals – contributed significantly to the decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 30 years.

To report a dangerous product or a product-related injury, call CPSC’s hotline at (800) 638-2772 or CPSC’s teletypewriter at (301) 595-7054, or visit CPSC’s web site at www.cpsc.gov/talk.html. To join a CPSC email subscription list, please go to https://www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.aspx. Consumers can obtain this release and recall information at CPSC’s Web site at www.cpsc.gov.

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