The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act
is going on three years old, but questions still persist.
To find out how well industry members understand the first federal
pool and spa safety law, Pool & Spa News conducted a
simple survey of service technicians.
The good news is most respondents realize that the law applies to
all commercial pools nationwide. The bad news is that a full 30
percent do not understand the scope of the law, believing that it
either applies to commercial pools only or, worse, only to
commercial pools in certain states.
While some raise their eyebrows at this confusion, others are not
surprised. The drawn-out interpretation process and the additional
layers of state and local codes have given rise to
misunderstandings over many aspects of the law.
Federal vs. State
It’s easy to confuse VGB with state and local codes, which
often are similar, but differ in some details.
For instance, New Jersey doesn’t allow channel drains, while
they are permitted under VGB. Connecticut requires a Safety Vacuum Release System on every pool, which has led some in that state to believe the mandate is actually
stipulated in VGB. And Florida calls for velocities of 1.5 fps or
less through its drains, whereas VGB allows up to 6 fps.
Moreover, many building officials are still trying to mesh the
finer points of VGB and state codes in their own minds.
Paulette Pitrak often finds herself fielding
code questions from industry members, as well as inspectors and
building officials in her area.
“Members are on site, and they’re with a code
inspector,” says the deputy executive director of the
Northeast Spa and Pool Association. “Or
the health-code inspector doesn’t agree with the
Part of the problem, too, was the lengthy process of interpreting
this law, which fell on the shoulders of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It took six months after the passage of VGB to receive the finalized
requirements for commercial pools, while the residential portion
just came out earlier this year.
“[People] seemed to be familiar with VGB, then all of a
sudden an interpretation for residential swimming pools came
out,” Pitrak says. “Then professionals go, ‘Oh,
well, if I renovate this pool, I must have to blow out the bottom
of this residential pool and put in dual main drains if it’s
a single drain.’ No, you don’t.”
The residential portion
It’s clearly the residential side of the law that has some
people scratching their heads.
As of Dec. 19, 2008, any residential pool receiving a drain —
whether as part of new construction or a renovation — must be
outfitted with a VGB-compliant drain cover.
But this itself has caused professionals to wonder how to proceed.
On new pools and existing models that need a drain-cover
replacement, the answer is simple. But what about renovations that
wouldn’t otherwise require a drain-cover replacement?
“Our biggest question from dealers is, ‘What’s my
liability if I don’t change that residential [drain]
cover?’” Pitrak says. “They’re worried
about being the last person on the property, and they didn’t
inform the customer that they have an old cover.”
It doesn’t help that, in an effort to get work, some pool
companies have told homeowners that their residential pools must be
updated for compliance.
“Some of [my customers] have started to receive fliers in the
mail from companies offering to do it,” says Robert Foutz
Jr., owner of Purity Pool Service in Huntington Beach, Calif.
“They see the law, and they’re preying on unsuspecting
Foutz knows that the federal law doesn’t require residential
retrofits, but he has approached local officials just to make sure
he’s not missing anything.
“I can’t get a straight answer,” he says.
“I’ve talked to the county department of health and
they say, ‘We’re not sure on our residentials
yet.’ I’m still waiting. Until I’m sure, I
don’t want to tell my customers to spend thousands of dollars
on what we think needs to be done — especially in this
To make matters more complicated, there’s always the swirl of
informal conversations and rumor which may, or may not, be
“There’s a lot of what I call parking lot
information,” says Bob Nichols, owner of Glendora,
Calif.-based Precision Pool Service. “That’s where one
guy who doesn’t know what he’s talking about tells
another guy something he doesn’t know either. And it’s
totally wrong information.”
But as of now, the residential side of VGB is actually pretty
simple — whenever a drain cover is changed, the new unit
should be compliant. But be sure to consult state and local codes
to be certain of any additional requirements.