Industry advocates in Florida may have figured out how to apply elements of a federal safety law to existing backyard pools.

In mid-August, the Florida Swimming Pool Association presented its plan to two key state committees in Melbourne, Fla.   

The concept is based on triggers that would activate certain provisions of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act for hundreds of thousands of vessels statewide.

The proposal was approved unanimously by the Florida Building Commission’s Plumbing Committee and Swimming Pool Subcommittee, and will be voted on by the full commission in December. Industry officials were encouraged by the support.

“We’re very pleased with what they decided,” said Jennifer Hatfield, director of government and public affairs at FSPA. “We felt like we put forth a good proposal. And I think this shows how the [VGB Act] can finally work on existing residential pools.”

The question of how to bring existing residential pools into compliance has long been a sticking point in implementing the law. In response, Hatfield and others have floated the idea of applying triggers that would activate portions of VGB in backyards.

FSPA’s plan would require that any existing residential pool or spa that undergoes an alteration to its circulation system (or circulation system components) will then be brought into compliance with the existing pool section of the ANSI/APSP-7 standard for suction entrapment avoidance.

For example, when a pump is replaced, a new VGB-compliant drain cover would need to be installed as well. In addition, if a pool was built with a single main drain, the code would require that the vessel either be converted to a dual drain system, or that an approved backup device, such as an SVRS, is added.

“The proposal addresses the issue [by] accomplishing safety goals everyone is trying to achieve without being overly intrusive and expensive to the consumer,” Hatfield said.

“This isn’t something that’s going to require consumers to re-plumb their pools,” she added. “You can’t expect someone who may have bought an older house with a pool to be able to afford such a drastic measure.”

If approved by the commission later this year, the proposal will become part of the state’s 2010 Building Code, which somewhat ironically, takes effect in December 2011.

Some contractors statewide, though supportive of the news, did question how the new requirement would be imposed.

Mike Yohann, for one, already installs VGB-compliant drain covers after every pool renovation. And for major jobs that require a permit, he understands how inspectors could verify the work.  

“But unless it goes into a permittable job, I don’t know how they can enforce it on residential pools,” said the co-owner of Sparkling Kleen Pools & Spas in Sarasota, Fla. “It’s not like public pools, which come under the jurisdiction of public health departments and are usually inspected twice a year.”

Indeed, the industry still must work with state building officials to determine what exactly constitutes a part of the circulation system, Hatfield noted. And they also will have to hammer out, along with code officials, uniform permitting and enforcement issues. Nonetheless, FSPA’s early success was seen as a major development toward promoting a safe backyard environment.