Connecticut has stopped requiring safety vacuum release systems on pools and spas, closing one of the final chapters on efforts to have the devices mandated through code and statute.
While those who originally sought the requirements have long since abandoned the efforts, Connecticut experienced the ripple effects for nearly a decade. The state was possibly the largest single area in the country to require the backup devices on all residential pools, and it retained the mandate for several years because of concerns following a high-profile local tragedy and a slowdown in the state’s code-adoption process.
In 2005, Connecticut adopted the 2003 version of the International Residential Code, one of the largest model codes pertaining to housing construction. Model codes are written for adoption by states and municipalities at their discretion and with the option of modifying or amending the language.
The IRC is updated every three years, but officials can adopt whichever version they wish. The 2003 and 2006 versions had been written to require backup devices such as safety vacuum release systems and suction-limiting vents on all residential pools built after enactment, even those with dual-drain systems. The language had been proposed by what some labeled a pro-SVRS lobby and against protests from the APSP and other pool and spa industry representatives.
Connecticut adopted the backup-device requirement without much fanfare, leaving the industry and inspection officials caught off guard. In fact, several months passed before the affected parties even knew the code had changed. Many builders didn’t find out until they were refused permits or failed inspections.
Once the local industry became aware of the mandate, it began working with the state to remove the language. Officials put a temporary hold on the requirement while they explored whether they should permanently alter it. However, in 2007 officials again enforced the backup device requirement after a local entrapment tragedy that took the life of a 6-year-old boy and made headlines across the country.
When the International Residential Code was updated in 2009, the backup device requirement was lifted and replaced by language from the ANSI/APSP-7Standard for Suction Entrapment Avoidance, which mandated dual drains and approved drain covers, but left backups optional. But Connecticut needed to adopt the new language for it to become law there.
Yet the state was slow to make the change. Normally, Connecticut updates its building codes every five years, but in this case, delays were caused by the lack of a state building official, a position yet to be filled, as well as a restructuring of the Building Department, which was recently renamed the Department of Construction Services.
Eventually, the state allowed dual-drain pools to be built without backup devices — provided the builder received approval for a modification (which other states and municipalities call variances).
Now the state has adopted the 2009 version of the IRC. This means the decision of whether or not to incorporate a backup device is left to the purchaser. Inspectors may not all be caught up on the change, so builders should be prepared to alert their officials by having them call the Department of Construction Services or NESPA, said Paulette Pitrak, deputy executive director of NESPA.
While the code has been changed, there are two caveats: First, Connecticut decided to retain the previous language requiring pool alarms and secured temporary fencing during construction. Secondly, the state has not yet adopted the most recent model code pertaining to public pools, so the older language still holds. Modifications are still required, but because each commercial pool is reviewed more heavily by the state, there may be the opportunity to discuss the issue with officials, Pitrak said.
The newest update comes as a relief to many residential builders. “I’m pleased with the state adoption of ANSI/APSP-7, as I think there are more than enough safety devices and procedures in that code,” said Mike Giannamore, vice president of Aqua Pool & Patio, a PSN Top Builder in East Windsor, Conn.
Additionally, Giannamore said homeowners often would disable their SVRS’s, or the devices would be deliberately installed to be bypassed because of nuisance tripping. “Therefore, what was created was a code that benefitted manufacturers of SVRS’s and not necessarily the consumers,” he said. “APSP/ANSI-7, however, coupled with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Act, creates a very safe pool.”
While local professionals are pleased they and their customers have choices, that doesn’t mean they believe there is no place for SVRS’s. “On a single outlet, an SVRS makes sense,” said Rob Romano, past president of CONSPA. “But [dual drains with SVRS’s] together make absolutely no sense. I think logic and reason prevail in this case.”
As for the lag time in making the changes, Pitrak said that seems to be prevalent throughout the Northeast right now, with Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York not adhering to their normal code cycles. “Every state is behind,” she said.
In other parts of the country, certain municipal areas, such as some in Texas, still require backup devices on new pools.