Model codes are a weird thing. You hear the word “code” and you assume that you have to follow it. If there were the name of a state, county, city, etc., in front of it, you’d understand that the code only pertains to that geographic area. But what is a model code?

That’s one of the concepts I remember truly struggling with as a young journalist, when I was new at Pool & Spa News. I think we all have those memories of first starting a job and feeling less than intelligent. One of those times cam for me when I was listening to a flustered association exec trying to explain for the second or third time how model codes work.

Apparently, the Model Aquatic Health Code is causing the same kind of confusion to those who stand to be directly affected by it. I recently heard that many in the commercial pool and aquatics world are becoming distraught over the imminent passage of the MAHC because they don’t want to be subject to another federal law. I suspect they’re still suffering from post traumatic stress disorder over the quick succession of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, the product recall connected to VGB, then the Americans With Disabilities Act as it applies to pools.

Fortunately or not, depending on your perspective,  is not the case. Where VGB and the ADA are federal laws that automatically applied to virtually all commercial pools and spas in the U.S., the MAHC is a model code.

Well-known model codes already exist for pools and spas. These include the International Building Code, International Residential Code, the fairly new International Swimming Pool and Spa Code, and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials’ Uniform Swimming Pool, Spa & Hot Tub Code.

But these codes have no power until somebody adopts them. They are, in fact, models that are available for states, counties, cities, townships, etc., to place on their books. Some municipalities simply incorporate the language word for word, others will adopt only portions, or make changes.

Like the others, the MAHC won’t affect any jurisdiction until adopted.

When a state or local government incorporates a new code usually depends on its own cycle. Some revisit their health and building codes every year, but most do it every couple or three. And even then, they’re not necessarily looking at the latest model code. Sometimes they are a couple versions behind. For instance, the 2003 version of the IRC was written to require safety vacuum release systems on pools and spas. In 2009, that language was removed, yet some states still require the devices – not necessarily because they consider SVRSs as crucial for pool and spa ownership, but because they just haven’t gotten around to adopting the 2009 IRC.

So it can take months or even years before a new model code is incorporated.

The MAHC will work the same way, without the backlog of old versions to hold things up. If the MAHC is to be considered for adoption, in most areas, that will happen during the regularly scheduled code adoption time.

Plus, the current draft would only pertain to new aquatic elements or those undergoing a renovation significant enough to require a permit, so its passage doesn’t mean immediate and automatic renovations, a la VGB.

My main point here is that the MAHC will not be a nationwide mandate and will not impose the kind of hard deadlines we’ve seen in the past few years. It may be adopted in your area, but that mostly likely will happen during the regular code cycle.

So don’t despair. Pool, spa, and aquatics professionals can take the time to learn the MAHC free from fear and panic -- and might even conclude that it’s a good idea.