Three separate hot tub dealers in separate New Jersey counties recently hit the same roadblock.
The obstruction was nothing tangible — no unstable foundation
or tight quarters to negotiate.
Instead, the trouble came in the form of local building officials
citing a provision in the 2008 National Electrical Code that
requires an equipotential bonding grid around portable hot
“The problem [with the rule is] when you’re talking
about existing structures, and someone puts a portable tub on a
concrete deck, you’re tearing up the whole patio to put down
the grid.” says Larry Caniglia, executive director of the
Northeast Spa & Pool Association in Hamilton, N.J.
Fortunately, a favorable advisory opinion from the state Department
of Community Affairs granted a temporary stay of sorts. “But
it’s a ticking time bomb because we don’t know how long
that is going to last,” Caniglia adds. “That could
change, literally, in a matter of a few months.”
The landscape for portable hot tubs has become a tricky one, as a
slew of new and proposed legislation could dramatically impact the
industry. Following is a selection of local and national
developments that have advocates keeping a watchful eye.
New Jersey and the NEC
The issue: For NESPA, the main point of contention
in the 2008 NEC centered on existing structures. To that end,
Caniglia, in his request for an opinion from the DCA, revisited the
2005 standard, which is still referenced throughout much of the
In it, he noted, an equipotential bonding grid must be included
under paved walking surfaces (concrete, for example) for 1 meter
beyond the walls of the vessel. If a portable spa was installed on
an unpaved surface (a wood deck or grass, for example), a bonding
grid wasn’t necessary. What’s more, for portable spas
on paved surfaces, the state had allowed alternatives to the grid
— for example, rubber matting.
The 2008 NEC, however, created a snag. That’s because
language in the new code was altered to include paved and unpaved
surfaces as requiring the grids — not an issue for new
construction, Caniglia says, but problematic when it comes to
existing permanent structures.
“We don’t think they realized when they were writing it
that they were talking about new structures, not existing
ones,” he says.
Therefore, when the installation doesn’t involve new
construction, Caniglia argued, it should fall under what’s
called a renovation code. Requirements for the project then would
revert back to the 2005 NEC, which permits the addition of rubber
matting or other nonconductive measures as bonding.
The DCA agreed, and in late April code specialist Suzanne Borek
issued an advisory that essentially confirmed NESPA’s stance
— that portable hot tub installations on existing structures
should not be subject to the 2008 NEC requirement for equipotential
What’s next: In early June, NESPA was
working with the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals on a
request for a Tentative Interim Amendment from the National Fire
Protection Association. That TIA would convey that the exact
requirement for the bonding grid only applies to new structures,
provided the portable hot tub conforms to UL 1563 standards.
This guidance from the NFPA could be presented to local code
officials in the event they cite the 2008 NEC during enforcement.
It also would empower the state to issue its own modification of
the NEC. In the most recent case, that’s precisely what it
did through the DCA. And it worked.
“All three dealers were successful in using the letter, and
the local code official agreed,” Caniglia says. “They
allowed them to put the hot tubs in. So it’s not conclusive,
but it’s very persuasive for the local officials to use
The ramifications, he explains, reach far beyond the Garden State:
“It’ll start local, then it’ll spread — it
will affect every state that adopts the 2008 NEC, so it’s
going to be across the country. We just figure if we can get ahead
of this thing, at least here in New Jersey, we’re that much
Title 20 ripple effects
The issue: On the books since January 2006,
California’s Title 20 established portable hot tub energy
requirements, among other standards. A year later, the state of
Oregon followed suit, enacting legislation that mirrored
California’s in both its benchmarks and (hotly contested)
A set of amendments developed by APSP and adopted by the Golden
State in December 2008 further clarified Title 20 requirements. The
changes have resulted in more hot tubs meeting California’s
Today, a handful of states across the country (including Florida,
Washington and New Jersey) are beginning to address
energy-efficiency standards for various appliances, including
portable hot tubs. And Title 20 figures to serve as a bellwether,
as it did for Oregon.
But it’s not just in statehouses that Title 20’s impact
is being felt. The U.S. Senate’s energy committee adopted
these latest amendments and incorporated the language into Senate
Bill 1462, the American Clean Energy Leadership.
The comprehensive legislation contains provisions for increasing
efficiency in buildings, major equipment and appliances, including
hot tubs. If signed into law, it would take effect in 2012. Among
relevant changes to the bill spearheaded by APSP were the inclusion
of swim-spas, the recognition of APSP-14 once it receives ANSI
approval, and altering the definition of portable hot tubs to
include the term “factory-built.”
“We needed to make that distinction when we talk about
portable versus in-ground spas,” says Carvin DiGiovanni,
senior director, technical and standards at APSP. “For
portable hot tubs, it’s more along the lines of looking at it
as an appliance. And when you talk about it being an appliance, to
a designer or an enforcement official it has the connotation of
being a self-contained unit. So you want to keep it separate from
pools, and that’s why ‘factory-built’ has to be
part of that definition.”
What’s next: Once APSP’s standards
committee has refined APSP-14, it is put through a technical
accuracy review. Afterward, it is presented to the American
National Standards Institute, where it goes through a balloting
APSP doesn’t expect much controversy, and officials are
optimistic that APSP-14 will be approved by ANSI by fall
The association is keeping close watch over states that move ahead
on proposed energy legislation; and officials have said
they’ll be addressed case-by-case. But the goal at this point
is making sure any future proposals or test protocols conform to
the APSP-14 standard and federal guidelines, DiGiovanni says.
VGB and portable spas
The issue: Dating back to late 2007, hot tub
manufacturers were left wondering whether their products would be
subject to anti-entrapment provisions under the federal Virginia
Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. At stake were a number of
potential requirements, including a 3-foot separation for multiple
drains, installation of backup devices, and replacement of existing
drain covers with VGB-compliant equipment.
But in February, relief came in the form of a technical guidance
document from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The document
established minimum eligibility requirements that states would have
to meet in order to qualify for grant monies, and it included one
“Portable spas certified to UL 1563 by a Nationally
Recognized Testing Laboratory are considered to comply with the
entrapment prevention provisions of the Act.”
The decision to exempt portable hot tubs from the requirements
imposed on swimming pools and in-ground spas was more than a year
in the making, as APSP officials first testified before Congress on
spa manufacturers’ behalf in December 2008.
What’s next: Not much in the immediate
future. Barring any revised interpretations by the CPSC or
reversals of previous rulings, the law is pretty straightforward in
its requirements for portable hot tubs.
As for the industry’s role, the objective is simple:
“You try to do the right thing,” DiGiovanni says.
“Standards are becoming more important as we move forward,
and they’re also becoming the targets of criticism. If
something goes wrong, the first thing you look at is the standard
and whether it was followed. So we have to make sure we’ve
got the science to back up what we’re saying.”