In the aftermath of a highly publicized child pool electrocution, two Florida counties have passed pool-light regulations, with a third considering the same.
Some in the pool industry wonder if the movement will spread statewide or even across the nation.
Last April, 7-year-old Calder Sloan was electrocuted in his family’s Miami-area pool. Shortly after the tragedy, the family vowed to enact change to protect others from electrocution hazards in pools.
Chris Sloan, Calder’s father, held true to that mission, requesting various counties to change their building codes to ban 120-volt lights in favor of 12-volt low-voltage illumination in pools.
So far, Miami-Dade and Broward counties have obliged. In August, Miami-Dade passed an ordinance requiring that any lights installed in residential pools be low-voltage. In October, Broward added a technical amendment to its building code with very similar language.
Last month, the Palm Beach County Commission heard a request from Sloan and is reported to be considering a similar ordinance.
The state has long required low-voltage lighting on commercial pools. These new ordinances concern residential installations.
High-voltage lights were not the cause of Calder Sloan’s death. The pool had low-voltage lighting, industry observers say. And in a lawsuit filed by his parents in June, they claim that a wire was overheated and certain fail-safe mechanisms weren’t installed or had failed.
The Florida Swimming Pool Association and the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals took a neutral stance on the ordinances, but have provided input to the counties to prevent overly restrictive language. Industry experts wanted to make sure the language lines up with the latest version of the National Electrical Code and the International Swimming Pool & Spa Code, and prevent the use of outdated language from old codes that could prohibit the use of technologies such as fiberoptics, and those that don’t connect to a transformer. For example, solid-state, hermetically sealed, all plastic encapsulated light fixtures, a relatively new technology that requires no grounding wire, would have been excluded from Miami-Dade’s first draft, which specified that all lights be grounded.
“The concern was that the counties not outlaw technologies that were right in line with their desire to have low-voltage lighting,” said Bill Hamilton, president of Austin-based engineering and architectural firm Hamilton and Associates, and APSP’s representative on the committee that writes the NEC.
In addition to mandating low-voltage lighting in pools, Miami-Dade officials said that if pool lights are used, the illumination should enable people to see the pool bottom and main drain. It also separately passed a resolution calling for all counties in the state to ban high-voltage lighting.
Low-voltage lights are used by many in southern Florida, so the expected impact to the industry is minimal, said Jennifer Hatfield, government relations consultant for FSPA and director of government affairs for APSP. In case similar codes make their way around the state, or even the country, APSP would like to see more research and data to help determine the link between high-voltage lights and electrocutions in pools.
Hatfield reported that some have interpreted the industry’s input and desire for more information as resistance to the regulations. “Safety is of the utmost importance to FSPA and APSP,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re doing the right thing. …”
In addition, there is more to ensuring safety than installing low-voltage lights, Hamilton said. There’s the need to bond and ground the lights, equipment and even bond the water, in addition to making sure the system is hooked up to the right transformer. All this is currently covered by code.
“The issue of shock incidence in the water is far more complicated than what kind of light you’re going to put in the pool,” he said. “In fact I’ve seen pools where people [have been hurt] where there were no lights in the pool at all.”
One way of exploring the issue, Hatfield said, is to bring the issue in front of the National Fire Protection Association, the organization that writes the National Electrical Code.
“We are of the opinion that it should be looked into at the national level, with the NFPA,” Hatfield said. “We think that is the proper venue to say, ‘Is this an issue or not?’ It can be problematic to have [issues like this handled] piecemeal from locality to locality or state to state.”