Hundreds of commercial pools in Utah were seriously impacted in 2007 after a statewide outbreak of cryptosporidium infected a reported 2,000 bathers. In an effort to prevent future incidents involving the serious recreational water illness, the state now requires that all pubic pools frequented by children include an ultra violet light sanitization system, or an approved equivalent, for an added layer of protection

As the public becomes more informed about the dangers of RWI, swimming pool contractors are responding to the issue by recommending and installing UV systems on semi-public pools. In the last few years, there has been a slow emergence of UV as a viable means of purifying pool water at hotels, motels, apartments and condos. The interest in the alternative method of sanitization is not just a result of RWI. The inclusion of UV systems in health codes, a growing awareness of their effectiveness and the availability of smaller, lower-cost units also have spurred the installation rates.

Health insurance

When it comes to preventing RWI, UV sanitation is the go-to method for Eva Harris of Conner Construction Corp. For seven years, the president of the Charlotte, N.C.-based firm has been building and remodeling residential, commercial and semi-commercial pools to include these systems. Of the 50 or so projects the company completes each year, 80 percent of its clients with indoor pools will opt for UV, while 20 percent of the outdoor projects will include them in the plans.

Harris strongly encourages customers, especially those with interactive play structures, to consider UV systems. These features, which include splash pads and slides, are growing in popularity yet tend to harbor bacteria. And Harris is not alone. In fact, Texas, California and New York require aquatic venues with these features to include UV sanitization. And while not mandatory in Florida, the state strongly recommends it as well.

More states may soon adopt a voluntary code that recommends a secondary means of sanitation, which would include UV as one of several possibilities. The Model Aquatic Health Code, a uniform guide for local and state agencies, includes a module discussing disinfection and water quality. Funded through an initial grant from the National Swimming Pool Foundation, MAHC currently is under review by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This spring, it will be open for a second round of public comment. An official release date is expected by the summer.

Since the code is a recommendation and not a requirement, governing bodies can choose to include portions of MAHC or use it in its entirety, says Jim Dingman, chair of the Disinfection and Water Quality Technical Committee for MAHC. While voluntary, MAHC suggests options for facilities with increased risk. This may be critical, especially as hotels and motels are increasingly including added amenities such as indoor waterparks and interactive spray features.

“In those types of scenarios, we are requiring a secondary disinfection system,” says Dingman. Depending which route is chosen, there are some specific requirements that need to be met. For example, the most important thing is a three-log reduction of cryptosporidium oocysts (99 percent reduction), he explains.

Sanitation school

Six years ago, Ken Gregory attended a CDC seminar on water quality and recalls a statement made by the speaker: “If you, the industry, do not address quality of water, both residential and commercial, the federal government is going to do it for you.”

These words stuck with Gregory, president of Evolution Pools in Orlando and chairman of the Swimming Pool Technical Advisory Committee, a Florida Building Commission group. So much so that he suggests UV to all his clients in hopes of staying ahead of the curve.

Typically, it’s an easy sell for his commercial projects, especially hotels that are owned by a major corporation. However, the story changes when he deals with customers operating on a smaller budget. Gregory blames this less on the cost of the systems, however, and more on the lack of understanding about UV. The fault, he says, falls on the manufacturers, who he believes have failed to educate builders on the subject.

“If [manufacturers] educated contractors more, you would see [builders] encouraging small motels, hotels, condos and apartments to install these systems for liability to make sure people are protected,” Gregory says. “They get very technical and talk about volts and cleaning the bulbs, but what they fail to do is talk about feature benefits.”

Eventually, clients may become wiser than the contractors, thanks to changing buying habits and decision making influenced by mass media and digital technology. As the public becomes more knowledgeable about UV, Gregory expects they will begin requesting the systems more frequently for their businesses and their homes, much like what the industry experienced with salt chlorine generators, he says

A segment of the population is already there. Adam Sharpe is actually including UV systems on nearly every residential pool he builds. The partner of Brad Sharpe Pools in San Antonio first learned about the option during an industry trade show five years ago and it has been a big seller since.

“Once we started using them, there are only two pools we have built in the last five years that don’t have one [of the systems],” he says. “Customers are becoming more aware that they exist.”

Dollars and sense

Up until recently, the cost of a UV sanitation system was considered by many to be an unnecessary expense for their pools. Depending on the vessel size and flow rate, the price tag could reach upwards of $80,000 for the system alone, says Gregory. However, thanks to the introduction of smaller, more affordable units by manufacturers, contractors will be able to focus on the benefits of UV. With smaller flow rates comes a need for lower wattage UV bulbs, which results in less power consumption. These are great selling points for clients seeking affordable and reliable ways to treat their water, he explains. However, it still boils down to understanding the efficacy of UV.

“As more contractors embrace the technology, more manufacturers will make smaller units to meet the needs of builders,” he says.

When Harris proposes UV for her semi-commercial projects, she not only highlights the systems’ protection against RWI, she also points to the dollar-savings associated with UV because they require less use of chemicals, which ultimately results in a more welcoming environment for bathers.

“UV is the way of the future,” she claims.