Downed trees and battered pool cages were a common sight after Hurricane Irma.
On-Time Pool Service Downed trees and battered pool cages were a common sight after Hurricane Irma.

With Florida swearing in a new governor, the state’s pool industry sees an opportunity to knock down a guidance document that local industry representatives say could create confusion among builders and code officials.

“Technical Topic: Guidance for Swimming Pools and Outdoor Kitchens/Bars in Flood Hazard Areas,” issued by the state Floodplain Management Office, stipulates that pool equipment must be elevated at or above the base flood elevation — that’s the anticipated height water could rise.

“In the interest of meeting the expectation that the equipment is ‘reasonably safe from flooding’ and to ‘minimize flood damage,’ communities must not simply ignore the risk and allow other pool equipment installations at-grade,” the document states.

To keep pumps, filters and heaters high and dry in the event of a surge, they’d have to be installed on platforms, some as tall as 10 feet in certain areas. As builders know, circulation pumps do not work well when raised 3 feet or more above the waterline and they’d be out of the question for gravity-fed drainage systems, which are popular at commercial pools in the state.

Plus, state code requires safety railings on any platform higher than 30 inches, which would pose an additional expense.

The document is not code, but the Florida Swimming Pool Association fears building officials could interpret it as such, increasing regulatory burden and the cost of construction. As written, the document also could give building officials the impression that pools cannot be built in flood-prone areas, FSPA said.

Furthermore, pools are exempt from the National Flood Insurance Program. FSPA argues: Why should pools be called out for further regulation in the Sunshine State?

Builders have been constructing safe pools along waterways and coastal zones for years, thanks to pre-existing code. The document, FSPA argues, does nothing to further safety and in fact could make maintaining them less safe. Scaling a 10-foot high platform to clean a filter or empty a strainer basket creates an unnecessary hazard, the organization said.

John Garner, owner of Pools by Garner in Jacksonville, said the document has been causing headaches for years. Though it has never been formally adopted, local officials have been heeding its advice.

“It confuses the building department,” Garner said. “They’re convinced you have to install this stuff at base flood elevation.”

FSPA says now is the time to formally bury the language or drastically rewrite it. The association recently beefed up its government relations staff and hopes the new pro-business Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis will be amenable to reducing regulation on the industry. FSPA officials will meet with the new administration in the coming weeks.

“We’re hoping to make this a reasonable document or maybe even make it go away,” said Carlos Cruz, FSPA’s government relations counsel.