Continuing a series of events following the electrocution of a Florida child, legislation has been introduced in that state to require the installation of low-voltage lights in residential pools.
The companion bills, House Bill 795 and Senate Bill 926, also would impose new policies regarding electrical inspections.
This is the latest development since 7-year-old Calder Sloan was electrocuted in his family’s Miami-area pool in April 2014. Since then his father, Chris Sloan, has campaigned to ban 120-volt pool lights. Last fall, Miami-Dade and Broward counties enacted codes requiring low-voltage lights on new installations.
Representatives from the Florida Swimming Pool Association and the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals back Sloan’s push for the safest pools possible.
“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” said Jennifer Hatfield, FSPA’s government relations consultant and APSP director of government affairs. “We don’t have an official position on the bills, but the intent is good.”
Florida professionals agree change is needed, but some have expressed concern regarding the current bills and their language.
The state has required low-voltage lighting on commercial pools for several years. If the bills pass, county health departments would have to inspect commercial pools with lights every five years. Additionally, those selling homes with pools would have to present a disclosure statement about the potential hazards of high-voltage pool lights. Perhaps the most contentious language of the bills would prohibit the installation of underwater lights greater than 15 volts in new or existing residential or public swimming pools.
Some have reservations about certain parts of the bills. Inspecting all Florida commercial pools with lights is a tall order and could put a major strain on health department staff, one industry expert said. Currently, the pools are inspected twice a year for other issues, explained John Garner, FSPA president and owner of Pools By John Garner in Jacksonville, Fla.
He questions the expertise among those who would conduct the inspections. “They wouldn’t be able to go out and do the testing required for bonding and grounding,” Garner said. “And if you don’t inspect the entire wiring system, you are falling very short of the safety that’s involved with inspecting the system.”
Officials also take issue with a home sale disclaimer emphasizing only the pool’s electrical safety. “When you are buying a home, make sure all aspects of the property are conforming with the codes and standards,” Hatfield said. “The pool light might not be the source of the problem.”
Perhaps the biggest point of contention among Florida pool professionals is the issue of voltage. Observers have noted that the Sloans’ pool had low-voltage lighting, and that the major problem was faulty wiring on the property. Requiring such lighting likely would not have prevented the child’s death and is an unnecessary change, said David Pruette, a member of the FSPA executive committee and an electrician specializing in pools.
“The bills are sort of a misdirected reaction to the Sloan tragedy,” Pruette said. “We are not opposed to 12-volt lights, but we think the bills are going to the wrong source. If you make everything 12-volt, it doesn’t change how safe your pool is.”
Even a recent proposal calling for the National Electric Code to limit voltage to 18 unanimously was struck down in January, he added.
Instead, Pruette and others stress the importance of routine maintenance on a property’s entire electrical system. “You can never make the world bulletproof, but if we did have some maintenance protocol, we could avoid some accidents,” he said.
For Garner and FSPA, arming the public with information is essential to creating the safest environment possible. “I don’t think regulation is the answer,” he said. “I think education is the answer.”
But others strongly agree with the bills’ current language. As longtime builder Irv Chazen sees it, higher-voltage lights simply aren’t necessary. Newer low-voltage lights are more intense than their older counterparts and produce plenty of light, said Chazen, who works alongside Chris Sloan to enact change.
“Let’s take preventative measures now,” he said. “Let’s get on the ball and make residential pools safer.”
As of press time, the bills had not yet been heard. The current legislative session began March 3 and continues to May 1.