If code officials change their minds, pool professionals could be required to include a full copper wire grid beneath certain decks and perimeter surfaces.

A small but persistent group has made numerous attempts to alter the 2011 National Electrical Code so it mandates the welded copper wire grids instead of a No. 8 single wire for select perimeter bonding applications. They will present their case at an appeals hearing before the National Fire Prevention Association in Boston in early August. 

“The heart of a lot of these discussions is whether anyone has demonstrated a viable safety hazard in the current setup,” said Bill Hamilton, Ph.D., an Austin-Texas-based electrical engineer.

Hamilton also is a member of NFPA’s code-making panel, which addresses the section of the NEC covering pools and spas.

“The position of the majority of the panel — including myself — is that the data that’s been presented thus far don’t support a change, especially for a technology that’s been in existence for years,” he added.

The group pushing for the change is led by a manufacturer, an electrical inspector and a handful of utility companies.

In December 2009, representatives from Consolidated Manufacturing International, a maker of grounding and bonding products, and an electrical inspector from Maryland asked the NFPA panel to consider requiring a welded copper wire grid beneath certain decks and perimeter surfaces, extending 3 feet from the inside pool wall.

The proposed mandate would not apply to decks with bonded structural steel. It would, however, call for grids instead of a single wire beneath pavers, grass and fibercrete surfaces.

The code panel rejected the proposal, as well as subsequent comments from individuals in the group. The panel stated that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that the single-wire requirement posed a safety hazard, among other concerns.

Then, during NFPA’s annual meeting in Las Vegas earlier this year, proponents of the grid requirement asked the association’s voting body to overturn the panel’s decision, which it did.

In keeping with procedure, the matter then was brought back before the panel, which needed a two-thirds majority to overturn the voting body’s ruling. The panel again ruled that the single-wire method of bonding was sufficient, setting the stage for the 2011 NEC to mirror the 2008 version in that respect.

But it didn’t end there. Recently, an additional appeal was filed with NFPA by Wayne Robinson of Lothian, Md., the electrical inspector who, along with a principal of CMI, wrote the original proposal and subsequent comments that were rejected by the code panel.

Robinson, who has filed multiple requests to require grids in the 2011 NEC, maintains that the single-wire method is inadequate. 

“If you can show me documentation of where the single wire works, I’ll shut up and go away,” Robinson said. “But there’s no proof, no test that shows it’s safe. The single wire is all smoke and mirrors from the pool industry.”

To support their claim, grid supporters reference a 2008 study by the National Electric Energy Testing, Research & Applications Center. According to one of Robinson’s recent appeals, the NEETRAC report “substantiated that the single conductor application may not provide adequate protection that a copper grid provides. [Also], a number of shock incidents in and around pools have been recorded and addressed by Georgia Power and Singing River Utility in Mississippi, which supports the copper grid over a single conductor application.”

But industry advocates and code panelists have expressed concern over  NEETRAC’s findings. And APSP officials maintain there hasn’t been a single report of injury or death resulting from stray currents involving pool decks or perimeter surfaces, which they’ve termed as “isolated local problems” (a claim Robinson disputes).

“Our technical experts have taken exception to the NEETRAC study, which they say is short on scientific research and evidence,” said Carvin DiGiovanni, senior director, technical and standards at APSP. “And our response likely would be different if the grid were one of the options they presented. But they want to get rid of the single-gauge wire. So we’re continuing to fight the same argument, which is to leave the door open to options and not encumber the industry with this requirement.”