Tim Bobko

Mike Esmond is sounding the alarm: Potentially hundreds of pools in Florida are entrapment hazards.

He’s not talking about old pools that haven’t been brought up to code. That wouldn’t be too surprising. These are newly constructed vessels that violate the ANSI/APSP-7 standard for suction entrapment avoidance, according to Esmond.

The owner of Gulf Breeze Pools & Spas, serving the Pensacola area, has been documenting a specific, and disturbing, building practice. Rather than install a manufactured sump with suction outlet fitting assemblies, some contractors simply are stubbing PVC pipes through the gunite, lopping them flush with the floor and slapping a drain cover on top. There is no sump whatsoever.

Over the course of six months, Esmond has counted 10 pools with inadequate main drains.

ANSI/APSP-7 standard requires that the opening of the suction pipe be no closer than 1.5 times its inside diameter from the bottom of the cover. For example, if you use a 2-inch suction pipe, the top (whether vertical or horizontal) must be at least 3 inches below the cover. The outside edges of the sump also must be one-pipe diameter below the cover.

Another code concern Esmond has noted is pools where the main drains are less than 36 inches apart — in some cases, there’s as few as 16 inches between them.

Inspectors are rubber stamping these projects anyway. (Building officials could not be reached for comment.)

A conversation with a chief building inspector confirmed what he’d suspected all along: “These guys don’t have a clue what they’re looking at,” said Esmond, a builder with 40 years of experience.

According to Esmond, the inspector told him, in essence, not to worry, that if the pool had skimmers, the main drains should be perfectly safe. Dumbfounded, Esmond explained to the department head that if someone shut the valve to the skimmers, all water would be funneled to the main drains, further exacerbating the problem.

So he took it upon himself to get building officials up to speed. He’s been consulting with local code enforcers and attending chapter meetings of the Building Officials Association of Florida. He’s even blown the whistle on a couple of builders, and county officials forced them to go back and do the job right, he said.

After months of campaigning, Esmond believes the issue is pretty well under control in the Panhandle. However, the problem is more widespread than he thought.

“The number of them out there really isn’t known,” said Dan Johnson, owner of Swim Inc., a building firm in Sarasota. “It could very well be in the hundreds.” On the day Johnson spoke with PSN, he had just returned from a project he was consulting on where the pipes were flush with the floor. “It’s happening in my own backyard,” he said.

Johnson, likewise, has been reaching out to local building officials.

The two builders have differing opinions as to why this is occurring. Esmond blames one large-volume builder in particular for cutting corners, whereas Johnson believes it’s a simple matter of ignorance. Both agree inspectors need to do better keeping builders in check.

The good news? The Florida Swimming Pool Association recently designed an entrapment prevention course for builders and inspectors. Courses are expected to be available in the coming weeks.