Electricity and water do not mix, we all agree with that.
Water is a great conductor of electricity as are we ( our bodies are 60-75% water). National Electrical Code (NEC) has one overriding concern, it’s to keep people and water separated from electricity. Article 680 of the NEC code applies to pools, spas, hot tubs, fountains, and similar bodies of water. It provides extensive requirements for the installation of electric wiring and equipment for such locations. Part II of Art. 680 provides installation requirements for permanently installed pools, which must also meet the requirements of Part I of the Art. [680.20]. Part IV of Art. 680 focuses on Spas and Hot Tubs, which must also meet the requirements of Parts I and II of the Article except as amended. The amendments for outdoor installations are in Sec. 680.42.
GFCI Protection separation of electricity and water!
What does this all mean? In order to keep electricity separated from water, the NEC set up guidelines that need to be followed. All outside outlets must be GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) protected. What is that? GFCI’s are the outlets you see with the two buttons in the middle of the circuit breaker with the white button in your electrical panel.
What does it do? As the name infers it interrupts the power by sensing that some of the electricity is running to ground (into the earth) instead of back to the panel. Which is great if your the one in the pool in the above picture or you go to plug in the radio with wet feet! All the equipment for your pool and spa should be ground fault protected. GFCI breakers and outlets do fail over time, which is why they should be manually tripped a few times a year to make sure they work and replaced by a qualified person if they fail to work.
Another part of the separation of water and electricity is grounding and bonding.
Equipotential bonding and grounding.
The requirements in 680.26 are easier to understand if you remember the purpose of equipotential bonding is to prevent differences in potential. Essentially, you connect all of the metallic parts around the pool, outdoor spa, or hot tub with a conductive pathway. That thick copper wire that comes from your pool to the equipment pad! It takes the electricity from the pool or equipment and sends it into the earth through the bonding rod and through the ground wire (Green) back to the panel hopefully tripping the breaker! Bonding spreads the electricity out so the voltage has a lot of places to go not just through your body. Grounding ties the equipment to the breaker panel giving stray current a path to return. All pools even Fiberglass ones need to have at least one piece of metal making contact with the pool water (In addition, a minimum conductive surface area of 9 sq in. must be installed in contact with the pool water [680.26(C)]. This water bond can consist of metal parts that are required to be bonded in 680.26(B). See Bonding and Grounding requirements.
We at Aquajoy Spa And Pool have more than 30 yrs of experience with water and electricity. We are up on the code and can check and verify that your pool and its electrical components are up to par! Loose connection at the pump or heater may break the grounding circuit, which is why we always run a ground wire. A replaced pump motor may be grounded but is the #8 bond wire attached?
There is one more reason to make sure you have an equipotential bond in place, salt water! Chlorine generators use salt as a means to produce chlorine, a by-product of the process is electrolysis. If it is not dispersed the salt will attack your metal fittings (ladder, light, and conduit). As wonderful as salt water is the benefits are diminished if you have to replace lights and ladders.
If you have any concerns about your pools electrical system have ASAP or your electrician checks it out, this is not something to wait on.
NEC 2014 – Swimming Pools, Spas, Hot Tubs video by Mike Holt
Watershapes.com article on deck lights and ponds.
April 24, 2014
Just read an article in Aqua Magazine about a young boy electrocuted due to faulty light wiring. Sadly it sounds like an unqualified pool person did the work!
Added 2/2/2015 from April 27th of 2014:
Swimming pool electrocution: Children nearly killed by bad electrical wiring in Florida pool