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Before you can jump into your pool or spa, there are legal loops you have to jump through first. No matter what size or type of pool or spa you invest in, it will most likely depend on electrical equipment for filtering and heating water, operating the cover, lights, pumps, and other functions. Every electrical aspect of your pool needs to follow the code set forth by your local government, and most need to be installed by a professional electrician.
Before you buy and install a pool or spa, familiarize yourself with the National Electric Code (NEC).
DISCLAIMER: Provided below is the 2017 edition of the NEC, which is revised once every three years. Keep yourself up to date regarding changes that are made to the code. Ask your local inspector about specific information regarding electrical laws for pools and spas, or you can see the code in its entirety here. You can find these rules in Article 680 of the guidelines.
Overhead Power Lines and Swimming Pools
The NEC mandates that overhanging electrical cords must be kept at a safe height from the ground and people’s heads – for utility power lines that hang over a pool or spa, they must have a clearance of 22.5 feet over the water level, deck, or diving platform (communications cables must be at least 10 feet above). Note that the water level doesn’t necessarily indicate how high you fill up the pool or spa, but highest level the pool can be filled.
Underground Electrical Wiring and Swimming Pools
You can’t have any underground wires running under the pool, and lines can run no less than 5 feet from the sides of the pool or spa. The only exception is for wires and appliances connected to the pool and allow it to operate – or, if there isn’t enough space, the wire needs to be protected in a conduit system. Conduit systems are regulated as follows:
- Rigid metal raceway requires at least 6 inches of cover.
- Nonmetallic raceway, in addition to 6 inches of cover, must have at least 4 inches of that cover be concrete.
- If concrete cannot cover the nonmetallic raceway, it must have 18 inches of clearance.
Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) Protection
To prevent shocks and short-circuiting, most electrical equipment near and around your pool or spa is required to be protected by a ground-fault circuit interrupter. Devices that fall under that category are:
- Outlet receptacles 20 feet or closer to the pool.
- Underwater pool lights with 15 or higher voltage.
- Electric pool cover mechanisms.
- Pool pump motor receptacles, regardless of distance from pool wall.
- Light sources within 10 feet of the edge of the pool or spa (exception made for devices higher than 5 feet over the water level).
Electrical Outlet Receptacles Near Swimming Pools
Receptacles for motors and pumps must be protected by a GFCI, and are required to be located within 6 to 10 feet of the pool walls. All other outlet receptacles for other uses must not be closer than 6 feet if GFCI-protected, or within 20 feet if they are not protected. All in-ground pools require at least one GFCI protected electrical outlet positioned within 6 to 20 feet from the pool’s edge.
Guidelines for Self-Contained Spas and Hot Tubs
Outlet receptacles must never be within 6 feet of water body’s edge; those within 10 feet need to be GFCI-protected. The acceptable distance for ceiling fans and light fixtures is 12 feet over the water if they are not GFCI-protected, and 7.5 feet if they are GFCI-protected. Wall switches are required to be installed no less than 5 feet from the water. Regardless of distance from the water or wall, all outlets and direct-wired circuits powering a self-contained hot tub heater or motor needs to be GFCI-protected.
For a permanently installed pool or spa, a maintenance disconnect is required for any equipment except for lighting the body of water. This means that, for every electrical asset for the pool or spa, you need to install a method of shutting down all conductors simultaneously. The disconnecting device needs to be installed in a visible place near the pool, but not within 5 feet of the water (unless separated by a barrier). This prevents the accidental switching on or off of the disconnection system.