Pools and spas come in every shape and size, and most require some electrical equipment to maintain water quality, power lights, run pumps, and more. These electrical installations must be done according to the electrical code in your area—and usually must be installed by a licensed electrician. The following are just a few of the most common code requirements from the National Electrical Code (NEC). Local rules may vary, although they generally follow the NEC fairly closely.
Note: These rules are current as of the 2020 edition of the NEC—a coding standard that is updated every three years. While changes to the Code are gradual, it is always a good idea to check on the requirements of the latest edition of the NEC. Your local building inspector can let you know what the most current guidelines are for electrical safety around pools and spas. These are covered in article 680 of the NEC code.
Overhead Electrical Lines
A swimming pool or spa installation must follow a couple of rules when it comes to overhead electrical lines:
- Utility power lines that run over a pool or spa must be at least 22.5 feet above the water level or base of a diving platform.
- Communications cable must be at least 10 feet above the water level or diving platform.
For these rules, the water level is defined as the highest point water can reach before it spills out of the pool or spa. It is always preferable to install a pool or spa well away from any electrical lines, or vice versa. The water is one thing to worry about; another is the use of pool cleaning nets with very long, metal handles that you lift high into the air, which may accidentally come into contact with those overhead lines.
Underground wiring is not allowed under a pool or spa, and can be run no closer than 5 feet from any sidewall of a pool or spa.
There are some exceptions when the wiring attaches to the pool or spa to serve equipment or lighting. When there is insufficient space in the area to maintain a 5-foot separation, wiring may be closer than 5 feet if it is installed in a complete raceway (conduit) system. Rigid metal raceway (RMC or IMC) must have at least 6 inches of cover. Nonmetallic raceway must have at least 6 inches of cover, including at least 4 inches of concrete; 18 inches minimum cover is required if the nonmetallic conduit is listed for direct burial without concrete encasement.
Electrical Outlet Receptacles
The rules for electrical outlets are aimed at preventing the possibility of shock:
- Receptacles for pumps and motors must be located between 6 and 10 feet from the pool walls, and they must be GFCI-protected and locked.
- Outlet receptacles for general use can be no closer than 20 feet from a pool or in-ground spa if they are not GFCI-protected, and no closer than 6 feet away if they are GFCI protected.
- On in-ground pools, there MUST be at least one GFCI protected convenience outlet located between 6 feet and 20 feet from the edge of the pool.
Most devices and equipment serving pools or spas and the surrounding areas must be protected by ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) devices. This includes but is not limited to:
- Outlet receptacles within 20 feet of a pool or spa
- Underwater pool lights greater than 15 volts
- Motors and controls for pool covers
- Outlet receptacles for pool pump motors at all distances from the pool
- Light fixtures less than 10 feet from a pool or spa edge, unless the fixture is more than 5 feet above the water level
A maintenance disconnect is required for shutting off power to pool or spa pumps, filters, and other utilization equipment. The disconnect must be installed within sight of the pool or spa but can be no closer than 5 feet from the pool or spa so that you cannot turn the power on or off while leaning out of the water. Public spas must have an emergency disconnect that is visible and at least 5 feet from the spa, but this rule does not apply to single-family dwellings.
Special Regulations for Self-Contained Spas and Hot Tubs
Finally, there are special rules for spas and hot tubs that are stand-alone units rather than integrated with a swimming pool:
- Outlet receptacles can be no closer than 6 feet from a hot tub or spa, and they must be GFCI-protected if they are less than 10 feet away.
- Lights or ceiling fans must be at least 12 feet above the spa or hot tub if there is no GFCI protection, or at least 7.5 feet away if there is GFCI protection.
- Any wall switches must be at least 5 feet from the water.
- Any outlet or direct-wired circuit that powers the motor or heater in a self-contained spa or hot tub must be GFCI protected, no matter how far away from the spa or tub.