Swimming Pools, Hot Tubs and Electrical Safety

Safe Wiring Leads to a Safe Summer of Fun in the Water

Modern patio overlooking pool.
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As you know, water and electricity don't mix. That's why electrical safety is so important when dealing with swimming pools, hot tubs, jacuzzis, and hydromassage bathtubs. Here's a comprehensive list of related issues, codes, and safety devices used to wire these summer water items and the areas around them.

  • 01 of 03

    Spa and Hot Tub Outdoor Wiring

    Woman in hot tub
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    In order to feed the spas and hot tubs, the power requirements vary from unit to unit. The smaller units simply plug into a 15-amp, 120-volt ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. Other larger units may require a 50-amp, 240-volt feed to power the pump motors and associated heaters that may be installed. These larger units are hardwired to a junction box within the access panel mounted in a side access panel under the unit. On some models, an easily removable panel or door gains you access to the pump, wiring, and control for easy maintenance.

    Spas and pools must have power fed through a service disconnect switch. This allows you to turn the power on or off to the spa or hot tub. In most cases, this is a timer switch that, once turned to say 30 minutes, will count down and turn itself off. The disconnect must be located at least five feet from the edge of the spa or hot tub. The rule assumes that at that distance, you cannot have your foot in the water and touch the switch. It is a safety feature to prevent someone from being electrocuted.

    Imagine if the switch was within reach of the spa or hot tub while you were in the water. You reach out to add more time to the timer and as you touch the switch, you're electrocuted. That could happen if you came in contact with part of the circuit. By placing the switch far enough away so that you'd have to actually get out of the water to advance the timer, this virtually eliminates the possibility of standing in the water while working the switch. The maximum distance the switch can be is 50 feet and within sight of the person in the spa or hot tub.

    For safety purposes and to see if local permits are needed before installing a spa or hot tub, check with your local electrical inspector. He or she may require that a licensed electrician make the electrical connections. Remember, when we're talking about water and electricity, they don't mix. Please take extra safety precautions to prevent electrical shock and keep your family safe. By making the proper electrical connections and observing electrical safety, you'll have a fun-filled soak in the tub!

  • 02 of 03

    Pools and Spas Code Requirements

    Swimming pool
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    Overhead Power Lines

    Any electrical wiring run over a pool or spa must be at least 22 ½ feet above the water level. This includes power lines and broadband wiring communications systems. Clearance height above diving boards is not less than 14 ½ feet above the platform or diving board, whichever is the highest. You see, it is likely that with pools, you’ll have one of these handy bug-catching nets. These are mounted on a long, aluminum handle and could easily be lifted into the air. A 10-foot handle and the height of the person using it could be deadly to the user if the lines were lower.

    Overhead Telecommunication Lines

    This also includes any telecommunication lines that are hung on the same poles. These lines that are often used for telephone, cable television, or speakers, must be at least 10 feet above the diving board, platform, and the water level. If there is a choice on where to run the overhead power or where to place a pool or spa, choose a place away from these lines!

    Underground Wiring

    Underground wiring must be run at least five feet from the edge of a swimming pool wall or spa. Let’s say it’s a line feeding a pole light around the pool. The exception is when the wiring attaches to the pool or spa to run a heater, pump, filter, or interior pool or spa lighting.

    Electrical Connection Rules

    Electrical connections made to and around water, like swimming pools and spas, must be protected by ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) devices. This comes in the form of a GFCI outlet or a GFCI type circuit breaker. If there is a fault in the circuit and you become connected to it, the devices will automatically shut the circuit off and likely save you from being electrocuted. To ensure that power can be readily turned off in the case of an emergency, an electrical disconnect is required within sight of the pool or spa. It can be no closer than five feet of the pool or spa so that you cannot be leaning out of the water to turn power on or off.

    Pool Pump and Filter Power

    Most pool pumps require no more than a 20-amp circuit to run them. Some pumps are set up for 120-volt operation and some come equipped with a multi-tap connection. This allows you to run the pump at 120 volts or 240 volts with a few wiring changes on the pump connection itself. The 240-volt pumps usually run on a two-pole, 30-amp circuit. Again remember, the breakers supplying these pumps are all GFCI protected for your safety.

  • 03 of 03

    Dissecting a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) Outlet

    A Shocking Morning

    Let me explain what I’m talking about. Imagine you’re in your bathroom in the morning. You’ve just taken a nice warm shower and step up to the mirror to finish getting ready. In the sink is water that you’ve drawn to wash your face or something. You reach for your hair dryer or electric razor and start your routine. Suddenly the electrical appliance slips from your hands and falls into the water! Instantly, without thinking, you reach into the water and grab the appliance to save it. The only problem is that now there is electrical current in the water ready to electrocute you. Luckily, you installed a GFCI outlet that shut the circuit off as soon as the appliance hit the water. As they say in baseball, “You’re safe!”

    Understanding a GFCI

    A GFCI is rectangular in shape and has two places to plug devices into. It also has two separate connections. One is called the line connection, which is fed from your electrical panel. The other connection is called the load connection. This unique connection feeds additional outlets to the circuit downstream but still has the protection of the GFCI. It acts as the main hub, protecting all devices connected to it. This can be a huge dollar saver if you know what you are doing.


    On the face of the outlet are two buttons. One is called a test button. Its purpose is to give you a means of manually unbalancing the outlet load and shorting out the device. When you do that, if the outlet is functioning properly, it will make a click sound and the power will be shut off to the outlet. If you check the outlet with a voltmeter or tester, you’ll find out if the power is off. Now the other button comes into play. The second button is called the reset button. As you might guess, this will restore the outlet to the "on" or working position. Press the button and you will once again have power.

    Hook It Up

    Making the electrical connection to the outlet itself is pretty simple. The brass colored screw on the side of the GFCI is for the “hot” wire (usually the black or red wire). The silver screw is for the “neutral” wire (the white wire). The green colored screw is located on either the top or the bottom of the outlet. This is the ground connection where the bare copper wire from your box goes. Please be sure to connect the ground wire if you have one.

    Use Them Where You Need Them

    GFCI’s are used in and around the house in areas prone to water. Any time an outlet is within five feet of water, you should install a GFCI. They should be used in or around bathrooms, basements, kitchens, hot tubs, jacuzzis, swimming pools, outdoor outlets and even inside garages. By installing GFCI’s in and around your home, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re being protected from electrical shock 24/7. Remember, your family’s lives depend on them.