Ep001 - Pools & Hot Tubs with Trevor Tremblay - Transcript
Ep001: Grounded in Ontario: Pools & Hot Tubs with Trevor Tremblay
Trevor Tremblay: Essentially what they reported to us was their baby and themselves were receiving shocks every time they passed the baby from out of the hot tub to the parents standing on the concrete. So to me, I was like, yeah, that kind of sounds pretty bad. We actually found there were seven or eight volts from the earth to the water in the pool. So every time they passed the baby out, there was a shock.
Josie Erzetic: Grounded in Ontario is a podcast for you, the provinces' licensed electrical contractors, master and certified electricians. Safety tips, tech, and best practices. Now let's get grounded.
Welcome to our first episode. My name is Josie Erzetic and I work for the Electrical Safety Authority, Ontario's electrical safety regulator. The podcast is a new venture for us, and we're really excited to have a chance to talk directly to you, the contractors, about some of the issues we're seeing.
I was recently reading a study that said 60% of Canadians are planning a reno within the next two years. And most of those renos are happening in the backyard. So that means that LECs and master electricians listening to this are getting calls to do the electrical work. And we're here to arm you with the tools to get it done safely. With me today is Trevor Tremblay who's a technical advisor at ESA. Trevor's been with the ESA for over 15 years and he started as an inspector and he's been a technical advisor for the last five years. So, we get the benefit of all of that experience. Trevor, how are you today?
Trevor: I'm doing really well. How are you?
Josie: I'm fantastic. I'm excited to be talking about pools and hot tubs, probably because the weather's getting warmer and I wish I was in a pool!
Trevor: Me too.
Josie: Trevor, with the increased demand in pool and hot tub installations lately, what kinds of hazards are you seeing?
Trevor: Well, we're definitely seeing an increase in installations of pools and hot tubs. Unfortunately, some of them are being installed too close to overhead power lines and communication lines. This could put the user at a risk as water and electricity don't mix. In some older neighborhoods, some of the overhead services are run through backyards and it's often overlooked as you have to keep your pool five meters from the edge of the pool or any other elevated surface associated with the pool.
Josie: I can see that five meters being a real challenge, especially in some of the small backyards that we have in urban settings.
Trevor: It can be a real challenge. Typically five meters is challenging to say the least, but it could also increase to 7.5 meters when the lines are over 750 volts. And depending on the type of pool, it could increase the challenges as well if you have an above ground pool that already brings the pool closer to the overhead lines. So, it could be making it really challenging. This distance is also measured from pool decks, slides, just to make sure that they took into account that, you know, you have your pool skimmers, so you have the pole. You don't want to be skimming your pool and inadvertently make contact with the power lines. And, you know, I hate to say it, but I've probably done it, but even standing on the top of my slide, you know, waving my arms in the air, you know, typically that could get pretty close to the power lines. So these five meters and the 7.5 meters takes all that into account to make it safe. And you should also call your local utility to make sure that they don't have any clearance requirements of their own.
Josie: Trevor, can you tell us about any examples where you've seen some renovation, disasters and people have been putting in a pool or a hot tub in the backyard and they haven't paid attention to these kinds of minimum distances you're telling us about?
Trevor: We have seen many instances, and I'll talk about one in particular. We did have a pool. It was installed, in-ground pool, and the bonding was completed. Unfortunately they didn't call for a bonding inspection. And then it was noticed that the pool was installed too close to the high voltage lines that were running just directly behind their yard on a conservation area. It took them a year and a half to get approvals to move the pool from the conservation authority. And it also cost them $30,000 out of their own pocket to have it moved.
Josie: Wow, $30,000! That's a significant amount of money! So it seems to me that what you really need is a proper plan in place before you're starting any work like this. So with that in mind, as people are planning those backyard pool and hot tub reno projects, what kind of other equipment should they have in mind?
Trevor: Your contractors should, when installing pools, which also includes hot tubs, should take into account that existing electrical equipment must be three meters away from the pool or hot tub, unless suitably cut off by fences, walls or permanent barriers. This could be lighting, air conditioners. Some of it can be closer if it's ground fault protected, but that could be costly. And again, as we saw in the relocation of that one pool that cost $30,000, it could be very expensive if you don't do the planning upfront. And your LEC or pool contractors should help you with that.
Josie: Okay. And what are some of the other problems that you're seeing, Trevor?
Trevor: Right now, due to shortages from local distributors for hot tubs and pools, and people not being able to actually walk into the stores, we're seeing a lot of online purchasing. So depending on where you buy it, it might not come into Ontario certified for use in Canada. So unfortunately, you order something online and you get it, and then you won't be able to connect it due to it not being approved. Your LEC should make sure that the equipment is approved and bear a certification mark from an accredited certification agency by Standards Council of Canada. And due to the shortage, we're also seeing a number of refurbished outlets pop up. So they're buying old hot tub and refurbishing them. This could be also dangerous because we don't know what type of equipment they're replacing in the hot tub. Is it the original equipment manufacturer? And it could actually void the certification.
Josie: So what should an LEC actually advise their clients to look for to make sure they're getting an approved product?
Trevor: They should really tell their clients to look for that certification mark. It is very important. Get them to ask the questions when they're dealing online. Make sure they ask where they're buying it, does this come with a certification label approved for Canada? And again, they could find the certification labels on our website at esasafe.com/approvalmarks. Because they should be able to provide that. And make sure if you're buying used equipment, that they do ask the questions again, from whom they're buying it. Has it been modified? What kind of modifications? Has it been done as an original manufacturer's instructions type thing? Are they approved parts? Just to make them more knowledgeable on what they're buying because it is very important that they use approved equipment in Ontario, because you won't be able to connect it. And again, you spend that kind of money and then it just causes a lot of red tape and costs you more money at the end of the day because it's not approved when it gets there to use it.
Josie: Makes sense. So let's talk about the code requirements for a minute here now. What are the Ontario electrical code requirements for safe distances for different types of electrical installations that we would see by a pool or a hot tub?
Trevor: Well, we did discuss that almost all electrical equipment must be kept three meters away or ground fault protected or suitably cut off. That also applies to receptacles and lights. Receptacles must be kept at least three meters away, but if they are protected by a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter Class A they can be as close as 1.5 meters. But again, the ground fault protection must be outside that three meter threshold. Lights can also be closer than three meters, but must be protected by a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter Class A or suitably cut off by barriers. But you won't typically see them suitably cut off by barriers because when you put a barrier up it kind of defeats the purpose of having the light.
Josie: Okay, and if someone's listening from their truck right now, they don't need to drive off the road while they're reaching for a pencil, because you can find all of this information on the ESA website. You just need to visit esasafe.com/podcast, and you'll find all the information such as bulletins and diagrams to help you out. So getting back to all of that, Trevor, can you tell us about the different bonding requirements based on the type of pool?
Trevor: Section 68 of the Ontario Electrical Safety Code addresses bonding requirements for pools with conductive pool shells, talks about non electrical conductive equipment within 1.5 meters of the pool, and also talks about structural reinforcing steel around the pool. There is no bonding requirement for non-conductive pools, such as fiberglass or resin because they're non-conductive so there's no point in bonding it. But that doesn't get rid of the requirement to bond everything that's not electrical conductive equipment around the pool. So you still have to maintain that bonding of the reinforcing steel around the pool. And if it's encapsulated, they still have to deal with the equal potentiality around the pool. And again, you can visit our website for the details on code specific code references at esasafe.com/podcast. And once again, it is very essential to make sure the pool equipment is properly bonded to keep it safe. And without it, pool users are at risk of electrical shock.
Josie: Can you give me an example that maybe you've encountered over your time at ESA, where there was improper bonding, and as a result of that, electrical shock did occur?
Trevor: I did have to respond to one inquiry from a homeowner. This one kind of hit home as I am a parent. So essentially what they reported to us was their baby and themselves were receiving shocks every time they passed the baby from out of the hot tub to the parents standing on the concrete. So to me, I was like, yeah, that kind of sounds pretty bad. So we went and took a look. We actually found there were seven or eight volts from the earth to the water in the pool. So this was a slab on grade, roof overhang, so the hot tub was underneath there. So every time they'd pass the baby out, there was a shock. So essentially there was definitely a stray voltage issue. And the stray voltage was kind of collecting through the concrete and rebar, through the person standing on it, which was typically wet from coming out of the hot tub, through the baby, through the person standing in the tub and through the water to the current collectors in the hot tub, back through the bond wire to the service box where the system bonding jumper connects it to the neutral, neutral goes out to the street and where the neutrals are connected to the primary secondary.
The only way we can get rid of them getting shocked was to make sure there was an equal potential plane between the concrete and the hot tub water. So we bonded the rebar in the concrete to the hot tub. It doesn't get rid of the stray voltage issue, but it did get rid of the shocking and they're able to use the hot tub again. And it didn't cost that much money this time, but they're very happy we solved it.
Josie: I would be pretty worried too if I was getting in and out of a hot tub or passing a child in and out of the hot tub and getting shocked. So it does drive the point home of how important doing this work properly and doing the bonding properly is. Does the code require anything different for pools versus hot tub?
Trevor: The Ontario Electrical Safety Code treats hot tubs the same as pools. So the same bonding requirements for pools apply to hot tubs.
Josie: What about electrical maintenance, Trevor? We've talked a lot about the initial installation, but once you get into years two or three with your pool or hot tub, is it even necessary to keep doing electrical maintenance every year?
Trevor: Electrical maintenance is very important and often overlooked. In regular electrical installations, typically a lot of the incidents happened due to lack of maintenance. LECs or pool contractors should advise their customers that they should do maintenance, and the best time would be when they're opening their pools in the spring. We are getting an increased number of reports for tingled voltage when people enter and exit their pools or hot tubs. This routine electrical maintenance is to ensure that electrical components are in good condition. Like we're not even just talking about bonding, we're talking about the pool pump and they should be checking everything anyway, just so you have a safe and fun summer using your pool or hot tub. So the LECs or pool contractors should be doing this when they're opening to check the bonding. Because a lot of times, especially if you have saltwater pools, you have some corrosion around the ladders and your slides, that type of thing, just to make sure that everything's bonding together. Proper bonding will greatly reduce the likelihood of any severity of any voltage issues.
Josie: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And what if, what if someone is deciding they're now getting rid of a pool or hot tub, or they've just bought a place and they have an older hot tub maybe in the backyard and they decide they don't want to maintain it. Any special rules for licensed electrical contractors to know if they're called in to decommission a pool or hot tub?
Trevor: Well, for the licensed electrical contractor, they know what they're doing. Essentially, they'd have to make sure that if the cable stays and the tub or hot tub is being removed, that the cable has to be made safe at the ends, by putting it in a suitable enclosure for the environment, typically a weatherproof enclosure. If they do remove the cable, they should fill any unused openings in the panels or junction box, which they pulled the cable out. And I highly recommend an LEC being used for this type of thing. You see too frequently the ads in Kijiji and that sort of thing..."FREE: Come take the hot tub." People show up, they rip everything out. Nothing's done safely. The homeowner might not have the knowledge to know, is it live? What did they do? Is the breaker off? And then even if the breaker is off and the cables are just sitting there, who's to say someone doesn't turn it on later thinking it's something else. And it could potentially lead to some serious hazards in your yard, especially for your kids and yourself.
Josie: And what if, Trevor, someone doesn't want a permanent installation so they buy one of these plug and play soft tubs. Do they need to follow the same types of rules?
Trevor: No, the plug and play hot tubs are typically an end user product. So they just plug into a receptacle. And the manufacturers will have instructions telling you where you can put it, keep it away from certain appliances. And it will come with a molded ground fault circuit interrupter built right into the cord. So it almost takes our rules of the code and kind of puts it in the standard it's built to. So it's kind of user beware at the end.
Josie: Okay, Trevor, I want to thank you very much for all of those important tips and all of that advice. And thanks for joining me today.
Trevor: Thank you very much. It was a lot of fun.
Josie: We'll be devoting some future podcasts to frequently asked questions from our licensees. So please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure you subscribe so that you'll get notified whenever we have a new episode. So until next time, be safe, work safe and stay grounded.