New Section 680.4 in Article 680 in the 2020 National Electrical Code enables the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) to require periodic inspection and testing of swimming pools, fountains and similar installations such as splash pads, wading pools and decorative water areas in parks. This new section is intended to permit or require inspection and testing of these installations after the initial one or two visits during construction.
Inspectors will usually do an inspection of the initial rough-in of the swimming pool or fountain and again after the installation is complete before a certificate of completion for the project has been issued. Once these initial checks are done, many of these installations are not required to have any follow-up inspections. Does the NEC have the mandate to require the inspection and testing of any electrical installations after construction?
To answer this question, go back to the purpose and scope of the NEC , as covered in 90.1 and 90.2. Section 90.1(A), “Practical Safeguarding,” states: “The purpose of this Code is the practical safeguarding of persons and property from hazards arising from the use of electricity.”
The NEC Handbook further states the NEC has “primary responsibility for documents on minimizing the risk of electricity as a source of electric shock and as a potential ignition source of fires and explosions. It shall also be responsible for text to minimize the propagation of fire and explosions due to electrical installations.”
There is no mention of construction, installation or testing, and no time frame is mentioned. Going further, 90.1(B), “Adequacy,” has the following text: “This Code contains provisions that are considered necessary for safety. Compliance therewith and proper maintenance result in an installation that is essentially free from hazard but not necessarily efficient, convenient, or adequate for good service or future expansion of electrical use.”
This text does deal with proper maintenance for good service or future expansion of the electrical system. In addition, an informational note helps explain the requirements in 90.1(B) as follows: “Hazards often occur because of overloading of wiring systems by methods or usage not in conformity with this Code . This occurs because initial wiring did not provide for increases in the use of electricity. An initial adequate installation and reasonable provisions for system changes provide for future increases in the use of electricity.”
At least the informational note provides insight about the initial installation and reasonable initial provisions for future increases, but it does not mention maintenance and testing after the certificate of occupancy.
As can be seen by the scope statement in Section 90.2(A), the NEC covers the installation and removal of electrical equipment and does not mention anything about dealing with existing equipment maintenance and testing. The actual text in 680.4 uses permissive text, stating the AHJ shall be permitted to make inspections after installations mandatory for periodic inspection and testing of swimming pools, fountains and similar installations. Making the text permissive solves the problem of coverage of these systems after the electrical installation is complete.
Typically, any electrical equipment near pools, fountains and other water installations involve highly corrosive conditions and, understandably, requires more maintenance than normal electrical installations.
The electrical equipment, exposed to chemicals added to the water for pools and similar applications, is more likely to suffer corrosion and other similar damage, thus reducing the life expectancy of the equipment and increasing the hazard to people using the pool or water feature. There have been numerous cases where deterioration of electrical equipment and lack of adequate maintenance has caused fatalities.
Municipalities, counties and states should provide requirements for planned maintenance, inspections and testing of residential and commercial water features where people may be exposed to hazardous conditions due to deterioration of electrical equipment. Periodic maintenance and testing is required for electrical systems in hospitals, commercial buildings and industrial facilities with emergency lighting and emergency power systems. Qualified and licensed electrical contractors should add testing and maintenance of residential and commercial pools and other water features to their service departments.