October 20, 2006
POOL ENTRAPMENT AVOIDANCE DEVICES
By: Veronica Rose, Principal Analyst
You want to know (1) when and why the state adopted the requirement for in-ground swimming pools to have atmospheric vacuum relief systems, (2) what systems satisfy the requirement, (3) what other states require them, and (4) who manufacturers and distributes them in Connecticut.
The state building code requires that all in-ground swimming pools in Connecticut be equipped with an atmospheric vacuum relief system. The function of the system (also called an entrapment avoidance system) is to prevent people from being trapped by the force of the water suction from pool drains. The requirement is contained in the 2003 International Residential Code (IRC) and 2003 International Building Code (IBC), which the state adopted in 2004 and 2005, respectively, as part of the state building code.
Under the state building code, residential in-ground pools must be equipped with the system if the permit for the pool was applied for on or after September 1, 2004; commercial in-ground pools must be similarly equipped if the permit was applied for on or after December 31, 2005. For purposes of the requirement, a residential pool is one located at a one- or two-family detached dwelling and available only to residents and guests; a commercial pool is one located at all other locations, including apartment buildings, hotels, and motels.
According to the International Code Council (ICC), which publishes the IRC and IBC, 46 states and Washington, D.C. currently use the IRC, and 47 states and D.C. use the IBC. But, states may modify the model codes to reflect state law or specific state circumstances, and we do not know if any of them have amended, revised, or excluded the entrapment avoidance provisions.
According to the state building inspector's office, there are three ways to satisfy the building code's pool entrapment avoidance requirements. The first is by using an electrical switch, which can sense when the pool drain is clogged or blocked by a foreign object (such as a person's body), and immediately shut off the pool pump and its suction effect. An example of such a switch is a Stingl switch (visit http://www.stingl-switch.com). The second method is by installing a mechanical vacuum relief in the suction line. The valve opens when a vacuum is sensed (i.e., the drain is blocked), introducing a flow of air into the suction line. This breaks the vacuum and releases whatever is blocking the drain or outlet. The third method is by installing an “approved gravity drainage system.”
Hayward Pool Products, Inc. and Vac Alert Industries are among the companies that sell the systems (http://www.haywardnet.com/) and www.vac-alert.com). Your constituent may contact these companies or any other pool manufacturer or distributor for sales information (see additional contact information attached). Information on pool distributors and manufacturers is also available at the following websites:
According to the state building inspector, to his knowledge, all the in-ground pools installed in the state under permits applied for since December 31, 2005 have entrapment avoidance systems. He is not aware of any problems locating the systems.
THE STATE BUILDING CODE
State law requires the state building inspector and the Codes and Standards Committee to adopt and administer a state building code based on a national model building code to regulate the design, construction, and use of buildings or structures (CGS § 29-252).
The current state building code includes the 2003 IBC; the 2003 IRC; the 2003 International Existing Building Code; Connecticut revisions to the IBC and IRC; as well as plumbing, mechanical, electrical, and energy conservation codes.
Because the model codes are intended for general application throughout the United States and Canada, they contain generic administrative provisions not suitable for Connecticut. Thus, Connecticut has not incorporated all of their provisions in the state building code, and it has modified others to reflect state law, regulations, and standards. The modifications, which take the form of amendments, deletions, and additions, are published as regulations in the Connecticut Law Journal and referred to as the Connecticut Supplement [to the state building code]. Typically, amendments modify code provisions to reflect state law and reconcile inconsistencies; additions are provisions required by the state but not the codes; and deletions are provisions that conflict with state law or regulations or are required by the codes but not the state.
The model codes are published by the ICC for adoption by state and local governments. They are prepared with the collaboration of engineers, architects, builders, material producers, and trade association members. They regulate “measured performance,” rather than specific material or construction methods, and are intended to permit easy and timely incorporation of material and methods that meet accepted standards.
POOL ENTRAPMENT AVOIDANCE REQUIREMENTS
All pools in Connecticut with suction fittings other than skimmers open to the atmosphere (in effect, in-ground swimming pools) must be equipped with an atmospheric vacuum release system if (1) in the case of residential pools, the construction permit was applied for on or after September 1, 2004 and (2) in the case of commercial pools, the construction permit was applied for on or after December 31, 2005.
The function of an atmospheric vacuum release system is to prevent a person from being trapped by the powerful suction force created at the outlet or drain where water leaves a pool or spa (hence the name entrapment avoidance system). The force is so strong that it can easily pin a person to the outlet, making it impossible to free him. The code requires that the system include either a safety vacuum release system conforming to American National Standards, Inc. specifications or an approved gravity drainage system.
The requirement for the system is contained in the 2003 IRC and 2003 IBC. It became part of the state building code when the state adopted the IRC in 2004 and the IBC in 2005. The requirement reads as follows:
All pool and spa single or multiple outlet circulation systems shall be equipped with atmospheric vacuum relief should grate covers located therein become missing or broken (§ AG 106.3 IRC portion of the 2005 state building code & § 3109.5 of the IBC portion of the 2005 state building code).
The state adopted the IRC requirement for residential pools without changes. At the request of the Connecticut chapter of the National Spa and Pool Institute, the state amended the IBC requirements for commercial pools, effectively making the state's requirements for such pools more stringent than the IBC requirements.
RATIONALE FOR ADOPTING REQUIREMENTS
According to the state building inspector's office, “. . . there was no specific reason to adopt the entrapment avoidance requirements, [but] the requirements were included in the model codes and there was no reason to delete the requirements from the adoption process.”
We have not discussed the issue with the ICC. But the literature indicates that manufacturers began to look for ways to address the problem after several highly publicized pool and spa entrapment incidents in the 1990s. In 2002, in one of the most highly publicized incidents, Virginia Graeme Baker, granddaughter of James A. Baker III, secretary of state under former President George Bush, died after being trapped in the drain of a spa. This incident focused more attention on pool entrapment accidents and intensified the debate on the issue.
MEETING THE REQUIREMENTS
There are three ways to meet the state building code's entrapment avoidance requirements, according to the state building inspector's office. The first is by installing an electrical switch that senses an increase in pressure caused by the blockage of the pool's outlet drain and immediately shuts off the pool pump and its suction effect. The second is by installing a mechanical vacuum relief valve in the suction line. The valve opens when a vacuum is sensed, introducing a flow of air into the
line. This breaks the vacuum and releases whatever is blocking the drain and causing the vacuum. The third is by installing an approved gravity drainage system. But the code is silent on how to achieve this.
STATES THAT HAVE ADOPTED THE REQUIREMENTS
The ICC reports that 47 states and Washington, D.C. currently use the IBC; 45 states and D.C. use the IRC (www.iccsafe.org/ government/adoption.html). But states may amend or delete provisions of the ICC codes to accommodate their specific circumstances, and we do not know how many, if any, have adopted, amended, or deleted the model codes' entrapment avoidance provisions. (Some states have adopted the ICC codes for statewide use; in others, local governments have adopted them. Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, and Texas are among the former. Arizona, Delaware, and Illinois are among the latter.)