Swimming Pool Blog
by Rob Cox January 06, 2015
Are Swimming Pool Lights Dangerous?
Let's face it, swimming pool lights do represent a hazard - I mean, they are a lamp used under water!
A much safer alternative to 120V underwater lighting is to install a pool light transformer and use a 12V pool light. The transformer installs in between the GFCI protected circuit breaker and the pool light junction box, to step the voltage down from 120V to a much safer underwater voltage of 12 volts. But are 12V pool lights much safer? When they are installed correctly - Yes, much safer.
Last year, in April 2014 a 7-year old boy in Miami, Florida was killed by a mis-wired 12V light. The transformer was mis-wired and the ground wire to the pool lamp was carrying 120V from the non-GFI protected switch. Eventually the voltage corroded the pool lamp and voltage released into the pool just as Calder Sloan was diving in to race a friend across the pool.
Also in April of last year, 3 children in Hialeah, Florida were hospitalized after receiving severe shocks from a pool handrail, as they were entering the Palms West condo pool. In this case again, faulty grounding and bonding, in the pump room, caused a stray shock to travel through the bonding wire to the handrail, ladders and pool lights.
In Houston, Texas, Raul Hernandez, 27 died from electric shock after rescuing 11 year old David Duran from a hotel pool on Labor Day weekend of 2013. A contractor had performed work to the pool lights without obtaining proper permits. The pool light was not properly bonded and the circuit was not GFCI protected, both requirements of Article 680 of the National Electric Code.
Pool electrocution not only happens in the United States, but all around the world, anywhere someone wants to put a light underwater. The CPSC has attributed over 60 deaths to pool electrocution from 1990 to 2003. In most pool light electrocutions, mistakes were made in wiring, grounding or bonding the pool light, and in nearly every case, a GFCI circuit would have prevented the tragedy. In many cases, the pool light itself is not at fault, but voltage from other equipment travels to the pool via the bonding wire that connects all metal equipment (pump, heater, lights, handrail, slide legs or dive stand). Incorrect bonding or grounding is often to blame.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO REDUCE POOL ELECTROCUTION?
- When there is no permit, there is no inspection - which is why it's important to pay a few extra dollars to pull a permit for pool light replacements.
- Pool light bulbs are DIY friendly, but lamp replacement, or upgrades to color LED pool lights should be made by a licensed electrician.
- Hire an electrician to install low voltage 12 volt pool lights, with a transformer, on a GFCI circuit, grounded and bonded.
- Hire an electrician to replace underwater pool lights with new at the end of their service life, which is generally 20-30 years.
- If your pool was built without permits, or wired by a tradesman of questionable skill, hire an electrician to certify it safe for use.
- If your pool was built before 1975 - hire an electrician to bring it up to code.
Pool lights do not have to be operating to be dangerous! Most hazards occur from incorrectly grounded and bonded lights, not from incorrectly powered lights. This can energize the pool even if the pool light is not lighted; during the day specifically. To be sure that your pool light wiring - power, ground and bond - is done correctly and up to code - have an electrician inspect your pool electrical.
Rescuing someone suffering from pool electrocution is very difficult. Metal pool poles will conduct electricity, and entering the water or touching a person being electrocuted will ground into the rescuer. The best solution is to shut off all power to the pool immediately. Run to the breaker box and shut off all breakers, then make a rescue attempt quickly, as the victim has likely submerged below water.
ARE SWIMMING POOL LIGHTS DANGEROUS?
~~~ To answer the question, swimming pool lights can be dangerous, but they don't have to be. When it comes to water and electricity, make sure that your contractor is wiring, grounding and bonding according to Article 680 of the N.E.C. Pool light breakers and any associated power outlets should be a fully GFCI protected circuit. Finally, pull a permit for any lighting upgrades or lamp replacements, to inspect and certify the pool wiring, bonding and grounding is safe for users and operators.