For those fortunate enough to have a pool at their residence, swimming can be a great way to to unwind during the summer months. While swimming pools are an excellent way to relax, stray voltage in the pool can pose a significant threat. Stray voltage typically occurs through improperly grounded pool equipment.
What is Stray Voltage?
Before you can figure out how to stop stray voltages from happening, you need to know what it is. In most layman of terms, stray voltage exists when unconstrained currents leak from an electrical source. When swimmers or pets come in contact, stray voltage can even prove fatal.
Most first shocks from stray voltages are less than 10 volts, which is not very strong. When a person gets into the pool or touches a handrail or ladder that is connected to the pool, they may feel a small tingling or stinging sensation. Children are more sensitive to sensory input than adults are, so they often notice these small shocks before adults do.
A faulty transformer or electrical cable can often be the source of stray voltage in the swimming pool. This leaking current then travels through the ground in an attempt to deplete its energy. Just like a lightning strike, it uses the Earth’s ground as a pathway.
In reality, these voltages can be found under the soil of most homes. Your family could be in danger even if your home’s electrical system meets all applicable standards.
- Damaged or melted neutral or ground wiring systems
- Defective lighting systems
- Damaged or exposed buried electrical cables
- Faulty “drops” from overhead power cables (where electricity is accessed from the main line)
- Electric panel issues
- Damaged pads underneath transformers can also conduct stray voltage.
- A variety of other sources
One of the most likely places to find stray voltage is in a swimming pool, simply because electrical current has much less resistant transit in the presence of water. When electricity flows from an electrical outlet and into another conductive item, like a metal water pipe, metal support beam, or concrete slab, this is known as “stray voltage.”
Until the electric supply is cut or the power source of the energy is removed, the electricity will remain in the water. Having poor electrical wiring, inadequate GFCI protection for outlets and circuits, and electrical cords and appliances coming into contact with water are the three most common causes of electrocution in swimming pools.
Identifying The Source Of The Problem
Electrocution in a swimming pool is very rare, but it is still a risk for anyone who owns a pool. Consequently, it’s important to know what to look for if there’s an electric current in the pool and how to stop it.
It used to be common practice to embed metal rebar into concrete floors (for concrete stability). Metal was the preferred conductor of electricity, rather than concrete, and stray voltage was not a major worry back in those days.
Stray current became a problem as the concrete industry began incorporating additional components into the mix and rebar was no longer required on every build. As a result, contact voltage has been linked to far too many incidences of injury and even death.
There is no visible sign or way to tell if the water in the swimming pool contains enough electricity to kill. Most of the time, people don’t feel electrical current right away when they get into the pool. This is a lesson New Jersey homeowner James Volk learned first-hand.
A Brick family discovered an electrical current running through their yard and pool. Now they are seeking help to shut it down. https://t.co/p5VoT9UfWe
— Asbury Park Press (@AsburyParkPress) September 7, 2022
“My wife, my mother-in-law, and my daughter were in the pool, and my wife went to go clean out the skimmer basket,” Volk told news sources. “When she stuck her hand in, she got shocked so bad that she felt it down to her feet, like tingling, numbness.”
The entire family has learned to tread lightly around the pool area as some have experienced these shocks outside of the pool. The family is currently investigating what is causing the issue and have closed their pool until they can determine the cause.
Protecting Swimming Pools From Stray Voltage
Protecting swimmers in the pool from stray voltage should be of top priority. With proper wiring, the risk of stray voltage can be greatly mitigated. Wiring and grounding will also function better. Consequently, consideration of how to safeguard against stray current starts during construction of the pool itself.
Stray voltage can occur suddenly if problems develop on the grounded or neutral side of an electrical system. Equipment which may have worked perfectly for years can malfunction if something out of the ordinary occurs.
Every pool with underwater lighting, a pump to move the water, or electric heating has a chance that the water could become electrically charged if there is an electrical fault. Most experts would advise to add equipotential bonding grids under the pool and deck in order to provide stray voltage an alternative pathway.
A pool should be electrically safe to swim in if it has been constructed right and has an equipotential deck surface with all of its components properly bonded.
If you do suspect your pool has stray voltage, a device known as a “shock alert” can be used to check for electricity in the pool water. If there is electricity in the water, the shock alert will let you know by beeping and flashing red. This would indicate that there is electricity in the water and swimmers should stay out. If the device flashes green, on the other hand, it would indicate that there is no voltage and the pool is safe to swim in.
What To Do If You Encounter Stray Voltage in the Pool
The best advice is to avoid contact with any stray voltages at all costs. Seek the assistance of a licensed electrician as soon as possible if you think you have this issue close to your pool or spa. Do not allow anyone, including humans and pets, near the pool until the issue has been resolved.
The electrical code has seen in significant evolution during the past recent decades. It’s possible that the bonds in many older swimming pools were nefver properly installed or constructed to begin with. A wiring fault or issue with your electrical provider are also additional possibilities. There are a number of potential causes of stray voltages, so it’s best to have a qualified electrical contractor check it out and fix it. The majority of problems have very simple solutions.