AUTHOR: Dean Austin

Hot tub

During the Fall and Winter Months, Keep Home Electrical Safety in Mind When Using Hot Tubs and Spas

With the cooler weather upon us as we head into November, many of us will be thinking about using our hot tubs more frequently. You may be thinking your hot tub is in the same condition as the last time you used it. But are you sure? It’s important to remember that time and weather can affect a hot tub’s performance. A very well-known fact is time ages everything, including hot tubs, no matter if they are installed indoors or out. Hot tubs get old and the internal equipment may stop working. Outdoor hot tub installations have an added challenge of being exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light and other element’s including rain and snow. UV light is known to increase the aging process on exposed non-metallic electrical equipment associated with the hot tub while rain and snow affect the metallic components. Other influencers that increase the decay of hot tub equipment is the chlorine or bromine in the water that can cause corrosion in or on metal motor parts, electrical equipment, electrical terminals, and electrical conductors. So, when was the last time you inspected the motor, terminations, bonding connections, or tested the ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection? You may be thinking, I didn’t know I needed to check my tub in this way. Why do I have to check that stuff? But remember time and weather have adverse impact on all things, especially hot tubs and associated electrical equipment. Because corrosion may cause malfunctions in electronic components within the National Electrical Code® (NEC®), section 680.44 required GFCI breakers, and they should be tested regularly according to the manufacturer’s installation instructions. Those instructions also cover the approved method for testing the GFCI breaker. These are simple and easy tests that homeowners can do to determine if the hot tub is safe. The usual test method includes: Push the colored test button on the breaker body which should move the breaker handle to the middle position. If the handle doesn’t move, or trip, contact a qualified electrician to replace the GFCI breaker. A breaker handle that does move to the middle position is correctly operating. Reset the GFCI breaker by rotating the handle completely to the “off” position and then rotate back to the “on” position. A properly functioning GFCI breaker can prevent high leakage current into the hot tub water that could result in an unfortunate electrical shock drowning (ESD) incident. Terminations are another critical component of the electrical equipment installation. The NEC®, section 110.14, requires all conductors to be torqued tight in accordance with the manufacturer’s installation instructions and not the ole tight as I can make it method. To check the terminations, you must remove the access panel cover on the hot tub skirting and look inside to see the wires landed on the exposed terminals, such as the bonding terminal, which is frequently found on the exterior of the hot tub’s control box. If there is a bonding conductor installed under the perimeter surface this is where it would be terminated. Look to see if there is greenish colored corrosion around the terminal and the copper conductor. Any corrosion around a terminal or conductor can interfere with the performance of that bonding system and should have maintenance done to remove the corrosion. Other terminations that should be inspected periodically by a qualified electrician are within the hot tub disconnect, hot tub control box, and service or feeder panel. Typically, hot tubs are installed utilizing non-metallic conduits because of their corrosion resistance, but those raceways are not immune to the effects of UV light and may become brittle, breaking down over time. Inspect these components for cracks, separation, broken supports, and any exposed wiring that looks out of place. As a homeowner, if you do run across any breakdown in the wiring methods used to energize your hot tub, or if you’re unsure about any of these inspection points, contact a qualified electrician to conduct the appropriate inspections and/or make the necessary repairs. Failure to do so could result in a malfunction of a necessary component and cause a shock or ground-fault. Hot tubs are a great place to relax and unwind if they are kept in good repair. Remember to test your GFCI protection and keep an eye on the other components for deterioration. Delaying maintenance could be a bigger problem in the end. For more information and resources about hot tub and spa safety, visit the NFPA electrical safety around water web page.
Grounding bar

Grounding: Understanding the Essentials for Building the Foundation of a Structure’s Electrical System

Grounding is a term an electrician, electrical engineer, or facility manager is very familiar with and uses frequently, but what does it mean? The initial thought is, it’s just connecting a grounding conductor to the earth. In simple terms that is correct, but it is more than that. First, we must understand what grounding is so a proper grounding system can be established. Grounded or grounding, as defined in the 2020 edition of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®), Art. 100, is connecting to ground or to a conductive body that extends the ground connection. So, I’m sure many of you are thinking, just stick a wire in the ground and call it good, right? Not exactly. There first must be an effective ground-fault current path created to ensure a safe electrical system. Basically, it is the creation of a low-impedance electrically conductive path that facilitates the operation of the overcurrent protective device. This path must be capable of safely carrying the maximum ground-fault current likely to be imposed on it from any point on the electrical wiring system where a ground fault may occur. The earth itself is not considered an effective ground-fault current path, so sticking the wire in the ground is not enough. Grounding is the very foundation of a building or structure’s electrical system. According to 250.20(B) of the 2020 NEC alternating-current (AC) systems of 50 volts to 1000 volts must be grounded which means referenced to earth. This is accomplished through a properly installed grounding electrode system. Having a strong grounding electrode system stabilizes voltage and helps to clear ground faults. The 2020 NEC, Section 250.50 gives the outline of a grounding electrode system and section 250.52 lists the approved grounding electrodes. A few of the more efficient grounding electrodes for buildings and structures are: Metal Underground Water Pipe Metal In-ground Support Structures Concrete-Encased Electrode (also known as “footer ground” or “Ufer ground”). Ground Ring A grounding electrode system is the connection to earth, through the code required grounding electrodes. The grounding electrodes then get connected back to the building’s electrical service via a grounding electrode conductor (GEC). The GEC, at the building or structure’s service, is terminated on the neutral bar within the electrical service equipment alongside the grounded (neutral) conductor. The neutral bar is bonded (connected) to the service equipment enclosure through a main bonding jumper which in turn creates an effective ground-fault current path for the electrical system. But once an effective ground-fault current path has been established to the earth, then what? How is the electrical equipment found in buildings and structures going to be grounded? It’s through the branch circuit equipment grounding conductor (EGC). EGCs come in various sizes, types, and materials as found in the 2020 NEC, Section 250.118. Some of those are: Copper, aluminum, or copper-clad aluminum conductors Rigid metal conduit (RMC) Intermediate metal conduit (IMC) Electrical metallic tubing (EMT) Frequently, EGCs are the raceway system, RMC, IMC, or EMT. These types of EGCs are bonded together and to the equipment enclosure through a series of listed set screw or compression couplings and connectors. Most connectors utilize lock nuts or bond bushings for the connection to the electrical equipment or enclosures. Where bond bushings are used, they require an additional conductor, referred to as an equipment bonding jumper, which is required to finish the connection to the enclosure, neutral bar, or EGC bar. This helps complete the effective ground-fault current path. Using a bond bushing with equipment bonding jumpers can be more prone to human error or mechanical failure, therefore, the effective-ground-fault current path may not be as sound. EGCs that are an electrical conductor such as copper, aluminum, or copper-clad aluminum conductors, can be more effective due to the direct connection to the electrical equipment, enclosure, neutral bar or EGC bar. Opportunity for failure is less with this type of EGC because of the reduced connection points. In general, when installing an EGC, the approved EGC shall be contained within the same raceway, trench, cable, or cord from the electrical service or sub-panel as the feeder or branch circuit conductors that provide power to the electrical equipment. From an electrical safety standpoint and looking at NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, Section 120.5(8), where there is a possibility of induced voltages, all circuit conductors and circuit parts should be grounded before touching them. This is one of the potential steps for establishing an electrically safe work condition (ESWC), so a weak or non-functioning EGC would make it difficult or impossible to create an ESWC when the need for replacing or maintaining the electrical equipment arises. To learn more about proper bonding, take a deeper look at Art. 250 of the 2020 NEC. Our newest grounding and bonding fact sheet will also be a helpful resource. Download it here.  Failure to establish an effective ground-fault current path through proper grounding may prevent overcurrent protective devices from working properly and therefore not effectively clearing a ground-fault, which could result in a shock, electrocution, or arc flash incident. By creating the effective ground-fault current path you’ll not only be doing the job correctly, but you’ll keep yourself and others safe to boot. NFPA 70 the National Electrical Code® (NEC®) is now available in NFPA LiNK™, the association’s information delivery platform with NFPA codes and standards, supplementary content, and visual aids for building, electrical, and life safety professionals and practitioners. Learn more at nfpa.org/LiNK.  
Structural reinforcing steel that serves as the pool shell bonding

Code Compliant Electrical Installation the Key to Swimmer Safety and a Secure Electrical System in Pools

Now that summer has arrived, many of us will be taking advantage of the nice weather to jump into swimming pools to cool off. But what many people don’t realize, is there’s a lot to keeping us safe from electrical hazards in these wet environments. Much of this depends on the initial electrical installation. Something that is often overlooked after the pool has been installed and inspected, is maintenance of the pool and associated pool equipment. As we all know, Father Time is not always kind to electrical installations, which may require re-inspections for safety. Based on changes to the 2020 National Electrical Code® (NEC®) the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) is permitted to periodically inspect and test pools. If they so choose, municipalities can now implement a process to periodically inspect and test pools, associated pool equipment, and the equipotential bonding after the initial installation inspection to help ensure reliability and continued safety. A code compliant electrical installation for a pool, completed by a licensed qualified electrician, is vital to the overall performance of the electrical system and the swimmer’s ability to cool off safely. The conductive pool shell, perimeter surfaces, metal forming shell for underwater luminaires, ladder cups, diving board bracket, the water, and other metal surfaces are where the equipotential bonding system is found. This equipotential bonding system surrounds the pool with connections to a #8 AWG solid copper conductor. This solid copper conductor is terminated to all the above points then routed underground or within the concrete, back to the pool pump motor and terminated on the grounding lug located on pump motor. The NEC in Section 680.26(B)(6) requires sufficient length in the equipotential bonding conductor for future pump replacement. Best practice would be to provide enough additional conductor to terminate it anywhere on the motor in the event the lug is not in the same location. These connections are crucial to equalizing the electrical potential of all conductive surfaces, ladders, diving boards, underwater luminaries, and water that are all found with pools. Because pools are subject to corrosion and use corrosive chemicals, terminations, many of which are underground or within concrete, must be listed and labeled for the environment they are being installed in. People often think that once a pool is installed, all they need to do is add chemicals to the water and clean the pool. This myth is where problems arise as maintenance and periodic inspection and testing of the pool equipment is a very important part of the overall electrical safety of the pool. Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) need to be tested in accordance with the manufacturer’s installation instructions, which is typically monthly. Also, as a part of the maintenance, grounding connections should be checked for corrosion, loose connections, or rust; all of these can inhibit the functioning of the equipotential bond, which could result in an electrical shock or an electric shock drowning (ESD). If corrosion is seen on any terminations, those points should be cleaned and or replaced by a qualified person as these connections are crucial to the safety of the people who use the pool. Pool pump motors do not last forever and therefore must be replaced, which requires the disconnection and reconnection of the equipotential bonding conductor from the motor. As previously mentioned, additional slack in the solid copper conductor is required at the motor location for motor replacement because consideration was taken for bonding lug location. When a state chooses to legislatively adopt the 2020 NEC, which makes it enforceable by an AHJ, Section 680.4 permits the periodic inspection and testing by the AHJ of the pool system. This may help encourage the maintenance and repair of the pool system and equipotential bond.   Maintenance on pools, associated pool equipment, and the equipotential bonding system is no different than maintaining a car by getting the oil changed. It is not difficult to do; the 2020 NEC provides this direction and is instrumental in helping to prevent a fun day at the pool from turning into a tragedy. NFPA 70 the National Electrical Code® (NEC®) is now available in NFPA LiNK™, the association’s information delivery platform with NFPA codes and standards, supplementary content, and visual aids for building, electrical, and life safety professionals and practitioners. Learn more at nfpa.org/LiNK.   

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