Electricity and water can be a dangerous combination. Electricians and contractors need proper training, familiarity with code and an understanding of the basics such as motors, GFCI and wiring before installing hot tubs.
Water and electricity don’t mix — unless you’re dealing with something like a hot tub. And because the potential dangers involved with wiring a hot tub may make most homeowners give pause, there is quite a market for qualified contractors.
“When it comes to wiring electricity around water, that’s a big problem,” says Mike Holt, an author and electric code expert.
Know the NEC Hot Tub Electrical Code
Electricians and contractors need to read and understand the National Electric Code (NEC), especially the sections pertaining to hot tubs. Holt, who receives telephone calls from puzzled electricians on a regular basis, knows firsthand that many haven’t mastered the code as it relates to swimming pools, spas and hot tubs. In response, Holt created a document that distills the complex language of the NEC for swimming pools, spas, hot tubs, fountains and similar installations and offers it free of charge through his Web site.
Scott Hartke, who co-owns Alliance Electrical, based in Wichita, Kan., installs hot tubs frequently. “Once you get the basics down, it’s not hard at all,” he says.
There are specific technical requirements to ensure hot tub installers and occupants remain safe. Although electricians should consult the NEC for complete code requirements, there is code that pertains specifically to hot tubs, according to Holt’s document:
- Emergency shut off: A clearly labeled emergency spa or hot tub water recirculation and jet system shutoff must be accessible to users and located not less than 5 feet away, but adjacent to and within sight of the hot tub. The maintenance disconnecting means or a pushbutton that controls a relay can be used to meet this requirement.
- Flexible connections: Listed packaged spa or hot tub equipment assemblies or self-contained spas or hot tubs are permitted to use flexible connections as follows: flexible conduit; liquid-tight flexible metal conduit or liquid-tight flexible nonmetallic conduit in lengths of no more than 6 feet; cord-and-plug connections; and cord-and-plug connections with a GFCI-protected cord that is not longer than 15 feet.
- Bonding: Bonding is permitted by mounting equipment to a metal frame or base. Metal bands that secure wooden staves aren’t required to be bonded.
- Interior wiring for outdoor spas or hot tubs: Any wiring method, which is outlined in a previous chapter of the NEC, containing a copper equipment grounding (bonding) conductor that is insulated or enclosed within the outer sheath of the wiring method and not smaller than 12 AWG is permitted for the connection to motor, heating and control loads that are part of a self-contained spa or hot tub, or a packaged spa or hot tub equipment assembly.
Hot Tub Installation Don’ts
- Don’t install a hot tub under any power lines. “A lot of people don’t think about that,” Hartke says. “I know when they buy their tub, it’ll say that on their brochures, but I still see people all the time sticking them under power lines.” Not only is it unsafe, but the practice also violates the NEC.
- Don’t use underground wiring under outdoor hot tubs. If space constraints prevent wiring from being at least 5 feet away, underground wiring should be installed in rigid metal conduit, intermediate metal conduit or a nonmetallic raceway system that is listed for direct burial. Then it must be buried. The minimum depth is 6 inches for metal raceways and 18 inches for nonmetallic raceways.
- Don’t install low-voltage lighting within 10 feet of the hot tub, even if it is GFCI protected, which is required by code.
- Don’t forget to consult state and local codes in addition to the NEC.
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