Electrical - Day One
Prerequisites for Electrical:
The electrical sub is responsible for hooking up all the electrical
connections and components necessary to operate all the pool equipment (pumps,
heaters, pool/spa lights, electronic-based chlorinators, equipment
controllers/timers, ...) and any other auxiliary electrical components you may
want (extra lights, outdoor outlets, switches, controllers, ...). They are
also responsible for insuring that the installation electrical components meet
the minimum safety requirements of the National Electrical Code (NEC) standard
and whatever other local requirements
The base standard for most electrical subs here will include something like
- Up to 50 ft of 1/2" conduit run from main electrical service panel to
- 20 ft of 1/2" brass run for pool light
- 1 - 100W, 250W, or 400W pool light
- Pool light junction box (GFCI protection for light)
- Light switch
- 1 motor (pump) hookup
- All bonding (connecting metal chassis and pool components) to meet code
The base price for all this starts at a little over $500. Any
additional length for the main or brass runs will incur a per foot extra
charge. Also, as the distance grows between the main electrical service
panel and the equipment, the wire gauge and correspondingly, the conduit size
may have to also increase due to the need to offset voltage drops due to wire
resistance over the longer runs.
Here is what I wanted to do for my electrical work (you can
click on the picture or here for
an enlarged version).
Main Run - the blue line represents the main EMT line that runs
from the main electrical service panel at the front of the house to the
equipment in the back. Its about a 150ft run which starts at the front of
the house on the right and ends in the back of the house on the left. The
electrical run is long due to my desire to shorten the gas run, which is much
more expensive (about $9/ft).
Pool/Spa Lights - the yellow line represents the brass runs
for the pool and spa lights. There are two pool lights (400W each) and one
spa light (100W).
Low-Voltage Aqualink Controller Run - the aqua line represents the low voltage run for the
Jandy Aqualink remote control to the spa and the main controller to the
Overhead Flood Lights - the red line is the run for the overhead dual flood lights.
The dashed red line is for wire run above ground along the house eaves to the
lighting fixtures at the 3 locations (marked by a (D) ) shown in the picture and
the solid red line is for the underground run for the far light.
Auxiliary GFCI Outlets - the green
line represents the branch lines for all 110V auxiliary outlets. There
will be one at the BBQ, another one at the far end of the pool, and two near
the equipment (one for LV landscape transformer, and another one for future
Low-Voltage Landscape Run - the
dashed brown line is the low-voltage loop for landscape lighting. I could
have done the low-voltage as two strands coming from the equipment, one strand
to the back side of the pool and the other to the front side. The
electrician said that similar to the plumbing return loop, if I looped
low-voltage run, I would insure that each lighting fixture attached anywhere
along the loop would get the same voltage. Having long individual strands
increases the chance that lights near the end of the run would be dimmer than
the ones closer to the equipment.
To control all the equipment, I decided to go with Jandy's
Aqualink system. I had first heard about the system while doing all my
pool builder visitation. It seemed by far the best system out there.
It made automation a snap. It had electronic valve actuators to automate
the Jandy valve turning. It also had a one-button remote control,
meaning you could program a button for scenarios, say "Night Spa
Mode." With that, one button could turn on the spa jet pump, heater,
and blower pump, while turning turning off the filtration pump and changing the
valves so that only the waterfall to the spa would be activated. It even
had remote access capabilities so that you could call in to the system over the
phone or over a PC to control it. This was the reason the Aqualink
system was also the most expensive. One pool builder said that for my
setup, it was going to be in the neighborhood of $3000 for the complete system. Ugh.
The Aqualink system comes in a variety of different equipment configurations
(e.g. pool only/spa only, pool/spa combo, and pool/spa dual equipment).
Since my setup called for a sharing of the equipment, I needed the pool/spa
combo unit. Aqualink also has different models based on the number of
functions you need to program. It starts with RS4 (which controls up to 4
options) and can go as high as RS16. I counted up my functionality (you
can see them listed in the diagram) and determined I needed an RS8.
When I decided I was going to GC the pool, I wanted to
find out what kind of mark-up the pool builders put into the Aqualink
system. When I got the bids back from two different electrical subs, I saw
that the Aqualink system was between $2000 to $2300. It was better, but
still not what I was willing to pay. I decided to see what I could find
all the parts for over the Internet. I was pleasantly surprised that there
were a number of Internet pool supply E-tailers to choose from. I found
the Aqualink Power Center and the 4-button Spa-side remote at a place called bargainpoolsupply.com
for a great price ($255 and $139 respectively). It was also a pleasant
surprise that many did online price matching. All I had to do was show
them the URL where the cheaper price could be found and they said they would
match it. Very nice. The killer find, however, was when I located
the Aqualink RS8 control unit on Ebay. It normally runs about $1400, but I
saw a listing one day that started the RS8 at $600! It turned out that
someone had a unit at a trade show and wanted to get rid of it. I was able
to pick it up for $811. When I received it, it was
still sealed in the factory box. For the combination RS8, Power Center,
and spa-side remote, I paid about $1200.
Of all the subs I had dealt with thus far, the electrical sub
was the hardest to decide on. There was no clear cut winner here.
Both of the subs that I had whittled the competition down to had good
reputations and had no problems with the Registrar of Contractors. The big
difference between the two was one was charging close to $1000 more for the
work. That sub happened to be a lot bigger company, more established, with
more employees, more overhead, etc., etc. The extra $1000 was due to extra
markup on the Aqualink system and charging about $0.50 to $0.75 more per foot
for their runs, independent of the size of the conduit or wire size. In
the end, I decided to take a little bit of a risk and go
with the smaller company and lower price.
Friday, August 30, 2002 - 8:45AM
The electrical guys arrived as the steel guys were starting to wrap up.
This was the first time in the project that I actually had two subs in at the
same time. They overlapped by about half an hour. This didn't really
pose a problem as the steel guys were finishing up the waterfall work and no
electrical work needed to be done in that area. While there were many
times when multiple subs could have been working at the same time, I typically
didn't want more than one there at a time. I'm usually pretty nosy and
like to ask a lot of questions. Having more than one sub would have
prevented me from doing that. Its also harder to take pictures of every
significant event that is happening when you're trying to document more than one
sub. Louis was the foreman/crew lead on the job. He's been with the
company for about 2 years and just recently started leading his own
When they arrived, I mentioned to them I was ordering all the Aqualink stuff from the
Internet and that it would be a few days before everything arrived. They told me that was fine. They said all they would do
then is the minimal electrical rough work needed to pass the pre-Gunite
inspection and come back another day to do the rest of the hook-up, lighting,
remote control, etc. They said that with the amount of work I wanted, it
was going to be a 2 day job anyways. That sounded good to me. The
bare minimum electrical rough work needed for passing pre-Gunite inspection was the
Install pool and spa light wells and bond metal to pool
Install empty sub-panel at main electrical service panel
Install all underground runs:
Run 1/2" PVC from equipment area to spa for Jandy
4-button spa-side remote
Bond all metal within 5 feet horizontal or 12 feet vertical
of waters edge to the pool steel (per NEC standard)
All the electrical work that is done must be left exposed (lines
to be buried cannot be backfilled with dirt) until the inspection has been
completed. This insures that the inspectors can examine the conduit that
is laid and can verify that the materials and workmanship meets NEC standards (NFPA-70),
which is the national code for electrical work for residential
applications. Understanding the NEC standard and the approval body work is
a fascinating study in and of itself. The NEC standard addresses proper
electrical systems and equipment installation to protect people and property
from hazards arising from the use of electricity in buildings and structures.
The NEC is constantly being revised, corrected, and amended, but the handbook
which documents the current set of NEC codes comes out only once every 3
years. This means that even the most current version of the NEC standards
codebook may be out-of-date 6 months after its published.
The first order of business was to install the sub-panel near
the main service panel. The crew-lead did that work. Here's a look
He used #6 wire to run from the main to the sub-panel and
installed a 50A breaker. I asked him if that were enough. We went
through a rough calculation of all the current draws from the pumps, lights, and
other auxiliary items and he agreed to beef it up. He didn't have anything
higher at the time so he promised he would bring a bigger breaker when they
Just behind the wall, they decided to run the 1" conduit up
against the bottom 2" ledge that ran about 6 inches off the ground along
the edge of the house. He punched a hole through the bottom of the wall
where the wall met the house and ran his metal conduit through that. They
didn't run it all the way to the back. They just started it but said that
it wasn't needed to pass the pre-Gunite inspection.
Meanwhile, the other electricians were busy in the back with the
pool lights and the brass runs from the pool lights to the equipment. Here
they are performing that work:
In the pictures above in the middle and to the right, you can
see them adjusting the light fixture. They need to position it so that it
extends out 3" past the steel frame. The outer edge of the pool light
should roughly coincide with the surface of the pool shell, which will be
3" past the steel frame. Per NEC, the top of the fixture must be at
least 18" below the water line. The intent here is to keep the
fixture away from a person's chest area, because the heart is the vital part of
the body involved with electric shocks in swimming pools. This requirement
insures that the chest of a swimmer, who is hanging onto the edge of the pool,
is not near the fixture.
ran the 1/2" brass run under the form and steel and ran it in the same
trench with all the PVC all the way back to the equipment. You can see
this in the picture to the left. All this will be covered up by the
shotcrete pool shell and the pool decking eventually, so it didn't really matter
where they laid it down.
You can see in the picture below to the left how they
used a heavy gauge wire (green) to strap the light fixture in place. At
this time they also grounded the light niche to the steel in the pool. The
light niche being installed is a wet light niche, which means that its designed
to have water in it. This is important as the water helps to keep the 400W
light bulb cool. Water flows into the niche canister and up into the
brass conduit. The conduit will contain water at the same elevation as the
water level in the pool. The junction box at the other end of the niche
connected by the brass run is raised higher than than the water level of the pool so that the water can't go above
it. Per NEC standard, the junction boxes are required to be at least 8
inches above the normal water level, and 4 inches above the pool deck, whichever
is higher. The junction boxes must also be at least 4 ft. away from
water's edge, although some states have more stringent requirements. All wet and dry niche lighting fixtures must be grounded for undesirable fault
currents per NEC standard. Also, the lights must be GFCI-protected. This
is extremely important as raw 120VAC and water are not the best of friends. With
GFCI protection, detection of even micro-amps will break the circuit, preventing
a shock that could easily kill a person. The grounding of the light niche
to earth ground also insures that the quickest way for a short to travel to
ground is through this heavy gauge ground wire instead of through the water and
people in the pool.
You can see in the picture below (click on it for a close-up) in the middle how they connect a grounding wire from the brass conduit
and clamp it to a metal rod in the pool frame. The picture to the right
shows that same pool light from a different perspective when its done.
Also, the way they position the light, the surface of light fixture should be
positioned about 3" away from the steel. This is to account for the
shotcrete thickness from steel to surface.
One of the other crew members went off to do the spa light,
which is done identical to the pool light only with a smaller fixtures.
Here are some pictures of him working on that:
Here are a couple of shots of the brass runs being laid in the
same trench as the PVC and being run all the way back to the equipment:
The next order of business was to run the 1" main EMT conduit
to the equipment pad. The run didn't actually start from the main service
panel. The start of the run was at the end of a junction box. Junction boxes
are installed at points along a run if a run gets too long or if there are more
than four-90 degree bends in the conduit. This rule keeps wire pulling
manageable. After the conduit is laid down, the electricians need to pull
the feeder wires/branch wires through the conduit. It becomes nearly
impossible to do if there are more than 360 degrees of bends in the conduit. The first
picture below to the left shows where a junction box will be located. The
main conduit run from the main service panel will run along the under lower eave
of the house until it hits this junction area, where a junction box will be
installed. From there it will go underground, with no more than 360
degrees of bends until it hits the equipment area.
One other note about this 1" main EMT conduit run.
EMT conduit stands for Electrical Metal Tubing, which is a thin wall galvanized
steel pipe used to carry electrical or other types of conductors. The EMT tubing they used had some type of dark electrical tape wrapped around it.
I was told by the crew that anytime steel conduit is buried into the ground, it must have
electrical tape wrapped around it. Over time, steel will break down due to
the chemicals and other natural chemicals found in the soil. The
electrical tape inhibits this corrosive chemical reaction from occurring.
Leaving the open trenches exposed with the EMT conduit laying in it allows the
inspectors to examine the conduit to make sure that all the proper materials are
The picture below to the right shows where the main ends
up near the equipment pad.
I wanted an extra 110VAC GFCI outlet out near one end of the pool
where there will be decking. I would use this for small appliances when
out on this side of the deck. They ran 1/2" EMT conduit out to the
corner of the yard as shown in the picture to the left. The picture to the
right shows where is run is terminated - right at the same place where the
junction box will go.
Since I wanted a spa-side remote control, they also ran
1/2" PVC from the equipment out to the side of the spa. You can see
that pipe sticking out of the first step in the spa.
A few more items were required to complete the electrical rough. They
needed to bond any/all metal within 5 feet of waters edge. This meant that
the fireplace exhaust coming out of the back wall of the TV niche needed to be
grounded. You can see a picture of that below to the left. Also,
they needed to cover up all light well openings before shotcrete guys
arrived. You can see that in the picture to the right.
that's about it. They were done by 1:30pm. At the equipment, I
had three brass runs, one for each light. I had the main 1" conduit
that ran from the junction box at the corner of the house to the equipment, and
I had a 1/2" PVC run for the spa-side remote. The picture to the
right shows the state of the pool after the electrical rough was complete.
About the only thing you see are the pool lights.
When the electricians come back, that's when the real work
starts. That's when they have to pull wires through the conduit, install
the overhead flood lights, install the breakers into the sub-panel, install the
switches, install the Aqualink system, etc. This was just the pre-work, to
get me past inspection. And actually, I'm still not quite ready for
inspection. I still need to call back the plumbers to finish up the work
in the spa dam wall. They still need to complete the therapy jet loop,
blower loop, and a bunch of other miscellaneous things. But hey, I'm
getting closer, and that's what counts. Next up, plumbers again!
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