Submersible Water Pumps: Electrical Safety Tips

A concrete well houses submersible pumps for a 1-acre pond.

Pond professionals come from a wide range of backgrounds and interests and often wear many different creative and technical hats. With an artistic background in design and a team of landscape architects to put the vision together, a pond professional can easily overlook some of the electrical issues or assume that the electrician will take care of them. However, there are numerous benefits to obtaining electrical knowledge for yourself and keeping it current.

All pools, ponds and spas must include an electrical component. Some projects require more electrical attention than others, but regardless of scope, clients expect the pond professional to understand the options. Should your client turn out to need an electrical component that costs more than the pond itself, it’s better to understand and communicate this before construction begins in order to maintain healthy customer relationships.

Electrical knowledge for ponds and pools is highly specific and not guaranteed to be common knowledge among all electricians. By learning about the necessary electrical requirements, pool professionals can ensure that their clients are building safe ponds and structures, permitting water and electricity to meet in a safer way.

Submersible Water Pumps

Despite their ground-ready, durable, insulated construction, submersible water pumps still present severe hazards for homeowners and should never be used in ponds meant for swimming or human immersion. The problem is simple: electricity and water do not mix. Installing an electric submersible water pump for water gardens, natural ponds or pools requires great skill and experience to avoid electrocution.

This submersible pump runs a large waterfall near a front yard driveway entrance.

It cannot be stressed enough to your client: No one should ever swim or wade in a pond or pool with a submersible water pump. Even though these pumps are designed with many safety features, it is not worth the risk. There are special pumps designed for swimming pools and ponds that do not carry this risk. If someone needs to enter a pond or pool that is equipped with a submersible water pump to retrieve something or perform routine maintenance, it is critical that they turn off the electricity to the pump and enter with caution. If the client can foresee a situation where people might wade in the pond, a submersible pump is simply the wrong option. 

Manufacturers design submersible pumps to be safe. They encase them in cast-iron housing designed to isolate the electrical and working parts of the unit. All cables are shielded and sealed by standard rubber. However, the casing and the rubber shielding do not guarantee that the submersible water pump will never have any contact with water.

Water & Cable Seals

A set of pumps is ready for the electrical work to be completed for a swimming pond.

The rubber water seals on a submersible pump contain no adhesive. Instead, they form the seal using a crimping method that tightens components within the pump. The seal insulates the inside of the pump from water, humidity and outside air.
While this produces a high level of insulation, occasional seal failures can occur. A tiny malfunction can bring the inside of the pump into contact with the water garden or natural pond water. The result of this malfunction would be electrified water inside the pond.

Like the main components of the pump, manufacturers also go to great lengths to properly seal the cables. For instance, they will fill gaps with epoxy to prevent water from invading the unit. They also wrap the cables in a neoprene, which is both air and watertight.

Epoxy is incredibly effective at forming a waterproof seal. This seal will not fail unless it is subjected to some form of impact that would cause it to crack. If the seal cracks, water might get into the cable. The same is true for neoprene.

Connect Wisely

Both the National Electric Code (NEC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) require that all homes now contain ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) receptacles in areas where water exists or potentially exists. These areas include bathrooms, kitchens, utility rooms, garages and anywhere outside. GFCI receptacles prevent electrocution by cutting off the power source when an unusual increase or “leakage” in power is detected —when water comes into contact with electricity, for example.

Six external pool-rated pumps are plumbed for a 3,000-square-foot turtle pond — although the client wanted to swim in it, too.

Unfortunately, many older homes do not have GFCI receptacles. As a result, plugging an electric water pump into a regular outlet can make it vulnerable to a power surge. It can also increase the risk of electric shock. Therefore, if you use an electric pump, you must make sure that you plug it into a GFCI receptacle or replace your old outlet.

During the winter, it is a good idea to remove the water pump from your water garden or natural pond. Depending on your location, winters can produce frigid temperatures that can plummet below zero. As a result, the water in a natural pond or water garden may stay frozen throughout the season.

Frozen water can take its toll on a submersible water pump. Just one freeze can cause the casing or cabling to crack open, exposing the electrical parts. You may not notice the cracks due to the multiple layers of the casing. Therefore, when you turn on the pump in the springtime, you may be vulnerable to electric shock.

Since most natural ponds and water gardens contain rocks, plants, sand and other objects, it is also important to ensure that they do not come into contact with the water pump. When placing your pump, be sure to isolate it from any heavy rocks, sharp objects or metal objects. Also, if you use sand, position the pump so that it is filtering the least amount possible. Since sand is abrasive, it can damage the inner parts of the pump over time.

It Bears Repeating …

Again, one should never swim or wade in a pond or pool with a submersible water pump, despite any safety features. It is not worth the risk. It is imperative that you communicate with the client as to their potential uses for their new pond. If the risks are too high, an external pump is the better choice.

To ensure safety, everything is property bonded and grounded in this pump pad for a ½-acre swimming pond.

There are special pumps designed for swimming pools and ponds that do not carry this risk. If you need to enter your pond or pool with a submersible water pump to retrieve something or perform routine maintenance, it is critical that you turn off the electricity to the submersible pump and enter with caution.

Educate Yourself

Numerous pool professionals work with a separate electrical engineer to wire the submersible water pump while they continue to focus on design and other related construction items. While an independent electrical engineer will undoubtedly be well versed in the right safety standards and protocols, it’s important for the pool professional to be able to follow the necessary conversations and ask the engineers the right questions about techniques used to keep the entire project safe for their client.

It’s possible that you have heard your electrical engineer speak about grounding. This is the reference point from where voltages are measured. Remember, though, even at a low voltage, considerable safety concerns may arise. In this case, any insulation failures will allow exposed metal to trigger a fuse or circuit breaker to cut power to the water pump.
Equipotential bonding is another layer of safety with which you and your electrician can protect yourself, your team and your clients. By properly installing and maintaining this bonding system, the pool will have improved safety via an alternative path to the ground for any stray currents. With a thorough install of the pool, deck and wiring equipment, equipotential bonding can keep overall voltages low in order to significantly reduce the potential for shock hazards.

Awareness is Key

Many electricity safety measures come down to common sense. Did you turn off the power before your construction team started work on the pool? Did you lock up the electrical power box to keep anyone from accidentally turning it on? Did you remember to only stand on dry, insulated surfaces?

When built correctly, swimming ponds are a safe environment for families to enjoy and interact with. There is simply no reason to cut corners — electrical safety is crucial to human life.

While electrical safety might not be your No. 1 interest or a point of excitement when it comes to installing a pool or natural pond, by observing the most basic of safety precautions, communicating with your electrical engineer and learning the basic nuts and bolts of how electricity works around water, you can provide the best level of service and knowledge to your clients.

There is always an inherent danger when working with electricity near water, but if well planned through continuously maintained knowledge of electrical systems and safety protocols, the likeliness of electrocution or electric shock will remain extremely low. By communicating transparently and knowledgeably with your client, it is possible to almost entirely minimize these risks so that they can safely enjoy their pond for years and years to come.

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