Pool Reflections …
A day in the life of a Florida public pool inspector
The Surfside condominium collapse in Miami, Florida started a conversation on the safety of suspended pools and the pool decks along the Florida coastline. The safety of these pools and decks is crucial to maintaining the overall integrity of a building. And while there are many factors affecting a building’s integrity, improper waterproofing can result in serious damage.
There are many old buildings with suspended pools in Florida that have missed frequent building inspections. The state requires that buildings like Surfside Condo be inspected every 40 years for safety. In 2018, there was a structural survey conducted that cited various leaks and deteriorating concrete within the structure of the Surfside Condo. The survey noted that there was spalling in the concrete below the pool and pool deck, along with other areas within the parking garage. As a former inspector, this immediately brought two questions to my mind: Is a 40-year inspection frequent enough? And second, will these buildings now go through more frequent building inspections if built along the coastline and exposed to salt water intrusion? Right now the answer is no, but regulatory rules could be changed in the future due to the Surfside collapse.
There was an initial call to emergency services regarding the possible “caving in” of the pool deck that came prior to the collapse of the building. Also, prior to the collapse, tourists walking past the building recorded a video that seemed to show water spilling down into the parking garage. Did this water come from the pool or a burst pipe? No one knows. Vito Mariano, President of Basecrete Tech, LLC, an internationally recognized concrete waterproofing specialist located in Sarasota, Florida stated that, “Over time when concrete is not protected through proper waterproofing, especially near sea water or ocean spray, there can be deficiencies to the concrete.”
Suspended pools present waterproofing challenges as well. Structures naturally move, due to wind, temperature, expansion, or vibration and of course pool shells can crack. Concrete can also act as a sponge for the water. Thousands of pounds of pool water can push the water through the concrete. Vito theorizes that the concrete pylons that extended down into the parking garage near the pool deck, holding the building up, may have shifted and moved causing destabilization of the building. The cause of the Surfside collapse is still unknown, but it has certainly brought suspended pools and decks to the forefront in national discussions.
Signs of concrete damage
The signs of concrete damage that a pool tech should look for are: spalling, water leaks, cracks, and exposed steel in the concrete
Lauren Broom is a Certified Pool Operator Course, CPO ® , instructor and a former health inspector for the Florida Department of Health.
Lauren has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology and is a registered sanitarian.
She has 16-years of experience in commercial pool inspections and waterborne disease outbreak investigations.
Lauren lives in Palm Bay, Florida with her husband of 17 years and their 3 children. Lauren can be reached at spacecoastpoolschool @yahoo.com
Lauren Broom underneath the pool shell, deck, and pool equipment room. The pool tech should document the concrete damage through written notification and photographs to the owner of the public pool.
What is spalling? Spalling occurs when water is exposed to the steel in the concrete, making the concrete expand and then explode. Then only weak concrete is holding up the structure. Now, add the weight of water in the pool that is suspended over this damaged concrete and steel beams and imagine what can happen.
What can be done?
“Most likely, buildings will be assessed more often for damage and the owner will have to mediate major issues immediately,” stated Vito. For associations that cannot afford the repairs, there are loans for repairs similar to a mortgage,” Vito said.
Some condo and homeowner associations do not maintain sufficient reserves to fund repairs with this kind of concrete damage. The Surfside Condo damage was estimated to be 15 million dollars to the condo owners. It is important for these associations to begin saving for depreciation of their buildings and amenities from day one, otherwise the cost may be more than they can afford later.
Suspended pools current building codes in Florida
The Florida Department of Health, (FLDOH), and the local building departments use Section 454 of the Florida Building Code, (FBC), as their regulatory rules for the construction and maintenance of public pools. The Surfside Condo was a public pool and was regulated by the FLDOH. Below are the most recent documented inspections of the Surfside Condo(Champlain Towers South) public pool and spa by the department.
Currently, there are no detailed regulations in Section 454 of FBC on how suspended (elevated) pools, spas and decks are constructed, waterproofed, and maintained. The only section I could find in the Code was 4126.96.36.199 on pool structure:
Pools shall be constructed of concrete or other impervious and structurally rigid material. All pools shall be watertight, free from structural cracks and shall have a nontoxic smooth and slip resistant finish. All materials shall be installed in accordance with manufacturer’s specifications unless such specifications violate Chapter 64E-9 Florida Administrative Code, rule requirements or the approval criteria of NSH/ANSI Standard 50 or NSF/ ANSI Standard 60.
There is no detailed section specifically for suspended (elevated) pools that would differentiate them in the FBC. Recent events could start the conversation between the industry and regulatory authorities on making this addition to Section 454, FBC.
The Pool & Hot Tub Alliance (PHTA) was aware of the danger that suspended pools, spas and decks posed to the safety of the entire building. PHTA has kick started this conversation with a committee review of the PHTA/ International Code Council (ICC) -10 Standard, written specifically on construction, waterproofing and maintenance of suspended (elevated) pools, spas and decks when integrated into a building or structure.
What are the details of this standard? In summary, it would require any suspended pool or spa to have a primary pool shell constructed inside of a pod, or secondary containment. This secondary containment would assist with water containment and have a water drainage system.
The detail in the standard also covers electrical and plumbing details and how it integrates into the safe construction of these pools. The standard gives specific criteria on how proper waterproofing should be done and the permitted building rating. All of these details in the PHTA Standard are not currently in the FBC. Vito had been part of this committee for the three months prior to the Surfside Condo collapse.
The PHTA/ICC- 10 Standard was completed by the committee on June 30, 2021 and was published for public review and comments. This standard could be adopted by local regulatory authorities into their local building codes. The hope is that a conversation has started and will continue so that older suspended pools, spas and decks will be properly safety checked and that future pools are built to standards that make them safer.
Spalling of concrete under a suspended pool