Tingle When Getting Out of Pool?!

LMK17

Member
May 4, 2018
16
Central Texas
Ours is an in-ground, ~9,000 gal gunite pool. It was built in 1994. We purchased the house early last summer and enjoyed the pool all season (and were thrilled to discover TFP when we were trying to learn about balancing the water!). This year, we began swimming again in late March. All was well until about 1 week ago.

At the end of April, we hosted the kids' scouting swim tests at our place. In the course of about 1.5 hrs, we had probably 20+ people in and out of the pool. I was one of the last to swim test, and as I was exiting the pool and grabbed the handrail, I felt a definite "tingle," very similar in intensity to a static shock. I called the lifeguard over, and he felt it, too. We decided the tingle could be felt if one was grasping the handrail but also in the water a few inches to either side of the rail. At first, the pool pump had been running, but we cut it off immediately, and the tingle was still there. A few minutes later, it simply went away. Although we also have a second pump and pool light, neither of those was turned on at this time. We asked everyone who had already been in the pool, and all denied feeling anything.

Over the course of last weekend, I did my darndest to "shock" myself on that rail again, but I couldn't. On Monday, I called an electrician in. He pointed out that the heater pump is not properly bonded but couldn't find anything else with the pool-related electrical. He suggested that the "tingle" was simply static from so many people in the pool and said not to worry about it unless it happens again when there are only a few bodies in the water. We made plans to bond the heater pump (it's a passive solar heater; the pump simply moves water through the tubing on the shed roof), and he said that in the meanwhile, just kill power to everything before getting into the water. The next time we used the pool was this past Wed. Our two children were swimming when our daughter started climbing out of the pool and said, "Uh, Mom. It's zapping me again." Shoot! Sure enough, I was able to feel a very slight zap (less strong than the first time it happened) at the pool rail and in the water immediately surrounding it. Again, the pumps were turned off, as was the pool light.

I've read that others have experienced this before and that essentially two things need to be going on in order to feel a "zap" from the rail: 1) There has to be a problem with the pool bonding. (Does the un-bonded pump count since we're not getting a tingle near there? The rail is on the opposite end of the pool and is the ONLY place we've felt the tingle.) I also read that 2) There must be a stray current somewhere nearby. We had our electric company out last night. They checked all their connections at the pole and declared everything good there. The said we could have a corroded direct-buried wire servicing either the house or pool house but, of course, that's on us. They did stick a voltmeter on the rail, and it registered 1V, although this was during a time when we couldn't feel the shock.

The electrician is supposed to be back out tonight. He's a good guy but admits he doesn't work on pools much. This ring a bell for anyone? Any ideas what we should be checking? If the "tingle" were always there, it would be easy enough to start flipping breakers and see if anything in particular makes it go away, but the tingle seems pretty intermittent, and aside from tossing a few people into the pool for a swim, I can't figure out how to induce the sensation. Simply standing in the water and touching the rail doesn't do it, and it's currently raining, so everything is pretty wet, but again, no tingle! What on Earth...?
 

pooldv

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Welcome to TFP!

Yes, that is a bonding issue and can be lethal. I wouldn't get in the pool again until it is properly bonded by a licensed electrician who is familiar with pool equipment. It could be stray voltage leaking into the ground from a utility or a neighbor or any number of sources. Proper bonding of the water, ladder and all equipment will eliminate the risk of electrocution.

More here, Pool School - Bonding vs Grounding
 

tim5055

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May 11, 2014
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Very few electricians understand the difference between "grounding" and "bonding".

You have a problem with your bonding. Everything in/around the pool that conducts electricity needs to be bonded together with an 8 gauge bare solid copper wire. This would include the pool shell (tied to rebar at at least 4 places equidistant around the pool), pool lighting, pool water, metal ladders, metal handrails and even the dirt/concrete around the entire perimeter of the pool. Somewhere this system has broken down, or because of the age of your pool it was never even installed as it has not been required for many years.

If your guy isn't up to the task of learning bonding you need an electrician who understands it. Right now it's an aggravation, but it can become a hazard with no notice.

Here is a great PDF Overview of the relevant part of the electrical code
 

LMK17

Member
May 4, 2018
16
Central Texas
Thank you. Is there any way to localize the fault in the bonding system based on where we're feeling the shock? For example, is the problem with the rail bonding since that's where we're feeling it?

We already know, of course, that one pump isn't bonded, but again, that's on the opposite side of the pool. I'm not sure if that could be causing the problem. Also, the un-bonded pump was not running at the time we felt this, and it shouldn't have had any contact with the water. The pump in question is on the opposite side of a wall from the pool, and it pumps water vertically onto a nearby roof and then back down into the pool. When the pump isn't running, the water drains from the vertical run of pipe, so I don't think any electricity could be running through the water in the heater pipes and back into the pool when the pump is off?

Also, we never felt this sensation before last week. I suppose that means that something within the bonding system broke recently? The pool rail did maybe sustain a bit more jostling with so many people going in and out. Could something have wriggled loose or broken within the cups connecting the rail to the concrete? Could we check that simply by un-bolting the rail and looking into the cups? The bonding wire going into the main pool pump looks fine, but that's the only above-ground wire.

Once we get the bonding issue pegged and repaired, how important is it to identify and remedy the stray voltage issue?

- - - Updated - - -

I agree about the electrician we're using not being well versed in pool equipment issues. He pretty much admitted as much. I've been trying to research on my own and shared the Mike Holt pool bonding videos with him.

I also contacted a "pool" electrician. I asked the original pool builder for recommendations, and they gave me the name of their electrical sub-contractor. That guy wasn't the least bit interested in coming out. Said he's booked solid for weeks and "doesn't drill concrete" assuming the issue could be under ground. I feel pretty stuck, unless anyone here can recommend someone in the San Antonio, TX, area?
 

borjis

LifeTime Supporter
Aug 19, 2014
2,913
Pacific NW
For bonding issues I have read from others, it usually makes no difference whether the pump is on or not.
You can still get a zap. That's the stray voltage.

At your equipment pad, is there a thick bare copper wire coming out of the dirt or concrete?
Is that what the guy connected to the pump?
 

LMK17

Member
May 4, 2018
16
Central Texas
Yeah, makes sense about the stray voltage and the pump's being off making no difference. I guess my only concern regarding that is whether the stray voltage is something that needs remedied, in addition to fixing the bonding issue.

Yes, I believe I can see the bonding wire. There is a bare copper wire coming out of the ground and attaching to the exterior of our filter pump housing. "Thick" is relative, but it's maybe a little smaller than the diameter of a BB. I've been told it needs to be at least #8 wire, and just eyeballing it, I'd say it probably is. We haven't messed with the existing bonding wire at all. It's always been there and appears properly connected.

From my standpoint, the fact that there is a bonding wire is EXTREMELY good news. It appears the pool-- despite its age and being in a rural location with no building codes-- was bonded at the time of construction. At first, I was having heart palpitations imagining the cost to retrofit an existing pool with a bonding grid! :pale:

That said, we have two pumps. The pump which I believe is bonded is our filter pump. We have a second pump that moves water over our pool shed roof for our solar heating system. That pump is definitely not bonded, though we plan to remedy that ASAP. When that second pump is turned off, I think it's totally isolated from the pool. It's probably just a tad less than 5' from the water's edge and on the other side of a wall which surrounds the pool. The pump is elevated on some concrete blocks and plugged into a dedicated GFCI, outdoor rated outlet. The water return is above the water level in the pool and partially drains as soon as the pump is turned off. So- Although it does need bonded, I'm not sure if it could be causing our issue? I suspect we have another fault somewhere else AND the pump needs bonded. Thoughts?
 

pooldv

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Right now the problem appears to be that the water and the ladder are not at equipotential, which is why you feel a shock when touching both. One has more voltage than the other and it is traveling through you to get to the other. Yes, checking the bonding to the ladder mount would be helpful. But, testing it by sticking your foot in the water and holding the ladder is a terrible idea. If that stray voltage increases for any reason it can kill you. People die in pools from improper bonding all too often.

Often people aren't able to track down stray voltage. Voltage could be from anywhere, a nearby utility pole leaking voltage from the transformer, a neighbor's ground rod, an underground wire. It doesn't need to be X feet from your pool to be the source. With a properly bonded pool it isnt a problem.
 

borjis

LifeTime Supporter
Aug 19, 2014
2,913
Pacific NW
Check the continuity between the bonding wire and the metal ladder.

- - - Updated - - -

People die in pools from improper bonding all too often.
Where have you read that?
From everything I've read that is a very rare occurrence.
Sure improper bonding and feeling a tingle is WAY more common. but death?

I wholeheartedly agree if there are ANY bonding issues, no swimming at all until fixed.
 

LMK17

Member
May 4, 2018
16
Central Texas
Check the continuity between the bonding wire and the metal ladder.

- - - Updated - - -



Where have you read that?
From everything I've read that is a very rare occurrence.
Sure improper bonding and feeling a tingle is WAY more common. but death?

I wholeheartedly agree if there are ANY bonding issues, no swimming at all until fixed.
Good suggestion. Thanks!

I read there have been maybe 50 deaths related to pool electrocution over the past... decade? two decades? So, yes, I think it is pretty rare. Still, definitely something we'd like to avoid over here. :)
 

zea3

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Jul 10, 2009
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Houston, Texas
Even if your pump is not running, the pipes stay full of water and so does the pump. That's why it doesn't have to be right next to the pool to be a problem, all the water is connected. Even when a pump is off as long as it is connected to a live electrical circuit it has the potential to be a problem if it is not bonded.
 

LMK17

Member
May 4, 2018
16
Central Texas
Generally, yes, that's true. However, in the case of our heater pump, the pump moves water from an intake in the pool; up a nearly vertical run of pipe onto the pool shed roof; through many yards of coiled pipe on the roof; and back down a nearly vertical drop off the roof until it empties back into the pool via a return that is *above the level of the water.* Therefore, as soon as the pump shuts off, the water in that last vertical run drains into the pool, and there is no longer any connection into the pool. The water remains in most of the piping but the circuit gets "disconnected" in that last 9' or so drop.

I'm going to bond that pump because I think it's important for it to be bonded while the pump is running. Also, it's fewer than 5' from the water's edge and so needs bonded to meet code. However, since it's elevated off the ground, behind a wall, and gets "disconnected" when the water drains from it, I can't imagine that it causes a hazard when the pump is off. Unless I'm missing something?

I think checking continuity between the rail and the bonding wire on the equipment pad is a good first step.
 

pooldv

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Good suggestion. Thanks!

I read there have been maybe 50 deaths related to pool electrocution over the past... decade? two decades? So, yes, I think it is pretty rare. Still, definitely something we'd like to avoid over here. :)
Yes, it is definitely pretty rare. Due in no small part because of pool bonding. 1 or 2 deaths a year is all I ever see. But, you have effectively taken step 1 and 2 and introduced an electric charge into the pool and identified a likely failure in the bonding. So, as you say, definitely something to avoid. It's pretty easy to not go swimming until it is fixed. :)
 

rphpool

Well-known member
Mar 4, 2015
486
Sugar Land , TX
I would remove the hand rail hardware that connects it to the deck and look and see if a bonding wire is attached to it. That could be a weak point where the bonding wire broke loose.
 

PoolguyinCT

In The Industry
Jul 21, 2014
3,083
Connecticut
I have listened to parents who have lost children to pool electrocution testify.

A minor failure can become lethal with a series of events and conditions.

An often overlooked part of the bonding grid is the actual anchor/wedges, which create the pressure connection between a ladder & bond grid. Are the anchor/wedges intact & installed properly?

- they have a far more important job than just keeping ladders secured to the deck.
 

LMK17

Member
May 4, 2018
16
Central Texas
Thanks again for the replies!

I'm having one heck of a time tracking down an electrician who is competent and willing to help us troubleshoot. I've spoken to several. ("We tend to like the easy cases where we install outlets and ceiling fans," according to one guy...) Very frustrating!

In the meanwhile, we're moving in the direction of pinning down the problem. We did run a temporary bonding wire from the hand rail to the pump. The tingle is still there sometimes. :confused: BUT we figured out at least part of where the tingle is coming from. Next to the pool is a small pool house. Inside are the filters & pump + a bathroom. A small water heater next to the pool equipment supplies hot water to the shower in the pool house. The water heater is on a timer (so we can turn it on only as needed) and also is equipped with its own cut-off switch. We figured out that we feel the tingle ONLY when the little water heater is on. The water heater does appear to have a bond wire (#6 or #8 bare copper) running from it into the ground outside the pool house. That said, I have no idea whether the wire actually ties into the bonding grid or if it's just a ground wire. A plumber pointed out that the cold water intake on the water heater is not grounded and that it should be. Otherwise, neither the plumber nor the (less than qualified?) electrician who came out here was able to detect and problems with the heater and/or its wiring.

What does this say to you all? Any thoughts on the fix? We currently have the heater off at the cut-off and have been using the pool. Not sure that's advisable, but there has been absolutely no tingle, and with temps in the 100s and no electrician visit on the horizon (despite my efforts)-- and with the blessing of the one electrician who has at least been willing to show up-- we're aiming for "acceptable" rather than "best practice," I guess. :?

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Are the anchor/wedges intact & installed properly?

- they have a far more important job than just keeping ladders secured to the deck.
I'm not sure, honestly. We did unbolt and remove the rail in order to inspect it. There is no visible bonding within the rail cups, and the cups are cemented into the deck and weren't removed. The cups appear to the metal; I think the bond wire could be underneath them?

That said, we ran a temporary bond wire from the rail to the pool pump, and we've still been able to induce the tingle when the pool house water heater is on, as I described in my above post. Not sure what that means.
 

proavia

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Feb 6, 2015
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Chandler AZ
You can do a continuity check to see if the hand rail (or any other items) are actually connected to the bonding grid. Run a wire from the bonding lug or wire attached to the pump to near the hand rail. Connect a multi-meter between the handrail and the wire - and check for continuity.
How to test for continuity with a digital multimeter (not an endorsement of this brand of meter - used for illustration purposes only)

As for the water heater - is it possible to connect a bonding wire from it to the pool pump bonding wire?