What were you thinking? Whirlpool baths, receptacles and GFCI’s.
Chelan Home Inspections
Quite often I find that whirlpool baths/Hydromassage bathtubs, or as many call Jacuzzi Tubs (which is a manufacturer name kinda like Kleenex or Xerox), that have missing accesses for the motor and electrical connections. It’s the old- “yeah we got it inspected so let cover the access area up routine.”
There is one fundamental problem with this, well there are other issues, the pumps on these whirlpool baths almost always have cord and plug to power them. So you now have a cord and plug connection and outlet that is not accessible.
Typical requirement is to have an access door or panel large enough to remove the motor and/or pump and it needs to be provided at the side or end of the whirlpool bathtub (clearance of 21” minimum in front of the access door ). The access can be through a cabinet (double doors with no stile ) and/or from below the whirlpool bathtub such as in a basement or crawl space.
Access through cabinet
Where the manufacturer’s instructions do not specify or are unknown the location and minimum size of field-fabricated access openings are required to be a 12-inch by 12-inch minimum sized opening needs to be installed to provide access to the circulation pump. Where pumps are located more than 2 feet from the access opening, an 18-inch by 18-inch minimum sized opening needs to be installed. The door or panel is allowed to close the opening. In all cases, the access opening needs to be unobstructed and of the size necessary to permit the removal and replacement of the circulation pump.
As you can see almost all of these requirements are about service and replacement of the pump. But we have other requirements to think about also… the electrical.
From Jacuzzi- “Electrical outlet must be mounted 4" (101 mm) above the floor line and 12" max (305 mm) inside from the edge of the bathtub (Figure 3), or in accordance with local building and electrical codes.”
But since this is an electrical installation we need to know what is required by the electrical code.
From the 2014 NEC
VII. Hydromassage Bathtubs
Hydromassage bathtub electrical equipment shall be accessible without damaging the building structure or building finish. Where the hydromassage bathtub is cord- and plug-connected with the supply receptacle accessible only through a service access opening, the receptacle shall be installed so that its face is within direct view and not more than 300 mm (1 ft) of the opening.
A little history on this requirement, it is in the 2011 NEC when the first requirement for
“Where the hydromassage bathtub is cord- and plug-connected with the supply receptacle accessible only through a service access opening, the receptacle shall be installed so that its face is within direct view and not more than 300 mm (1 ft) of the opening.”
Prior to that the article only stated that “Hydromassage bathtub electrical equipment shall be accessible without damaging the building structure or building finish.” Yet this requirement first appears in the 1999 NEC. Prior to that there is no requirement in this article.
Prior to 1999 you would look at the requirement for Junction boxes-
From the 2014 NEC-
314.29 Boxes, Conduit Bodies, and Handhole Enclosures to Be Accessible
Boxes, conduit bodies, and handhole enclosures shall be installed so that the wiring contained in them can be rendered accessible without removing any part of the building or structure or, in underground circuits, without excavating sidewalks, paving, earth, or other substance that is to be used to establish the finished grade.
This provision goes back quite a ways though the article number has changed ( article 370.19 back to the 60’s, in the 50’s article 3717, 40’s article 3713 etc.)
So even though it was not specified in the section for “Hydromassage Bathtubs” we still have the accessibility requirement for the outlet/junction box.
So on this home inspection we had a bit of an issue. To access the receptacle you either have to remove the rub or cut a hole in the wall on the opposite side to even get to the receptacle, which also happens to be a GFCI receptacle. I guess the required monthly testing of that receptacle is definitely out of the question.
Why things like this happen often baffles me but it is what it is. This is where having a home inspection when the home was new would have been valuable. Now it is an issue for everyone involved.
Remember junction boxes must be installed where they will be accessible. There is always the possibility that electrical wiring connections or splices can become faulty. Access is required and necessary to perform inspections and repairs as needed.
“An error doesn't become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.”
Orlando Aloysius Battista
If you find any errors or have additional information that would expand on any code, building standards or manufacturer requirements please let me know.
NCW Home Inspections, LLC is a Licensed Washington State Home Inspection service located in Wenatchee Washington serving Chelan County, Douglas County, Kittitas County, Okanogan County and Grant County Washington and the cities of Wenatchee, Leavenworth, Cashmere, Oroville, Cle Elum, East Wenatchee, Quincy and many more…
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Hydromassage Tubs, Whirlpool Bathtub electrical installation, Wenatchee Home Inspection