6 Ways the Pool and Spa Drain Cover Standards will Change in 2018

The federal law that governs pool and spa safety is called the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act (VGB). It was signed into law in December 2007 and helps protect people, especially children, from unintentional drownings in pools and spas – both commercial and residential. The law is named for 7-year-old Virginia Graeme Baker, who died from a hot tub drain entrapment accident.

From 2005 to 2014, these unintentional drowning deaths averaged 3,536 annually in the U.S. That’s approximately 10 deaths each day, with one in five of those deaths or approximately two deaths per day of children under the age of 15 – that’s over 700 deaths per year! And this didn’t include all the children who received emergency care for near drownings.

In 2017, we still had 163 drowning deaths of children under the age of 15. Of these, 112 were children under the age of 5 – that’s almost 70 percent.[ii]  It’s sad to know that, in the U.S., unintentional drowning is the second leading cause of death for children under the age of 15. Florida had the highest number for children under 15 with 25 deaths.

It’s taken some time, but it seems the VGB has been instrumental in decreasing accidental drowning deaths of children. In that vein, the VGB has been amended for 2018 with stricter regulations for existing pools and new pool construction, as well as spas.

How do the 2018 Revisions affect you?

Though the law still uses the simplistic phrase of “drain covers”, the revisions go a step further to define that as being the complex and entire suction outlet fitting assemblies (SOFAs). SOFAs include everything from the cover to the suction pipe, along with certain areas of the circulation system.


The biggest change concerns the required documentation. Where once an invoice was enough to comply with the AGB, now more extensive documentation is required that includes the product name, part number, service life (in years), and the permissible flow ratings for different sump configurations. Additionally, there must be a sticker or document that transfers this information from the contractor to the pool or spa owner, the installation date, and exact location for each drain cover in the pool/spa, if more than one. This documentation much be available for inspection on demand.

Expiration Date.

If the drain cover is beyond its expiration date or its expected lifetime, or the installation date cannot be proven, the drain cover is out of compliance.

Manufacturer Hardware. Only manufacturer fasteners can be used – no substitutions; and the cover also must be installed according to manufacturer instructions. The sump bucket or mud frame must be structurally sound, and fasteners must be able to screw into the receptacle for at least three threads.

Flow Requirements.

The combination of the water pump and circulation system’s flow potential must be within the rating for each drain assembly.

Sump Depth.

This is the distance between the underside of the drain cover and the suction pipe opening. Using pipe diameters for this measurement is no longer acceptable. It now must be specified in distance in inches or centimeters for the minimum depth and tested by the manufacturer.

The 2018 revisions mean closer attention to manufacturer documentation and instructions. Both contractors installing drain covers and the manufacturers must do a lot more to remain in compliance with the VGB. As a homeowner, you may wish to consult with a pool professional about whether or not your drain covers need to be updated to comply with the new VGA regulations.

Pool Doctor of the Palm Beaches at has offered residential pool repairs and new pool construction, as well as spa services, for almost 30 years.

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Written by Jason Rothman

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