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Underground Pool Pump Rooms

Underground Pump Rooms Can Be Dangerous

An underground pump room

Many people build the pump and filter room for their swimming pool underground, this might save space and leave the garden clear however being underground brings a number of safety issues. Probably the most serious is the possibility of flooding which can short out the electrical circuits, seriously damage the pool pump and can be very dangerous for anyone who may get in contact with the water. Electrical circuits in wet places can be fatal. Underground pump rooms generally are not a good idea, they often have difficult or even dangerous access, they are often wet and dark and electrical installations are often wet and in a corrosive atmosphere.

"The Illuminating Case of the Fried Gardener"

The phone rang.
"I have a small problem" she said
The words were well formed and delivered in beautiful english that slithered down the phone line and into my ear.
"Oh yes, how can I help."
"One of my circuit breakers keeps cutting out" she slithered.
"Sounds like you have a short, we'll send someone round."
Just for a change I thought I'd go myself.

I turned up to rather a nice house near rice fields, a quiet place with a backdrop of green space.
First, check the distribution box.
Sure enough every time the circuit breaker was switched in "PHUT", it immediately cut out again.

"What's on this circuit" I asked.
"The washing machine, a couple of garden lights, oh and the swimming pool pump."
I unplugged the washing machine and switched off the garden lights. Back to the distribution box and reached for the circuit breaker.
"PHUT" it said rather emphatically.
"Where's your pump room?"
We walked across the garden to a shed. Inside the shed there was a steel manhole cover in the middle of the floor. I lifted the cover....
"It's a bit damp down there" she warned.
"A bit damp" I commented "A BIT DAMP!"
In about as much time as it takes for a knat to have a wee the whole contents of "The Comprehensive Guide to International Electrical Wiring Standards Volumes I to MCVII" had passed through my somewhat activated brain and, remembering I had seen a person hovering around that distribution box with a vague look of inquisitive indecision on their face, I politely urged the neighbourhood "WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT TURN ON THAT BLOOMING SWITCH."
The neighbourhood quickly responded in the affirmative, er, sorry, no I mean the negative.

It certainly was a trifle damp in there.
A water level was lapping about six inches below the level of the manhole and 6 feet down under the water I could see the unmistakeable gold coloured cover of a pool pump. My mind drifted aimlessly around the recent incident in Jakarta when floods and PLN's (PLN is the national electricity company) highest quality electrons had combined to turn a group of passing residents into well done sirloins.

"Your pump room is having a bad day" I said
"Oh yes, it does this all the time. When there is heavy rain the street floods. The manhole is only a few inches above ground level so the water quickly gets in, I tried going metric but it made no difference."
"And how do you empty it?"
"Oh my gardener gets in there with a bucket and bails it out."

Images filled my mind, a gardener down a hole in the ground up to his neck in water and bailing furiously, 20 yards away a frustrated pembantu striving at the distribution box trying to get the washing machine to work, a smoking gardener flying through the air with blue sparks jumping out of his now curly hair and a zillion of PLN's best 'erbs up his chuff...

I pondered on how the mindless nerds sitting in some dungeon in the bowels (possibly even the colon) of London in the "Ministry of Health, Safety And Stopping Little Boys Doing Anything In The Least Bit Pleasurable" would react to this situation. They'd have a field day with enough new "safety" ideas to keep them employed for the next eighty years.

I must say I have to wonder at why anyone wants their pump room underground. Unfortunately, after crawling down many a totally knackered ladder into some hot, wet, corrosive hell hole, I know a bit about pump rooms.

I once had to climb into a pump room that was under a bale. A small manhole a metre deep lead into a room 60 cms high (I kid you not) with water on the floor and bare electrical wires around my head. I didn't linger I can assure you and as I emerged I wondered who on earth could possibly work in such a terrible space and what sort of feeble brained wazok would ever design such a thing. My mind wandered (as is it's wont) and I wasn't concentrating but something caught my eye, I could have sworn that gnome fishing on the little wooden bridge winked at me. Curiously he had "I escaped from Belsen" emblazoned across his tee shirt.

I have a sneaky suspicion the old "I'm better than you" gene comes creeping in when a builder is building a Papillon palace. You can't build a pump room that is easy to get into or a pleasant place to work when it is just for some pool boy low life to spend his days in now can you? No, we have to make sure that working conditions for pool boys are sufficiently challenging so they are constantly reminded not to get any ideas of being above their station in life. Dear me, what if one should become the President? Shock, horror, the world would end as we know it. We need a national campaign to get rid of pool boys. This is why pump rooms are places that should be designed to give natural selection a helping hand.

The manhole cover should be about 3 tons of rusty steel chequerplate. The ladder (if there is one) should be made from rotten, slimy wood with a couple of rusty nails holding it together. The wiring has to be bare and strung around like christmas tree lighting. The room should be designed to leak, to be continually half full of water and ventilation is obviously a dirty word.

It's a sort of multipronged approach. The manhole cover is designed to fall on the poor unsuspecting soul's head, break his neck and make the rotten wooden ladder give way so as he tumbles into the depths he will grab at some dodgy wiring electrocuting himself and, with his last gasping breath, he will drown in the water at the bottom. The chlorine gas will soon reduce him to a white smudge on the floor.

"Hello, I'd like some insurance."
"Yes sir, what do you have in mind?"
I'd like to insure my pool boy against climbing into my pump room, hitting his head on the manhole cover, falling off a broken ladder, grabbing the dod...
"Oh no sir, sorry we don't cover pool boys."
"You don't? Why not."
"We class it as a preexisting condition."
"Preexisting condition?"
"It's in the genes you know."

Things are looking up, however (although we should never get or hopes up too much should we), recently I came across a beautiful pump room. It was truly the dog's naughty bits of pump rooms.

It was built at ground level. No need for a knackered ladder to get in, no rusty manhole cover that is hard to lift and allows the thing to flood and no need for a submersible pump to keep the water out. You opened an access door and everything was well laid out and very easy to get to. The electrical cables were well installed and properly insulated, it had a working light in it so you could work in it during those very infrequent times it is dark and a ventilation grill in the door to keep it dry and allow those nasty corrosive chlorine gasses out. It was situated in a corner of the garden so you couldn't hear the pump running. Someone finally got it right but I bet they had more than a few arguments with their builder.

Someone in the bowels of London just yawned, I'd better finish.

Copyright © Phil Wilson December 2010
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