Often times we are called out to inspect pool and spa lights that fail to turn on. Many times the answer is right beneath the owner’s nose, the GFCI has tripped. Unfortunately, this was an expensive lesson for the homeowner to learn.
There are generally two circuits for a pool that supply power to the equipment. These circuits are sometimes connected directly to the house breaker panel, sometimes a separate sub-panel is mounted, and finally, some automated controllers have a sub-panel built-in. Regardless of where these circuits originate, the reason there should be a minimum of two is that the light circuit should be dedicated to the light only.
The light always has to be a dedicated circuit because it has to be protected by a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI). A GFCI is a device that monitors the amount of current flowing from hot to neutral. If there is an imbalance, it trips the circuit. It is able to sense a mismatch as small as 4 or 5 milliamps, and it can react as quickly as one-thirtieth of a second.
A GFCI for a pool light circuit is generally located on the controller box for the equipment. The GFCI outlet itself also works as an electrical outlet to supply most tools and/or appliances. Sometimes, on older sets, it can be located just under the light switch itself, usually by the back door. It will always be somewhere convenient for the electrician to protect the circuit without too much additional work.
You should take a moment to locate the GFCI for your pool light and test it to make sure it works properly. The procedure to test the GFCI is simple. Locate the “TEST” button on the outlet, usually between the two sockets. Then push it in, you should hear it pop. Then try to turn the pool light on. If the light does not turn on, and you know the light is working properly, then your GFCI is working properly.
Now that you have tested the light circuit GFCI, you need to reset the GFCI to restore power to the light. This is easily done by locating the “Reset” button on the outlet, usually beneath the “TEST” button, and pushing it in. Then, turn the light on. It should light up.
GFCIs are put on the pool light circuit to protect the pool user from stray voltage or electrocution. Just as important as a smoke detector for your house, a GFCI is a safety monitoring device that should be tested several times a year and swapped out every couple of years by a qualified pool repair electrician.
Next time you turn on your pool or spa light and it fails to turn on. Save yourself a little bit of a headache, and potentially some money, by remembering to check your GFCI first.