A well-designed indoor swimming pool in a residential high-rise condominium on downtown Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. Picture: Shutterstock.com

Whether designed and constructed for residential or commercial use, swimming pools are an engineering challenge. While aesthetics are always important, the pool shell must be designed to safely hold specific volumes of water and swimming pool systems must be designed to keep the water filtered and sanitized.

Regardless of how big or small the proposed pool might be, there may be a need for mechanical designs for various elements including water heating, heater venting, and the discharge of wastewater. There should also be safe ventilation of mechanical spaces, and there may be a need for the structural design of piers and other supporting foundations.

If not well designed, swimming pools can be hazardous. Apart from anything else, surrounding surfaces invariably become slippery and can lead to accidents, and if water is contaminated it can cause many diseases.

For this reason, the Illinois Department of Health has legislation specifically for public pools and swimming facilities. This covers everything from engineering design standards for pools, spas, bather preparation areas, water supplies, and water treatment systems to safety and water quality standards.

Part 820 of the Department of Public Health subchapter on Recreational Facilities is titled the Swimming Facility Code. Additionally, there is a Health Facilities and Regulation Swimming Pool Safety Act.

Private swimming pools in Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois are regulated by the Private Swimming Pool Enclosure Act.

Requirements for Public Swimming Pools in Chicago

Chicago swimming pools, plunge pools, spas, and any other “water basin” used by the public must be designed by professional engineers or architects who have been prequalified by the Illinois of Public Health. Swimming facility contractors commissioned to construct swimming facilities must also be prequalified.

Within this legislation, there are specific clauses in the Illinois Department of Public Health laws and administrative rules that cover MEP requirements for swimming pools, all of which should be undertaken by the relevant professionals including licensed plumbers, and ideally overseen by a reputable MEP engineer

The Illinois Government’s Swimming Facility Code covers everything from swimming pools and bathing beaches, to swimming facility design requirements, operational requirements, and bathing beach design and operation, which is a section that focuses on sanitary requirements. The Code also specifies what is required for prequalification by engineers and architects.

Coordination with the relevant health department is essential from the start of the design phase to ensure all the necessary permits are obtained and plans submitted timeously.

MEP requirements for swimming pools constructed in Illinois, which of course includes Chicago, are contained in Subpart C of the Code, Swimming Facility Design Requirements, Section 820.200 General Design Requirements.

Department of Health Swimming Facility Code, Section 820.200

Section 820.200 of the Code is comprehensive and covers:

  • Enclosures, including walls, fences, and other areas, as well as the need for self-closing, self-latching doors and/or gates. There are also exclusions that relate to overhanging balconies and sand areas.
  • Bather loadfor different areas of pools: shallow end, deep area, wading pools, plunge areas and so on.
  • Structure, which requires certification by a structural engineer or licensed architect.
  • Materials for construction, all of which must be suitable for a rigid, watertight shell.
  • Obstructions that might create a safety hazard.
  • Slope of the pool floor, the requirements of which are clearly illustrated in the Code.
  • Transition pointsthat must be marked on the pool floor.
  • Pool wallsand their requirements, as well as ledges, and underwater seats.
  • Depth markersthat must be visible in both deep and shallow ends of pools.
  • Walkways and deck areasincluding those designed for plunge pools, lazy rivers, and adjacent swimming pools.
  • Ladders, step-holes, steps, and rampswhich amongst other things must have surfaces that are slip-resistant.
  • Drinking fountainswhich are located on pool decks.
  • Diving areasincluding diving boards, platforms, and handrails.
  • Starting platformsthat should only be installed if the water is more than 3.5 foot deep.
  • Electrical installation of lightingwhich is, of course, a job for MEP engineers.
  • Acousticsthat must be provided for indoor pools.
  • Ventilationwhich is also MEP engineering specific.
  • Plumbingwhich is also MEP engineering specific.
  • Emergency telephonesthat must be provided for use in the case of emergencies.
  • Equipment rooms thatare necessary forfor pool water treatment.
  • Wave pools that have their own set of requirements in Section 820.200 as well as 820.210, and 820.220.

While only certain sections of the Code are MEP specific, having an MEP engineering company oversee the entire job is clearly a benefit.

Code 820.200 MEP Requirements

Requirements in the Code relate to engineering specifications as well as more specific MEP functions including ventilation, electrics, and plumbing.

Section C - Structure

This covers the structure of swimming pools in general and states specifically that a licensed architect or structural engineer needs to certify that the pool has been designed to “withstand all anticipated hydraulic structural loadings for both full and empty conditions.”

All additional features including slides and diving boards must be designed to carry the anticipated loads of the people who will use them.

Section O – Electrical Installation

This section of the Code relates mostly to lighting although it also mentions portable electric vacuum cleaning equipment. Where this is used ground-fault circuit interrupter protection is compulsory, and all receptacles that are installed in the pool area must have waterproof covers.

Artificial lighting must be provided at any pools that are open for use after sunset. This applies to both indoor and outdoor pools and specifications for both area lighting and underwater lighting are provided.

Lighting must be sufficiently bright for safety and light dimmers may not be installed on pool deck lights or those installed underwater. Lighting controls must not be accessible to members of the public.

It is also important that all aspects relating to electrical installations comply with the 2008 National Electrical Code.

Section Q – Ventilation

The Code requires the mechanical ventilation of pool as well as humidity control. The system must have the capacity to admit 0.5 cubic feet per minute of outdoor air per square foot of the floor area. This includes the surface of the water in the pool.

Section R – Plumbing

There is substantial plumbing required for all types of pools and spas and it must all be carried out in accordance with the Illinois Plumbing Code. This includes a stipulation that all plumbers must have a license and insurance, at very least general liability insurance.

MEP Engineering for Swimming Pools

New York Engineers don’t only fulfill the legislative requirements for MEP engineering in the design and construction of swimming pools and spas. Our team will combine practical and aesthetic qualities to produce the best possible swimming facility to meet the needs of every client we work with. 

If you want to incorporate a pool of some sort in your Chicago facility contact us to discuss your project.

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