Rules for Therapy & Recreational Pools

Rules for Therapy & Recreational Pools The dual-use therapy and fitness pool inside the Garrett Health & Wellness Center at United Presbyterian Home in Washington, Iowa. (Carl A. Nelson & Company photo)

4 years, 5 months ago

By Dan Culp, Carl A. Nelson & Company
ASHE Certified

As an Owner that is considering installing a therapy or recreational pool in your current or new facility, you should have a thorough understanding of the requirements established by codes and regulations governing the locality where you operate. In Iowa, that is the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) Bureau of Environmental Health.  The Iowa Administrative Code Section 641 Chapter 15 sets the rules to be administered by the Bureau of Environmental Health regarding pools and spas.  Chapter 15.1(1) states that these rules apply to swimming pools with the exception of a “therapeutic swimming pool or spa which is under the direct supervision of qualified medical personnel.” All other pools have to meet the criteria in Chapter 15. If you are contemplating having a mixed-use pool (e.g. therapy and recreation), then these rules will apply.

There are two classifications of pools in the chapter.  Class A swimming pool means a swimming pool with a water surface area of 1,500 sf or more, except wading pools. A Class B swimming pool means a swimming pool with a water surface area of less than 1,500 sf. The classification determines aspects of the room design that is important to know.

The first step is to engage a licensed design professional per IAC 641 Chapter 15.5(2) to prepare drawings and specifications that comply with the requirements in the chapter. You cannot rely solely on the information provided by your pool supplier because they may not fully understand or comply with state and local codes. Pool suppliers generally stipulate the responsibility for code compliance is by the Owner. 

As the Owner and operator of the pool, it is important that you clearly identify the intended uses for the pool so the design professional can evaluate the requirements of the code as they specifically apply to your conditions.  This analysis should take place at the beginning of the design as it may drive certain aspects of the spacial design. Since there are different rules for each pool usage, it is important that you work closely with your design professional and the pool manufacturer to evaluate the rules that may apply to all planned usages. In Iowa, IDPH has a Construction Plan Review checklist that can be very helpful at this stage of design to ensure compliance with the rules.

A permit is required by the IDPH before construction of the pool begins. This allows the agency to review the drawings prior to construction of the pool area.  After the pool is constructed it will be very expensive to make changes that could have been caught in the permitting process. There are many design issues to consider such as room size, deck width, pool floor slope, recirculation pumps, filtration system, piping, overflow systems, drainage systems, disinfection and pH controls and a host of other considerations. The type of equipment that you have inside and outside of the pool can drive the pool size and the room size.

Carl A. Nelson & Company has experience in the construction of pool spaces including therapy and recreational pools.  We are ready to work with you on your next project.



Dan Culp is a graduate of Iowa State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Construction Engineering. He is certified in healthcare construction from the American Society of Healthcare Engineering. He has 30 years of experience as an engineer and project manager, and is Carl A. Nelson & Company’s Director of Business Development. Learn more by calling Dan at 319-754-8415, or write to