Something in the world of floating have you stumped?
Contacting your health department/inspector/regulator/enforcer/supreme overlord can be stressful, to say the least. And given their general lack of understanding of floating as an industry, it makes sense why float centers may put this off. However, they have the authority to shut down your business if they feel that it’s a public safety issue, and that’s a situation no one should put themselves in.
Talking to your health department early and often can save yourself some headaches, but you don’t want to go to them unprepared. There’s a lot of nuance to regulation and existing codes that you should probably be familiar with beforehand. Fortunately, it may be something other float centers in your area have had to deal with, if there are any.
Ashkahn and Graham have a few tips for what to do to prepare and how to address common concerns they may have in this episode.
FTS Blog – The Health Department and Float Tanks… How to get Approved!
FTS Product – Health Department Essentials
Listen to Just the Audio
Transcription of this episode… (in case you prefer reading)
Graham: And today’s question is, “I’m in the planning stages and trying to determine at what point to contact the health department for inspection, before the build starts, midway, or right before opening?”
Ashkahn: For what, for inspection? Like, they know they need to be inspected?
Graham: Yeah, maybe just contact the health department not for inspection, necessarily. They probably think that inspection is the first step, or that’s why you’re contacting the health department, so-
Ashkahn: So, we’re assuming they haven’t, they just need to-
Graham: They don’t know. They haven’t talked to the health department.
Ashkahn: You’re just asking when they should contact the health department.
Graham: So, definitely not right before opening, because that sounds absolutely terrifying.
Ashkahn: Yeah, after opening is really when you …
So, okay, the question, we’re rewording your question to “when should I contact the health department?” Period. Question mark. Exclamation point.
Ashkahn: So, it’s a good question that we’ve formed this into, you know?
Graham: I think we did a great job, so-
Ashkahn: Creative with your questioning-
Graham: See you guys tomorrow.
Ashkahn: So, when to contact the health department? There’s a few things-
Ashkahn: Early is … this is our philosophy. I don’t like to feel like I’m flying under the radar, I don’t like to feel like the health department could come in at any point and screw me up.
Graham: Shut you down – which they can. So, that’s the terrifying thing about not getting ahold of the health department soon enough, is at any point they can come in and shut you down.
Ashkahn: Yes, and so most of the arguments in my mind tend towards contacting the health department very early. I think there’s a lot more benefits to contacting them early, and there’s not really a lot of benefit to contacting them late/later in the game.
So, when do you contact them? There’s a few things. First of all, you can do a little bit of research yourself before contacting the health department to figure out what the deal is with the health department in your area. That’s the first thing you’re going to need to know, because you might find out that float tanks are on-the-books not regulated in your area. There’s actually something written in that says “float tanks are exempt from regulation.”
Graham: Like we have in Oregon.
Ashkahn: Right. So we have something written in Oregon, I think Illinois has something like that, there’s a few things like that that you see around. So, that’s a really different game that you’re playing, at that point, than if you find out that they are in fact regulated and here’s the stuff that you need to follow. Or, nobody really knows. No, you’re kind of the first person to go down this path.
So, realizing what you’re in for, I think, a little bit before you start contacting health departments.
Graham: As much as possible. Sometimes it’s going to be harder than others to actually find out, especially if you’re in a place that does regulation county by county, like California, and you’re the first one in your county. You don’t really know until you start talking to the health department exactly what’s going to come down the pipeline for you.
Ashkahn: Definitely. Usually I find this ends up sounding kind of weird to people who haven’t opened their float centers yet, but my advice is to contact the closest float center to you, which sounds really weird. It’s literally contacting your single greatest competition.
Graham: And asking them very personal questions about, “hey, how does the health department treat you?” Which, I think, especially when we were getting started several years ago, a lot of people were a little more flying under the radar, and so reaching out to have people tell you, they’re like, “I haven’t really gone through the health department,” is a weird interaction, but it doesn’t usually go that way.
It totally could be weird, people can be very guarded about information, but 95% of times when you’re reaching out to your local health departments, they seem-
Ashkahn: Float centers.
Graham: What did I say?
Ashkahn: Health departments.
Graham: Yeah, float centers. Hey, your health department will totally tell you what’s going on, just-
Ashkahn: So, here’s the nice thing about-
Graham: I can’t finish my sentence?
Ashkahn: No, no, sorry, we’ve moved on as a group. Sorry.
Great, finally I have some peace and quiet here. So, here’s the nice thing about-
Graham: So, here’s what I was going to say. I was just going to say the health department … the float centers are really nice-
Ashkahn: See, this is why I can’t let you talk. You can’t even get it right.
Graham: Look, next time it’s just going to be the Graham podcast. I can record my own podcast.
Anyway, no, float centers are really nice, that’s all I was going to say. Reach out, if someone is rude, or guarded with information, they’re very much the exception.
Take it away, it’s yours, yeah, it’s your stage now.
Ashkahn: So, here’s the nice thing about contacting float centers, is that-
Graham: I’ll also say-
Ashkahn: … is that if you contact a float center, there’s a good chance that, whatever happened, if something happened with float tanks, and the health department’s decided something, or is in the process of deciding something, there’s a really good chance that that float tank question, in the health department, got escalated high up in the health department right away.
And so, there’s a chance that if you call the health department, your local health department, whoever answers the phone when you call the main number, is maybe not going to really have any idea what’s going on with float tanks. And something could be going on with float tanks and something could be decided on with float tanks, it just got decided on way, way higher up than the person you’re talking to.
When we started dealing with it in Oregon, within a few days we were talking to the head of the Oregon State Health Department, so immediately it just got to that level because it was that confusing of a thing.
Graham: Just picture some really crazy memo working its way up through the ranks of health departments, where people are like, “What? What is this float tank thing? I have no … Okay, kick it up to Bob, kick it up to Bob.” Within a couple days it’s there at Head of State.
Ashkahn: You know, when you call the health department it’s usually hard to reach that person directly, but when you talk to your float center, they probably went through this, and they know. They know a lot more specific float tank information than the kind of people answering the phone, the first round of people you’ll talk to, maybe, at the health department, depending on how big your health department is.
So, for that reason, it’s a really great source of information. If you talk to them and if they have gone through it, they’re going to be able to provide you with better information than almost anybody about anything ranging from, “It wasn’t big deal,” to, “Here’s the specific things that we had to change to get through it,” to, “They said we’re not regulated.”
And so, that’s all really good information to have, and we can talk a whole bunch about how to approach health departments and what to say, and there’s a blog post on our Float Tank Solutions site that specifically lays out our best advice for talking to health departments, and going through this process.
Graham: If you haven’t downloaded it, definitely go snag the Health Department Essentials, that actually has a lot of the content of that blog post in there, along with all of the supporting documents that we could gather, and things like that.
Ashkahn: So, without going down into that rabbit hole of information, just to specifically talk about timing, and when to contact the health department.
Graham: After a little preliminary research. I would also say after you feel comfortable with the lingo of water sanitation, enough that if they start asking you questions like “what range pH are you trying to keep the float tank in?” you can spit off the answer off the top of your head.
Ashkahn: How many turnovers you’re doing, waste filtration, you know? Who knows what they’re going to ask you.
Graham: But the more that you know your stuff, the more competent you seem, and the more likely those conversations are going to go more in your favor.
Ashkahn: And you can do that by reading your pool code, it’s all online, you can download it and just read it 10 times.
There’s things like the Certified Pool and Spa Operator(CPO) training that is a two-day course that gives you a solid foundation in the lingo.
Graham: And that’s really good to go through if you think that you’re going to hit resistance. If you start talking to people and you find out that the health department in your area is likely to be more strict than in other areas. Sometimes preemptively getting a certified pool operator license can really go a long ways to impressing the health department, and making it seem like you’re more on top of your stuff, especially if it’s just voluntary, you know?
Ashkahn: So, really, I’d say one of the key things about your timing is talking to the health department before you have paid for a float tank, and purchased it, because that can be a situation that can get kind of difficult.
If you already have your float tanks and you’ve paid for them, or whatever, now you’re talking to the health department, and they want something different than what you have, or … that’s where, all of a sudden, you’re talking about potentially spending a lot of money to adjust what you have to what they want.
So, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to figure out which float tank … and the catch-22 of this is that you’re really not going to be able to get through the process without having chosen a float tank, because the health department’s going to have a lot of questions about your float tank specifically. The specs, the actual models and manufacturing of the pieces of equipment, the flow rate of everything, all that stuff is going to be things that they’re going to want to know about.
And so, you can talk to manufacturers and say, “listen, I really like your tanks and I want to get them, but I want to make sure I can get through the health department here first, I know they have some of these things that they might require of me, so can you help me get through that process?”
And that’s the nice thing to, is manufacturers often go through this all the time. They’re constantly dealing with new health departments and getting their equipment through. They probably have a packet of information to hand to you about their float tanks that health departments are commonly asking for.
Graham: And they can be a really good resource, too, especially if you know for a fact that a certain manufacturer has their units nearby in your county, or in your state. Likely, they’ve helped someone else go through that process, and they might already have information about exactly what to expect from the health department.
So, in addition to other centers, manufacturers are a great source of information.
Ashkahn: Yeah, and they know the lingo, too. They’re good at talking to health departments.
So, that’s really key, though, you want to have a manufacturer in mind and go through this, but I would be a little bit nervous to buy five float tanks from someone just to realize that your health department wants different pumps and different filters, and different this and different that.
Because that’s expensive, and you might … even if they want all that stuff and you want to go with a manufacturer, and the manufacturer doesn’t have that equipment on their unit, it’ll probably be cheaper maybe have the manufacturer alter some stuff to meet the code than having you have the equipment, then you have to do all this stuff yourself.
So that’s where things get serious, you have float tanks and the health department does not … wants something different than what you have.
Graham: And then even further down the line, if you are halfway through construction and that’s when you’re starting to talk to the health department, that’s where things can go really, really wrong, because maybe they even want a totally different size of room, and that’s what they’re going to require as part of their regulations that they’re putting down on you.
And, at that point, you might actually have to start tearing out construction you’ve already put in, or redoing your plans mid-stride, and put things on hold for a long period of time, and right before opening, even more so, right? If you’ve finished everything and have to just tear it out and start from scratch, that sounds like the most miserable experience possible.
Ashkahn: And there are few things like that. They don’t come up all too often, but sometimes you’ll see ADA requirements is one that health departments sometimes bring up about float tanks that can alter your construction. Sometimes there’s rules in health department code about the amount of lumens that lighting needs to be in the room for cleaning purposes.
Graham: Drainage. Drainage can be another one for health departments.
Ashkahn: Drainage can be one.
Sometimes they are curious about the pumps and the equipment, and if they have some security to stop customers getting to them, or if they’re a certain distance from something. That one I don’t usually see being a show-stopper for people, or anything. Usually they’re cool with the equipment being in the room, but secured somehow.
But, yeah, there are a few things like that that are definitely good to know going into construction as opposed to in reconstruction, which is what you’ll have to do if you find out about it afterwards.
Graham: All right, so, to sum up, after some initial recon, after you feel comfortable with your own education, maybe after a CPO license.
Ashkahn: I’d say CPO if you know your state is tough, or is going to be something that is going to be a little trickier to get through, that’s the point where I’d consider taking the CPO course.
Graham: Yep. Yeah, it’s like leveling up before you go fight a hard boss in a role-playing game, or something like that.
Ashkahn: I mean, it’s a nice course of information, just to have for your own knowledge. I thought the info in it was really great. But that’s the point where I’d be like, oh man, I’ve got to go do this thing.
Graham: Yep, and then certainly before, hopefully, you finalize your tank order, before construction.
Ashkahn: Yeah, before you start having customers in, before your one-year anniversary.
Graham: I guess it’s before a lot of things, in that sense, yeah.
All right, so there we are. And I guess for inspection too, depending on how the conversations with the health department go. They might even want to be part of that inspection process, also before you even start construction.
Graham: They might want to approve some of your building plans, and see how the float tanks are going into the room, yeah.
Ashkahn: The planning, yeah. I don’t know if you’d call that an inspection.
Graham: Well, they’re inspecting your plans.
Ashkahn: Well, sure. Well, that’s part of the permitting process. Inspection is someone comes and does an inspection of your things, and makes sure you’re-
Graham: And comes and takes your physical paper, and inspects your plan, you know.
Ashkahn: No, you go to them with your plans to get stuff like that approved.
Graham: To get them inspected.
Ashkahn: Well, that’s not what an inspection-
Graham: I know, I know, I know.
But my point is just the timeline for them wanting to be involved in the process can really vary.
Ashkahn: All right, well, if you guys have any questions, you can always send them in to Floattanksolutions.com/podcast.
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