If you’re working on starting a float center, chances are you’re nervously anticipating having to call the health department. We’ve all heard horror stories of people being asked to follow pool rules that don’t make sense for them, or having to do costly changes to their pump systems.
Below is our best advice for working with your health department to get your float center approved, but before we dive into that, it’s important to get a bit of an understanding as to how the health department works.
The first thing you should know is that there is no large sweeping national pool code in the United States or in Canada. Almost all pool rules and regulations are decided on a state/provincial level. This means that every state/province has its own unique set of regulations.
While there can be a lot of similarity between all these different codes, there can also be some key differences, even in things as fundamental as ideal pH levels. And just to make it a bit more confusing, counties and cities can enforce their own additional pool rules on top of what the state/provincial rules are. The result of all this is a fractured system, where the specifics of getting float tanks approved can vary hugely from place to place.
And it doesn’t stop there, because almost none of these rules have anything to say about float tanks. So, how float tanks should be regulated often becomes a matter of the personal opinion of your local health department official.
With all that being said, there are generally three different directions a health department can decide to go with float tanks:
1. Regulating a float tank like a pool (with exceptions)
Your health department can decide that float tanks are defined as pools/spas, and must therefore follow the pool/spa codes. If your health department does go this direction, they often realize that following all of the pool codes would lead to some pretty ridiculous rules, like having a “No Diving” sign posted in front of each of your tanks, or having a lifeguard on duty. But even some of the less obviously absurd rules can be at odds with running a float tank. One of the most common pool regulations is “continuous filtration,” which requires having your pump running all the time.
To get around these sections of the code that don’t work, health departments will often issue what’s called a “variance,” which basically just means an exception to the rule. Sometimes variances can just remove rules (like the requirement of having a lifeguard on duty), and sometimes they can put another rule in its place. The “continuous filtration” rule is often changed to filtration between customers, which is how most float tanks operate.
2. Not regulating float tanks
Your health department can also decide that float tanks are just too different than pools or spas, or any of the other things they regulate, and that you therefore fall outside of their scope. In this case they will not hold you to their regulations or come inspect you. Keep in mind that you’ll still have to follow other code, like your local building code, electrical code, etc.
If you do end up being unregulated, we recommend still following all of the pool/spa regulations that actually make sense for float tanks. There are ways to run your float tank that can get people sick, and following the basic pool codes helps you avoid some of this. The fact that you’re following a lot of pool code is also a great thing to point towards if someone does get sick, or if you’re health department decides down the line that it does want to start regulating float tanks.
3. Creating custom float tank regulations
We’re starting to see more and more health departments decide to create a new section of their code specifically for float tanks. This can be a big project, and the fact that health departments are starting to spend the resources to do this is a great sign of the growth of the float industry.
These codes are often nestled under the pool and spa section, but sometimes (as with British Columbia) health departments will decide to place it outside of pools and spas entirely.
So, with all this in mind, how do you prepare for working with your health department?
Call other centers
The first thing you should do is call any other float centers in your state to see if they’ve already gone through the health department process (most people in the float industry are happy to share information). You might find that they’ve already gone through this whole process, and your state has already come to a conclusion on float tanks.
If you find out that you’re unregulated, I would still recommend contacting the health department and getting that in writing. And then framing that written statement and storing it in fire-proof lockbox buried under the Pentagon.
Learn your local pool rules
If you find that you need to go through the Health Department, your first step is to start educating yourself on your local pool rules. Every state/province has their pool code available for free online. You can find links to all of them here. Find yours and read through it about 20 times. The first few passes will sound like gobbledygook, but after a few times through it’ll slowly start to make sense.
Take note of any section you find that will not work for float tanks, and if you can, try to come up with your own suggestion for what you can do instead that will meet the same sanitation goal.
All this research can be a big help when you approach the health department. Not only will you be able to speak their language, but you’ll have a good sense ahead of time which sections of the code they’ll be concerned about. And more than anything, with all of this preparation, the health department will see you as a “professional float center operator,” and not a “crazy salt-tub guy.”
Know what float tank you want to use
The health department is going to have a lot of questions about the specific schematics of your float tank. The type of pump, the flow rate, the type of sanitizer it uses, how much water it holds, etc. You’re simply not going to be able to answer a lot of these questions without having a specific float tank picked out.
This doesn’t mean you have to purchase your float tanks yet, but knowing which ones you want to go with will allow you to ask the manufacturer for the information the health department is looking for. Manufacturers are a great resource for this, as they’ve likely been through all of this before.
Show them what other health departments are doing
This one is pretty hit or miss. Some health departments will find it helpful to look towards other jurisdictions to see how they’ve handled float tanks. Other health departments won’t care at all what others are doing and will proudly inform you that they do things their own way.
If your health department is interested in what direction other health departments have gone, you can download the Health Department Essentials and get a big folder of decisions various health departments have made about how to regulate float tanks.
It’s easy to want to march into the health department office suited up for battle, but it’s important to remember that regulators are people too, and just like all other humans, they’re going to respond better to kindness than antagonism.
Going in with a friendly attitude can go a long way. Using phrasing like “how can we adjust this rule to work for float tanks” will help set a cooperative tone that will ultimately get you a lot further than starting off being argumentative.
Float tank regulations are a big and complex topic, and while it can be easy to feel overwhelmed when digging into all of this stuff, keep in mind that almost every center we’ve heard of has made it through their health department with success. In fact, it’s incredibly rare for a health department to stop a center from opening if they’re willing to work with them. Ultimately, it’s in the interest of the health department to help businesses and encourage industry, so remember that at the end of the day, they’re on your side.
Want to learn more?
If you want to go deeper into this, I would recommend listening to the episode of the Float Conference Podcast with Paul Reeves and the episode with Jason MacDonald. Both Paul and Jason health department regulators (in Washington state and Alberta, Canada respectively).