On August 9th an interesting thing happened during the Float Conference. Rich Martin from NSF International took the stage to give a talk about NSF certifications for float tanks. What could have been an industry uniting moment instead became a public discourse over stifled creativity, sneaky practices, and roadblocks to certification.
So what led to this uproar? Were the accusations made during the conference accurate? What was Mr. Martin really trying to say and what facts do we need to consider before we weigh in on this important topic?
First, lets step back to the speech at hand and break it down. Most of Rich’s time was spent covering how the certification process works for float tanks and described the work they have done in the past.
- First, the NSF standards cover safety, water quality as well as life of product.
- The actual design of the standards is done by volunteers for NSF during the research phase.
- An NSF certification is not law. Instead, certification simply means that the product in questions meets certain standards of safety that are determined by the NSF, nothing more.
- The NSF are quite stringent. Because of these standards, it is easy for cities, states, and possibly the federal government to adopt some or all of these standards. Essentially, the NSF wants to make sure their testing, findings and eventual certification standards are at or above the requirements of what government may require. This way when requirements are created by the government, a) they don’t have to perform the research themselves, they can simply rely on the NSF’s, and b) when codes and laws are passed, the products that have NSF certification are going to already meet those government standards.
Towards the end of the speech Martin told us companies pay for the NSF to test their products in order to achieve NSF approval. He also revealed that there is one float tank, Crash’s Float Lab float tank, that is already NSF certified. According to Martin, the certifications standards are almost complete and should be announced next month.
Analysis of the Speech
If you are like most of the audience at this years float conference, you are far more interested in the fact that an NSF-certified tank exists and that those certifications are nearly complete and seemingly lacking input from others in the float tank community. I believe it was these two facts that created kindling for controversy. During the speech, attendees were being filled with information designed to help them understand the certification process and how it worked. It was only natural to anticipate that there would be a point in the presentation in which Martin would tell us, the float industry, how we would have an opportunity to join the process of NSF research and collectively contribute towards developing standards that we can all agree on. Instead, I felt duped at the end of the talk when I heard Float Lab already has NSF approval and the standards have already been created.
Does the NSF write code for cities and states to follow?
Certainly not in the short term. NSF International is not a government entity and cannot write government guidelines. However over time it is possible for codes to be written based off of NSF standards. This could mean that down the line float tank centers could have requirements determined by cities, states or eventually by the federal government (though the latter case is very unlikely even on an extremely long timeline.)
What if Crash’s float tank was the only one approved by the NSF?
Crash certainly did not win any new friends when he went to the microphone after several people questioned the NSF and used ‘the royal we’ when describing what the float community wanted from a water filter. All the qualifications he described were simply the water filtration system he uses in his float tanks. Many tank manufacturers were very upset with this.
One of the many ideas that came up after Martin’s speech was a fear that in the future, insurance companies will only allow policyholders to float in NSF-certified tanks (assuming that insurance plans start to include floating in their coverage down the road). This could mean Float Lab would be the only float tank manufacturer approved by insurance providers. This could also lead to hospitals only purchasing NSF (Float Lab) float tanks in the future, stripping that business opportunity from other non-NSF manufacturers.
This led to another large concern…
Does the fact that NSF already has a certification definition mean that other types of float tank filtration systems will not be able to be added to NSF’s standard definitions? Martin told several people after the conference that as long as particular safety standards are met, any float tank style can meet certification standards.
The other issue here is cost. The cost of certification seems to be a huge hurdle for many float tank manufacturing companies. Mr. Rich said the certification process will cost between $15,000 & 30,000 USD. Unfortunately I think this is one point where big money enters the game and float tank manufacturers are going to have to make a choice. Do we test the waters and see how many businesses and private buyers are willing to purchase non-NSF certified tanks, or do we go big and pay for the cost of getting certified? Obviously this type of decision will be much easier for those companies with large cash reserves. However, most float tank manufacturers it seems do not have a large sum of cash waiting on the sidelines, making NSF-certification out of reach.
Does NSF Certification of float tanks stifle innovation?
This was a concern brought up during the Q&A portion of the talk, and the short answer is no. The existence of NSF certification for float tanks does not mean a float tank manufacturer cannot come up with their own designs for float tanks and their accompanying filtration systems.
A longer answer is more complicated. The float tank industry will need to see if the NSF is willing to bring in new ideas concerning water filtration and that the standards are not solely vested in Float Lab’s style of float tank. I believe this will be true as we find more volunteers willing to test different systems. I also wonder what exactly those standards are and if they will be reasonable? In my personal opinion Crash’s style of filtration (which can be viewed here) is overboard and would put additional burden on float tank manufacturers and owners looking to have NSF-certified equipment. I hope that everything included in his float tank is not required, but perhaps we will learn in time that types of safety standards are truly considered necessary for client safety. Of course pools (which can have hundreds of visitors a day and at the same time) have far simpler safety standards thank float tanks do, and ideally this fact will bode well for current filtration systems already meeting or exceeding NSF certification levels.
Another possible outcome is that NSF certification will not have a large influence on public perception of float tanks. However judging by the NSF’s history in pools, spas and other areas, I would put my money on these guys making a big splash in our industry and how consumers view float tanks and the float industry.