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Tub
Evaluations

With over 20 years as an electrician and hot tub repair company owner we get a lot of calls for tub evaluations.

 

I decided to write a comprehensive guide to help anyone understand what to look for and systems and hot tubs to avoid.

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If you’re looking for a new or used hot tub there are many things to consider. The age of the hot tub and the systems controlling it are the most important things to consider when purchasing a hot tub.

It doesn't matter what you pay for a great looking hot tub on the outside, problems could exist underneath in the equipment and frames that could have a major effect on the life span of the hot tub. Some manufacturers are no longer in business and with more refurbished hot tubs on the market being sold as new many are being delivered with some major issues. This guide will help as an inspection guide in determining the value of hot tubs before purchasing.

I have been repairing hot tubs for the last 20 plus years and at least once a week I get a call from someone who bought a hot tub by relying on someone’s word that everything works and never filled up the hot tub to test before they bought it.

Hot tubs should never be bought or moved without inspecting structure and equipment first to make sure the systems are not outdated and have not been discontinued. Previous water damage from leaks that could have damaged equipment or weakened the frame supporting the hot tub and attempting to move a hot tub weakened by water damage could cause hot tub to collapse while being moved or the pumps could break free from their fasteners and break other equipment.          

Price of Tubs

 

Prices for brand new hot tubs vary and can range from $3000, up to $18,000 or more for high-end swim spas. As of 2020, a new basic retail hot tub with free delivery costs is around $3000-$4000. A used hot tub or a refurbished one with a digital control system should cost between $1000-$3000.

You should be able to find a good used hot tub online where they are usually negotiable and with the cost of moving a hot tub [$200-$400] are better deals if you have the patience.

Beware of refurbished hot tub sales. There is a segment of hot tub resellers that will advertise as a “Hot tub removal business”.  After removing enough old hot tubs, they take all the good parts from all the tubs to combine and sell as a refurbished hot tub. Avoid if possible or get a great warranty.

It's hard for any manufacturer to make a brand-new hot tub with all new equipment and sell in the 2020 retail market for under $3000.

Cost to Operate

 

A modern insulated hot tub with heater system with a cover will cost approximately $20-$30 a month to heat set at about 100 °. With no cover, $40-$60.  The energy cost of a hot tub varies based mainly on the kilowatt of heater, voltages and size of tub and will also depend on your local energy cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

 

Tubs to Avoid

 

Aluminum control boxes are usually found in hot tubs over 10-15 years old. Most new digital control boxes are now in water-resistant plastic boxes. Parts for aluminum boxes are getting harder to find and if a circuit board or major components fails, the whole system would probably have to be replaced and upgraded to a new system.

 

Avoid these heater systems. They are obsolete and discontinued.

 

   

   

 

 

Avoid systems that use a small single recirculation pump for filter and heat. They are low flow, inefficient and proprietary.

The high flow through heat tube systems that run on 20 GPM pumps or 2-speed jet pumps are the preferred system for efficiency and the availability of replacement parts.

 

115-volts VS 230-volts

 

 230volt hot tubs heat up quicker and maintains their temperature more efficiently than a 115volt hot tubs. 230volt hot tubs may have more expensive costs initially to install the wiring but are more efficient and will pay back the extra costs in the long run.

 115volt tubs are limited to 2 ½ HP pumps or smaller where a 230volt system uses 2 ½ -6HP pumps.

Some control boxes are convertible from 115volts to 230volts, but most hot tub pumps are not convertible, and most pumps would have to be replaced for voltage conversions from 115volts to 230volts or vise vera. Some newer hot tubs on the market only require a flick of a switch to convert

*Plugging 115volt tub into an existing patio outlet would be overloading that circuit.

Research

It is always wise to do some research on the brand hot tub you're interested in before you buy. Some manufactures have discontinued models or have gone out of business so make sure you can still find parts in the future and still be able to download the owner's PDF manual for the model hot tub you're interested in.

Chemical Damage

The best way to check the overall health of the hot tub since it was purchased is to remove a jet trim from its housing by turning counterclockwise until it clicks and pops straight out or unscrews fully from hits housing.

If the white end of jet that inserts into its housing is chalky and flaks off on your fingers, then there have been some serious water issues in the past, either from too much chlorine or bromine in the past or highly acidic water. If jet plastics are highly deteriorated and are chalky then you can expect to have them popping out into the hot tub in the future because the clips holding them have deteriorated from chemical damage.

Previous water health of hot tub is evident in the plastics and metals inside and around the hot tub.

  • Corrosion or pitting on metals means water was acidic

  • White scaling on sides or equipment means to much calcium

  • Discolored chalking plastics means to much chlorine or unbalanced water.

  • Staining around water perimeter means bad water quality in past from metals or hard water deposits.

System Start-Up

Locate GFCI circuit breaker and press reset button to test circuit breaker. Turning off GFCI for 3 seconds is the universal way for resetting control boxes on all hot tubs. Hot tub resetting usually takes about 2-7 minutes depending on the manufacturer.

As hot tub is starting up pay attention to the digital topside display and look for any error codes that may appears.

First you should hear a small recirculation pump come on and you will see the movement of water in the tub. Do not press any buttons until you see a temperature reading, then raise temperature settings to maximum setting which is normally 104 degrees and install cover if available.

Let hot tub continue to run and heat up while you remove all access panels around the tub. Locate all equipment cords and follow each one to its components. Identify and locate each pump, blower, light, ozone generator and auxiliary heater if installed and check the overall condition of each. Look for rust, corrosion or leaks on components and If bolts holding them down are missing.

Turn on each component individually and check all the button functions.

 

Cabinet and Frames

 

The structure holding up the tub and equipment is one of the most important things when evaluating and moving a hot tub. If pumps and equipment are not bolted down when moving tub, the weight of the pumps would break away from the plumbing and if the structure is not solid, the tub could collapse when moved

Walk around the tub and look for damage from lawn equipment, animals or water. Use a flashlight and inspect the wooden or steel framework underneath the hot tub. If it is a wood-framed hot tub, check for termite damage and wet or dry rot in wood. With steel framed tubs, look for rust on the steel structure.

Evidence of rot or rust now would mean problems later. Both wood rot and metal rusting are repairable if caught early. If it is advanced tub is not movable and if not repaired, it could be a liability.

 

Metal frames are becoming more popular in the manufacture of hot tubs and are sold as a premium add on. They are better suited for northern climates but really should be avoided all together.

A good way to tell if any work has been done on hot tub previously, is to check for missing or different screws on equipment and access panels.

Newer hot tubs have access panels that are made of hard plastic [polyethylene] and last longer and are more durable than wooden panels found on older hot tubs. Wooden panels found on older hot tubs need maintenance over time.

Used hot tubs that sit for an extended period with no water or pumps running will have problems like dried out seals, corrosion, rust, mold and rotting wood. Hot tubs that have been sitting without water should be filled and tested for leaks overnight.

Clear all vegetation away from sides and look for any wet spots, mold, or algae growth around the bottom where tub sits. These are good indications of leaks.

*Frame and supports could fail under hot tub from water damage.

Pump Inspection

 

   Inspect the pump shaft that run thru the motor into the wet end of the pumps. You should be able to see the shaft as it enters the wet end, look for any rust on the shaft. Rust on pump shaft will only get worse and expect to replace the pump in future, Rust will expand the shaft overtime which will eventually ruin the seal or the bearings.

   Turn on pumps and listen for a shrilling or loud whining sound coming from pump, it usually indicates a bad bearings or seal.

  • Missing bolts holding pumps means replacement

  • Missing cord connector on the wire to pump

  • Calcium scaling around wet end front plate [leak]  

  • Water pooling underneath the pump or wet end [leak]

  • Leaks around wet end housing

  • Missing electrical connection cover plate

 

Control Box Inspection

 

Remove the cover to control box and inspect inside the box and circuit board for heat marks, burn marks, melted plastics. White wires that have turned yellow or dark could be from an overheat situation at some point inside control box. Inspect for rodent or insect damage and look for mold or dampness which would indicate a leak.

Topside Controllers

 

Check the function of all the buttons on topside and make sure they correspond with the right equipment. The condition of the topside controller inlay sticker will sometimes fade or crack over time from UV sun damage. Most inlay stickers covering buttons can be replaced online through manufacturer.

If the actual digital display on topside has a faded screen and is hard to read due to UV damage it would have to be replaced.

Ozone Generator

 

Ozone generator over 2-3 years old would need to be replaced. The ozone generating cells have a short life span and need to be replaced after 2-3 years.

Ultra-violet light sanitizer lamps should be checked. They have a life span of about 3-5 years.

Heaters

 

A 230volt hot tub covered should raise in temperature 10 degrees and hour. 115volt hot tubs usually take about twice as long. 

Check temperature of hot tub and see if it has climbed after 10-15 minutes with thermostat turned up. If temperature has not changed, a diagnostic check would have to be done on the heater element or system.

If hot tub is not heating and recirculation pump is running and there are no error codes heater element is bad and it would need to be replaced.

 

Filters

 

Filters come in many sizes and shapes from different manufacturers. Single round filter cartridges inserted into a canister with a skimmer basket on top is the universal system. Double filter systems or horizontal filter cartridges are usually proprietary to the manufacturer and expensive to replace.

Filters that are discolored or collapsing should be replaced and most replacement filters can be found online.

*If flow error code arrears on an older hot tub that has not been used in a long time, remove the filter and reset system. Old dirty and dried out filters will restrict water flow.

Stereo Systems and TV's

 

     TV's, Stereos and their speakers have a life span of a few years due to water, heat and chemicals. The first thing to go is usually the speakers. They have yet made a good sounding speaker or the electronics that can withstand the exposure from such extreme conditions. For music, there are floating Bluetooth alternatives online for cheaper than the cost of most parts to repair.

Lighting

 

There are many different lighting systems, most lamps should be an easy repair while some elaborate LED systems with auxiliary controllers can be propriety and expensive to repair. Just like with stereos there are floating alternatives online for cheaper than the cost of parts to repair.

Shell Damage

 

Look for discoloration around the top perimeter of the tub. Any fading of color compared to the rest of the color of the tub on the outer rim would indicate tub was UV damaged from not being covered for a long period in the sun.

Inspect the hot tub shell for any signs of cracking, blistering, and delamination. These problems usually indicate a tub that has been out in the sun with no cover installed.

Blisters on the inside finish of the tub are problems of delamination of the fiberglass and the gel coat color finish. Delamination will only get worse over time unless repaired.

Acrylic or molded plastic tubs are the new industry standard and are cheaper to manufacture. They more resistant to UV, chemical damage and delamination problems.

Jets

Try to visually check every jet to make sure none are missing. Inspect the tail end of jets that insets into housing and look for chalky residue on the white plastic. A chalky residue would indicate high chlorine use or highly acidic water in the past. This chemical imbalance has started to eat away at the plastics inside the tub. Usually, the first indication of a problem is that the jet insets deteriorate and start to pop out.

On newer hot tubs you can turn the outer ring on jet trims to open or close jet, turn counterclockwise to open jets. To shut off water flow, turn the outer ring clockwise to close.

  • Most jet inserts can be matched and replaced online

 

Diversion Valves

 

With all pumps on, check all of the valves on the railing of the hot tub. Diversion valves direct the water pressure from one area of the hot tub to another. These valves should have no water coming out of the top of valve and should turn freely with little effort with pumps off, with pumps on there should be some resistance and you should visually notice a difference in the water flow inside the tub when turned. They usually are repairable with lithium grease and new O-rings or replacements can be found through manufacturer.

 Air Intake Valves

 

Air valves that suck air into the water for bubbles should turn freely and have no water coming out of top of the valve. If they do, that would indicate a bad O-ring. They usually are repairable either by replacements from manufacturer or rebuilding with lithium grease and new O-rings.

 

Covers

 

Hot tub covers are made of a vinyl exterior and Styrofoam core also wrapped in plastic. They are very light when made and should remain lightweight if properly maintained. You should be able to lift one side of any cover with one hand.

Covers will start getting heavier over time from condensation and the steam from tub seeping inside the foam. If the side zippers still work on inside seam, inserted foam can be removed and dried in the sun and reinstalled. Look for water stains and depressions in the middle of cover from water pooling and check hurricane straps on sides of the tub to hold the cover down in high winds.

Warranties

 

It is important to note that warranties do not transfer from a seller to a buyer even if it is within the warranty period, therefore, there should be no value considered when purchasing a used hot tub that is still under factory warranty.

Records

 

It is helpful to see the maintenance and service history records of the hot tub along with the original sales receipt and instructions from the manufacturer.it can give insight into how the tub was cared for as well as reveal past issues.

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