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Jack Stone's Posts

How to Sell a Used Hot Tub

November 19th, 2015 by

see-my-used-spa-1Buying a new hot tub and not sure what to do with your old tub? Selling a used hot tub is not much different than selling a used car, in many ways.

The reason that an automotive analogy works so well with spas is because they are so similar; with shiny surfaces, bucket seats, an engine, filter, heater, and lights. And like cars, some spa models have more features, or a more inspired design, or a bigger engine and more jets.

If your hot tub is an old clunker, chugging along with some fluid leaks and a few features that no longer work, there’s not much value left. If your spa or tub has been sitting empty, and has major equipment or cosmetic problems, it has almost no value.

Continuing the used car analogy, let’s assume that your lovingly-cared-for spa has not been sitting empty, but has been maintained continuously. It may have a scratch or two, but it heats up fully and the spa equipment all works (pumps, blower, light, heater, controls). Now you have some value, you have something to sell.


How To Sell a Used Spa

1. Trade it into a Spa Dealer: Like the trade-in value of a car, you’ll get much less than if you sold it on your own. But for those looking for a turnkey solution, having them pluck out the old and slap a new one in place all in one day, is nice. Average trade in value for a 10 year old spa is $1000, and maybe only $500. Sometimes it’s just Free removal, with no trade-in value, so be sure to check for all the details.

junk-spa-covers-sm2. Sell it to Friends or Family: This can be a fast way to sell a tub, especially for friends or family that have enjoyed your tub in the past. However, you’ll want to be nice on the price, won’t you? The neighbor that’s always commenting on the hot tub, he or she could be a good candidate. Pick 2 or 3 targets and approach them with an offer to join you and millions of other Hot Tub enthusiasts!

3. Sell it on Craigslist: Optimize your ad for best results. Put in spa gallons, size dimensions and equipment data, number of jets, features and accessories. Exact make and model information and Spa Pak Controller information. Age and condition of spa cover and cover lifter. Note any blemishes or leaks in the plumbing. Note any recent repairs or new equipment you’ve replaced. If you can offer delivery on a trailer for a fee, list that in the ad, otherwise tell them the spa / hot tub is Cash and Carry.

craigslist-screenshotThe more detail you put into the ad, the better response you’ll get. If you can find the manufacturer model brochure or information online, you can post their specs, details and features. Images are also very important, post 6-8 images for best results, highlighting the best features of your spa. Be sure to include pictures of the spa pak (with good lighting). Shots of the entire spa from above (on a ladder or deck) make a good picture.

Be sure to polish everything before taking photos, especially underneath in the equipment area, use a wet rag to wipe down pipes and equipment. And it must be full of water and operating, if you want to get more than $100, so be sure the pictures show it full of water, hot and steamy.

camera-iconIf you’ve never uploaded photos before, connect your camera or smartphone to your PC’s usb port. While on Craigslist, click the Add Image Button, on the second screen, which will open up your pictures folder (usually). Look left to My Computer and locate your device, listed as a Drive. Click on the link to the Camera, Phone, Tablet, and select the photo you want and click open.


How to Price a Used Spa

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a KBB for spas and hot tubs.

Like automobiles, spas and hot tubs are sold to appeal to a wide demographic, so there are standard base model roadsters, and there are also luxury custom sedans. The spas at Hot Tub Works are priced like a Chevy, in the $4-$7000 range. Recognized brand names like Jacuzzi, Hot Springs, Baja and others are sold at Cadillac prices, in the $8-$12000 range.

It is best to know the original purchase price of the spa (not including delivery/installation). If you don’t have records of the amount paid for the spa (and spa cover, if in good shape), you will have to use a different formula for pricing your used spa.

After you calculate the amount you think it’s worth, cut that amount in half! Here’s where spas are not like cars. Spas and hot tubs are more of personal item, you know what I mean? People don’t want to pay a lot for a used spa.

Look on and search in the For Sale category for Spa or Hot Tub (click Owners to rule out for sale by Dealers), and you’ll see how people in your area are pricing the spas. You’ll see some real ugly spas out there!


I spent quite some time on Craigs List, searching from Coast to Coast, and found a wide variety of prices, From Free to $75, for non-working spas that needed a lot of TLC, up to $5000 for Luxury spas that are 5-10 years old. But most spas are priced in the $2500 range. Spas with some visible wear and tear, or with more mileage are selling in the $1500 range.

For most spas that I looked at (and I looked at hundreds today), I would estimate that people are asking between 25% to 33% of what they paid for the spa, if it’s in full operational condition. Here’s a nice spa for sale on Craigslist, listed for $3500.


So don’t expect a lot a money, when selling a used spa. Depreciation on spas and hot tubs is much faster and cuts deeper than automobile depreciation, and that’s just the way it is.


- Jack




Hot Tub Not Heating Enough? 10 Reasons Why

September 28th, 2015 by

hot-tub-not-heating-tooIf the water temperature is warm or hot-ish, but not quite the skin searing temperature you like – you’ve come to the right resource.

When your spa heater takes too long to heat the hot tub, or if your hot tub won’t get hot enough like it used to – here’s the troubleshooting steps to take. Some Hot tubs can heat-up to as high as 105°, although the recommended temperature for healthy adults is 104°.

Let’s Assume that you are receiving No Error Codes on the display panel. Everything seems normal, but the water is not as hot as it used to be, in the past.

Thermometer is Incorrect

digital-thermometer-2First Off, thermometers can be wrong – they are not usually “precision instruments”. Even digital display temp readings can be wrong (see #5 below), and off by a few degrees. A digital spa thermometer can be considered more accurate than the rubber ducky spa thermometers.

Hot Tub Cover is Inefficient

An economy spa cover is not going to provide the type of heat trapping efficiency of thicker and denser spa covers. The R-value of the best spa covers can be 3x the R-value of a basic spa cover.

bowed-spa-cover-smSecondly, as spa covers age, they can start to take on water, and sag in the middle. other covers can begin to rip on the edges or along the fold. If you see any steam leaking out of the sides of your spa cover, this can be enough heat loss to reduce overall spa temperature.

Finally, you have to keep the hot tub cover on the tub while heating, or the spa will never heat up. For extra heat trapping, use a floating foam spa blanket.

Thermostat is Mis-Calibrated

mechanical-spa-thermostat-adjustmentOn older gas-fired spa heaters, and old hot tubs with mechanical thermostats (without any digital panel display), the spa thermostat can be adjusted. These thermostats have a copper wire and capillary bulb used to sense the water temperature. On the end of the switch is a 1/8″ hex head adjustment screw. Turn it 1/4 turn clockwise, and give it a few hours to see how high the temperature rises.

Test water temperature before using and be careful not to raise the temperature above 104° – which is possible to do on some hot tubs. Adjusting the set point too high can be dangerous or unhealthy for spa users. It’s also possible that the thermostat is defective, they don’t normally just go out of adjustment by themselves.

Outside Temperature Too Low

spa-under-snowSome spas are just not able to overcome low outside temperatures. Especially for 110V plug-in portable spas, or spas built without a lot of insulation, a small 1-3 kw spa heater can not heat up fast enough to overcome heat loss.

Also true for spas and hot tubs that have small heater elements, under 4 Kw, or 4000 watt. The fact is – less expensive spas will have more trouble keeping up with low outside temperatures.

Using a top quality spa cover, floating spa blanket and improving insulation underneath the spa, even wrapping the outside of a wood hot tub, can all help to compensate and correct for low air temperatures. Spa heaters can also be up-sized.

Bad Temperature Sensors

balboa-temp-sensorModern spas use electronic temperature sensors and high-limits to constantly check water temperature, inside and outside of the spa heater. These are connected by wires to a plug-in on the main control panel.

On digital spa packs, you will usually see an Error Code (Sn, Sn1, HL, Hot, OH), when a temp sensor is causing the heater to shut off, but if they are off a few degrees, a temperature sensor or thermostat can shut off the heater, thinking the spa is hotter than it is.

Using the Air Blower

Using a forced air blower or opening the air intake knobs will always cool the water, because the air temperature is much colder than the water temperature.

Spa Heater Not Running Long Enough

Spas and hot tubs heat slowly, some as low as 1 degree per hour, although most can do 2-4 degrees per hour. If the timer is not set to run long enough each day, it can have trouble keeping up, especially with low outside temperatures.

To bring it up to speed, run the circulation pump and heater continuously. It can take up to 24 hours – depending on starting water temperature, outside air temperature, spa cover efficiency and most importantly, the size of your spa heater.

Spa Filter is Dirty

SPA-PARTS-SPA-FILTERSEarlier in the article, we agreed to assume that there are no error codes – and a dirty spa filter should produce an Error Code (FL, Flo, FL1) if the pressure switch is sensing low flow and keeping the heater off.

You can remove the spa filter (spa cartridge) to see if flow improves because of a dirty spa filter. You may need to hit the heater element Reset button in this case. Replace spa and hot tub filters every 12-24 months to keep the water flowing and filtering well.

Spa Was Just Drained and Refilled

For spas that have been drained and refilled, you may want to run the heater continuously for a day or two, until the water gets hot, then reset the timeclock to run for 4-8 hours daily, or as much as it needs to maintain most of the heat.

Also, be sure that the spa circulation pump is fully primed, and not in an air lock condition, or drawing in air – both of which will cause the heater to overheat and shut off. You may need to hit the heater element Reset button in this case.

Spa Water Level is Low

spa-water-level-over-skimmerIf your spa skimmer begins to draw in a steady stream of air in a vortex inside the skimmer, or gulps down air because of a stuck skimmer door or thermometer, this will cause the heater to overheat and shut down. You may need to hit the heater element Reset button in this case.

Add water regularly to your spa to keep the level from dropping too low and drawing air into the suction intakes.


- Jack




Save 4 Ways with a New Spa Filter

August 21st, 2015 by

unicel-cartridge-guy-with-htw-logoSpa cartridges are one of our fastest moving products here at Hot Tub Works. We ship over 50,000 spa filters per year to spa owners all over the country. So it’s only natural that we’re going to talk about them on the blog!

Yes, we like to sell hot tub cartridges, but it’s a product that feels good to sell, because I know that it’s improving water quality and health, and reducing energy and water consumption. It’s a win-win for us both!

So for those spa owners out there that still think their cartridge can last another few months (we recommend changing it every 10-15 cleanings or every 12-18 months, whichever comes first), here’s some ways that a new hot tub cartridge saves.

save-money-2SAVE MONEY:  A new hot tub cartridge filters so much better than a worn filter cartridge that you will find you need less chemicals to keep it clean like MPS, clarifiers or foam-out. A new spa filter can also reduce staining, or deadly deposits on your heater core. New cartridges on schedule can allow you to run the pump less, while using fewer chemicals. Using an old cartridge requires more pump run time and more chemicals to compensate for the inability of older cartridges to trap fine particles. You’ll save more money than you spend on regularly replacing a spa filter cartridge.

saving-water-is-coolSAVE WATER: If you are under water restrictions in your area, or would just prefer to reduce the frequency of draining and refilling the tub (which also saves money), buying a new spa filter on schedule will enable you to increase the length of time between water changes. For those of you under extreme hot tub water restrictions, changing water only once or twice per year, we recommend a new cartridge every 6-12 months. Some of our customers are finding success with draining only halfway every six months, but also replacing the spa filter cartridge at the same time.

world-energySAVE ENERGY: Everyone likes to save energy. Spas and hot tubs are not huge energy hogs, but every little bit helps. As mentioned earlier, new or almost new hot tub filters are so much more effective than old or almost old cartridges, that you can actually run the pump 1-2 hours less per day, and maintain the same water quality. As a filter cartridge ages, the constant battering from the water flow and from periodic cleanings forces open small gaps between the woven polyester fibers. This allows small particles to pass through unfiltered, requiring – you guessed it, more filtering (and or more chemicals) to keep the water clean and clear.

your-precious-timeSAVE TIME: Why do you save time? A new or almost new spa filter cartridge will filter the water more effectively, which means that your water will stay clean and balanced more easily, with less water problems. It also can last twice as long before it needs cleaning, as compared to a 24 month old spa cartridge, which clogs quickly from oil and mineral deposits that don’t come out, even with chemical soaking. What’s worse is that as spa filters age, they can’t trap the small particles anymore. New filters can filter down below 20 microns, but an old cartridge may not trap sizes of 35 micron particles, which is where particles become visible to the human eye.


In case you’re wondering, I change my spa filter every 15 months, like clockwork. Set yourself an email reminder with the link to your particular spa filter, so you can reorder your spa filter on schedule. Maybe we should start a spa filter subscription service!?!


- Jack


CDC Report on Recreational Water Illness

August 6th, 2015 by

CBS-News-Sick-SwimThe media is all abuzz about a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control that shows that Recreational Water Illness (RWI’s) are on the rise in American pools and spas.

Since 2010, a National Outbreak Notification System (NORS) has been established that allows public pool and spa operators to voluntarily report any outbreak of water related illness.

For the 2011-2012 reporting period, NORS has documented 1300 RWI’s in public pools and spas, with 75 hospitalizations and one reported death. Over half of the illnesses were caused by Cryptosporidium, or Crypto as it is more ominously known. Pseudomonas accounted for the majority of other illnesses.

What Causes Recreational Water Illness?

Where does it come from – it comes from bathers! Mostly from unwashed behinds, or from “accidental fecal release” of those infected with the parasite. Very tiny amounts of poop from an infected person can infect others – who accidentally drink the water, or absorb it into their eyes or open sores.

Crypto and other pathogens are not only found in human and animal stools, but can also be found in soil, food and on unclean surfaces. It can enter the spa in more ways than just the backside of an infected person. The CDC estimates that 750,000 Americans are infected each year with Cryptosporidium.


Why Doesn’t Chlorine Kill Crypto?

DEL Ozone MCD-50, it's what I use on my spa

Usually it does, but cryptosporidium has the ability to cloak itself from low levels (1-3 ppm) of chlorine or bromine. And if the pool or spa has high pH and/or a high level of chloramines – it becomes a very weak sanitizer, not strong enough to kill all pathogens. For this reason, the CDC recommends supplemental sanitation by Ozone or UV light systems, for pools or spas that have a high risk or history of infection.


Reducing Recreational Water Illness Risks

  • Shower with soap before using a pool or spa
  • Do not use a pool or spa if you’ve had recent diarrhea
  • Maintain spa bromine at 3-5 ppm, and use Ozone or UV
  • Balance the pH and shock the spa after each use
  • Keep your head above water and don’t drink the water
  • Limit spa sessions to 15 minutes


Is Your Hot Tub – Infected with Crypto?

bacteria-in-spasIt could happen, all it takes is one infected person who hasn’t showered to infect a spa or hot tub. The data collected by the CDC is entirely gathered from Public pools and spas, not residential – but a residential spa can become infected just as easily – all you need is an unclean bather, insufficient sanitation and poor water balance.

But I don’t mean to scare you – I would estimate that 90% of well-maintained residential spas are pathogen-free. When in doubt, shock the spa or change the water!


- Jack





Hot Tub Water Conservation

July 21st, 2015 by


Are hot tubs and spas water wasters? The mayor of San Jose thinks so – in May, the San Jose city council voted to prohibit filling pools and hot tubs. And in Santa Clara, California, hot tub owners are allowed to replace hot tub water, but only after agreeing to take fewer showers.

Santa Clara also has required “Water School” for the edification of water restriction violators. What’s this world coming to? It is the new reality of life in California and other water poor states. Until the drought subsides, or new water harvesting technologies are installed, we will have to comply.

So then, for the hot tub owner who wants to keep their hot tub bubblin’, here are some ways to conserve hot tub water.

How to Extend the Life of Hot Tub Water

It’s a commonly accepted practice to drain and refill a spa after 3-4 months of use. This is due to a build-up of dissolved solids and and oily substances that can begin to “choke” the water over time, which can make water balance and complete sanitation more difficult. However, there are ways to extend the life of your spa or hot tub water…

Beginner Tips:

  • Check and balance the water 2-3 times per week, to keep levels optimum.
  • Replace your Spa Filter every 6-12 months, to keep filtration optimum.
  • Use a Spa Ozonator or Mineral Purifier, as a supplement to bromine.
  • Use Spa Enzymes to dissolve oils and organics.
  • Use Spa Clarifier to improve filter effectiveness.

Pro Tips:

  • Install a secondary in-line spa filter, to improve filtration.
  • Use a Pre-Filter to clean hot tub fill water (excuse my French!).
  • Use a floating foam blanket and a good spa cover to reduce evaporation.
  • Use a Rain Barrel to capture hot tub water (I know, what Rain?).
  • Limit hot tub use, if needed, to reduce solids build-up.

Eventually, you will need to change the water, but if a spa is maintained very well and not overloaded to capacity with users, it is possible to extend the time between water changes for a year, or even longer in some cases.

To protect your hot tub health however, you must always maintain the water balance and sanitation, and over-filter the water by running the filter pump for a sufficient amount of time each day. Periodic shock treatment is also necessary, in addition to keeping a constant bromine residual in the water.

A solid spa cover in good condition is important, to prevent water loss from evaporation. Drag off and splash out can also be controlled, and be sure to fix leaks in the plumbing or around the spa equipment.

The Future of Hot Tub Water

water_faucet_drop_400_wht_11410Some water watchers warn that we are only at the forefront of the current crisis in America and that rationing and cut-backs are sure to continue and escalate in many areas. If your town is under a water use restriction, you probably know about it.

To find out if there are any spa or hot tub restrictions (and not just swimming pool water restrictions), you can do an online search for “City/Town/County water use restrictions”, or visit your local government website and search therein.


- Jack



Bad Fitting Hot Tub Covers

June 25th, 2015 by

ill-fitting-spa-coverI was visiting a friend at a beautiful resort home in Breckenridge, Colorado last weekend. They had so much snow in these parts of the Rockies (over 5 ft in May), that there is still snow now covering the mountain peaks.

A rental home with a hot tub in Breckenridge is easy to find. This town and many like it across the west are teeming with hot tubs. Rental homes with hot tubs need some extra attention, and if you have a hot tub at a vacation or rental property that you own, read Carolyn’s post on vacation home hot tub maintenance.

The purpose of today’s post is to rant about ill-fitting spa covers – oversized, undersized, wrong shape or size.

What’s Wrong With it?

Who cares, so what – if the cover is a little big for the spa, or doesn’t match the corner radius correctly? No big deal, right? OK, maybe no BIG deal, but from where I sit, there are some concerns about heat loss, cover durability and spa safety.

HOT TUB HEAT LOSS: When the skirt, or flap on the edge of the cover doesn’t sit flush over the outer lip of the spa or spa cabinet, heat seeps out, and air flows in. Both will create more work for your spa heater. A spa blanket can help, but if you see steam escaping from your spa top, imagine it as dollar bills with wings.

SPA COVER DURABILITY: When a spa cover does not fit properly, either too small or too large, or the wrong shape, the foam panels are more susceptible to damage from tree branches, dogs or kids, and from high winds that can toss a spa cover across the yard or even over the fence.

SPA SAFETY: If you can’t hook all of the spa cover safety straps, the spa is less safe than it needs to be. If there is any chance that the cover could be moved or fall in, then an ill-fitting spa cover could be dangerous for children or animals.bad-fitting-spa-cover

This ugly hot tub cover atop the otherwise beautiful Jacuzzi hot tub was costing the property management hundreds of dollars per year in heat loss. You can see how poorly made the spa cover is – wrinkles in the exterior fabric point to poor workmanship. So maybe they saved a few dollars on an ill-fitting spa cover, but in the long run, they are paying a much higher price!

If your spa cover does not fit correctly, there are some things you can do to help it out, if you aren’t ready to replace your spa cover just yet. First, turn the heat down as much as possible when not in use, and secondly, use a floating foam spa blanket to help reduce heat loss and water evaporation.

spa-cover-capSpa Cover Caps can also be used to help reduce heat loss on old, broken and ill-fitting spa covers. To increase the R-value, first place a heavy wool blanket over the hot tub cover, and then cover with the Spa Cap.

And for bad fitting spa covers that can’t be latched safely with cover clips to keep out young children, I recommend using spa cover “Hurricane Straps“, so called because they hold covers tight in high winds; they are also an added layer of protection for securing any hot tub cover safely.

Moral of the Story: Don’t buy a cut-rate, ill-fitting spa cover that seems like a great deal. In the long run, you may spend 2-3 times what you saved on wasted heat and premature cover failure.

To avoid this pitfall, order spa covers by specific spa make and model when possible, this ensures that your cover is made to manufacturer specs. For spa cover measuring or ordering questions, we have spa cover technicians standing by!


- Jack



Spas and Hot Tubs in the News

June 15th, 2015 by

SPAS-IN-THE-NEWSOnce again, it’s time for our twice annual round-up of news articles surrounding spas and hot tubs. It’s always a treat to see how the world responds to hot tubs, and these stories never disappoint.

We have a good group of stories this time – never a dull moment when we turn the camera lens on “Spas and Hot Tubs in the News”…

San Jose Bans filling Hot Tubs

By Len Ramirez May 11, 2015 CBS San Francisco

sam-liccardo-mayor-of-san-joseSan Jose is going cold – banning filling hot tubs. “From the day the drought was declared, and the city council announced its restrictions on filling of hot tubs, it’s closed our doors,” Hot Spring Spas sales manager Chet Lockwood said. “If you’re building a pool today, you can fill it with recycled water or have your kids skateboard in it but you can’t fill it with potable drinking water,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said. Lockwood says that spas have health benefits, and can actually help residents save water. “This is a very small amount of water that we can reuse, and reuse, and reuse,” Lockwood said. Full Story.

Fans Flip when Beyoncé pours 20K Bottle into Hot Tub


beyonce-pouring-20K-champagne-into-a-hot-tubFans are outraged after Queen Bey poured what is rumored to be a $20,000 of champagne into a hot tub in her new music video for “Feeling Myself.” The video, a collaboration with Nicki Minaj, shows Beyoncé smirking as she dumps a golden bottle of Armand de Brignac, into hot tub. Twitter exploded with comments like this: “The picture of Beyoncé pouring a bottle of $20,000 champers in a pool made my blood boil… people are starving and homeless…so selfish!” Full Story.

Boy falls from Third-Floor, lands on Hot Tub cover

By Peter Burke, May 29, 2015 Local10

boy-falls-onto-hot-tub-coverA 3-year-old boy was taken to a hospital after falling from a third-floor balcony, a Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue spokesman said. The boy fell off the balcony Friday morning at a home on North Dixie Highway, Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Division Chief Timothy Heiser said. Heiser said the boy landed on a hot tub cover, got up and walked back to the second floor to tell his grandfather what happened. Paramedics arrived and took the boy to Broward Health Medical Center as a precaution. Full Story.

A bachelor Playboy hangs up his Hot Tub 

By John Kelly Washington Post June 9, 2015

mike-oharroLet us remove our hats, bow our heads and observe a moment of silence for the passing of a great Washington institution: Mike O’Harro’s hot tub. It died last weekend at the age of 38. It should come as no surprise that Mike O’Harro had a hot tub. The nightlife king —­ ­co-owner of the now-defunct Tramp’s Discotheque and creator of Champions Sports Bar — was the closest that Washington came to Hugh Hefner. He was a bachelor playboy and had everything that went with that lifestyle: the bearskin rug, the Ferrari, the Members Only jacket – the hot tub. Full Story.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick really likes Hot Tubs. A lot.

By Business Insider June 11, 2015

travis-kalanickUber CEO Travis Kalanick really likes hot tubs. He likes them so much, in fact, that he stays in them for hours at a time, according to venture capitalist and early Uber investor Chris Sacca. He says Travis Kalanick used to spend “eight to ten hours” there at a time. “I’ve never seen a human with that kind of staying power in a hot tub,” he said. Sacca also talked about how he and his wife make founders dinner and take them hot-tubbing in an attempt to evaluate potential founders for his firm’s portfolio.

Neighbor’s Surveillance Camera Pointed At Hot Tub

By Denise Wong June 14, 2015 CBS13

camera-over-a-hot-tubResidents at a Citrus Heights apartment complex want something done about a prying eye pointed towards their hot tub from behind a neighbor’s fence. Is it legal to point a surveillance camera over the fence into a neighboring yard? It may not be a crime since the camera is not hidden. However, it makes residents uncomfortable. “There is a creepy camera right there pointing at the hot tub,” said Andrea Bryant, a resident. Full Story.



 >>> so, there you have it, all the spa and hot tub news that’s fit to (re) print! Much thanks to the fine authors and news organizations that originally published these very entertaining stories about hot tubs in the news; Please click the links to view the entire story, and view pics and video.

- Jack

Installing a New Hot Tub Control Panel

May 21st, 2015 by


The topside control panel is the name for the display and controls, on the top-side of the spa, or where you can see them when you’re in the spa.

I’m old enough to remember having to get out of the spa to turn up the heater or turn on the air blower, or those sticky hexagonal air buttons. Or when a panel like the Omega VII appeared in the early 80′s, so state of the art!

If you have an older spa, I mean a real old hot tub, the spa controls, aka topside control panel is analog, not digital. The way to tell is – if you have a digital temperature display, you will have a digital control panel.

Even if you have a digital topside spa panel, you may one day finding yourself needing a new hot tub control. Trees, weather, insects – can cause failure to the PCB (printed circuit board) or the display, requiring a replacement hot tub control panel, of the same type or different.

Replacing the Same Topside control panel

If you are able to locate the same topside panel that you now have on your control panel, replacement is an easy affair. Before installing however, inspect that the shape and size is the same and that the wire connectors are the same.

Look for any visible screws, bracket or lock nut, usually on the backside of the panel. If none are found, the panel may be glued in place with a bead of silicone. Use a flat screwdriver to pry up gently on the edges of the panel. If you feel strong resistance, check again for something securing the panel face or wires to the spa wall.

Once the topside panel is loose from the spa wall, you can just follow the wires and disconnect it from the spa pack control unit. Pay attention to where it connects and in which direction the plug is oriented. Replace a new topside control panel in reverse order, using a bead of silicone if necessary to hold it in place, and also to keep out moisture.

Replacing a Different Topside control panel

Before you order a new spa pack or a different topside panel, check under the panel area for room to run the cord that connects to the new control box. A standard topside control is 7-1/4″ wide by 3-1/4″ tall, but if you need a smaller one, you can use a 5-1/2″ x 2-1/2″

In many cases, especially on older spas with air controls (aka pneumatic systems), you will need to cut the spa shell to accommodate a panel of different size, to enlarge the hole where the panel sits and the wires come through.

cut-the-spa-shellCut my Spa? Are you Crazy? I know, it sounds like surgery, but is really a minimally invasive procedure that can be done in a half hour. The key is to use a small power tool like a Dremel, Spiral Saw or a Jig Saw. Leave the reciprocating saw and circular saw in the garage, you won’t need them for this job, this requires precision cutting. You could also cut the material by hand, with a drywall saw. Either way, wear a mask while drilling so you don’t inhale the dust.

cut-opening-for-new-spa-panelFirst mark the area to be drilled. Most topside control panels will come with a template or schematic of the layout, showing exactly how big the hole needs to be. It’s important to cut to the exact size and shape, to prevent water intrusion. Try to cut it a little on the small side, and use a rough file or rasp if the hole needs to be a bit wider. You can see my hole isn’t perfectly square, a little over-cut on top right. Sand down the edges to help make a good seal.

newly-installed-topside-spa-panelNow place a bead of silicone or other gasket material around the backside of the new topside panel. You only need a thin bead, not a toothpaste sized bead, which will squeeze out. Drop the wire through the hole and press the new spa panel in place, pushing it firmly to flatten out the sealant. If any does leak out the side, wipe it up quickly with a damp cloth. Now plug in the topside panel cable to the spa controller slot, which is usually labeled.

How long do topside control panels last?

Not long enough unfortunately. Heat and humidity can take a toll on electronic circuits. That said, most topside spa panels will last 10 years. If you have had repeated and mysterious failures to the pcb every few years, it may be a good time to replace the entire spa pack. New spa packs are less prone to circuitry problems.

If your spa pack and control is over 20 years old – it’s a good time to upgrade!



Hot Tub Pioneers – Watkins Brothers

April 20th, 2015 by

early-hot-spring-spaIn the seventies, as spas and hot tubs were growing from a California cottage industry, two brothers toiled away in their Escondido garage to create a whole new type of hot tub.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Jon Watkins started up a pool service business when he came home after a tour in Vietnam as an Army aviator. While servicing pools in the Escondido, Ca area, he noticed how much his customers loved the pool side spas that were all-the-rage in southern California at the time.

“I thought that I could build a better spa than what was available – a movable appliance that would be hot and ready to use all the time”. Said Jon in a 1987 interview in Flying magazine. In 1976, Jon formed a new company with his brother Jeff, and they rented an old metal building in Carlsbad, Ca to manufacture portable spas.

“The industry was already turning away from redwood and oak hot tubs into prefabricated fiberglass shells. But fiberglass had some problems in performance”. Blisters and cracking was causing a flurry of surface problems for customers.

“Secondly, fiberglass shell designs were easily reverse engineered and made by people who wanted to get into the spa business, crank out a few hundred spas, and disappear – bad for the industry”. On top of that, spa energy usage had begun to be discussed, with the 70′s energy shortage in full steam, and current spa designs were not very energy efficient.early-hot-springs-logo

Jon Watkins recognized that some of the new materials being used in the boating industry should be suitable for spas. The new material Rovel, was lighter, stronger and easier to work with than fiberglass. It also was more durable than the new acrylic spas, being manufactured by Baja.

1976 – Jon & Jeff Watkins form Watkins Manufacturing Corporation and begin to make Hot Spring Spas.

1977 – a new thermoplastic Rovel®, created by Dow, was being developed by Jon and Jeff Watkins, and molded into a one-piece spa shell and cabinet.

1978 – Watkins introduces industry marvels such as a locking insulative spa cover, top load spa filters and underwater lighting.

1986 – Watkins joins the MASCO family of home products, a Taylor, Michigan based company.

1999 – Watkins acquires Caldera, an El Cajon, California manufacturer of spas and hot tubs.

2011 – Watkins company made it’s 1 millionth spa among all brands.

2015 – Watkins acquires Endless Pools, manufacturer of Swim Spas.

Watkins has been a consistent philanthropist through the years, and not only the many Orange County, California charities that it supports such as the local Children’s Hospital and Boys and Girls Club, but national organizations such as the National Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation.

They employ over 1000 people, and sales estimates have them earning revenues in excess of 200 million for all current brands, including Hot Spring, Caldera and American Hydrotherapy, Freeflow and Fantasy spas.HotSpring-Logo-300x156

That’s a long way to go, from making 3 spas per day, to now cranking out over 300 spas per day! Watkins currently operates through more than 700 retail locations in over 70 countries and all 50 states, with manufacturing facilities in California and Mexico, and distribution centers in Belgium, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.

We salute the Watkins brothers, Jon and Jeff, as two Hot Tub Pioneers that hold dozens of patents and pushed the industry forward at every turn. The Watkins brothers were to hot tubs what the Wright brothers were to aviation!


- Jack


Hot Tub Cover Lifter Reviews – Part II

April 10th, 2015 by

animated-spa-cover-lifterI wrote Spa Cover Lifter Reviews Part I, over two years ago, so this topic is ripe for an update. Also, in Part I, we only showed reviews of half of the spa cover lifters that we have and, only positive reviews. :-)

In Part II, we look at 5 more hot tub cover lifters, and show more balanced reviews, negative and positive, to give a better overall picture.

These reviews I found by searching our database of hundreds of emails and thousands of phone conversations with customers. Around here, we talk a lot about spa covers and cover lifters!



  1. cover-shelf-reviews ”Great spa cover for the price, and very simple to operate. It’s really all you need actually, no need for power assist, just open the arms and slide the cover off of the tub.”
  2.  ”When I was installing the arms, I couldn’t find a solid piece of wood to anchor into on the side I wanted to use. Ended up tacking on two 2×4′s and staining them to match the cabinet. Works well.”
  3.  ”The design of the Cover Shelf is good, but over time, the screws worked loose and almost ripped out. My handyman resecured it with some lumber, and it seems to be holding for now…”


  1. covermate-easy-reviews-2“This is just a bar and a strap, not much for the price, but it does the job. I could make my own for $20 in parts. Maybe next time.”
  2. “I love the Covermate Easy. It is easy, but not really for one person, unless you a very big person, I suppose. For little ‘ol me, it’s a little cumbersome.”
  3.  ”Cool design, but not especially “easy” to pivot into position. Also bows under the weight of my cover, and seems to put a lot of stress with how the cover hangs on the bar.”


  1.  covermate-2-revierws“Likes: Easy to use by just one person, no stress on cabinet. Dislikes: Cover hanging by a seam, drilling into cabinet.”
  2.  ”We’ve had another type of spa cover similar to this one, but it was harder to lift the cover, and get it balanced just right. Would recommend the Covermate II for any square tub.”
  3.  ”I’m returning this because I don’t want to drill 30 holes (!) into my spa cabinet. I understand that there is a version of the Covermate 2 that slips under the spa? Please exchange.”


  1.  covermate-3-reviews“Without a doubt, the finest spa cover mechanism I’ve ever owned. The piston arms pop the cover right up with very little effort, and I can tell that the materials and construction is top notch.”
  2.  ”Installation was not as easy as I was expecting, but after 1.5 hr I was ready to test. No go – long story short, the pistons were installed upside down! Took another 1.5 hrs to figure that out and fix it. Quality control is needed, especially on imported products. Come on, guys!”
  3.  ”Even my mom could remove the spa top now. One person can do it, even on large covers like mine (8ft). I actually got this one because it’s the only one that will lock in place. My spa sits on a hill, high winds were always knocking the cover down, onto our heads! Ha ha – but this has fixed that problem.”


  1. cover-valet-reviews“This cover lifter does not have a solid bar running across the cover, on the cover seam, and is starting to rip the cover! Why there is not a solid bar used I do not know, but we have removed the Cover Valet from our cover and are back to manual lifting and moving – not impressed!”
  2. “Got this as a Christmas present. Installation instruction were fair, but managed to self-install in under an hour. The shocks make it real easy to open the spa cover, now even my wife can do it. Should have bought a spa cover lift a long time ago!”
  3. “If you can decipher the poorly translated and sparse instructions, you can install this yourself, with a full set of hand tools. The gas shocks don’t do much, the poles are a little flimsy, and it still takes some effort to lift the cover. That said, it is more stable and better made than my old spa top lifter.”

I hope you find these hot tub cover reviews useful – I tried to pick out ones that had some nuggets of usefulness! No spa cover is made that comes with only pluses and no minuses, I think the cover lifter manufacturers walk a fine line of quality vs price.

Years ago, there were some $500 cover lifters – very nice products, but too expensive – no one bought them. Or perhaps it’s a bit of planned product obsolescence in practice? If you make something too good, you only sell it once! Either way, hot tub cover lift mfg’s found a sweet spot in the range of $100-$200. Not as good as they could be, but a good value for the price.

See all 10 Hot Tub Cover Lifters we have to choose from ~


- Jack