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Archive for the ‘Spa Heater’ Category

Hot Tub Not Heating Enough? 10 Reasons Why

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hot tub heatIf the water temperature is warm, but not quite as hot as you like – you’ve come to the right place! Some hot tubs can heat up to 105°, although the recommended maximum temperature for healthy adults is 104°.

Let’s assume that there are no error codes on the display panel. Everything seems normal, but the water is not as hot as it normally is. At this point there are a few troubleshooting steps you can take to identify and fix the problem(s) in your hot tub.

1. Thermometer is Incorrect

First off, thermometers are not usually “precision instruments” and can give an inaccurate reading. While they generally provide a close range for reference, they may not be perfectly calibrated. Even digital display readings on your spa’s control panel can be off by a few degrees (see #5 below).

2. Hot Tub Cover is Inefficient

bowed-spa-coverAn economy spa cover is not going to provide the same 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.

Secondly, as spa covers age, they can start to take on water and sag in the middle. other covers 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 spa blanket.

3. 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.

4. Outside Temperature Too Low

cold weatherSome 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 4,000 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.

5. Bad Temperature Sensors

balboa-temp-sensorModern spas use electronic temperature sensors and high-limit switches 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.

6. 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. If this is causing problems during cooler weather, you may want to turn the blower off.

7. Spa Heater Not Running Long Enough

Spas and hot tubs heat slowly – some as little 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 your hot tub 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.

8. Spa Filter is Dirty

Earlier in the article, we agreed to assume that there are no error codes. However, a dirty spa filter will usually 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. Clean spa and hot tub filters every 3-4 months and replace every 12-24 months to keep the hot tub water flowing and filtering well.

9. 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 again. Once heated, reset the time clock 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 air locked or drawing in air. Both of these conditions will cause a heater to overheat and shut off. You may need to hit the heater element reset button in this case.

10. 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 if this happens.

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

Top 5 Hot Tub Heater Problems

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hot tub not heatingHot tub won’t heat?! A hot tub without heat is, well, COLD! Not fun for anyone! Hot tubs are meant to be HOT. If you’ve ever been in a warm tub, you know it’s just not the same.

If you’re in charge of the hot tub at home, you immediately hear the complaints when the hot tub heater is not working properly. You need a quick solution to the problem of low heat or no heat in your spa or hot tub.

We’ll walk you through some solutions for hot tub heater problems, including photos and links to help you fix your hot tub heater!

1. LOW FLOW

Low flow in your spa or hot tub is most commonly associated with a dirty spa filter. If your spa heater won’t heat, remove and clean the filter(s) rule out a pressure or flow rate problem. Low water level, a clogged pump impeller, closed valves, clogged pipes or blocked spa drain covers can also cause flow issues. Some hot tub heaters have screens on the inlet side to trap any debris that gets past the filter. If this becomes clogged, you may notice reduced water flow coming into the spa or hot tub.

hot tub heater pressure switchesA spa heater relies on sufficient water flow to operate. A pressure switch, screwed into the heater chamber, senses when the water flow is too low to properly protect the heater. Pressure switches break the electrical circuit powering the heater element, and the heater shuts down when the water flow is insufficient. It will start heating again once proper water flow is established. Most pressure switches can be tested by using a jumper wire to connect the two wires together, bypassing the switch. Many spa pressure switches can be adjusted with a thumb wheel or small slotted screw to close the circuit at a particular pressure rating. For example, some are adjustable from 1 to 5 PSI. You can make small adjustments to the pressure switch by turning the wheel or screw, but the factory calibrated setting is safest for your spa heater.

hot tub heater flow switchesSome spa heaters use a flow switch instead, or sometimes in addition to a pressure switch. Flow switches sense water flow, not water pressure. When water flow is great enough, two paddles are pushed together to close the circuit. When flow is less than required, the flow switch remains open and the heater will not operate. Some flow switches can be tested by using a jumper wire to connect the two wires together, bypassing the switch. Harwil type mechanical flow switches can also be unscrewed from the tee housing and inspected for scale or corrosion. Flow switches are not adjustable, but sometimes do need adjustment – be sure that surfaces  are clean of scale, and the paddles are not bent. Harwil type flow switch paddles must also be perpendicular to the water flow for full operation.

2. THERMOSTAT

spa thermostats and temperature sensorsThe thermostat is the dial that you turn to crank up the heat. Most new spas use a temp sensor connected to a circuit board, and the topside control panel is just a remote control. Spas of 20 years ago mostly used potentiometers and solid state probes. For spas 30-40 years old, mechanical thermostats with a capillary bulb are common. If you have a thermostat “knob” instead of a lighted red arrow, you can test your thermostat to see if the unit is faulty internally or if the sensor bulb has become corroded.

For newer spas and hot tub heaters with a topside control panel, the thermostat is usually replaced by a temperature sensor. This plugs into the main circuit board on your spa controller, and the probe end slips into a thermowell. Inspect the cord and probe for damage, and be sure that it is plugged into the panel snugly. If your topside control panel is displaying incorrect water temperature, it’s likely a bad temp sensor. However, if it’s not displaying properly, does not respond to input or appears to be water damaged,  you could have problems with a topside control panel.

3. HIGH LIMIT

hot tub high limit switchesThe high limit is another switch, similar to the pressure switch and thermostat discussed above, in that it is part of the safety circuit. Its purpose is to prevent a runaway spa heater – one that won’t shut off, and could overheat (OH), create scalding water or suffer a literal meltdown. High limit switches are calibrated with a preset maximum temperature at which the switch will open, breaking the electrical circuit that carries power to your spa heater element.

Some hot tubs use two high limits: one monitoring temperature inside the heater and one outside of the heater. High limit errors will normally display a HL code or OH code when they are the cause of the problem. On older spas, the red button will pop-out when the high limit has been reached. Nuisance spa high limit tripping can be related to low water flow (causing higher than normal heater temperature), incorrect voltage, a malfunctioning element, loose wire connections, damaged wires or a faulty high limit switch.

4. HOT TUB HEATER ELEMENT

hot tub heater elementsHot tub heater elements are similar to an electric hot water heater element, and as such, spa heater elements burn out very quickly if operated without cooling water surrounding it. Hot tub elements can also be tested to determine if there is a short in the coating surrounding the heating element. Use a test meter set on ohms (Ω) to measure spa heater element resistance. A good element should usually display 9-12 ohms. If it pegs to “infinity,” or keeps rising slowly, there is a short in the element and it should be replaced.

Spa heater elements can also develop a scale buildup, from hard water or sanitizing with salt systems. When a spa element develops scale on the outside of the element, it will reduce the element’s heat output, and could lead to element failure. Spa heater elements look like a stovetop heater coil, and as such, if the outer casing becomes cracked, a new element is needed. For hard water areas, using a sequestering agent to keep calcium scale in solution, and running alkalinity on the low side, 70-80 ppm, can reduce scale formation on heater elements.

hot tub heater diagramFor those of you with newer spas, you’ll often find that your spa heater element is housed in a sleek stainless steel chamber, with unions for easy removal. On these complete spa heaters, you can test the element, high limit and pressure switch for resistance, measured in ohms. When testing with a multimeter or ammeter, an “OPEN” is when the meter spikes to a high reading. A “SHORT” is when there is little to no activity on the meter. When there is no resistance, the current is leaving the circuit, known as a “short circuit.”

5. OTHER SPA HEATER PROBLEM CAUSES…

This last category causes profound headaches for many of our customers. These spa heater problems are causes that you normally don’t think about. The good news is that these can be fixed quickly. Check for these causes of spa heater troubles first. It’s often the quickest solution, and failure to rule these out first may leave you shaking your head.

  1. GFCI tripped. Look for the electrical outlet on your spa pack. The one with the red TEST button. If it’s popped out, push it back in firmly.
  2. Door interlock open. Many spas have a cabinet switch or spa pack cover switch to prevent operation unless doors are tightly closed.
  3. Spa cover needs replaced. Warped, broken and ill-fitting spa covers can allow heat to escape as quickly as the heater adds it to the water.
  4. Loose wires. Connections must be tight and not oxidized. Chewed wires (rodents), melted wires or crimped wires are also possible.
  5. Blown fuse. A power spike, surge or other incorrect voltage may have destroyed the fuse on a control board.

 

I have sincere hopes that this information has helped you heat your hot tub up again. If you’re still baffled, give our customer support hotline a call at 1(800) 770-0292.

 

Shop For These Featured Products:

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Spa Electrical Component Testing

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Image by Canadian Spa Company blog
Warning,
geeky electrical component post coming up! Today I’m talking about testing spa and hot tub electrical component resistance, namely how to test for continuity on hot tub heater elements, fuses, transformers, sensors and switches.

Warning, testing electrical components can be hazardous, and should be performed by confident individuals aware of electrical hazards. For testing continuity or resistance, shut all power off to the spa, at the main breaker, testing resistance when under power can damage your meter, the equipment tested, or yourself! Shut down all spa power disconnects.

To test a spa heater, transformer, sensors and switches, you will need a multi-meter that tests for Ohms Ω. You can find a digital multi-meter at any home or hardware store for under $15. Ohm meters will measure the known resistance in a spa electrical component, and can also be used to check for shorts in wires, cables and cords.

 

Testing Heater Elements

  1. Shut off all power to the spa at the breaker and spa pack
  2. Remove the wires or copper tabs on the heater element terminalsspa heaters diagram
  3. Set your Ohm meter to the lowest setting
  4. Place your meter leads on the tip of each element terminal
  5. A reading of 10-14 Ohms is good for most heater elements

If your spa heater element (with wires or tabs removed) reads zero resistance, or displays ‘Open’, that means that the element sheath has a crack or the coil inside is otherwise grounding out, and should be causing your circuit breaker or GFCI to trip. Time for a new hot tub heater element or a complete spa heater assembly.

Testing Spa Transformers

  1. Shut off all power to the spa at the breaker and spa pack
  2. Set your Ohm meter to the lowest setting
  3. Locate the resistance values printed on the transformer
  4. Place your meter leads onto a Primary wire and a Secondary wire
  5.  Compare the reading to the transformer specs specified

Transformers take 120V or 240V power and step it down to a reduced voltage to operate specific spa component circuits. Spa transformers that are soldered to the board are not as easy to test with an Ohm meter, and also keep in mind that many modern spas have several board mounted transformers.

Testing Spa Temperature Sensors

  1. Shut off all power to the spa at the breaker and spa packspa-sensors
  2. Set your Ohm meter to the 20K setting
  3. Locate the wire ends and remove the plug from the board
  4. Place your meter leads onto the green and red wire
  5. Compare readings to Thermistor Resistance vs. Temperature Chart

Most spa and hot tub high limits, aka thermistors, thermal cut-offs and temperature sensors – will have a resistance reading of around 10000 at 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Colder water produces higher readings up to 50K, while warmer 100° F water will produce lower readings. Refer to your spa manufacturer resistance vs. temperature chart. Or, if you get “0”, or a zero reading, the sensor or cable is likely bad. Many hot tubs have more than one temperature sensor; a heater sensor, water temp sensor and air temp sensor.

Testing Spa Fuses

  1. Shut off all power to the spa at the breaker and spa packpicture of spa fuse
  2. Set your Ohm meter to the 1K setting
  3. Remove the fuse from the board or fuse housing
  4. Place your meter leads on each end of the fuse
  5. Compare readings to printed Ohms level

Blown spa and hot tub fuses will not show any continuity, or a “0” reading when testing. Some meters will display “Open” or O.L. (for Open Loop). A clear fuse can also be visually inspected to see if the wire or coil inside is broken of course, but for opaque fuses, you can test them with your Ohm meter.

Testing Pressure Switch or Flow Switches

  1. spa pressure switch shown being testedShut off all power to the spa at the breaker and spa pack
  2. Set your Ohm meter to the 1K setting
  3. Remove one wire from the pressure switch
  4. Place meter leads on both wire terminals
  5. If anything other than “0”, adjust pressure switch

With one wire removed, the pressure switch, or flow switch, should have zero resistance, as the switch should be ‘Open’. An Ohm meter can be used to adjust the pressure switch back to ‘zero’, by turning the adjustment knob or screw slightly until the meter drops to near zero.

 


In most spa components, Resistance is Good, with exception to pressure switches. No resistance is bad, as it means that there is another path that the electricity is taking, which usually means a defective component or cable, and it could also pose a safety hazard – where is the power loss going?

You can also use your multi-meter to test resistance of lengths of wire or cable. One probe on each end, and there should be resistance measured, NO resistance and there is a short somewhere.

Always remember, Shut Off Power completely down when testing spa electrical components for resistance, in Ohms.

Ohm SymbolNow everyone say “Ohhhhmmmmmsssss” – doesn’t that feel good?

 

Happy Hot Tubbin’

 

Daniel Lara
Hot Tub Works

 

 

 

Replacing a Hot Tub Circulation Pump

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hot-tub-circulation-pumps
Spa circulation pumps are low flow, single speed pumps that run 24 hrs to keep your water filtered and heated. They run all the time, but are low energy use, drawing between 0.5 and 1.5 amps.

Running all the time does accelerate wear and tear, and makes the average circ pump lifespan about 7-9 years. If you need to replace a hot tub circ pump, here are the steps taken to do it yourself.

Do I need a new circulation pump?

Before you run off and buy a new replacement circ pump, you want to check a few things first, namely power and water flow. See our earlier post on circulation pump troubleshooting to see if you’ve checked all of the simple stuff first.

Which Circulation Pump do I need?

There are two main types of hot tub circulation pumps, high flow circ pumps and low flow circ pumps.

iron-might-circ-pump High Flow Circ Pumps look more like jet therapy pumps, and are often confused with such because of their size and appearance. They use a 48 frame motor, with a connected steel foot, and have 1.5″ union connections. They can be 115V or 230V, but only use up to 1.5 amps. The most common high flow circ pumps are the AquaFlo Circmaster and Waterway Iron Might, shown here.

 

tiny-might-circ-pumpLow Flow Circ Pumps look more like large aquarium pumps, and operate in the 6 to 15 gpm range, to work with low flow spa heaters. They have hose barb connections to fit to  3/4″ or 1″ flexible hose, with clamps. They can be 115V or 230V, and less than 1 amp. The most common low flow circ pumps are made by Laing, Grundfos and Waterway.

 

The circulation pump that you need, is the exact replacement, in voltage, amperage and hose or pipe connection type and location. High flow pumps can be center discharge or side discharge, and low flow pumps can have 3/4″ or 1″ connections, and may have a left or right side discharge. If you need help finding your replacement, just give us a call or send an email.

Hot Tub Circulation Pump Replacement

1aShut off the Power: Hit the main breaker or cut-off switch to kill all power coming into the spa pack. Wires will be exposed and water will spill, so don’t take any chances and play it safe. If water splashes on any circuitry or wire connections during the process, take the time to dry it up before energizing the spa.

2aShut off the Water: Most circ pumps don’t have isolation valves on either side; slice valves that can be closed to shut off water, although common on jet pumps and on high flow circ pump systems. You can drain the spa to make the repair, if you need to drain anyway, but it’s not necessary. The hoses can be plugged using wine corks or stoppers, or pinched using large needle nose locking pliers (Vice-Grip type). Or you can do a quick swap, described below, and spill a few gallons.

3aWiring the Circ Pump: Circ pumps don’t usually come with a new power cord, so you’ll use the existing one. If you have a plug-in type of connector at the end of the cord, disconnect it from the spa pack. If the power cord runs directly into the control box and connects to terminals, leave those connections intact, and remove the wires only from the back of the existing motor – or you can just cut the wire where it enters the old motor, strip back the casing and the ends to put into the new motor.

Insert the wires into the new circ pump, tighten the cord collar or strain relief where the cord enters the motor, and insert the stripped wire ends into the spring loaded tabs. The black wire will plug into L (Line), white wire will connect to N (Neutral), and the green wire goes to G (Ground). Disconnect the bare copper wire that is connected to the outside of the old motor, this is the bonding wire, that you’ll connect to the new pump once it’s in position.

4aPlumbing the Circ Pump: For very old and crusty connections, a heat gun or hair dryer can be used to soften the vinyl hose or tubing, which makes it easier to remove from the pump without a lot of pulling and jerking. The circ pump is also likely screwed into the base of the equipment bay, remove the screws in the pump base, and set aside to use later on the new pump.

Since there commonly are no cut-off valves on either side of a low flow circ pump, if your spa is full of water you will spill some water while installing a new circ pump. As mentioned above, if the spa is full of water, you can crimp the hose with locking needle nose pliers, or plug the hoses with corks until you are ready to switch, or if you have snipped off the power cord and reinstalled into the new pump already, you can make a quick swap, and spill just a few gallons.

Loosen the hose clamp and slide it down the hose. I usually pop off the top (discharge connection) first and cork it, then separate the incoming hose from the front center and very quickly swap pumps and insert the incoming hose over the front center hose barb. Then the top discharge hose can be unplugged and connected, also quickly, with minimal water loss.

If you have a high flow circ pump or a Waterway Tiny Might pump, you will loosen the unions and quickly make a swap with your new pump, being sure that the union o-rings stay in place while tightening up the union nuts.

5aFinishing Up: Now that you have reconnected the hoses on your pre-wired pump, the only things left to do is reconnect the bare copper bonding wire to the lug on the new circulation pump, and replace the screws to secure the pump, to reduce vibration. That, and testing your new circulation pump, followed by a hearty self-congratulation for diagnosing and fixing your hot tub problem!

 

– Jack

 

 

 

3 Enemies of Hot Tub Heater Elements

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hot-tub-heater-enemies
Hot tub heater elements are similar to the electric immersion elements used in household hot water heaters and washing machines, with a few important distinctions. Hot tub water chemistry tends to vary and it swings widely when 4 people jump into the tub. Spa heater elements are also subject to issues from low water flow or air inside the heater chamber, and all of these variables can lead to a shorter spa heater element lifespan.

Air Bubbles and Air Pockets

The main enemy to all spa heater elements, besides low water flow, are air bubbles & air pockets that can reduce element life. Air that comes in contact with the element, allows the outer sheath to rapidly heat unevenly, which breaks the protective sheath and exposes the filament. Low flow heaters are mounted vertically, so the bubbles are constantly exiting the chamber without entrapment. Tube heaters like the Laing design do not trap bubbles, so they can be bent into bizarre shapes, & even lay on the floor.

Spa pumps are designed to be flooded & should not leak air or be allowed to cavitate by drawing in air, then sending the air through the hot tub heater. Ozone injectors should not be placed before the heater, which would reduces heater element lifespan and confuses hot tub heater sensors.

Bad Hot Tub Chemistry

Poor hot tub water chemistry is damaging to spa heater elements, particularly low pH and Alkalinity and high hardness levels. Additionally, fill water that is naturally high in salt, lime and calcium can also promote a slower, but still premature death. Corrosion is an etching and rusting effect that happens to ferrous metals (made with iron). As water becomes acidic (low in ph) high in TDS or overly chlorinated, corrosion is accelerated and your heater element is most at risk.

Hard Water Problems

Hot tubs in hard water areas, or those that are filled from an onsite well can have trouble with metals and minerals. Lime & calcium can naturally collect on a heater element surface, forming a white coating. This layer of scale will slow heat transfer, resulting in lower efficiency, longer heater run time, and a higher internal element temperature. The plaque buildup will not let heat escape efficiently, and in time the element will essentially cook itself to death. Use a Pre-Filter to fill your tub with pure water, a lot cheaper than 300 gallons of mineral water!

High Flow Heaters

No matter what shape the heater is, a high flow heater (typical name flow thru) utilizes a hi-watt density element (hwd) that requires a minimum 22.5 gpm to keep it cool. A typical 2 speed spa pump provides this minimum flow at low speed. When flow is restricted below 22.5 gpm, the element runs hotter than designed, and the spa heater element life is shortened. Bath and Jetted Tub heaters are always high flow and use the high density element (hwd), as bath pumps always exceed 25gpm. HWS heaters come in many shapes like Flow Thru, Tee, L-shape & Canister. You will not find hot tub parts catalogs separated into high flow & low flow heaters, but you do need to know this info to be a true hot tub expert.

Low Flow Heaters

Low flow heaters are designed for vertical mount operation. The exception is the tube or Laing spa heaters we supply. Either design is made with a much longer, cool running low watt density element (lwd) These heaters & elements are made to operate on flows greater than 9+ gpm. It makes perfect sense that low flow heaters are paired with low flow circulation pumps like the Waterway, Laing & Grundfos spa pumps, which provide minimum 9+ gpm with a spa ozone injector. Low flow heaters contain more material & labor, this is why they cost more money.

Some repair techs either don’t know, or try to save money by placing a high flow heater into a low flow circulation plumbing system. It actually works for a while, then the element burns out, along with plastic parts, piping & wires. Be sure and confirm that you are using the correct heater for your spa.

 

– Jack

 

Hot Tub Heaters: Gas vs. Electric

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spa-heaters-gas-vs-electric
In the old days, all hot tub heaters were gas-fired heaters; small pool heaters specifically. And most hot tubs were not hot all the time, and not covered with a thick insulated spa top; they were heated up on demand.

When portable spas came on the market in the late 70’s, manufacturers were looking for a way to market a plug and play appliance that could be easily installed without too much hassle. The Spa Pack was born, an integrated electric heater and controller system.

Nowadays, most spas and hot tubs are heated with an electric heating element, tucked into a stainless steel tube. Gas heat is always an option however… which is better? Today they fight it out, to the finish – Gas Spa Heaters Vs. Electric Spa Heaters!

 

hayward-gas-spa-heaterGAS SPA HEATERS

Gas spa heaters such as the Hayward H-100 or the Raypak 106A, powered by either propane or natural gas are used on inground spas, free standing wooden hot tubs, or even for portable spas, installed outside of the heater cabinet. A gas line is connected to the heater by a gas contractor to provide a constant supply of fuel, which is ignited by spark ignition.

 

PROS: Gas spa heaters do have some benefits, including:

  1. Low Operation Cost: Natural gas has become less expensive in recent years. Propane gas is more costly, but produces slightly more BTU’s than NG.
  2. Fast Heating: Gas heaters are the clear winner in the speed of heating competition. A gas spa heater can add 1-2° per minute, but an electric heater can take an hour to add a few degrees. This lets you keep the spa at a lower resting temp, and heat it up quickly.
  3. Overcomes Obstacles: For large spas over 700 gallons, or for poorly insulated spas or wooden hot tubs that are used year around in freezing climates, electric spa heaters can cost a small fortune to operate as compared to gas heat.

CONS: Gas spa heaters have a downside, like most everything, including:

  1. Higher Initial Cost: A gas spa heater costs about $1000, plus it needs to have a gas line connected to the natural gas meter (or the propane tank). Costs for a buried gas line vary on the distance of the meter to the heater, and can exceed the price of the heater itself.
  2. They’re Gas: For those of you concerned about the safety of gas appliances, with possible gas leaks and carbon monoxide exhaust, accidents with gas spa heaters rarely happen, but they do happen.
  3. External Installation: Not that they are ugly, but you can’t tuck a gas heater underneath a portable spa, it needs to sit outside in the open air with access to fresh air and clear sky above for the exhaust.

 

spa-heater-manifoldsELECTRIC SPA HEATERS

Electric spa heaters are sometimes called Flow-Thru heaters, and are basically a long electric heating element inside of a stainless steel tube. Union connectors on the end make it easy to access the element, inside of the slim and compact tube. Attached to the tube are temperature sensors, high limit and pressure switches to monitor temp and water flow.

 

PROS: Electric spa heaters have their own benefits, including:

  1. Low Operation Cost: If your spa is located in a mild climate, and is well insulated and has a good spa cover, using electric spa heaters is  usually less expensive to operate than gas heaters. Unless you live in a very expensive electricity area, that is.
  2. Low Initial Cost: Electric spa heaters cost much less than gas heaters, in the $100-$300 range, and there’s no gas line to run. Most spa heaters, or Spa Packs, are powered with 240 volts, from a 60 amp GFCI circuit breaker.
  3. Low Repair Costs: Electric spa heaters are simple devices, and repairs are usually under $100. Gas heaters are by design much more complicated, and repair costs are much more costly.

CONS: Electric spa heaters also aren’t perfect. Here’s some common complaints:

  1. Slow to Heat: The best you can hope for is 2-3 degrees per hour on a small, well insulated spa with a 5.5 or 11 kw element(s). Cold outside temperatures and high winds can reduce heat gain to just 1° per hour on spas with smaller 4 or 5.5 kw elements, and smaller 1.5 kw heaters may not keep up.
  2. They’re Electric: We all know that water and electricity don’t mix, but spa heaters are protected by a GFCI and several safety components to prevent overheating and electric shock. However, accidents can still happen with 240 volts.
  3. Higher Operational Costs: Possibly. If your electrical costs are greater than 25¢ per kw, you’ll reach a tipping point where it costs more to heat with electric spa heaters than with a gas spa heater. Especially for spas/hot tubs with poor insulation located in cold northern climates; you will find it more expensive to maintain hot water, during winter.

 



BOTTOM LINE: 
For most people, myself included, an electric spa heater is simpler and cheaper in the short run and the long run. For those who live in much colder regions than southern California 🙂 however, a small gas heater may be a better choice, especially for low use spas, which can be maintained at 85°, and cranked up to 104° in just a half hour.

COST COMPARISON: If you want to figure out the cost comparison between gas and electric, it takes 8.34 BTUs to raise one gallon of water one degree Fahrenheit. Assume that heat loss is constant in both cases (although it does increase during colder months), and know that gas heaters are only 80% efficient, but electric heaters are close to 100% efficient. Then you can compare your cost of gas (in therms) and electricity (in Kilowatts) to produce your own analysis. bromine-wins

I’m not sure who wins this battle royale between two heavy weight spa heaters. Gas heaters are costly to install (and replace), but can be cheaper to operate (in many cases) than an equally sized electric spa heater.

Let me know in the comments ~ whatcha think?!?

 

XOXO;

Gina Galvin
Hot Tub Works

How to Replace a Spa Heater

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spa-hot-tub-careYour Hot Tub or Spa will at some point have heating problems. There are two types of spa heater problems, not heating enough and not heating at all.

If your spa heater is not heating enough, but has lost some percentage of it’s oomph, it’s likely not a heater problem, but a water flow problem from a dirty filter or partially closed valves or clogged pipe or pump. It could be heat loss from your spa cover or around the spa. Some smaller spas may have trouble just keeping up, during very cold outside temperatures.

If your spa heater is not heating at all, but there are no error codes or tripped circuit breakers or GFCI outlets, or other faulty components, it’s likely that the heater element has failed. Over time, even coated hot tub elements will succumb to the erosive effects of moving water, scale build-up and galvanic corrosion. After 8-10 years, most spa heater elements will one day stop working.

Testing Spa Heater Elements

electric-test-meterUsing any handheld electric meter, you can test your spa heater element to determine if water has leaked through tiny fissures in the carbonized shell. With all spa power turned Off at the circuit breaker, first test for any incoming voltage, with the meter set to VAC 250 or greater. Then you’ll set your test meter to the Ohms scale, 2K or greater.

RESISTANCE TEST: Place your meter leads onto the power leads on the heater body, or the heater element terminals, where the wires connect. You should see 0 volts, and if so, switch your meter to Ohms Ω (2000+) to measure resistance. A good spa heater element, up to 5.5 Kw (5500 watts) should have around 10 Ohms of resistance, or in the range of 8-12 on your meter. Larger spa heater elements of 11 Kw, are generally in the 20-24 Ohm range.  If your spa heater element tested for resistance has zero Ohms, -or- goes off the chart to infinite ∞, then the heater element or the entire spa heater needs replacement.

TEST FOR SHORT CIRCUIT: For this test you’ll have to remove the heater from the Spa Pak, to get your meter lead directly onto the heater element. Again with power completely Off, first test for any incoming power by setting your meter onto VAC 250. If no voltage is found, switch the meter to Ohms to test for a short circuit in the heater element. With one meter lead on one of the heater terminals, or element bulkhead nuts, touch the other lead to the surface of the heater element. Your meter should peg to infinite ∞, which is good. If you get an actual lower reading, the element is bad.

 

Replace the Heater Element or Replace the Heater Assembly?

There are two ways to replace a spa heater, you can replace the internal immersion element only, or replace the entire spa heater assembly, which includes the stainless steel heater chamber and the union ends.

spa-heater-elementsREPLACE THE HOT TUB HEATER ELEMENT: You can buy the spa heater elements alone for under $30, and save some money over buying the entire spa heater, which can cost $90 on average. Replacing the heater element only is more work, and more risk is involved. The new element must be installed carefully to avoid damage and positioned exactly to not overheat.

spa-heater-manifoldsREPLACE THE COMPLETE HOT TUB HEATER: Replacing the complete spa heater assembly is the best route if your heater is over 8 years old, because of the galvanic corrosion that can occur to the stainless steel tube, which can develop pinhole leaks. Many complete heaters also include new sensors and it’s much faster and easier to replace the entire hot tub heater, with much less chance of installation errors.

 

 Ordering the Correct Spa Heater Replacement

Replacing with an exact duplicate spa heater is important, there are many variations in electrical size; volts, watts, amps, and in dimensional size as well – it has to fit. We often are asked “can you upsize the spa heater?”, or install a heater with more ‘oomph’ than what is currently used. Unfortunately, No – the existing heater is matched to the Spa Pak electronics, and back to my first point, it’s [very] important to replace a spa heater with an exact duplicate.

Installing the incorrect spa heater will just not work, at best, and at worst, it could burn out circuit boards, or even melt down into an electrical fire. Fortunately, we make things easy here at Hot Tub Works, and we have 3 ways to order new spa heaters, by Make/Model, by Most Popular, or by taking measurements of your existing heater and nameplate information.

spa-pakORDER BY MAKE & MODEL: Order a new spa heater by the Brand of your Spa Pak. We list 17 top spa pak brands like Balboa, Brett, Gecko, HydroQuip. Select the Brand of your spa pak (the combination control unit and heater), and our database returns the available heater models, with electrical and dimensional specs. If you can’t see it readily, you may have to stick your head in there with a flashlight.

most-popular-spa-hot-tub-heatersORDER BY MOST POPULAR: Isn’t that how we make most of our decisions anyway? It turns out that listing our Top Ten Spa Heaters is a useful resource for our shoppers. That’s because the majority of spa heaters that we sell complete, are one of six (6) different models, and the two (2) most popular hot tub heaters are the 4.0 Kw and 5.5 Kw Universal hot tub heaters. You’ll still want to check your voltage (120/220V) and wattage (1.5/4.0/5.5/11Kw) to match your existing heater size.

ORDER BY DIMENSIONS: To be really sure that a new spa heater fits exactly, both in electrical size and dimensional size, break out the measuring tape! Shut off all power first and close valves to prevent water loss (some water will spill). Remove the heater assembly by carefully removing and labeling all wires, and then loosening the union nuts fully on each end. spa-heater-measurement-diagram

Remove the union nut ends, so you can measure from the flange end. Measure from the end to Point A, B, C, D and so on, writing each number down as you go. Measure all the way to letter I – very important, as there are spa heater tubes that are very similar, up until you get to the H and I measurements.

Take all 9 measurements, write them down, and refer to the hot tub heater replacement list or table. In addition to matching dimensions, also match the electrical size. Before you buy, check the label on your existing spa heater to match the voltage (120V or 240V) and watts (1.5 Kw/4Kw/5.5 Kw) to the new hot tub heater.

stamped-spa-heater-elementOne more thing, it’s a UL listing requirement that all heater elements are stamped with electrical identifiers. When the label is gone, faded or burned, you can always look on the element itself, and you should find tiny imprinted voltage and wattage information.

Installing a Replacement Spa Heater

We have instructions on replacing a hot tub heater element on the website. Replacing the complete hot tub heater manifold is much easier. After receiving the new heater, check it over carefully to be sure it is an exact duplicate to your existing heater, not just physical size, but also electrical size.

O-RINGS: Check that the union o-rings are still in place on both ends, and all sensors or switches are installed in the heater tube or chamber. Slide the new heater unit in position. Tighten up the union nuts very snug, but only hand tight (but very hand tight!).

WIRES: Next, you can connect the power wires or element leads to the heater element terminals, also very snug, using the correct wrench size. Just like connecting a car battery.SPA-HEATER-ELEMENT-2

SENSORS: Connect the wires of any safety switches; pressure switch and high limit switch and temp sensors. New hot tub heaters often include new sensors or switches. Make tight wire connections and tape loose wires to PVC pipes (not to heater body).

Fill the hot tub if necessary, and flood the water lines, remove any air lock by loosening pump or heater unions to allow air to escape, as water pushes the air out of dry pipes. With the tub full of water, loosen the pump union slightly, just until you begin to hear air hissing. Tighten the union quickly, just as water begins to leak. Then give the union another turn past hand tight, being sure ANY dripping subsides.

 

Happy Hot Tub Heatin’

Daniel Lara
Hot Tub Works

 

 

Hot Tub Pressure Switch Adjustments

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spa-pressure-switchesThe Pressure Switch on a hot tub or spa is a pressure sensor that is mounted onto the heater housing, or very close to the exit point of the heater. It’s sole purpose is to shut off the heater if low pressure (low water flow) occurs.

In a hot tub, pressure is an easy way to determine flow rates through the pipes, pump and heater. Some spas also use a Flow Sensor, in addition to (or instead of) the Pressure Switch, to be sure water is flowing properly for the heater to operate safely.

You See, if an electric or gas heater is On, but the water is not moving fast enough through the heater, it heats up too much, too fast, which could melt pvc pipes and scald spa users. Although it rarely happens, if a hot tub heater were to run without water moving through it, a massive meltdown or fire will result.

Fortunately, spas and hot tubs are equipped with redundant safety checks – pressure switches to shut the system down when water pressure is low, and flow sensors if water flow is low and high limit sensors that are monitoring temperature.

How to Jump Out the Pressure Switch

Don’t “jump” right to this, but check these things first: For Low Flow spa error codes, like FL, FLO, FLC, or OH (OverHeat), check the filter, check the pump and check the valves for something that is obstructing the water flow.

single_eye_movement_150_wht_9341Look for a dirty filter, a clogged impeller, closed valve, or a piece of plastic film covering the spa drain. Check the spa skimmer water level is high enough, and the skimmer isn’t sucking air. Check underneath for any drips or leaks when the system is off that may indicate an air leak when the system is on.

“Jumping Out” the pressure switch refers to placing a jumper wire between the two spade terminals or brass screws on the pressure switch. By connecting a wire between the two “in” and “out” terminals, you essentially bypass the switch itself. Note that jumping out a pressure switch should only be done for testing purposes, do not operate a spa or hot tub with any safety components bypassed.

jump-out-the-pressure-switchThe easiest way to jump out a spa or pool heater pressure switch is to use a short wire with two alligator clips, or other metal clips on the ends. But you can also do it with just a wire if you have a steady hand to hold each end of the wire into the grooves of each brass screw.

With the pump running, and the thermostat turned up, high limits reset – in short, everything ready to go, connect the wire or clips to each side or terminal, onto the brass spade connector (where the wires are connected), and within just a few short seconds, the diagnostic checks are done and the heater should turn on, or you should see an indicator light or heating code on the spa side control panel.

If not – if the hot tub heater does not come on with the jumper wire connected, the pressure switch is not your problem, my friend.

Hot Tub Pressure Switch Adjustments

You may have also read on the internet that the pressure switch can be adjusted, and it’s true, most of them can – but just because you can doesn’t mean you should!

Most pressure switches are factory set for the overall resistance in the system, and making adjustments should be done with careful small steps, and close observation of the entire system.

PRESSURE-SWITCH-ADJUSTMENTSThat being said, pressure switches can be adjusted from 1-5 psi, or from 1-10 psi. After checking first all of those items above to be sure that flow and pressure is proper and normal, you can make micro adjustments to a dial wheel or small screw, to change the pressure minimum required for the switch to close, allowing the heater to work.

Some adjustable pressure switches have an Adjustment Screw of grey plastic that accepts a small skinny flathead. Turn the screw slowly to the left, counter-clockwise, to reduce the minimum required pressure. Turn it slowly just barely beyond the point where the heater turns On.

Other adjustable pressure switches have an Adjustment Wheel that you turn with thumb and finger. Many have a lock mechanism, Len Gordon has a sliding tab lock, Tecmark has a metal clip that needs to be removed or bent out of the way. Again, turn to the left to reduce required minimum pressure, and turn it to the point just beyond where the heater turns On.

If not – if the hot tub heater does not come on with this new pressure switch adjustment, the pressure switch is not your problem, my friend.

 

Carolyn Mosby
Hot Tub Works

 

 

Solar Hot Tub Heaters

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spa-solar-heatersSolar Hot Tubs are all the rage now for off the grid homes and campsites, or for anyone who wants to operate a spa or hot tub in an eco-friendly way.

Can a solar pool heater be used to heat a spa? You betcha! And it’s a simple Saturday project. Spa solar heaters can heat up a spa to over 100° with just 6 hours of sunshine – ready to use when you come home from work!

I have a friend with an inground pool and spa, and a solar pool heater – his spa is 104° in under 30 minutes – during sunny daylight hours, of course. And,…there’s not much heat in winter, but you can get 3 seasons with a hot tub solar heater!

Your hot tub cover will retain the heat from a solar heater until well into the evening, and if needed, you can use an alternate spa heater or hot tub heater for night hot tubbin’.

 

How to install a Solar Hot Tub Heater

1. Location of Solar Panels: The first thing to think of is where and how the solar panels are going to be mounted. If you have full sun, all day long, you could just lay them on the ground, but for most folks, mounting them on a roof or rack, at a 30-45° angle works best. A rack can be built of angle iron or lumber, topped with plywood or plastic and painted black. You can also hang them on a fence. Choose a spot that will get at least 6 hours of daily sun; a southern facing direction is best.

2. Buy a Solar Pool Panel: A single 4′ x 20′ solar panel, a total of 80 square feet, is a good size for most spas. There are also 4′ x 10′ panels, but they are priced higher per square foot of panel. 80 sq. ft. of solar panel will heat spas under 500 gallons to over 100° during the day, and be ready to go for the evening. If you want to heat the hot tub in under an hour like my friend with the pool/spa, you’ll need 4-5 of the 20′ solar panels.

solar-heater-all-rolled-up3. Installation of Hot Tub Solar Panels: Solar pool panels are polypropylene mats of small black tubes with a continuous backing, so they absorb more heat than black hose DIY solar spa heaters. Inside the box will be two 2’x20′ solar panels, end caps, pipe adapters, mounting kit and a 3-way diverter valve. Secure the panels to the location securely so they are protected from high winds, animals and tree branches. Attach the end caps, and run PVC pipe from the panels to the plumbing line of the spa.

4. Plumbing a Spa Solar Heater: This part is custom for every spa or hot tub, but essentially you connect the plumbing from solar panels to the spa. A 3-way diverter valve will allow for adjusting the flow rate, and for shutting off the solar panels completely. Other items needed for plumbing beside the pipe include some directional fittings (90’s or 45’s) and couplings to connect lengths of pipe. A check valve is needed just before the heated water comes back into the spa plumbing, to prevent water cycling.

Other Thoughts about Solar Hot Tub Heaters

  • A solar controller can be used with an automatic valve turner and temperature sensors to have thermostat control for the solar spa heater, but more importantly, to shut off the unit when conditions are not right for solar, at night or when it’s raining, for instance. This is an extra $325, but is recommended for optimum heating, neither under or overheating the spa.
  • Speaking of overheating, it is possible to overheat the water with a solar spa heater. If you have an electric spa heater, the hi-limit may trip and shut off the spa pump, but at that point the water may already be dangerously hot. Use caution not to heat the water over 104°.
  • As mentioned before, hot tub solar heaters don’t work at night, or when it’s raining or heavily overcast. They drop way off in effectiveness during the winter months, unless you are in the very deep southern U.S..
  • A booster pump is not usually needed for installation on a roof, unless the roof is very tall. If a booster pump is needed these small spa circulation pumps are perfect for the job.
  • For best results, use an insulated spa cover to retain the heat and a solar controller to optimize when the solar panels are used, and to maintain safe water temperatures.

 

sunheater-solar-pool-heater

Hot tub solar heaters work very well in all parts of the U.S. – anywhere that has at least 6 hours of unobstructed sun. For many hot tubs, solar heat is used as a supplemental heater to keep the spa hot during the day, and at night or during rainy periods, the other spa heater takes over.

I wish I could say that we sold solar spa heaters at Hot Tub Works, but we don’t. However, here are some links for solar pool heaters and controllers at Specialty Pool Products, who had the best price on solar pool panels that I could find online.

 

Happy HOT Tubbin’

Daniel Lara
Hot Tub Works

 

Frozen Hot Tub!

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frozen-hot-tubWinter is coming! And with El Nino predicted, it could be a cold, snowy winter indeed. That’s good for the spa parts salesmen, I suppose – because it means lots of freeze damage to spas and hot tubs.

But hold on there ~ as long as you have your spa operating, at least on low speed, with all valves/lines open, and the water isn’t allowed to freeze across the surface ~ you needn’t worry about freeze damage to your spa or hot tub.

Most digital spa controllers will have a freeze monitor that will turn on the pump if the outside air temperature reaches 40 degrees. Some will even turn on the heater if the water temperature drops too low. But many air controls or simple hot tubs or inground spas don’t have built-in freeze protection.

WAYS TO PREVENT SPA FREEZE DAMAGE:

  1. Set an Temperature Alert on your Phone: There’s an app for that! Instead of relying on the weather report, you can use one of the many apps that will alert you (via smartphone) that temperatures below a certain set point are expected. Then, make sure the spa is hot and operating.
  2. Install a Digital Spa Pack with Freeze Protection: As mentioned earlier, if you have Air Controls, or an inground spa, you may not have built-in freeze protection. Upgrading to a digital spa pack, or for inground spas, installing a digital timeclock, will allow your system to automatically turn on the pump when low outside temps are sensed.
  3. Keep the Spa hot during Winter: For protection from power outages, keeping your spa hot all winter long will give you the most amount of time. A spa that is kept at 100 degrees and covered tightly can keep it’s heat for 24-36 hours during a power outage. An unheated spa, with very low temperatures, can freeze up solid in only an hour of not circulating.
  4. Keep your Spa Cover Tightly in Place: In some parts of the country, it’s so cold… “How cold is it, Johnny?” – It’s so cold… that leaving a spa cover off for just a few hours can cause the spa water to actually begin to turn slushy… Daiquiri anyone?

STEPS TO UNFREEZE A FROZEN HOT TUB:

Get the Hot Water and Blankets! We’re not having a baby, the hot tub is frozen solid! If you find that the hot tub or spa has ice on the surface, and is not operating…

1. Shut off Power if the pumps are not moving water, until all the ice thaws.
2. Break through Ice on the surface, add hot water from hose, or buckets from the bathtub.
–  Some utility sinks will allow you to attach a hose, or you can connect it to your hot water heater drain.
3. Closely Inspect with a utility light, or large flashlight, the pump, filter, heater, and pipes for cracks.
4. Use a heat gun, or place a small ceramic heater under the spa cabinet that you can monitor.
–  Plug into a GFCI outlet. Raise it up off the ground, and keep away from insulation or wires.
5. Use heavy blankets to help hold the heat in under the spa, if needed.

IDENTIFYING FREEZE DAMAGE:

Most cracking or damage from the expansion of ice happens to the heater body, usually a stainless steel cylinder, mounted horizontally, or the filter body or lid, a vertical plastic cylinder that holds the filter cartridge, or to the pump body or lid. Pipes tend to spider-web crack, not a clean split, but they shatter along long lengths, or through fittings.

As the spa starts to warm up, from the heat beneath and the hot water above, condensation will drip from the spa, don’t be alarmed. But running water… (not slow drips), and you may have some broken equipment or pipe. After identifying that hot tub parts are needed, you can proceed to drain the spa completely, by opening all drain valves or plugs, and using air to blow out pipes and equipment.

smiley---yeaIf you don’t see any running water, and you don’t see any cracked spa equipment or pipes, you can turn the spa back on – to check again for running water while the system is under pressure. If it sounds normal, and looks to be running properly, relax – you caught it just in time!exploded-spa

Most freeze damage is minor – a pump wet end, a bit of pipe, maybe an entire spa pack – but rarely does it total the entire spa. There are cases where a spa has been frozen solid for weeks however, and it’s literally exploded. Even when some parts are reusable, the cost to re-pipe the spa is prohibitive. If you discovered a frozen hot tub early, consider yourself lucky with a few hundred dollars in spa parts.

 

Happy Hot Tubbin!

Daniel Lara
Hot Tub Works