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Archive for the ‘Spas & Hot Tubs’ Category

Hot Tub Heaters: Gas vs. Electric

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hot tub heaters gas or electric
In the old days, all hot tub heaters were gas-fired heaters. Or small pool heaters, specifically. Most hot tubs were not kept hot all the time, and they were not covered with a thick, insulated cover or spa top. Instead, they were heated up on demand.

When portable spas came on the market in the late 70s, 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, which is tucked into a stainless steel tube. Gas heat is always an option, however…so which is better? Today, they fight 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, are powered by either propane or natural gas. They can be used for inground spas, free-standing wooden hot tubs, or even for portable spas if installed outside of the spa 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 natural gas.
  2. Fast Heating: Gas heaters are the clear winners when it comes to the speed of heating. A gas spa heater can add 1-2° per minute, whereas an electric heater may take an hour to add a few degrees. This lets you keep the spa at a lower resting temp, and heat it up quickly as needed.
  3. Overcomes Obstacles: For large spas over 700 gallons, or for poorly insulated spas or wooden hot tubs that are used year-round in freezing climates, electric spa heaters can cost a small fortune to operate when 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 $1,000 alone. In addition, it needs to have a gas line connected to the natural gas meter (or the propane tank). Costs for a buried gas line vary based on the distance of the meter to the heater, and this added cost can sometimes exceed the price of the heater itself.
  2. They’re Gas: Accidents with gas spa heaters rarely ever happen, but it is a possibility. If you’re concerned about the safety of gas appliances, you should consider the associated risks, which include gas leaks and carbon monoxide exhaust.
  3. External Installation: Not that they are ugly, but you can’t exactly 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.

 

electric spa heaterELECTRIC SPA HEATERS

Electric spa heaters are sometimes called flow-thru heaters, which 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 the slim, 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, is well insulated and has a good spa cover, using electric spa heaters is  usually less expensive to operate than gas heaters. That is, of course, unless you live in an area with expensive utilities.
  2. Low Initial Cost: Electric spa heaters cost much less to purchase than gas heaters – usually in the $100-$300 range. Also, there’s no gas line to run. Most spa heaters or spa packs are powered by 240 volts from a 60 amp GFCI circuit breaker.
  3. Low Repair Costs: Electric spa heaters are simple devices, and repairs usually cost less than $100. Gas heaters are much more complicated by design, and repair expenses are much more costly.

CONS: Electric spa heaters are also not perfect. Here’s some common complaints:

  1. Slow to Heat: The best you can hope for is 2-3° 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 be able to 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: This is always a possibility, depending on circumstances. 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 or 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, both 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. It may also be a smarter investment 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, while electric heaters are nearly 100% efficient. Then you can compare your cost of gas (in therms) and electricity (in Kilowatts) to produce your own analysis.

There doesn’t seem to be a clear winner in this contest! In the end, it really comes down to what will work best for you and your hot tub or spa. Both types have their fair share of pros and cons when it comes to purchase price, operating costs, installation and frequency of use.

Hot Tub Pros & Cons: In Ground vs. Above Ground

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hot tub pros and cons

Looking to buy (or build) a new spa or hot tub? There are two basic types to choose from – in ground hot tubs and above ground hot tubs. Each type has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and there are many styles to choose from within each category. To help decide which one will work best for you, we’ve put together a handy list of hot tub pros and cons.

In Ground Hot Tub

If you’re considering an in ground spa or hot tub, chances are that you’re either looking to purchase a house with one already installed, or you’re thinking of installing one in your own backyard. These hot tubs can be attached to a pool as a pool-spa combo, or they can be completely independent of a pool. If you live in the snowbelt but would like to use your hot tub over the winter, avoid pool-spa combos that share the same pump and filter system or allow spa water to overflow into the pool.

Pros

  • in ground hot tubAesthetically pleasing addition to backyard. Perfectly complements any pool.
  • Permanent fixture – durable and built to last.
  • Can add value to home.
  • Easy maintenance if pool and spa share the same pump, filter and sanitizer system.
  • Hot tub doesn’t have to be drained if sharing water with the pool.
  • Customizable design options – shape, seating, lighting, jet placement, water features, spillover into pool, building materials used, etc.
  • Easy to get into and out of spa.

Cons

  • in ground hot tubFewer hydrotherapy jets.
  • Concrete spas are more abrasive on skin and swimsuits.
  • Most have basic bench-type seating around the spa, which isn’t as comfortable or accommodating.
  • Must be heated each time it’s used, which consumes a lot of energy.
  • Expensive to install.
  • Excavation and construction process takes time – 2 weeks to 3 months (or longer).
  • If using a cover, it’s more difficult to remove without a cover lift.

Above Ground Hot Tub

Also known as a portable spa, above ground hot tubs are a common choice for people purchasing a spa for their home. A portable spa doesn’t require any special permits, construction or extra equipment – just set it on a flat surface, fill it up, plug it in, and it’s ready to use! With a little creativity and planning, you can help it blend into your backyard setting and boost its visual appeal.

Pros

  • above ground hot tubComfortable ergonomic seats at varying levels to accommodate people of all heights.
  • Smooth acrylic finish is gentle on skin and easy to clean.
  • Many hydrotherapy jets with varying settings for a full body massage.
  • Lower purchase price, and costs less to operate and maintain.
  • Simple installation.
  • Building into a deck or other elevated landscaping can provide the illusion of an in ground spa.
  • Well-fitting spa cover conserves heat, keeps water cleaner and can be easily removed with a cover lift.
  • Always heated and ready to use; no waiting period for the water to warm up.
  • Most spas come with pre-installed extras – color-changing LED lights, water features, built-in stereos, etc.
  • Placement near home provides convenient winter access.
  • Can be moved to another location at any time.

above ground hot tub

Cons

  • Does not blend into landscape as easily.
  • Must be drained every 3-4 months to maintain water quality.
  • Not customizable. Fewer options for size, shape and interior materials.
  • Must use steps to get into and out of the spa.
  • Requires extra care to make sure the cabinet and cover stay looking new.
  • Must use specifically labeled spa chemicals. Pool chemicals are stronger and will damage your tub.
  • Filter cartridges need regular cleaning, which equals twice the work if you also have a pool.

Which is Better?

There really is no clear winner here. Both styles have their own merits, so it all comes down to personal preference. If you want to add extra dimension to your backyard, enjoy hosting social events at your home, or you just want a relaxing soak every once in a while, an in ground hot tub will likely suit you best. On the other hand, if you place more value on comfortable seating, powerful hydrotherapy, relatively simple upkeep, and you plan on using it frequently, you might opt for an above ground spa instead.

Hot Tubs vs. Swimming Pools: What’s the Difference?

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Hot tubs and swimming pools are a lot alike. They’re pools of water that allow people to relax and enjoy themselves. They both require proper sanitization, circulation, filters and regular cleaning. But if you’re dealing with a spa or hot tub that’s detached from the pool, this is where the similarities end. Contrary to popular belief, these tubs of hot water are not just “small swimming pools,” and they should be maintained differently than a normal swimming pool. Here’s why.

hot tubs vs swimming pools

Water Volume per Person Ratio is Lower

Imagine this scenario: 5 people show up for a backyard pool and spa party. Soaking in a 500-gallon spa, those 5 people share about 100 gallons of water each. In the 25,000-gallon swimming pool, it would take 250 people to match the same volume ratio as the hot tub. Crazy, right?

As you can imagine, this ratio plays a major role in water chemistry, tub cleanliness and the ability of the filter cartridge to do its job properly. Having extra sanitation methods in place, cleaning the spa filter every 1-2 weeks, and asking spa users to shower first will go a long way toward keeping your spa or hot tub clean.

Bacteria Thrive in Warm, Moist Areas

Warmth and moisture are bacteria’s best friends, so it’s no surprise that they flourish quickly in spas and hot tubs. Even if the water is actively managed with proper water chemistry and adequate circulation, a lapse in care can cause a layer of biofilm to build up on spa surfaces, the spa cover, the filter and plumbing lines in no time at all.

Overgrowth of bacteria in a hot tub is particularly concerning because the warm temperatures of spa water opens the pores of the skin and set the scene for a bacterial infection. While biofilm and bacterial growth can be problematic in swimming pools as well, algae blooms are a more common concern.

Water Chemistry Differs

Pool chemicals and spa chemicals may share the same names, but they’re not the same product. Chemicals behave differently in hot water because of increased molecular activity at higher temperatures.

For example, chlorine is a quick and effective option for sanitizing water. Pool chlorine is stable up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point it starts to dissipate from the water. The problem is that most hot tubs operate between 95-104 degrees. This is why chlorine for hot tubs is specially formulated to withstand the higher temperatures. Some spa owners opt to use bromine (a more stable sanitizer), or they use chemical alternatives like ozone generators for added protection.

Pool chemicals are also stronger than spa chemicals, and using them in your spa or hot tub can cause damage to the tub and equipment. It’s especially important to monitor pH levels in hot tubs since high pH – a common problem for hot tubs – can lessen the effectiveness of chlorine and bromine.

Hot Tubs Require Regular Draining

Unlike a swimming pool, which rarely ever needs drained, hot tubs and spas need to be drained, thoroughly cleaned and refilled every 3-4 months. This is because of the low water volume to person ratio paired with the fact that chemicals and filters can only do so much to maintain water quality.

At least twice a year, it’s important to also flush the pipes before draining the tub. This flush will get rid of any biofilm lurking in the plumbing. Otherwise, you’ll end up right back where you started once the tub is refilled. Using a product like Leisure Time Jet Clean will help keep your plumbing in top shape.


There are other obvious differences between spas and swimming pools, including the use of an insulated spa cover (which also requires regular care), different filtration options, quantity of return jets and so on. If you’re lucky enough to have an in ground pool and spa combo, the care for both will be quite similar if the plumbing systems are connected. But for portable hot tubs or those running on a circulation system independent from the pool, understanding the different maintenance requirements will prevent a number of problems down the road.

 

Wi-Fi App Control for Spas & Hot Tubs

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Control your hot tub from anywhere in the world!

That’s how the tagline reads for a new generation of smart hot tub controllers that can communicate wirelessly to your mobile device. Super convenient, now that you don’t have to shuffle out in the cold and lift the lid to turn up the heat. Just pull up the app where you can view current temperature and status, and operate all spa functions like pumps, heater, lights, music – like a topside control panel, in your pocket!

All of the major spa manufacturers and spa control makers now offer wifi-enabled spa paks with the software to connect to your spa controller via bluetooth and wifi. And, most spa techs now have a half dozen or more spa manufacturer apps on their smartphones, useful for bypassing control panels, and for certain diagnostics.

Arctic has OnSpa, Jacuzzi has ProLink and Sundance has SunSmart, proprietary wi-fi modules, control software and smartphone apps that operate with their control packs. And for those spa manufacturers using Balboa or Gecko spa packs, Balboa offers BWA module and app, and Gecko has the in.Touch system.

 

HOW DOES HOT TUB WIFI WORK?

A wifi-enabled spa control has a bit of software revision to communicate with a wifi module and to your phone or tablet via the app. The module allows for direct connection from a nearby phone or tablet, and also connects to your home wifi network, for connection to the internet. Balboa uses a single wifi module, good for about 65 ft, and Gecko includes two transmitters, one for spa mounting and one for mounting next to your home wifi router.

 

ADDING WIFI TO A HOT TUB?

Well, there may be a little problem… you see, hot tub wifi modules only work on wifi-enabled spa controls, and these are still a standard feature only on luxury lines of spas, and for spas produced in the last five years or so. If you have a late brand name spa with all the bells and whistles, including Wi-Fi, see your dealer to purchase the wi-fi module kit, and you can then connect to your spa with the app.

For Balboa Controllers, only the BP line of spa controllers is wi-fi enabled as of current. The wifi module 50350 plugs into the BP500/BP600 circuit board and puts out a signal to connect with your home wifi and directly to nearby devices.

For Gecko Controllers, the in.touch remote control system uses two RF transmitters to connect to your home wifi network and to nearby devices. Gecko in.touch works with in.xe, in.xm and in.ye, in.yt controllers, with the new software revision for wi-fi.

Other aftermarket spa controllers, by ACC, Acura and Waterway for example, offer an add-on wifi module that fits select spa controls, for remote control from inside of the house or monitoring your spa while away from home.

 

HOT TUB WIFI – NOT SO SIMPLE?

Unless already equipped, you basically need a new digital spa control if you want to control your spa with your smartphone. 🙁 And, it must be a wifi-enabled spa controller, and you must also purchase the additional module or transmitter to connect from the spa to your home wifi and nearby devices.

If your spa control or spa pack is fairly new, it may have wifi capability, check the owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer for information.

Or maybe you’ll have to continue to shuffle through the cold, to check-on, or turn-up your spa or hot tub – the old fashioned way!

Your next spa (or your next spa control) will likely be part of the Internet of Things, and more accessible 🙂 It is a nice feature I must admit, my new Sundance has wifi and I love it! I use it to play music from my phone, thru the spa speakers, and use it inside the house to turn up the temp (and turn it down, too) or for running extra filter cycles, or to check if I left the spa light on again?

110V vs. 220V Hot Tubs – Which is Best?

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110v-vs-220v-hot-tubs-istk
When shopping for a hot tub, you’re faced with dozens of decisions, and one of the largest purchase decisions is whether to buy a 110V hot tub or a 220V hot tub.

110V (115V or 120V) hot tubs are often called “Plug and Play”, because most can be plugged into a standard 15 amp electrical outlet. 220V (230V or 240V) tubs are hard-wired from the home main circuit breaker box, to a safety cut-off box located near the hot tub, and then directly into the spa control box.

110V hot tubs and 220V hot tubs both have their own pros and cons – what’s right for you?

110v-hot-tubs-advantages

  • LOWER COST: The lower cost of ‘Plug & Play’ hot tubs has created opportunity for spa builders and for people who want to pay less for a hot tub. They are cheaper because they are smaller, with a fewer spa jets, less powerful pumps and heaters, and overall fewer ‘bells and whistles’.
  • EASY INSTALLATION: Place on a suitable location that can support the weight of the tub when full, fill it full of water and plug it in. What can be easier than that? 110V hot tubs can be plugged into most outlets, however depending on the model, you may need to unplug other electrical loads on the circuit, or plug into a 20 amp outlet.
  • MORE PORTABLE: Because 110V hot tubs are smaller and less full-featured, they often weigh less than 220V hot tubs. This is especially true for inflatable and rotomolded hot tubs, however some plug and play models can weigh 500 lbs, when empty.

220v-hot-tubs-advantages

  • LARGER TUBS: If you want a larger tub that 5 or 6 people can enjoy at the same time, look at a 220V hot tub. A larger body of water,  with a larger filter is easier to keep clean than a smaller hot tub. Smaller tubs (under 300 gals), can sometimes overflow when 2 or 3 people climb in the tub.
  • LARGER HEATER: 220 volts can power larger electric elements, 4kW or 5.5kW. 110V heaters usually max out at just 1.0kW, which can take a long time to heat, or reheat the spa, and lose heat quickly when the cover is off. For poorly insulated spas, a 1kW heater may not be able to stay hot in very cold weather.
  • LARGER PUMPS: Although 110V spa pumps have plenty of ‘oomph, they have to split it between fewer jets, and many cannot operate the jet pump and the spa heater at the same time. 220V spas can have 4 or 5 horsepower pumps, and can power pumps, heater, lights, stereo and more, all at the same time.

Convertible 110V/220V Hot Tubs

You can buy 110V only and 220V only, or you can buy convertible voltage hot tubs, which will accept either voltage. When connected to 110V, convertible spas heater elements will switch to 1.0 Kw, and make other sacrifices to split up the available power accordingly, such as pumping at low speed only, while the heater is operating.

Cost to Wire a Hot Tub with 220V

The cost to wire a 220V hot tub will vary, but depends mainly on how close the hot tub is to the house main breaker box panel. Barriers, terrain changes or other complications could raise the price. Another budget killer is a home whose breaker box panel is completely filled, without room (available amperage) to add another 50 amp breaker. In most cases however, wiring a hot tub with 220V usually costs about $500, although the price can easily double with distance or other difficulties.

What’s Best? 110V or 220V hot tubs?

pros-and-cons-saltwater-hot-tubIf you have the budget available, 220V hot tubs are the best choice, in my opinion. However, if you want only a small hot tub for 1 or 2 people, and your climate is mild during the winter, and the cost to buy and wire a 220V hot tub is prohibitive – a 110V hot tub may be the best choice.

As stated above, Plug & Play hot tubs do have certain advantages, and they offer all the benefits of higher priced hot tubs, at a lower price point. Many manufacturers position their 110V spas as an ‘entry-level’ hot tub, with the hopes that their 220V models will fit the bill for an eventual upgrade. Sort of like an auto dealer that sells both Chevrolet and Cadillac.

Let your budget and your conscience by your guide. Although my own hot tub is 220V, and very full featured – Hot water is Hot water!

 

Carolyn Mosby
Hot Tub Works

 

 

Acrylic Spas vs. Rotomolded Spas

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ACRYLIC-VS-ROTO-HOT-TUBS
In the old frontier days, all hot tubs were made of wood, then came fiberglass, and then Acrylic became the spa shell of choice. Acrylic spas are injection molded or blow molded into the spa shell, which is backed with many layers and set into a wood or composite material cabinet.

In the late 90’s, a few small manufacturers like Strong, Freeflow and DreamMaker began to produce spas with a radical new concept – rotational molding. Building a spa out of a single polymer plastic shell, reduces the cost and time of spa construction tremendously.

At first, major spa manufacturers poo-pooed the idea that John Q. Public wants to soak in a gray or brown plastic tub, but as sales and demand for the much less expensive hot tubs increased, they began to take notice.

Nowadays, most major players like Watkins, Cal Spas, Baja and Coleman are offering “Entry Level” rotomolded hot tubs, but still feature Acrylic models to offer a “Trade-up” product in their line of acrylic hot tubs. Sort of like a car dealer that sells both Chevrolet and Cadillac models.

ROTOMOLDED SPAS

rotomolded-hot-tubPROS: First of all, rotomold spas are 30-50% less expensive than similar sizes of acrylic spas. They are many rotomold models that are ‘plug and play’, and don’t require an electrician, just fill with water and plug it in. Finally, rotomolded hot tubs are extremely durable, and most have a lifetime spa shell warranty.

CONS: The appearance of the spa internal surface is not as beautiful as the lustrous colors and shine of acrylic hot tubs. The plug and play models don’t withstand very cold temperatures, and don’t have many jets, and often can’t run the spa heater at the same time as the spa jet pump.

ACRYLIC SPAS

acrylic-hot-tubPROS: That deep lustrous shine is a definite plus, you just can’t get that with a rotomolded tub. Wood panel cabinets are another nice feature of acrylic tubs. Acrylic hot tubs are often more full featured with many standard options, dozens of fancy jets, and large pumps, filters and heaters.

CONS: First of all, acrylic spas can cost $8-12K, or more, nearly twice the cost of rotomolded tubs. They are much heavier, bulkier and harder to move around easily. Most acrylic models require a full 230V electrical service, which usually involves an electrician.


 

At Hot Tub Works, we sell both Acrylic and Rotomolded Spas, to appeal to every budget. So, it comes down to what you want, a Chevy or a Cadillac? Major spa manufacturers agree, there seems to be room in this frontier town for both Acrylic and Rotomolded spas and hot tubs.

 

Carolyn Mosby
Hot Tub Works

 

What’s the Best Number of Spa Jets?

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spa-jets-3up

When we bought our first hot tub, I think it had 12 spa jets – and at the time that was a lot! Fast forward 30 years, and you can find spas with over 100 Jets! Is that too many?

It’s not just the number of spa jets that makes a spa awesome, it’s more than that. The type of spa jets, their location, and how adjustable they are – and how powerful the jet pump is, all play a role.

Type of Spa Jets

spa-with-many-spa-jetsSome spa jets are non-adjustable, where other jets can be pointed or positioned in many directions with a swivel eyeball. Larger spa jets have multiple nozzles and may also rotate or swirl, and be mixed with air to add more oomph to the water flow. The nicer spa jets are fully adjustable, and can be closed easily by turning the outside bezel or ring, finished in soft rubber, chrome or stainless steel.

 

Location of Spa Jets

bank-of-spa-jetsWhere the spa jets are located may be important for your particular aches and pains. Powerful floor jets are nice for a good foot massage, and calf jets, neck jets are also nice to have. But, do you really need so many spa jets? Think about the areas of your body where you would like to target, and let your pain be your guide, I suppose. Air Jets are usually small holes for air only (no water), and shouldn’t be called spa jets, technically.

 

Spa Jet Adjustments

4-spa-jets-blastingIf you run water through too many jets as one time, the amount of water coming out of each jet is reduced. And since you probably don’t fill every seat in your spa, you want to be able to turn off spa jets that are not being used, which increases water flow to the jets that are open. Some spas will allow you to control different spa jet banks, or ‘sets of jets’, by turning a large knob, or should at least allow you to close off individual spa jets that are not needed.

 

Jet Pump Power

spa-with-too-many-spa-jetsSpa jets don’t increase the water flow, the amount of flow is entirely dependent on the spa jet pump. A 4hp spa pump will produce a lot more flow than a 2hp spa pump, in most cases. But any size pump has to split all the water flow among all of the jets. For a theoretical example, say your spa jet pump is pumping 100 gallons per minute, and let’s say that you have 100 jets – that’s only 1 gallon every minute from each jet, if they were all open at the same time. So, a hot tub with twice as many jets may need a pump that’s twice as large, if you plan to fill all the seats in the spa.

 

So when shopping for a new spa, remember it’s not just the number of jets that matter. Consider the types of spa jets used, their location, how adjustable the spa jets are, and the size of the spa jet pump – they all play a role!

 

Carolyn Mosby
Hot Tub Works

 

 

How to Read a Hot Tub Owner’s Manual

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old-hot-tub-owners-manual

Unlike old spa owner’s manuals, the modern spa owner’s manual is a real piece of work. Some of the better ones are over 50 pages, with excellent color graphics, tables and step by step photo illustrations.

Early hot tub manuals from the 70’s and 80’s were laughably lackluster, and probably that’s why you can’t find them online. In the days before desktop publishing, you know.

A hot tub owner’s manual is a great resource for the spa or tub owner. But in talking to spa owners over the years, most of them don’t know where they put their Owner’s Manual, or had not thought to look at it for answers.

 

 INSTALLATION

Always the first section, after the obligatory precautionary statements, are an abundance of tips about how to choose a proper location for the spa, and other considerations like overhead protection, drainage around the spa, access for service, and location of power and water. Some useful gems about spa installation that you can find in your owner’s manual include:

  • A 4-6 inch poured concrete slab of concrete with rebar or mesh on compacted and level soil
  • For easier draining of the spa, and for flood protection, locate your spa in an elevated area.
  • Electrical Requirements: 230V, 50-60 A, 4-wire, GFI protected and grounded dedicated circuit with external cut-off box.
  • Bonding Requirements: Bonding wire bare #8 copper wire to spa, and grid or nearby metal fixtures, per local code.
  • Set-Up: Some general tightening or parts installation before fill-up and start-up.

OPERATION

Operation of the Spa, knowing how it all works. This section has grown large now that spas are so full-featured, with lots of equipment and so many jets.  Fortunately, owner’s manuals are becoming very visual, with large clear photos, flow charts and even infographics!

  • Understanding the User Interface: aka the Topside Control. How to program the filter and heater and run different operational modes.
  • Diagnostics: Status Codes and Error Codes. Nicer models also have low/high Chemical Alerts and Service Reminders.
  • How to control different banks of spa jets, or water falls and air blowers or air intake valves.
  • How to work everything else: Spa lighting, sound system, ozonator, sanitizer system.

MAINTENANCE

By this point in the manual most people naturally start to glaze over. I recommend coming back to it in a day or two with fresh eyes ~ because your spa maintenance is what you really need to learn fast – because it begins now! Maintenance items can include maintaining the surfaces, equipment, spa cover and also the water.

TROUBLESHOOTING

In general, most troubleshooting sections for spas and hot tubs are a bit thin, but complete enough for the average spa owner to check all the basic stuff, without getting in over their head. Most spa manufacturers would prefer that spas are serviced by trained mechanics, but will help you over the phone or by email if you try all of their suggestions (twice!) before calling.

  • Equipment Problem/Cause/Remedy tables
  • Flow Charts with Yes/No paths
  • Low water / No water flow from Spa Jets
  • Spa does not heat properly
  • Spa water is not clean

 

solana-owners-manual-coverSo you see – spa and hot tub owners manuals can be an invaluable resource to the spa owner. If you are looking for your old owner’s manual, and your spa is older than the 90’s – it is probably hard to find.

We have a huge list of links to spa owners manuals available, on a blog post we did last year, and updated – just now!

 

Happy Hot Tubbin’

Daniel Lara
Hot Tub Works

 

Buy a Used Hot Tub? Don’t Get Soaked!

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spa-for-sale-by-ownerHow to buy a used hot tub is “hot topic” these days, with showroom prices over $10,000 it’s natural that many people consider buying a “Gently Used Hot Tub”.

For many, a used hot tub is not something they would consider, especially given that online portable spas can be purchased for less than $5,000.

Regardless, if you have your eye on a “pre-loved” spa or hot tub, here’s some tips on making a smart purchase.

 

Will it Fit Your Space and Budget?

Setting a firm budget up front is smart – you don’t want to pay more than you can afford and, you don’t really want to pay less than you should. A hot tub in good condition, fully operational, will cost around $2500, in most cases. You can find a lot of used hot tubs for under $1000, but most are empty, non-working spa shells, that need a lot of reconditioning – new spa pack (heater and controls), pumps and perhaps plumbing.

Secondly, where are you going to put your new (used) hot tub? When full, they can weigh a ton (literally!), so it needs to be set on a solid base of reinforced concrete. Never set a spa directly on the ground, or on a wood deck, and absolutely never on a second story balcony or elevated deck. Spas should also not be placed indoors, unless you have plastic or tiled walls and ceilings, floor drains and a suitable dehumidification system.

Thirdly, will it fit? You will need room to access the equipment underneath the spa, and for other reasons, you may need to access the underside of the spa from a side other than where the spa equipment is located. Spa covers are big and bulky, and should be used with spa cover lifters, to protect the cover (and your back!). These require anywhere from 6″ to 36″ of clearance, depending on the model, and some cover lifts need room vertically (above the spa), for upright spa cover storage.

Fourth, choose a location that is out of direct sunlight if possible, and avoid lawn sprinklers, or placement under a roof eave that will allow rain water to fall onto the spa. The best location will protect the hot tub from sun, rain and snow.

Fifth, consider privacy if you have close neighbors. You can construct a privacy screen or a gazebo of sorts to block prying eyes and prevailing winds while hopefully preserving the best view to take in while soaking in the spa.

Ask the Right Questions – in the Right Way

Studies show that the way you ask a question about maintenance issues or problems affects the probability of an honest response. Framing your questions with negative assumptions elicits more honest responses. I know you want to be nice, but the get the best information you have to be almost accusatory.

questions-about-spasFor example, asking “What mechanical issues have you had with the spa” will produce a better answer than “There aren’t any problems with the spa, are there?” Other questions to ask include: “Tell me what repairs you have made to the spa”, and “What repairs will I need to do soon?”, in addition to asking to see service records, or repair invoices.

When you want the unvarnished truth, you have to ask for it – don’t throw soft balls, or you’ll get soft answers. Ask pointedly negative questions to get the best negative answers, or the most believable responses.

Inspecting a Used Hot Tub

When buying a used hot tub, make sure that it’s full of water and hot, as measured by a floating thermometer. Bringing your own thermometer is a good idea, because you can’t always trust the temperature display. 104° is the maximum safe temperature, and for most people, an ideal hot tub water temp. If it only reads 100°, it could be any number of problems, or it just could be set too low. Turning up the thermostat should raise the water temperature fast, around 5° for every 10 minutes.

An owner’s manual can be incredibly useful for running the spa through it’s paces, to test out all features and to diagnose any error codes, if presented. If the spa owner doesn’t have an owner’s manual handy, you may be able to find it online and view it on your smartphone or tablet.

flashlight-for-spa-inspectionBe sure to bring a flashlight, so you can get a good look underneath the spa, looking for any drips or leaks, although on cold days some condensation water can be normal. Look closely at the pipes, fittings, pumps, blower and other equipment to check for leaks and also to check for smooth operation. Pump and Blower motors aren’t quiet, but they shouldn’t be loud, or screeching, which indicates near failure (most spa pumps last about 7-8 years).

Look and Listen when inspecting a hot tub. Be sure to also inspect the spa cabinet for signs of wood rot or decay, which can literally fall apart during removal, transport or set-up at the new location. Spa cabinets can be replaced, but not without significant cost and effort. The spa cover should not be heavy, or waterlogged, and the foam panels inside should not be cracked. Most spa covers last about 5 years before needing to be replaced, at an average cost of $400.

Alternatively, you can hire a local spa service company to inspect the spa for you for about $150, which could be the best way to go. I’d recommend using a spa repair service, rather than a local spa store, who may use the opportunity to downgrade the spa in the hopes of selling you a new one instead.

Transport & Installation

This is often the biggest hurdle to buying a used spa; getting it to the new location. Empty spas can weigh 750 lbs, and are quite cumbersome to move. In California and other “spa happy” states, you can find companies that specialize in moving spas, for a price of around $400. Most spa stores and spa repair companies can offer this specialized service. If not, you can hire a tow company with a Jerr-Dan type truck, or rent a flatbed truck to transport the spa to the new location.spa-moving

But, transporting the spa is only half the job – you still have to get the spa on and off the truck, and move it through fence gates, or down hillsides or across rough terrain. Spa movers use oversized dollies, with large wheels and lots of straps to keep the spa from falling off the dolly. You could also use 4 burly guys to carry the spa by hand, but even so, that’s 200 lbs per person, which could be dangerous to consider.

Once you get the spa to the new location, there will likely be electrical upgrades needed. Spas require a dedicated 220V service, with a breaker of 50-60 amps, and a cut-off box located near the spa. An electrician should be hired to perform these tasks, at a cost of $400-$800, depending on how far the main circuit panel is from the spa location. It could cost more than that if the main panel is already maxed out, and there is not enough amperage available for the additional breaker.

Deep Cleaning before Use

When you get your new (used) hot tub situated and filled with water, before you use it – I recommend using a chemical like Jet Clean or Spa Purge to strip the pipes of any biofilm. You’ll also want to clean and condition the spa cover, spa cabinet and inside surfaces to remove any dirt or films, and replace the spa filter cartridge. See Gina’s post on Deep Cleaning a Hot tub, and then check out our other posts on spa and hot tub care – you’ll be an expert in no time!

 

Carolyn Mosby
Hot Tub Works

 

How to Sell a Used Hot Tub

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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 $4000-$7000 range. Recognized brand names like Jacuzzi, Hot Springs, Baja and others are sold at Cadillac prices, in the $8000-$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 craigslist.org 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!

ugly-spa-contest

I spent quite some time on Craigslist, 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.

nice-spa-for-3000

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