Ask a service technician what makes a spa different from a pool, and you’ll get a fairly predictable range of answers: Smaller size, warmer temperature, and the addition of jets and perhaps a blower. Many would also mention built-in controls and automation systems, which brought hand-held convenience to spa owners long before such luxuries became commonplace for the larger pools.
Such controls, however, differ widely from one manufacturer to the next, and so a general tutorial on repairing them would consist of little more than advice to refer to the spa makers’ manuals. Here, we’ve narrowed the focus to jets, blowers and the circuitry that keeps these components functioning properly.
Following the guidance of service veterans across the country, we’ll walk step-by-step through the process of isolating the problems behind typical customer complaints in these areas of spa trouble.
In a perfect world, every customer would call with a clear, straightforward complaint: “One of my jets has fallen out,” or “One of my fittings is cracked.” In reality, though, a service call usually begins with a much more vague complaint: “My blower isn’t blowing,” or “I hear a click when I switch the spa on, but then nothing happens.” In cases such as these, it’s up to the service tech to perform some electrical detective work and isolate the problem to its source.
The first step in that process is to hit the spa’s “on” button and observe the results. Though no two spas’ topside controls are quite identical, a check of the topside’s “on” indicator can help verify whether the spa is receiving power at all. If the “on” indicator is positive, the next step is to move upstream and investigate other components.
Start by checking the basics — that the pump and blower are both plugged in and receiving power. Next, check the breaker box to verify that they’re receiving the correct voltage. It’s important to watch out for one common issue in particular: The breaker may have lost one leg of power. In other words, if both legs of the breaker’s power are receiving 110 volts, but the breaker isn’t snapped over the pole of both legs, only 110 volts will be passing out of the breaker, and a 220-volt pump motor won’t be receiving the power it needs. To fix this, make sure the breaker is connecting to both legs. It’s also vital to ensure that these connections are carrying voltage, so perform a voltmeter check between the two hot wires coming into the board.
However, if the breaker is sending the correct voltage to the pump but the pump isn’t receiving power, the problem likely lies midstream between the two. If the electrical system includes a fuse that’s downstream from the relay but upstream from the pump, the fuse may be blown, preventing power from reaching the pump or blower even if the relay is functioning normally. It also pays to check for physical damage, like loose or frayed wires. If any such damage is apparent, it’s important to repair it before moving on to other checks.
If the motor is receiving sufficient power but it still isn’t coming on, the next step is to attempt to spin the impeller manually. If the motor kicks on once the impeller has some spin, the problem is a bad capacitor that needs to be replaced. If the impeller doesn’t spin, however, the problem may simply be physical blockage. “I’ve found underwear and swimsuits — and other things I wouldn’t even want to repeat — caught in impellers,” says Robert Stuart, president of Springs Spas and Home Recreation Inc. in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Many motors include an internal thermal overload switch, which cuts power to the motor if it overheats — say, in case of a blockage. This shutoff lasts for approximately 45 minutes — until the motor can cool down — then resets automatically. Once the cause of the overheating is removed and the motor is restarted, it should return to working as normal.
Another common cause of pump and motor failure is degradation of pump seals by corrosive chemicals. Because the pH of calcium hypochlorite (cal hypo) is approximately 2.6, it has a tendency to degrade seals if left in contact with them — especially under moist conditions. This degradation allows water to leak onto the motor’s metal shaft, causing the shaft to rust.
In fact, experts say the No. 1 cause of motor failure is water chemistry deteriorating the seals. Air blowers are another story. Check valves on some blowers have a tendency to fail over time — this can allow water to back up into the blower, which trips the ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), turning off the system. When investigating a blower failure, it’s also helpful to check for frayed or broken wires in and around the blower, and solder any connections that need mending. One indicator of wire damage is electrical burns. It’s often possible to smell if a wire is burnt — and while a bad smell doesn’t necessarily indicate a wire issue, it’s still worth checking for burned windings.
Not all spa service calls involve upstream troubleshooting, though — many require investigation of physical and mechanical hang-ups within the spa itself. When it comes to jets, the tricky aspect of a repair is often less the fix itself and more the diagnosis of what originally triggered the problem.
Take a fallen-out jet, for example. Replacing it is usually as simple as buying the right jet and fitting, and snapping them into place. But to ensure the problem doesn’t recur, it’s crucial to investigate the spa environment for likely causes of the damage.
Cracks and leaks in the jet retaining rings can sometimes result from physical damage or manufacturer defects, but a far more common issue is chemical degradation to the jets’ internal components, such as diffusers. Soft, flexible plastics tend to be more vulnerable to low-alkalinity water than harder ones like PVC, and it typically isn’t too hard to tell when imbalanced water chemistry lies at the root of the problem — a quick look at the jet’s internal components will reveal that the portions holding it in place are eroded away. Pitted and powdery textures on the plastic are clear signs of this erosion.
In cases like this, once the jet has been replaced, it pays to talk with the customer about what chemicals have been going into the spa. As with seals around the pump and motor, jet internals can easily be eroded by low-pH sanitizers like cal hypo, especially in the presence of low total alkalinity. Preventing future jet degradation could be as straightforward as explaining the importance of balanced water chemistry to the customer.
The same goes for preventing calcium scale on and around jets — a problem that rears its head more often in areas with hard water. As long as the encrustation isn’t too severe, these jets can usually be cleaned and returned to their fittings. Simply remove them and clean them with a solution of one part muriatic acid to four parts water — remembering to always add the acid to the water, rather than the other way around — then fit them back into place. Again, chatting with the customer about proper water balance can go a long way toward protecting the jets from future trouble.
Then there are those jet problems that sound odd over the phone, but have extraordinarily simple resolutions. For instance, if a customer calls with a complaint about jet failure in a single area of the spa, he or she may have inadvertently closed some jets — or may not even be aware that the jets can open and close.
Whether the true source of the problem is as basic as a closed jet, or as intricate as an incorrect breaker voltage, following a consistent set of step-by-step troubleshooting checks will ensure that no contributing factor escapes notice. Not all symptoms are necessarily caused by just one single malfunction — and some malfunctions may produce a wide array of seemingly unconnected problems.
But by ensuring that each component of the system is in proper working order, it’s possible to fix many spa troubles on the first service call — and sometimes, even to catch unnoticed ones before they have a chance to cause damage.
Here’s a quick rundown of some common spa ozonator issues.
Pool & Spa News would like to thank the following professionals for their contributions to this article:
Todd Slasor, owner
American Spa Services
Robert Stuart, president
Springs Spas and Home Recreation Inc.
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Michael Tierney, spa manager
Aquatic Parts Co.