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
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
Pool & Spa News would like to thank the following
professionals for their contributions to this article:
Todd Slasor, owner
Robert Stuart, president
and Home Recreation Inc.
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Michael Tierney, spa manager
Aquatic Parts Co.