One of the toughest things about fixing a portable spa is
diagnosing the problem. Not only are there many manufacturers, but
also each one now offers several different models. Every year
brings new spas with the latest controllers and diagnostic
To avoid common pitfalls that may arise, service technicians must
first collect all the necessary information, sort through the
basics and then pinpoint the culprit. Here, experts offer advice on
how to diagnose a problem spa.
Before you disassemble anything, start with the basics. That means
taking a few minutes to listen to the homeowners. To save time and
money for your clients (and yourself), start with a preliminary
screening. During the initial call, ask your customers to give a
detailed description of how their spas have changed.
If the issue sounds simple, your customers may be able to pinpoint
and repair it without a service visit. Otherwise, send a
technician, and make sure it’s someone experienced in the
area of the suspected malfunction. There’s nothing worse for
customers than discovering that their repair tech isn’t
familiar with the equipment.
Prior to the visit, ask the owner to make some basic checks. For
instance, if the customer says the high-limit switch tripped, the
spa should be heated before you arrive. Then, you can quickly
measure how warm it gets before it shuts off. It beats standing
around waiting for the spa to heat.
Once on site, the tech should speak with the clients again to get a
better sense of the issue, too. Often, by asking them to share how
things happened in chronological order, the problem will be readily
apparent. It’s important to ask pointed questions, and
don’t settle for vague answers. If you ask when the customer
last cleaned the filter, it’s not enough to hear,
“Recently” or “Don’t worry about it.”
Evasiveness usually means they don’t know.
Again, a couple of preliminary checks can help determine how the
spa is used. Many techs start by first lifting up the cover, which
tells them all about the water’s chemical makeup — the
discoloration in the cover will give the entire history of the spa.
For example, water with a low pH level burns the cover, so
the center would be white. That should signal to the tech to go
directly to the heater to look for any chemical damage at the
In such cases, odds are the problem will reappear if customers
aren’t reminded about maintaining proper water-chemistry
levels. After handling the immediate repair, be sure to discuss spa
chemistry and customize a maintenance routine based on the
Also, the filter should be checked early on. A clogged filter can
cause a number of failures. If you suspect that a pressure switch
needs replacing, for instance, it really could be the
filter’s fault. If the filter’s dirty, there may not be
enough water pressure throughout the system, causing the switch to
be triggered. If the filter hasn’t been replaced in more than
two years, many techs advise changing it — regardless of
whether it turns out to be the culprit.
Finally, check for the simple things that aren’t always
obvious. For example, older-model spas include a magnetic interlock
on the door. If the door isn’t closed, the spa won’t
Pinpoint the problem accurately
There’s a term some spa-repair techs use to describe
colleagues who replace part after part until the unit works
properly. They’re called “parts jockeys,” and
many service managers discourage that approach.
Constant parts replacement saves neither time nor money, many
service pros say. Customers may grow impatient waiting for this
trial-and-error method to bear fruit. Meanwhile, the costs for
unnecessary parts can quickly escalate.
Some techs will simply replace the problematic component without
isolating the problem. If the heater isn’t working, for
example, they may just install a new one. But, in many cases,
it’s not the heater that’s defective. It could be a
relay three or four switches back that’s just not giving the
Or, it could be a thermostat. Either way, zero in on the problem by
following a pre-determined diagnostic protocol you’ve
established for each basic set of symptoms.
For instance, if the GFCI trips repeatedly, consider disconnecting
the heater. If the GFCI doesn’t trip, then you know it was
the heater. If it wasn’t the heater, move on down the line
and disconnect the air blower. If the GFCI doesn’t trip now,
then the air blower was at fault. But if it still trips, the next
thing you disconnect is the flow switch… and so on.
Begin by checking the main component itself. Use a voltmeter or
multimeter to determine whether the pump, heater, blower or another
piece of equipment is receiving power. If it is, you’ve found
your problem. If not, then a switch or relay likely isn’t
transferring the current.
Depending on the symptom, you may want to consult an electrical
blueprint for the spa, if one is available.
Then you can see which series of switches and relays are involved.
Next, work back from the main component, checking each relay or
switch in the control box.
Certain areas are tougher to inspect than others. When confronted
with a spa that’s more than a few years old, it may be
difficult to tell when a circuit board is causing the problem or
whether it’s the topside control.
The diagnostic mechanism will provide a code, but that could apply
to either component. For such tricky diagnoses, plug in separate
units to see if they work. Many techs bring along additional
topsides for testing purposes. They disconnect the client’s
topside, plug in theirs and, if they get the same reaction, then
it’s the board that’s bad. If it works with the new
topside, it’s the topside that’s bad.
In some instances, the problem may not be a faulty part at all. If
the system doesn’t heat, it could be a restricted flow. Check
the plumbing for leaves or other debris that may have caused a
clog. This is often the case when a flow switch or pressure switch
isn’t working. It may detect that not enough flow is moving
through the heater and block heater activation. This also keeps the
heater from burning out or catching fire.
If the unit contains a pressure switch, a little sand or dirt may
also plug it up, preventing the heater from sensing the system
Close it out
After the repair, conduct a full diagnostic assessment of the spa.
Among other items, check the chemical balance, the heater terminal
at the bulkhead fittings, the air-check valves, jet selectors and
buttons. Look for burned wires. Evaluate every screw in the pack to
make sure they’re all tight. Make sure all the wire
connections are proper. Also, remember to test the ground fault
protection during each visit. If you notice something that could
cause another failure, notify the customer. These checks and
precautions only take a few extra minutes, but it’s worth the