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A few tips on how to avoid problems with your spa or hot tub during the cold part of the season.

Frozen spas and hot tubs

We all do our best to avoid problems with your spa or hot tub during the cold part of the season.   Power outages, unexpected trips away from our homes, and sometimes forgetfulness can happen in our busy lives.  So, what should we do if we find our spa shut down and vulnerable during sub-freezing temperatures?  Keep reading as we will discuss the most common failures and procedures to help get that hot tub up and running again. 


Draining your hot tub or spa in anticipation of freezing conditions.

Draining only removes water from the shell of the tub itself, not from the plumbing.  All the water in the plumbing lines remains. The pipes, hoses, heater, and pumps become extremely vulnerable to freezing.  A drained spa must be properly winterized; all equipment, plumbing, and hosing must be blown out and removed.  The entire spa must be covered with tarps or plastic to stop new water or snow melt from getting back into the tub.



What damage is most common when a hot tub freezes?

Plumbing manifolds.

These are the PVC fittings that distribute water or air from a main trunk line, then distributes to several jets, or air injectors. 

Heater unions.

These unions are the weak point of the heater assembly.  As the heater tube is usually stainless steel, the plastic unions that connect the heater to the plumbing often split from the expansion of the freezing and will break much more easily.

Jet bodies.

These are often weaker plastic and cannot take the expansion and will crack.

Pump wet ends.

Leaks or cracks in a wet end are often missed during your initial inspection.  They often do not leak during static (non-pressurized) conditions.  When the spa is full and the pumps engaged, the water pressure will put stress on the wet end and widen the crack. You will find it spraying out.

Valves.

Often valves hold water inside them even if not engaged.  A top mounted valve will be extremely susceptible to the cold and often expand and crack.



What happens if the tub is fully frozen or not operational?

If you find that you are too late and the tub is frozen, follow these simple steps to start the process of assessing the damage and needed repairs.

Make sure the power to the spa is off; the breaker must be in the off position.

Remove cover and all skirting from the sides of the tub

Use a flashlight and look inside under the shell. Look for any obvious broken or cracked plumbing, damage to pump wet ends, valves, heater, jets, manifolds, etc.

Acquire a small submersible pump, 3/4hp – 1hp is sufficient.

Knock a hole in the ice large enough to fit the submersible pump in.

Gently place the submersible pump in through the ice to the bottom of the footwell (do not attach any discharge hose).

Plug in the pump and let it circulate underwater, close the cover and let it sit. The heat generated from the pump motor will slowly thaw the spa and the plumbing lines.

Close up all the skirting around the spa to hold in the heat that is generated.  It may take a few days, but eventually the spa will thaw.

After thawing, the spa will either empty itself out if there is breakage in lower lying lines or equipment or stay full.

If the spa is empty, or you have caught it draining during the process, make note of any obvious damage and make repairs.

If spa is completely drained out, remove the submersible pump and run a garden hose in the spa, water will find the easiest way to escape, look for it and make the repairs.

It is important to remember with freeze damage, often we need to “chase leaks”. In other words, we may find a few problems, fix them, then others show up after.  Some cracks or breakages will not leak until they are under pressure.  Water always follows the path of least resistance.

Once you are certain you have repaired any obvious leaks, you can attempt to fill the hot tub.  It is a good idea to stay and watch it fill.  Check with your flashlight under the skirting; if you find any leaks, immediately stop filling the spa.  The level of the water when the leaking starts may help clue you in to the location of the current leak.

If you are able to fully fill the spa with no leaking, go ahead and turn the system back on.  If the breaker trips immediately, look at the heater itself, the ice may have damaged the element.  You may need to disconnect the leads to the spa control system in order to get the breaker to stay on.

If you can get the breaker to stay in the on position, go ahead and attempt to run the spa.  After the pumps are primed, look very carefully around the underside of the skirting for any new leaks.

If no more leaks remain and the system seems to be running normally, reinstall the skirting and have the homeowner keep a close eye on the water level over the next week or so.



Ways to avoid freezing.

Homeowners should make it a habit of checking their spa or hot tub weekly, whether or not they are using it. This can catch a problem with the operation of the spa before it freezes.

If a spa will not be used for the cold weather season, consider a full winterization. This includes draining the shell, blowing out all plumbing, equipment, valves, jets, etc...  Cover the spa with its normal cover then use a thick mill plastic or quality tarp to cover the entire top of the spa.  Be sure plastic reaches down at least a couple feet down on all sides.  Secure the plastic or tarp with stretch wrap or other means. 

Use a submersible pump. If you find the spa is down and the weather is freezing, you can use a submersible pump to keep the water from freezing.  Make sure the main breaker to the spa is off, then put the submersible pump in the foot well (do not attach any discharge hose), plug it in to turn it on, close the regular cover, and let it circulate.  Be sure all skirting is in place and secured.  The heat generated by the pump will heat the water and the ambient air under the shell inside the skirting.  It will prevent the spa from freezing until repairs to the spa can be made.  This can avoid a costly winterization. 

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