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The Basics of Spa Packs

The language of spa packs

Air blower: A mechanical device that forces air through the floor or seat of a spa (or the bubbler ring of a wooden hot tub) to increase water turbulence and hydrotherapy action. Typically powered by brush-type electric motors.

Air channel: A perforated, hollow duct in the spa rail, floor or seat through which air is pumped by the blower, thereby enhancing jet and hydrotherapy action.

Air control: A plumbing fitting for spas and wooden hot tubs that regulates air flow, thus increasing or decreasing jet or hydrotherapy action.

Air-induction system: A system whereby a volume of air (only) is induced into a hollow duct built into a spa wall, floor, bench or other location. Activated by a separate air-power unit (see Air blower).

Air switch: A pneumatic, mechanical device consisting of an air transmitter (or air button), a length of tubing and the air switch itself,

Anti-surge valve: A valve installed downstream of the blower to prevent water from backing up into the unit.

Back pressure: The force against which the air blower works to move air through the air channel.

Cartridge filter: A filtering system that uses a replaceable porous element. The majority of spa packs use cartridge filters because of their compact size,

Dedicated circuit: An AC power circuit to which no other appliance is connected. Because most spa packs draw 16 amps and most circuits are 20 amps, spa packs should be hooked to a dedicated circuit.

Door-interlock magnet: Most portable spas include a magnetic interlock that prevents power from reaching the system if the access door to the spa pack is opened.

Electric heater: Most spa packs have electric heating systems in which heating elements arc directly immersed in the water stream to heat the water. Performance is measured in kilowatts, a unit of electrical measure equal to 1,000 watts

Electronic spa controls: Components include solid-state circuitry, back-lit digital LCDs, weather-resistant switches and programmable computer memories.

External bond: A wiring system that connects all spa-pack components to a common electrical point that is generally, though not always, connected to a common ground.

Fireman’s switch: A mechanism that works with the time clock to protect the heater element by turning the heater off before the time clock turns the pump off.

Ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI): A device that protects bathers and others around spas against electrocution by de-energizing an electrical circuit within .025 seconds, or 1/40th of a second, when any electrical current through a bather exceeds 5/1,000th of an ampere.

High-limit switch: A safety device used to shut off a spa heater when water exceeds a preset limit. In spas, this limit is 104 degrees Fahrenheit (plus or minus 5 degrees) per UL standards.

Hydrotherapy jet: A fitting that blends air and water to create a high-velocity, turbulent stream of air-enriched water.

Mother board: The solid-state circuit board intergal to electronic spas.

Ozonator: A device using electricity and oxygen to generate ozone, If used as a primary sanitizer of spa water, either a chlorine or bromine sanitizer residual is also required.

Pressure switch: A safety device that automatically senses a change in system water pressure and opens or closes electrical switching elements when a predetermined, calibrated pressure is reached.

Pumps: In a booster-pump system, a pump completely independent of the filtration/heating system is used to activate one or more hydrotherapy jets. A two-speed pump is a centrifigal pump with a motor that operates at two distinct rates of revolutions per minute.

Sequential switch: A mechanical switching device using a cam-driven solenoid arrangement to sequentially trip relays, thereby controlling two or more spa-pack functions.

Thermostat bulb: The sensing element of most nonelectric thermostats. It is held in place by a sleeve fitting called a "thermowell."

Three-wire service: In 1969, the National Electric Code was changed to require all electrical outlets in homes to include a ground wire as well as hot and neutral wires. All spas require three-wire electrical service. Installing a portable spa in a home that predates the change in the code may require the instal-lation of a ground wire.

Timer: A mechanical or electronic device that automatically controls the time that pumps, filters, heaters, blowvers and other spa devices operate.

Touch pad control panel: A panel that can regulate water temperature, jet pressure, system diagnostics, sanitation and more; many incorporate a clock function.

Underskirt: The external covering of the lower spa structure within which the spa pack typically is located.

Venturi: A device used for mixing water and air to create a stimulating, bubbling effect. The venturi effect involves the uptake of air into liquid in a closed-pipe system when the liquid passes beneath an air opening in a constricted pipe.

Voltmeter:    An instrument for measuring voltage.

The Spa Pack Blues

This guide provides some simple troubleshooting steps for spa packs that malfunction. Often, you’ll be able to fix the problem; Other times, you’ll find a more complicated problem that requires help from a specialist or manufacturer.  But in all cases, follow manufacturer recommendations on what you should and should not do to the letter; to do otherwise puts you at risk.

SINGING THE DEAD-SPA BLUES
There’s nothing more disappointing than a unit that simply won’t run. Fortunately, most of the causes are easily identifiable:

The main circuit breaker is off.
Turn on the circuit breaker at the homes main power-service panel. If it won’t reset, call in a licensed electrician.

The ground-fault circuit interrupter Is tripped.
Press the GFCI’s reset button. If it wont reset, call in an electrician. If it does reset, determine why it tripped in the first place. Start by checking for a short, which could be caused by anything from faulty wiring insulation to an insect or small animal trapped in the equipment.

The time clock is not set correctly.
Reset the time clock so the system is operating as desired.

The magnetic interlock Is not working.
Make sure the access door to the spa pack is closed and that the interlock magnets are properly aligned.·

The outlet is faulty.
For cord and plug-connected units, check the receptacle used for the spa pack by plugging in another electrical appliance. If that appliance doesn’t work and you’re certain the circuit breaker is on, contact an electricianl.

TOO POOPED TO PUMP
If the spa pack appears to be working, but no water is flowing into the vessel, a quick set of checks should help you. Isolate the problem and get the system working again.

The filter is dirty.
Clean the filter elements, making sure to record the pressure reading after the filter is cleaned — for future reference.·    

The filter Is air-locked.
In this case, bleed off the air, following the manufacturers instructions.

The water level is too low.
If the water level has fallen below the intake or skimmer due to evaporation or splash, simply fill the spa to its proper level.

Valves are closed.
Many portable spas are equipped with a variety of valve arrangements. Check to see that all of them are open.

Suction lines are clogged.
Leaves, dirt and other debris sometimes clog lines and restrict flow, so clean the suction line’s fittings. Also, check the pump’s impeller for debris.

THE HEATER WON’T HEAT
A malfunctioning electric heater usually requires a specialist’s attention. But you should try these simple checks first. If they don’t work, make the call.

The thermostat is set too low.
Turn it up.

The high-limit switch is tripped.
For most units, reset the high-temperature limit by pushing a button located on the spa pack’s control panel.

The pack is in a nonheating mode.
Check both the spa-pack control panel and the spaside controls (as necessary) to be sure the unit is in a mode that enables the heater to work.

The pressure switch is open.
If there is inadequate flow, the pressure switch opens and disables the heater. If you suspect this is the case, clean the filter and check all the system’s suction lines and the pressure switch.

The circuit breaker is tripped.
If the unit is equipped with a circuit breaker of its own, press the reset button.

BUBBLES ON THE DOUBLE
If the blower switch is turned on, but there are no bubbles, suspect the following:

The blower is unplugged.
lf the air blower has its own power outlet on the spa pack, make sure it’s plugged in.   

The blower tubing Is disconnected,
lf the tubing that connects the blower to the air channel is loose, call in a spa-pack specialist.

The air channel’s holes are plugged.
Check the spa’s holes and inlets for dirt and debris, and clean them. Sometimes the blower quits working altogether. If that’s the case, look for the following:

Excessive back pressure. Adjust the size or number of air holes; check the blower’s specs to make sure it’s plumbed properly; and/or look for obstructions in the system’s tubing.

Worn brushes:
Reset the breaker and see if the motor will start, If the blower motor’s brushes are worn to the point where electricity is not reaching the armature, the blower won’t start. Replace excessively worn brushes.If the unit is running, but will not cycle through its various function modes, there may be a problem with the spaside air switches. Look for:    Disconnected tubing. See if the tube stretching from the airswitch actuator is connected to the airswitch receiver at the spa pack. If it is disconnected, reposition it per manufacturers instructions.

Pinched tubing.
Be sure that all of the system’s tubing is free of kinks, creases or pinches. Also, make certain the tubing is not pulled tight between the actuator and the air-switch receiver.   

Bad relays.
Depress the air switch and listen to the control box where the relays are located. No clicking sound? Then it’s a problem with the switch; if there is a clicking noise, but the system still won’t cycle through its functions, call a repair specialist.

Jazzing up spa packs:

More and more spa packs boast electronic controls these days and for computer-loving spa owners, that’s a dream come true. What you're paying for is spa controls sporting solid-state circuitry, digital LCDs, weather-resistant switches and programmable computer memories. Some controls have diagnostic capabilities that enable them to scan the components of a panel for problems and give you a readout. Still others allow a homeowner to access his or her spa controls from a-far via phone or PC. Such is the brave new world of automation.

"Spa packs are still using a lot of air switches because they’re easily understood and they’re reliable. They do better than other controls in hot and wet conditions over time,"Air switches and electronic spa controls are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Now let’s delve into the world of spa blowers: everything from Fundamental information on blower types and functions to tips on sizing, replacement and basic troubleshooting. forever blowing bubbles

Forever blowing bubbles

Now let's delve into the world of spa blowers:everything from fundamental information on blower types and functions to tips on sizing,replacement and basic troubleshooting

A PRIMER
Let’s start with the basics. The pool and spa business primarily concerns itself with the hydraulics branch of fluid mechanics, which specializes in the properties of moving water and other liquids. But when we get into the operation of air blowers, the pneumatics branch — the study of air and other gases— comes into play. Fortunately, these two disciplines share many basic concepts, formulas and procedures. Knowing this can simplify the understanding of air blowers. Think of the air blower as nothingmore than an air pump, forcing a thin fluid — air —through a piping system. In a spa, the piping system may lead to an air channel or air injectors installed in the floor, seat or walls, or it might be connected to the hydrotherapy jets in a manner that will enhance their hydro-massaging operation. Various valving arrangements allow blowers to serve double duty, feeding an air channel for basic bubbling and acting as a hydrotherapy-jet booster, often referred to as "turbo-charging."The air blower pump shares many features with its water-pumping cousin. An electric motor — directly coupled to an impeller (or impellers, in a multi stage design) — adds energy to the flow of air passing through the blower as the motor spins. Result: The velocity and the pressure of the air flow increase dramatically.

Water pumps normally operate at 3,450 revolutions per minute. Air blowers, on the other hand, typically rotate at ·l8,O00 to 20,000 rpm. This high speed has two side effects: noise and lots of heat generated within the air blower.Several manufacturers have successfully reduced the noise to a tolerable level using sound-absorbing materials around the blowers—and by adding mufflers to the intake and/or exhaust ports. Also, air blowers have been designed for burial in the ground as a noise-reduction measure, Nowadays, blowers are available in two and three-speed models, allowing bathers to select the intensity of the bubbling action, with subsequent reductions in noise levels.The heat generated within the air blower is a matter of concern. Air flowing through the blower must carry all of the heat away from the motor immediately. Failure to do so leads to the No. 1 cause of blower failure. More on this later.

Finally, some blowers today feature small electric heaters that preheat the air sent into the spa, That minimizes the temperature differential between the water circulating in the spa and the (often) much cooler air being drawn into the system — thus increasing bather comfort and easing the heating burden on the spa’s primary heater,

BLOWER DIAGNOSTICS
The most critical factor for a spa’s air.support system?Proper sizing of the blower to the air piping system. In fact, nearly all problems with blowers maybe traced either dircctly or indirectly to incorrect sizing.For example, if either the spa’s air holes or the blower’s distance from the hot tub are inadequate, the blower must work too hard, To remedy that, either replace the blower with a higher-capacity model, or modify the air piping system.In replacing a blo~ver, you must first consider certain design features: the unit’s operating voltage, the orientation of the exhaust, the need for various motor speeds and the blower’s position relative to the spa. Beyond that, effective blower replacement depends largely upon proper sizing.

SIZING THINGS UP

When you get right down to it, blower sizing isn’t all that complicated. Units come in three basic sizes: 1, 1.5 and 2 horsepower. Beyond that, there’s a defined set of factors to consider to find the best-sized blower for a given application: The total length of the pipe run: The longer the run, the more power the blower needs. For portable spas and spa packs, it’s usually not difficult to determine. For component systems, or those in which a spa pack was installed a distance away from the vessel, you need to accurately determine the amount of pipe between the blower and the spa’s air piping. The number of 90-degree turns: Keep in mind that turns add to the work a blower must do to force air into the spa. Water depth: Water pressure bearing down into the air channel or air injectors must be countered by the force of the air pushed through the piping. The deeper the water, the greater the burden on the blower. The number and size of air holes or air injectors:As mentioned above, too few or too small air holes or air injectors can result in an overworked and over-heated unit. Manufacturers have found various ways of incorporating these factors into their sizing schemes. Many offer helpful tables to aid in proper sizing.

GIVING JETS A BOOST
In well-planned systems, blowers make a dramatic difference in jet action. As a result, many spa and spa-pack systems include booster options that use either a separate blower or special valving. It’s a bit trickier sizing for retrofit or replacement than, say, for basic air channel or injector applications. Differences in the size of jet orifices make gauging power requirements difficult, but manufacturers help by including horsepower-per-jet requirements for blowers in booster applications.There are a few basic rules: If you have four to six jets, you generally need a 1hp blower; six to eight jets call for a 1.5hp blower; eight or more jets require 2hp units. Beyond that, consider these critical factors:Depending on the location of the blower relative to the plumbing, water can flow back into the blower unit. Blowers installed below the water level require that you install a check valve mounted above the waterline or a Hartford loop, or both. Some suppliers now incorporate check valves in the jets and injectors themselves to help prevent backflow and keep water out of the air blower piping.

BUBBLE TROUBLE

Proper sizing helps you avoid most blower problems, but other factors can have significant impact. Many problems are traceable to improper installation and can be isolated quickly with just a few simple checks. Some common symptoms, causes and remedies:

Overheating: When this happens, the blower motors thermal-protection device usually shuts the unit off. If it fails to do so, however, you may find premature brush wear on the motor or, in extreme cases, melted blower housings. Extreme heat also can lead to bearing failure in the motor.Overheating indicates a blower working too hard or a restricted air flow. A key sign: inadequate bubbling action. Often caused by back pressure brought on by undersized plumbing, it can usually be fixed with 1-1/2-inch plumbing. For long plumbing runs, however, 2-inch plumbing may be requlred; check the manufacturer’s specs.

Water damage: You often see this with units installed below the water level. Solution: Install a double loop or a Hartford loop in the plumbing between blower and spa. Faulty check valves (or check valves installed backward) also may be the culprits.When an owner complains of a GFCI tripping, first check the air blower. Water finding a path to the innards of a blower almost always trips a GFCI.

Intermittent operation: Random overheating, poor bubbling action, arcing, sparking, smoking and excessive noise all can result from improper electrical installation of the blower. One of your first checks here should be with a volt-meter to determine that the line voltage matches the voltage listed on the blower. In some cases, you’ll find an overloaded circuit with too many appliances drawing down its voltage. in other cases, you’ll discover a 240-volt blower limping along on a 120-volt supply line —or a 120-volt unit running dangerously on a 240-volt line.

Generally poor performance: Check the blower’s amp draw, using an ampmeter. Determine the amp draw under normal operating conditions, then disconnect the air piping and take another reading to determine its "free flow" amp draw. The free-flow reading will always be higher. Simply compare these two readings. For most air blowers, if the difference is greater than 1-1/2 amps, you have either a blower that’s undersized for the application or an air piping system that’s too small or partially plugged. A final word of advice: If in doubt, call the manufacturer. They know all about basic blower performance sizing, replacement and troubleshooting.

THE EYES HAVE IT
At the job site, begin by putting safety first and cutting off power to the spa. Locate the main electrical distribution panel and switch off the circuit breakers feeding the spa equipment — or remove the fuses. Then, using a voltmeter or multimeter, confirm that the lines are dead."We train all our rechs to carry and use a multimeter. "You have to shut the breakers off, but we say don’t trust any of that. Put a meter on it and make sure."Now you can begin a visual inspection of the system. Open the equipment doors, look and observe. This should take three or four minutes, but it will probably be the most important part of the service.  What should you look for? "First, look at the overall condition of the product, "That is No. 1. Just stand there and look at it. Is it all there? is everything intact? Has lightning struck? Has someone been tampering with it? Maybe there is a burned wire, or some other type of degradation."

AN INSIDE JOB
Next, look inside the spa pack. You still have no need to touch anything. While examining the components, keep your complaint in mind. If it was about a lack of bubbles, look at the blower. Is it corroded? Has a pipe broken? Look over the spa pack’s heater, pump, control panel and so forth. If you finish your visual inspection with no telltale signs of the spa’s malady, investigate the possibility of an electrical problem. For this, you’ll need to turn the power back on, It’s on? Check the ground-fault circuit interrupters for proper operation. You will find GFCI's located at the house control panel or on the spa itself. Simply press the test button.(Remember, GFCIs will not protect you from across-the-line shocks. Avoid coming in contact with the hot line and the neutral at the same time in a 120-volt system, or touching Line 1 and Line 2 in a 240-volt system. Doing so will not create a fault to ground for the GFCIs to sense and shut down the system.)If you happen to run across an older spa installation that does not have a GFCI in place, you should be advised of the current code requirements, as well as the safety benefits of this device. If you don’t want to install one yourself (you can buy a GFCI at any hardware store), you might want to call in an electrician.

THE PYRAMID APPROACH
If you have eliminated the spa’s components as the obvious source of the problem and confirmed that the GFCIs are functioning, verify that the power actually comes into the home and arrives at the spa components at the proper voltage levels. Sometimes the power makes its way to the spa components, but something has happened, such as a partial short circuit somewhere in the wiring to diminish it. "The first thing we do is ensure that it has the proper voltage," "You have to make sure you’re getting the voltage you require or there [will] be problems everywhere."In fact, a decreased voltage level coming into the system can damage equipment, such as the pump motor. To check for proper voltage, first hook the voltmeter up to the input terminal block of the component in question. This reading will tell you if power reaches the unit, Now go back to the home’s main control panel and read the voltage there with the spa equipment running, so that you get a number against which to compare the first reading. The component terminal reading should be only slightly lower than the one at the house."Voltage drops come about because wire has resistance and every connection has resistance, The longer the wire and the more connections, the greater the resistance, The voltage drop should never exceed 5 percent for any wiring run. If it does, you’ve got a problem. Three percent is ideal, "Several things can cause voltage drops: a defective breaker, a loose fuse, a burned wire at the terminal an underground wire chopped or sliced by a shovel, or another appliance sharing the same line as the spa.

"The spa should definitely have a dedicated line, "If something else is on the line at the same time, like the air conditioning, it will cause a voltage drop."To test for the lack of a dedicated line, switch off the spa’s breaker and see which other appliances turn off as well, Of course, if the air conditioning unit shares the line, you may not notice unless it’s summer,So, how do you check for a dedicated line? "That’s not always easy, "The wiring to the other appliance is frequently inside the walls of the house and not readily visible. Examine the wires connecting the circuit breakers to the spa equipment. That could reveal a problem. Some thorough snooping is in order, ’Note: You probably will have discovered any other causes of voltage drop, such as burned wires or a defective breaker panel during your visual inspection.

NOW YOU KNOW
If you have followed these troubleshooting tips, you should have isolated the culprit responsible for your hot-tub troubles by now— whether it is a faulty component or inadequate power reaching the unit. If a component is to blame you now must diagnose that piece of equipment and decide if it needs to be repaired or replaced. And remember, if you feel apprehensive, most spa-component manufacturers have technical support services readily available by telephone.

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