Pool and Spa
Electricity is responsible for running pumps
and motors, ignites gas heaters, and operates controls. When major
renovation or installation of electrical circuits is required, call
a professional electrician and subcontract the job. When
troubleshooting short circuits or other specialized electrical
problems, an electrician will solve and repair it faster than you
can, so again, call a professional and let him do his job.
Water technician and electrician is required
to make basic electrical connections, troubleshoot underwater lights
that won't work, switch appliances from 110 volt to 220 volt, and so
on. Understanding the basic concepts of how electricity works, is
controlled, and is conducted, will keep you both safe and
Electrical Terms definitions
are as below
Amperage (amps) is the
term used to describe the actual strength of the electric
current. It represents the volume of current passing through a
conductor in a given time. Amps = watts @ volts.
Arc or arcing is the
passage of electric current between two points without benefit
of a conductor. For example, when a wire with current is located
near a metal object, the electricity might arc (pass) between
Circuit is the path
through which electricity flows.
Conductor is any
substance that carries electric current, such as a wire, metal,
or the human body.
Current refers to the
rate of flow between two points.
Cycle is a complete
turn of alternating current (ac) from negative to positive
and back again.
Gauge refers to the
size of an electric wire. Heavier loads can be carried on
heavier gauge wires, however the numbering system of wire gauges
works in reverse. A 10-gauge wire, for example, is thicker than
a 14-gauge wire.
Line refers to a wire
Load is an appliance
that uses electricity.
Volts is a basic unit
of electric current measurement expressing the potential or
pressure of the current. Volts = watts @ amps.
Watt is a measurement
of the power consumption of an appliance. One watt is equal to
the volume of one amp delivered at the pressure of one volt.
Watts = amps x volts.
Electrical Testing Equipment
and Miscellaneous Terminology
||In order for you to service
any spa equipment, you absolutely must have and know how to
use a multi-meter capable of measuring 120 and 240 single
phase voltage, ohms, and amperage. Without this equipment, any
repairs made to the electrical parts of this equipment will be
strictly by trial and error or guessing which usually results
in parts replaced that weren't actually bad. If you do not
have a meter capable of each of these functions, either buy
one at a local electrical supply house or borrow one. Either
way, you must have one to work competently. Your meter
instructions will explain how to hook up the test leads for
each of the tests that follow.
||Voltage tests of any circuit
inside the equipment can be done using much the same principle
as testing for good line service (covered in LINE SERVICE
CHECK section of this guide). Simply decide what voltage you
expect to find at a test point, set your meter (if not preset)
for the scale showing this voltage, and apply your leads to
the circuit in question. It is always best to put your test
probes on the leads supplying the actual circuit, rather than
in locations you would assume are of the same polarity.
When most people test, they conveniently
apply one lead to the ground, and look for voltage with the
other lead. The results of this method will easily mislead you
because even a neutral wire carries electricity when a
component is running. There’s no reason not to expect to see
voltage when tested in this fashion. If it is a 120 volt
circuit, one lead must go to a neutral connection point, and
the other to the point at which there should be 120 volts. A
240 volt test must include two separate points where
individual 120 volt supply leads are providing power.
||An amperage test can only be
conducted when a component is actually running. The components
that you might test with your ampmeter are the heater (120v
should read 12.5 amps, 240 volt should read 25 amps), the
blower (1 Hp will read 5-6 amps, 1-1/2 to 2 Hp will read 7-9
amps), and the pumps low and high speeds (look at the plates
on the motor for the amperages you should see and your actual
reading should be within 10% of that). If your voltage supply
to the pack is lower than the 120 volts or 240 volts as
mentioned, then your amperage draw will be somewhat lower as
well, (especially noticeable on heaters).
On 120 volt tests, an amperage reading
should only be taken on the lead actually supplying the
voltage to a component (not on the neutral). For 240 volt
components, either wire supplying power will give you a good
WARNING: A reading several amps higher
than the component is rated for will ultimately result in a
premature failure of the equipment or worse, an electrical
||Using the ohms scale on your
meter, you can determine whether or not you have continuity in
a circuit. Continuity is the ability for electricity to pass
unrestricted between two ends of a wire or circuit. Ohms is
the unit of measure of that restriction or resistance. The
more resistance you have, the weaker the circuit is.
Therefore, when testing a switch for continuity, your meter
needle should read 0 ohms if the circuit is closed or
"on" (unless the battery in your meter is weak in
which case the needle will move but not all the way to 0).
There should be infinite resistance such that the needle does
not move at all if the circuit is open or ‘off.
WARNING: NEVER CONDUCT A CONTINUITY TEST
ON A LIVE CIRCUIT It is recommended that you disconnect any
switch or part being tested for continuity before conducting
Service Check :
||Many installations have
faulty line service. Before assuming that your problem is with
the equipment, always check for the proper voltage coming into
If after testing, you find an improper
line service voltage, shut the power off at the circuit
breaker and contact a licensed, qualified electrician to make
the necessary corrections.
Fault Circuit :
|GFCI protection is necessary
in case anything electrical should allow electricity to leak
to grounded metal in connection with the spa. This is
especially possible if after years of use a heater element
should rupture and the ground wire (that may or may not have
been originally connected) should happen to become
disconnected. A GFCI will sense this leakage and shut the
voltage to the power pack oft.
As of January 1, 1994, all equipment
packs used with a spa or hot tub must be protected by a Class
A ground fault circuit interrupter. This is called for in the
N.E.C. code book in paragraph 680-42. If the equipment has a
GFCI built into it,that GFCI may only protect certain
components such as the blower, light ozonator, and sometimes
the pump. The GFCI may not provide full protection, especially
if the unit is wired for 240V service. To be sure, have a
qualified electrician study the wiring diagram that came with
your unit (or the manufacturer of the unit you are working on)
Keep in mind that when buying a 240 GFCI
for an installation, be sure to get one that has neutral
protection. The 60A Square D GFCI does not have neutral
protection and therefore cannot be used on a hybrid equipment
system. (Hybrid means the unit contains both 240V and 120V
NOTE: Any GFCI protecting a circuit
should be tested periodically to insure proper operating
protection. If it fails to operate properly, it must be
Circuit Breaker :
|There are two easily
installed properly rated 240 volt GFCI breakers on the market
today (as of the time this page was written). They are the
Square D model QO 250GFI and the ITE Siemens model QF250, each
rated for up to 50 amps. The square D 60 Amp GFCI can not be
used with our equipment because it does not have load neutral
Most people who install the Square D
GFCI breaker do not follow the instructions accompanying it. A
common mistake is made by connecting their load neutral (from
the equipment), the large white pigtail on the GFCI, and the
power supply neutral to the connection block on the mounting
bracket. The instructions show where the load neutral is
supposed to attach to the GFCI. Before suspecting a pack
malfunction, check the installation of this device (when used)
and make sure it was installed correctly.
The connection points for the pack on
the Siemens GFCI are more obvious, but again, make sure that
only the load neutral is connected where indicated and that
the white pigtail is only connected to the line service
||The pump is probably the
hardest-working piece of equipment on your pool or spa. Its
job? To keep water moving throughout the entire circulation
system. The pump draws the water from the pool or spa, through
the plumbing and on to the filter. It then pulls it through
the heating process and pushes it back into the pool or spa.
The pump also acts as a secondary sieve. Pumps of all
varieties have a strainer pot or hair and lint trap that
catches any small debris that made it through the skimmer,
main drain or gutter. By trapping this debris, the pump helps
ease the burden placed on the filter, leaving it free to catch
the smaller pollutants in the water. This is just one part of
a multi-step process to rid the water of impurities before
it's sent back into the pool or spa. Indeed, keeping the water
circulating is one of the best ways to help keep your pool or
spa clean. It also requires very little attention from you.
You need only program the system to automatically kick the
pump on for a certain amount of time each day so all of the
water moves through the filter at least once a day. Generally
speaking, a pool pump should run at least six hours a day and
a spa pump -- which in portable spas is part-and-parcel of the
spa pack -- should run for at least two hours a day when the
spa's not in use.
||In the context of a pool or
spa, the motor's function is to drive the circulation system.
More specifically, the motor converts electrical energy into
mechanical energy which is then used to operate the pump.
Unless you are a mechanic, you should not get involved in any
hands-on maintenance of the motor. However, it is a good idea
to familiarize yourself with when it's set to run, and to
watch for any symptoms -- such as grinding or other unusual
noises -- that may indicate trouble. If the motor fails to
operate properly -- or at all -- contact your retailer or a
professional service technician for more information and
assistance. As with any complicated piece of electrical
equipment, troubleshooting and repairs are best handled by an
||In effect, we've now
traveled through the pump and are on our way to the filter,
which serves to remove dirt and other impurities from the
water. There are three different types of filters available on
the market today, each of which has its own unique advantages.
• Diatomaceous Earth Filters are made of grids of extremely
fine mesh that are coated with diatomaceous earth. The DE acts
as an adhesive, trapping any small or microscopic dirt
particles in the water. FYI: DE is made from crushed petrified
bones that, if you were to look at it under a microscope,
would look like a sponge with thousands of tiny pores. One of
the advantages of DE is that it's organic and non-polluting.
In other words, it's environmentally inert. Do note, however,
that some municipalities or other environmental authorities
have strict regulations regarding the disposal of DE. This
becomes a concern when it's time to clean the filter by
backwashing it. For more information on what to do with the
water that has been flushed through a DE filter, contact your
local health department, pool/spa retailer or service
technician. • Sand filters use -- you guessed it -- sand as
a filter medium. Inside a sand filter is a certain amount of
sand and gravel, which mix with water passing through, pulling
out dirt and impurities. Small microscopic particles can
escape capture in a sand filter. To prevent this, you can use
a flocculant to coagulate the particles into larger particles
the filter can catch before the water is sent back into the
pool. Every several years, you may also need to add new sand
to the filter. But do note: These filters require a very
specific type of grain. For more information on when and how
to replace the sand, contact your pool/spa retailer or service
technician. • Cartridge filters, like DE filters, have a
grid-like interior to catch pollutants. These types of filters
can contain a number of grid cartridges. Spas usually require
only one large cartridge while pools generally need either
three large cartridges or up to 12 small ones. These
cartridges are made with a fine, pleated mesh material -- and
the pleats are the key to the filter's operation. The tight
pleats, or folds, allow a large amount of material to be used
in a small container. The more material used, the larger the
surface area available to capture unwanted dirt or debris in
||We won't go into great
detail here about heaters, but you should know that the
filtered water passes over the heater before re-entering the
pool or spa. As is the case with motors, heaters don't need a
lot of maintenance. You should, however, learn to recognize
any unusual noises or other clues that may call for
professional attention. The best thing you can do for your
heater -- and indeed all of your equipment -- is to keep the
water properly balanced. Imbalanced water will dissolve metals
from the equipment or cause a calcium build-up that can
eventually cause heater failure. For more information on water
maintenance, check out Splashzone's section on Chemicals.
- Please read this section completely!
This section is
presented for the do-it-yourselfer who needs some help either
troubleshooting or repairing their own hot tub spa. Here we
are assuming that if you have chosen to work on your own unit,
you have a basic knowledge of electricity. Please remember
that water and electricity DO NOT MIX. If you are not capable
of performing a repair yourself, please contact a local spa
professional or a licensed electrician in your area.
Also realize that the
wiring and equipment described herein represents the
"average" spa equipment pack. Your unit may vary
significantly from the components described below. If you are
in doubt as to how to properly troubleshoot or repair your
specific unit, please contact a local spa professional or a
licensed electrician in your area Use any of the information
contained herein AT YOUR OWN RISK. We will not be held liable
for any injuries that may result from the troubleshooting or
installation of any electrical components in your hot tub spa
A detailed description of electrical theory
would take a separate volume, so this section only outlines the
basic concepts that make the specific applications a bit easier to
Electricity is much easier to comprehend if
you picture it as water flowing through pipes. For electric current
to flow from one place to another there must be a difference in
pressure, called potential. A wire, for example, with no current
flowing through it has zero potential-there is no current there yet.
When the wire comes in contact with something that has electrical
potential, it will accept the current until the potentials are equal
in both places. Electricity works the same way, flowing from the
place of greater electrical charge to the place of lesser or no
The earth has no electrical charge, it has
zero potential. Therefore, electrical panels and appliances are
grounded, so that if current takes an unexpected path it is
attracted to the earth. Electric service to a home, for example,
includes a copper stake or rebar driven into the soil that is
attached to a connection bar in the electrical panel with a heavy
gauge wire. Similarly, an appliance that is grounded includes a wire
attached to the appliance, run back to the electrical panel, and
attached to this grounding bar. In this way, if a wire inside a
motor were to touch the metal case of the motor, for example, the
current would be conducted harmlessly through the ground wire to the
grounding bar and into the earth.
Electricity, like water, takes the path of
least resistance. Therefore, in the preceding example if you were to
touch that motor case, the electricity would travel through you to
the earth, unless that path were broken in some way, by rubber soled
shoes for example.
This unintentional route to the ground without
first returning to the electrical panel is called a ground fault. As
noted, if you are part of the path to the ground, you will be
shocked. Another way to be shocked is to become part of the circuit.
If you touch a metal casing that is electrified, then touch another
conductive surface, the electricity will pass through you as if you
were a wire. In other words, you become part of the circuit. This
can also occur if you touch a hot line and a neutral or ground line,
again becoming part of the circuit. These examples are called short
The human body is operated by electricity-very
small electrical impulses that stimulate muscles or transmit
information as energy in the brain. Therefore, the body is designed
to be an excellent conductor of electricity. As with any appliance,
however, too much electric current delivered to the appliance can
destroy it, especially the heart and brain. An electric current of
30 milliamps (1 milliamp = 0.001 amp) will cause muscles to contract
uncontrollably, meaning if you grab a hot line of more than that you
probably won't be able to let go. In a short time, the current
disrupts the normal heartbeat and breathing, causing death. Children
can be killed in this manner with as little as 10 milliamps. To put
that in perspective, a 40-watt lightbulb at 110 volts uses about 0.3
amp, or ten times the 30 milliamps that can kill you. Taking that
further, a typical pool motor drawing 10 amps is using enough
current to kill you 300 times.
Conductors are any substance that allows the
free movement of electric current. Insulators, on the other hand,
are substances that do not conduct. Examples of each are;
|Iron or steel
Every conductor offers some resistance to the
movement of electric current, like friction inside a water pipe.
Some conductors conduct better than others because they offer less
resistance. Although there is variations in resistance, it is
important to know the concept and terminology. Ohms are the units
used in measuring resistance. The better the conductor, the lower
the ohms reading. The shorter the length of a conductor, the lower
Alternating current (ac) travels in one
direction then the other (alternating), so the appliance does not
have to be connected to the power source in any special order.
Unlike direct current (dc) voltage, ac can be stepped up or down
with a transformer, permitting the transmission of high voltage
along municipal power lines that is transformed to lower voltages at
each home or business. Because of this inherent versatility, ac is
used in virtually all residential and commercial applications.
Alternating current is delivered to the home
for consumption by appliances designed to accept it at either 110
volts or 220 volts (there are larger voltages in heavy-duty
commercial applications, but those are best left to the
electricians). Both designations are averages, since current supply
varies slightly and operates most appliances in a range of 108 to
127 volts and 215 to 250 volts. Thus, you will sometimes see
voltages expressed for appliances as 110, 115, 120 or 220, 230, 240.
Alternating current is also delivered at a
certain rate. As noted, the alternating of the current one way, then
the other, creates one complete cycle each time it reverses
direction. The speed of that reversal can be controlled and makes a
difference to appliances such as CD players or tape recorders that
depend on a certain rate. In the United States, power is delivered
at 60 cycles per second (60 hertz). in Europe and much of the rest
of the world, it is delivered at 50 hertz. That is why you can take
a voltage converter on vacation to step the voltage down from 220 to
110, but you can't operate appliances that require a certain cycle
The home power supply enters as two or three
if there is heavy equipment use lines (phases) of 110-volts ac and
one neutral line in a protected metal box called the electrical
The power supply enters the panel and is
connected to bars. Circuit breakers are attached to the bars. If the
breaker is attached to one phase, it delivers 110 volts (single
phase) to anything that is connected to it. If the breaker is
designed to be connected across both phases, it delivers 220 volts
(dual phase). All neutral lines returning to the panel are connected
to the neutral bar, which is in turn connected to a ground. In this
way, both 110- and 220-volt ac breakers are found in the same panel.
The supply lines are generally designed to
carry 100 amps for the typical residential user. Each circuit
breaker is designed to carry a specific load and break the circuit
open when the load exceeds that value. Typical circuit breakers are
15, 20, 25, 30, and 50 amps, depending on the requirements of the
appliances. Wiring attached to the breaker leading to the appliances
is sized in accordance with the amperage of the breaker.
When electrical volume exceeds the rating of
the breaker, it opens the circuit and disconnects the power supply
to the appliance or circuit in question. Such overload might occur
as the result of an unintentional ground or short circuit at the
appliance (or wiring to it).
Depending on the design of the breaker,
resetting is accomplished in one of several ways. Sometimes it is
not obvious which breaker has tripped. One style of breaker looks as
if it is still on. You need to push the switch fully to off, then
back to on to reset it. Another style pops halfway between on and
off, again requiring a hard push to off before going back to on.
Another has a small window displaying a red flag when the breaker is
off. Some of these require waiting up to 30 seconds before the
breaker can be reset. Another type is off when a tab pops out and is
reset by pushing the tab back in. In short, be aware that a tripped
breaker might require some detective work.
When a breaker will not reset, it might mean
that the breaker is faulty or the circuit is overloaded (demanding
too much current). An overloaded circuit can be the result of an
appliance that is faulty, an unintentional ground, or a short
circuit in the wiring, or it might be that there are too many
appliances on the same circuit (or one that is too large for the
Troubleshooting is simple. First, check the
appliances on the circuit. Does their total amperage exceed the
rating of the breaker? If so, remove the extra appliances or wire
them to a circuit that can handle the load.
If that is not the problem, disconnect each
appliance from the circuit one at a time, resetting the breaker
after each disconnection. Be sure the disconnected wires are taped
off and no bare wires are touching each other. When you have removed
the faulty appliance, the breaker will stay on. You now know which
appliance to repair.
If the breaker is still tripping, the problem
might be in the wiring between the breaker and the appliance. Make a
visual inspection (with the breaker off) of all the wiring that is
accessible. If you don't find a frayed or broken wire or two bare
wires touching each other, disconnect the wiring from the breaker.
To do that, turn off the main service breaker that feeds the entire
panel. Remove the faceplate from the breaker panel. Make sure the
breaker in question is off (an added safety in case the main breaker
is still on for any reason). Unscrew the wire lug screw at the base
of the breaker and pull the load wires from the breaker.
Turn the main service back on and reset the breaker in question. If
it still pops off under this no load condition, then the breaker
itself is faulty and must be replaced.
Never try to repair a breaker. if you are
unable to locate a replacement and need to get the equipment
operating again, look at the remainder of the breakers in the panel.
Often there are spare breakers in the panel that can be used for
replacement. Sometimes a breaker of a comparable amperage is
servicing a circuit that is not needed as much as the pool equipment
and you can make a temporary switch. Always replace a breaker with
one of the same amperage.
To replace a breaker, turn off the main
service breaker. Place your flat-blade screwdriver on the front, top
edge of the breaker and pry it out of the panel. Some breakers fit
tightly, so apply firm, even pressure. If you have not disconnected
the load wires, do so as described earlier. Look at the back of the
breaker and the design of the hook connection that fits into the
electric bar of the panel. When you have your replacement, reconnect
the load wires to the new breaker, and return it to the panel
reversing the steps taken to remove it. Put the panel faceplate back
on and turn on the main service breaker.
If the breaker did not trip when you
disconnected the load, the reason for the breaker tripping off must
be in the wiring between the breaker and the appliance. Since you
were unable to find a problem with the wiring during your visual
inspection, you might need to replace the wiring. Here it is
advisable to call an electrician.
Sometimes electrical problems at the appliance
or the tripping of a breaker is caused by a loose breaker. If you
find that the breaker is loose when you first try to remove it, try
pushing it back into the panel, and try your appliance again. If it
won't seat firmly, replace the breaker.
Older homes might still have fuses. Fuses
perform the same function as circuit breakers, but fuses must be
replaced each time the overload breaks the circuit (blows the fuse).
Fuses either clip or screw in place. As with breakers, always
replace a fuse with one of the same amperage.
If you are planning to work on a panel, it's
best to have a helper around to get help in case of electric shock. Whenever
you approach a breaker panel, do so with great respect. Water,
frayed wiring, or a poor previous service work might have created
problems at the panel that you cannot anticipate. Other safety
measures include wearing rubber gloves and boots, standing on a
piece of dry wood to further insulate you from the ground, and
leaving one hand in your pocket, so you can't inadvertently touch
one hand to a live wire or panel and the other to a ground.
Pulling new wires in a circuit or adding a
circuit is a job best left to a professional electrician, but it is
advisable to know a few things about requirements.
Gauge and type
The gauge of the wire refers to its thickness
and is designed to operate under high temperatures and also its
ability to handle volume and pressure of current (amps and volts).
Whenever you run wire for any reason, make
sure you use the correct type. Remember you can always use wire that
is heavier (lower AWG number) than the breaker and appliance
require, but never use wire that is thinner (higher AWG number) than
Wire is stranded or solid. There is less
resistance in solid wire than stranded, so this should be your first
choice. Wire is generally available in copper. If aluminum was used
for wiring homes, it should be replaced whenever possible.
Wires are sold in various colors. The standard
are that Green wire is always ground, Black and Red are used for hot
lines, White for neutral. If you must use a wire color not in
keeping with this code, tape the correct color tape over the wire or
clearly label it. Never assume that the previous technician used the
correct colored wire. Check everything as you go and try to leave
wiring better than you found it.
Always encase the wires in conduit. Be aware
that wires of different voltage should not be run in the same
conduit. You can run numerous circuits of the same voltage in a
conduit, but you need to run a separate conduit for every group of
circuits of different voltage. Never run anything else in an
electrical conduit, such as air hoses or water lines. Use flexible,
waterproof conduit and connectors for outdoor installations, such as
wires from heaters or motors to J-boxes or time clocks. Often a sub panel
(a small breaker panel supplied from the main household panel with
one large circuit) is located in the pool equipment area.
When terminating wires to be attached to
connections in appliances or at other terminal posts, use crimp
connectors rather than simply wrapping the bare end of the wire
around the post. Wrapping can come loose or be squeezed off the
post. Bend the wire in the same direction as you will tighten the
screw, so when you tighten the screw it also tightens the wrap. The
connectors are available in various sizes and with various
connection ends (called the tongue). The insulation is stripped off
to accommodate the barrel of the connector. Using a crimping tool,
secure the wire to the connector.
Since most pool and spa applications are wired
directly between appliances and switches, you won't be dealing with
too many outlets. With portable spas, however, you might encounter a
few. It is important to recognize the appearance of outlets so you
don't try to plug 110-volt appliances into 220-volt outlets. These
outlets are designed so that the plug can be inserted only one way
to prevent reverse polarity. With ac, polarity is important with
Bonding and grounding
A bonding wire is an important safety
component of any pool or spa equipment area since the bonding wire
is a path of less resistance than the human body, so any stray
current is conducted along it instead of you becoming part of the
A bonding wire is a solid 8-gauge wire that is
connected to a lug on the exterior of each appliance in the
equipment package. No conduit is needed because current is not
normally carried by this wire. The gauge of the ground wire of any
appliance must be as large as the hot wire(s) so it is capable of
efficiently conducting electricity away from the appliance in the
event of a short circuit or stray current. Similarly, at the breaker
panel, the main ground wire must be as large as the largest hot wire
All pool and spa equipment must be grounded.
When equipment or wiring fails it might draw
more current than the appliance can use, burning out the appliance.
The circuit breaker is designed to break the circuit when demand
exceeds the rating of the breaker. Thus circuit breakers are
designed to protect equipment, not humans.
The GFCI is designed to protect humans. It is
a circuit breaker that detects problems at a low enough level to
protect you before lethal doses are delivered. it breaks a circuit
when it detects a ground fault. . The GFCI constantly measures the
current going out of the appliance and coming back into it. If by
chance any grounding takes place, such as if the metal case of an
appliance were electrified, and you touch it, completing a pathway
for current to the ground, the GFCI detects the drop in the current
it is receiving and breaks the circuit. The GFCI detects variations
as low as 0.005 amp, . The GFCI cuts the circuit within one-fortieth
of one second, so it is not only sensitive, it's quick.
There are three basic styles of GFCI that you
will likely encounter in pool and spa work. The first looks like a
standard circuit breaker in the electrical panel, with a test button
in the face of the breaker in addition to the on/off breaker switch.
By pressing the test button, you simulate an unbalanced current
condition inside the breaker and thereby testing the efficiency of
the GFCI. The GFCI breaker resets the same way a normal panel
The second type of GFCI is built into a wall
outlet, containing a test button and a switch to reset the GFCI as
you might install for plugging in a portable spa.
The third type is a portable GFCI, a unit that
plugs into a wall outlet. The appliance is then plugged into the
GFCI, making the outlet a GFCI outlet.
All types of GFCIs, like any other mechanical
device, are subject to failure and should be tested from time to
Though GFCI provide so much safety, why aren't
all breakers and outlets GFCIs? The first answer is probably cost, for
they cost two to four times as much as a standard one. Practical
reason is that some appliances or circuits operate normally with
slight variations in current, so the GFCI would constantly be
breaking circuits for the wrong reason. In fact, slight variations
might occur in the pool or spa equipment, causing the GFCI to trip
even though everything is functioning properly. For this reason, it
is best to locate the GFCI as close to the appliances as possible.
If a GFCI keeps breaking the circuit, you
troubleshoot the problem in the same manner as any other breaker. As
described earlier, start by disconnecting the appliance and
resetting the breaker, check the wiring, disconnect the load at the
breaker. If you have a GFCI serving a skid pack, the problem can
exist in any single piece of equipment, so these must be
disconnected one at a time and the GFCI reset after each to detect
the appliance with the problem. Start with the light, then proceed
to the blower, electric heater, pump motor, control devices for, the
problem might exist in the control panel.
The National Electric Code (NEC) specifies
that electrical outlets located within 15 feet of the water's edge
must be protected by a GFCI and that circuits for all underwater
lighting be so equipped. Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) requires all
portable spas be wired with a GFCI.
To control the operation of each appliance
circuits are interrupted at some point by switches A breaker should
never be used as the on/off switch for an appliance because repeated
switching will weaken the breaker.
Air switches, time clocks, and other control
devices all these are switches, turning appliances on or off by
completing or breaking an electrical circuit. An understanding of
the basic concept of switches will help you troubleshoot electrical
A basic switch, which is a break in the hot
line of a circuit. This is the most basic on/off switch, called a
single pole, single throw (SPST) switch. This switch handles one
circuit (single pole) each time the switch is thrown. The SPDT
second drawing depicts a single pole, double throw (SPDT) switch. In
this case, there is still only one circuit of electric current, but
when this switch is thrown one direction, it electrifies one
appliance, and when it is thrown the other way, it electrifies
another appliance. Depending on the appliance(s), you might use
several variations of poles (circuits) and throws (destinations for
the current). By understanding these basic concepts, you will
recognize whatever type of switch you encounter.
The other concept regarding switches that you
will encounter with pools and spas is multiple switching. There is
often more than one control or switch on each appliance. For
example, there might be a wall switch and a time clock, either of
which can turn on a pool light. There are often air switches and
time clocks controlling spa equipment and a simple on/off switch
attached to each appliance so you can shut it off easily for service
There are two kinds of circuits and so two
kinds of switching. First, switches wired in series are those which
operate together. The
electric current cannot pass along the line unless each switch is
closed. An example of a series circuit and series switches is the
control circuit in a heater, where each control switch must be
closed before the entire circuit is completed and the ignition of
the heater is fired.
The other type of circuit and switching is
parallel. A parallel circuit, where there
is more than one way for the circuit to be completed, each
independent of the other. The drawing shows that the current will
reach the appliance if either switch is closed. But closing both is
not necessary, and if they are it does not deliver any more or less
current to the appliance because both switches depend on the same
source of current. An example of parallel circuits and switches is
the pool light that is controlled by a switch in the home and by a
time clock in the equipment area. By understanding these concepts,
you will be able to detect why an appliance is not operating or why
it is operating after you turned the switch off.
A relay is a switching device on a circuit
that controls current flow in another circuit. When the relay
circuit is electrified, it energizes an electromagnet that pulls the
two halves of the relay together. in doing so, the contacts of the
controlled circuit are brought in contact, completing the circuit.
Relays are normally used as safety devices. The purpose of this type
of control is to use a low-voltage circuit (the relay circuit) to
turn on or off a higher voltage circuit (controlled circuit). For
example, a safe 12-volt circuit can be used near a pool or spa to
control a dangerous 220-volt circuit that operates a pump motor or
Relays can also be used to control low-voltage
situations, like a millivolt control on a heater cannot be located
more than 20 feet from the heater. If you want a heater switch
inside your home, for example, you might run a standard 110-volt
switch that activates a relay in the equipment area, which in turn
controls the low-voltage millivolt circuit of the heater. Relays allow you to run thinner, less expensive wires over long distance.
Since the small electromagnet of the relay uses a small amount of
current, you can run much smaller, cheaper wires along to control
the relay, which can be located near the appliance. The heavier
wiring for the appliance only needs to travel to the nearby relay
Relays are just switches so some control and
time clock makers include relays in their designs. Instead of
requiring you to flip a switch however, the relay turns on or off
when powered by electric current, thus turning on or off the
Testing for the presence of current at a
connection or appliance is simple for you need a multimeter and set
the tester on the range of voltage you expect to find and the type
of current, ac or dc. The multimeter has multiple functions, testing
circuit voltages, continuity, and resistance. It has a positive and
a negative test lead and a switching device to set the meter for
reading de or ac (reading various ranges of each), resistance, or
continuity. The meter is battery powered for continuity and
resistance testing because you must send current into a line to test
if it is continuous (unbroken) or broken and to test the amount of
resistance in a conductor.
When testing the control circuit of a
millivolt-controlled heater, for example, you would set the meter for
dc current in a voltage range of 0 to 1 volt (since you will be
testing a circuit with up to 750 millivolts, which is equal to 0.75
volt). In the same manner, if you are looking for the presence of
current at your motor, you set the meter for ac in the voltage range
of either 0 to 110 or 0 to 220 volts. Electronically controlled
heater circuits operate on 25-volts ac, so you would set the meter
for ac in a range of 0 to 50 volts. Generally you can't harm the
meter by feeding it less current than the range you have chosen, but
you can destroy it by feeding it more. So, if you are uncertain
about the voltage being tested, start with the 220-volt range and
When testing dc circuits, remember that
polarity (positive and negative) makes a difference. You must touch
the positive meter lead to the positive contact of the appliance or
switch and the negative lead to the negative contact. If you reverse
these, you will see the meter register negative voltage. When
testing ac voltage, the polarity doesn't matter, and you can touch
either lead to either side of the circuit.
When testing 110-volts ac, touch one lead to
the suspected hot line and one to a neutral line or to ground. When
testing 220-volts ac, perform the same test on each of the two hot
lines, then touch one lead to each hot line at the same time. If
each line individually reads 1 10 volts, but when tested together it
does not read 220 volts, it means the two hot lines are being
supplied by the same phase of the power supply and therefore will
not deliver 220 volts. This usually denotes a faulty breaker.
When buying a multi-meter, make sure it can
test millivoltage for working on millivolt heaters. Some meters
won't accurately read less than 10 volts, and therefore are useless
with millivoltage. Most electronic meters are pocket-size and can
self-range, which is to say you need only dial in ac or dc and the
meter will detect the voltage and adjust accordingly.
When you suspect a broken connection,
continuity testing is useful To test continuity of a line, first be
sure all the current is turned off, then set your meter for
continuity testing and touch one lead to each end of the suspect
circuit. If the meter reads positive or beeps, it means there is
continuity. Before conducting such tests, make sure your meter is
working properly, and that the battery which electrifies the circuit
is working, by touching the two test leads together. This should
represent a good connection and a complete circuit, and you should
get a positive reading.
Since most of the wiring and installation you
do uses good conductors, you will probably not use the resistance
measuring function of the multi-meter much. If the continuity tester
on your meter is not working for some reason, you can use the
resistance test to check for continuity. Resistance is measured in
units called ohms. The higher the ohms, the more resistance exists
in the circuit. If there is no resistance, however, it means there
is not a complete circuit, thereby also verifying continuity.
When appliances are operating poorly, there
might be a drop in voltage between the panel and the appliance.
Check the voltage at the appliance, then at the breaker, while the
appliance is operating. There will be a slight difference because of
some voltage drop as a result of heat loss and resistance along the
length of wire, but it should be no more than 2 to 5 volts. If it is
greater, follow the troubleshooting procedures outlined previously
to determine where the loss is being created. Like water that is not
flowing in a pipe (pressure is the same everywhere in the pipe),
when the appliance is not operating, the voltage (pressure) should
be the same everywhere along the line.
To test amperage you need an amp probe. The
amp probe is a meter with a large, open clip on the end. The clip is
looped over the wire and the amperage in the wire is detected by the
probe without actual contact with the current.
Electrical work must be prefect and in
accordance with local and state codes. So make sure the job is done