While a hot tub is meant to be enjoyed throughout the year, it takes special prominence in fall – especially in Central Florida, where cooler evening temperatures make indulging in a relaxing soak a special treat. Unfortunately, that feeling of relaxation can quickly evaporate if your hot tub has a leak. If you’re paying closer attention to it now, you could be noticing trouble signs. Our annual hot tub troubleshooting guide will tell you how to check for a leak, common sources of leaks and how to determine if you can perform a DIY repair.
What are those trouble signs to keep an eye out for? According to hot tub expert Jeff Campbell, hot tubs lose an inch or two of water weekly, depending on the water temperature and air temperature. However, you can tell your hot tub is leaking when you notice more than a two-inch drop over seven days, or if you see water pooling around the base of the hot tub – especially when the jets are on.
How to Check for a Hot Tub Leak
Looking for leaks can be a frustrating task because they’re usually small. Our blog post – “Why Is Your Hot Tub Leaking?” – provides the following step-by-step process:
- Switch off the power and open the equipment compartment of the hot tub. Check the hot tub’s pump with a flashlight for dampness or wet spots.
- Check the fittings and pipes leaving the pump. Also, check the heater. Leaks can occur even in a new hot tub because the fittings can loosen during shipment.
- Check every pipe leading to the jet for leaks.
- Place a drop of dark food coloring in the water in front of a jet. Water seeks the path of least resistance, so watch to see where the food coloring goes. If it flows out a jet, you may have found your leak. Look for the colored water to leak out on the outside of the hot tub’s shell. Repeat for all the remaining jets. You can let the water level drop without running the hot tub. The place where it stops to fall is the place your leak should be.
- On the inside of the hot tub, mark the water level with a pencil. Switch on the hot tub and let it run for 24 hours. Switch off the hot tub and mark the new water level. Add enough water to fill up the tub to the original mark. Keep the hot tub off for the next 24 hours. See how much the water level falls during that time, and mark the level. If the water drops equally with the spa running and not, there is a crack in the hot tub’s shell. Rapid loss with the pump running indicates a leak after the water leaves the pump. More loss with the pump off indicates that the leak is in the water line before the pump.
Common Sources of Hot Tub Leaks
A hot tub leak can originate from several sources. The following are the most common culprits:
Pump – The pump is the first place you should check. Shaft seals, unions and wet end volutes are the three places where a leak can occur. Turn off the hot tub’s power and use a flashlight to investigate.
- Seal shaft: If the shaft seal has failed, you can order a new seal without replacing the entire pump.
- Union fitting: A union fitting is a three-part connector located at the entrance and exit. It could simply need to be tightened (don’t use a wrench to do this), the O-ring might need to be adjusted, or you may need a new one.
- Volute: If the volute (where the impeller is housed) is your issue, you most likely need to replace it.
Lights – A loose or cracked lens can lead to a leak. Your light housing or niche is usually found on the same side as your spa pack, so accessing the light to tighten or replace it should be relatively easy.
Filters – Locking filter rings may have become loosened. In most cases, new gaskets or O-rings will be your best bet for dealing with the problem.
Plumbing – A leak may originate in your PVC pipe. You can also find leaks alongside the backsides of spa jets. Loose locknuts are another potential problem – as well as disintegrating spa jet gaskets. This type of leak is particularly common at the glue joint areas.
Heater – Heaters leak from plumbing unions, sensors or pressure switches. Rust on the heater tube is a sign of a heater leak. It’s possible an individual component can be replaced, but more than likely you will need to replace the entire heater, or call a professional to repair it.
Valves – There are multiple valve styles on hot tubs, each having its own unique way of being repaired. Some spas have valves installed on one side of the pump so water doesn’t have to be shut off or drained when the pump needs repair. Other valves have compartments bolted together with a gasket between the compartments – this is known to fail and cause a leak. Be sure to inspect all valves located on your hot tub and replace any as necessary.
Connections – You need to check all the connections – all pipes, jets, and every other connection. You might have to tighten or seal some of the connections, while others may need replacement. If you need to replace the gasket, make sure you order the right one, as different hot tubs have different gaskets. If there is a crack in a PVC pipe, you can use a multi-plastic repair product to seal it. Keep in mind that even a new hot tub can leak because the connections may loosen during shipping.
Spa shell – Hot tub shells are made from a variety of materials. Acrylic, vinyl or rotomolded plastic are most common. Rarely does the spa shell crack. The leak may originate in a jet or other component attached to the shell. If spa shell itself does leak, you can use a multi-plastic repair product to seal it
Can I Repair a Hot Tub Leak Myself?
Depending upon your experience level, you may be able to address many leak issues yourself. SpaDepot describes some repairs you can perform – but be sure you have the expertise and appropriate tools to do so, and are confident (not overconfident) in your ability. Otherwise, you could make the problem worse and even more expensive to fix.
Pumps – Since the pump runs under high pressure, the seals can start to leak. The way you repair a pump leak would depend on the location of the leak. If the leak is from the unions, you need to replace the O-ring. But if the leak is from the center, you may have to replace the shaft seal. The shaft of the motor that spins the impeller has a shaft seal. It helps prevent the water from entering the motor. The shaft seal degrades over time, causing the water to enter the motor, which can rust and cause the pump to fail eventually. Therefore, if you see a leak in the center of the pump, repair it immediately to prevent further damage.
Because this is not an easy task, we recommend hiring a pro. Keep in mind that replacing the pump of an older hot tub may ultimately be more cost-effective than replacing parts every so often.
PVC connections and unions – These can loosen over time due to vibration and changes in water temperature. Tighten the leaking unions with your hand. Make sure you don’t use a wrench because it can break the unions. If the leak doesn’t stop, change the gasket, O-ring or the union assembly.
You may have to replace the O-ring if there is a leak in the union fitting or shutoff valve. Drain the hot tub to check for a leak in the union fitting. Once it drains, unscrew the unions and inspect the O-ring; replace if it’s cracked, split, or see black residue on your fingers – meaning it’s breaking down.
If there is no problem with the O-ring, check the union and surrounding plumbing for cracks. Use a multi-plastic repair product to seal the fittings and plumbing, or remove if necessary. Note: Don’t lubricate rubber O-rings with Vaseline, as it can break them down even faster.
Valves – There are three basic types of valves used in hot tubs – shutoff valves, diverter valves and air control valves. Shutoff valves and diverter valves are more prone to leaks because they control water flow, unlike air control valves. Replace leaking shutoff valves, (also known as the gate or slice valves) by cutting them and then gluing in the new valves. You don’t need to drain the hot tub to change these valves.
Worn-out or dry O-rings can cause the diverter valves to leak. If you want to keep the valves leak-free, grease O-rings and other moving surfaces regularly.
Jets – If you think there is a leak in the shell, make sure you check out the jets first. A jet gasket leak is common in hot tubs. Jets have flexible gaskets, and they can start to leak over time due to typical wear-and-tear.
To access the gasket, remove the jet from the spa. Clean the spa shell and the jet before installing the new gasket. To fix the seal, use a silicone sealant on both sides of the new gasket. You might have to change the entire jet assembly if the water enters the hot tub cabinet from the back of the jet.
Shell cracks – Though rare, the spa shell can crack occasionally. The surface cracks and the blisters you see in the acrylic layer of the shell are usually cosmetic – they rarely cause leaks. However, if there is a surface leak, drill a small hole of 1/16” or less on both ends of the crack to prevent further spread. Clean the surface around the crack and apply a multi-plastic repair product or a spa bond patch.
The Take-Home Message
We hope you find our troubleshooting and repair guide useful in keeping your hot tub in top condition. Our team of experts want you to get the most out of your slice of Florida paradise all year long! Certified Leak Detection is experienced in leak detection and repair for swimming pools, spas, hot tubs and fountains. Serving areas throughout Central Florida – including Orlando, Longwood, Lake Mary, Sanford, Kissimmee, Clermont and Winter Springs – we are ready to help. Contact us for quick, reliable service.