Has the hot tub sprung a leak?
Is it a slow drip or is it a substantial leak? Is there more than one leak, or only one spot? Is it at the connection of spa components such as at a heater union, or is it from the back of a jet or from the actual plumbing?
Finding the actual location of the leak(s) is the first goal when going about a leak repair.
Spa is Fully Foamed and Leaks
Fully foamed spas will be much more of a challenge here, as the area that is wet may be completely different from the actual location of the leak. On the message boards, frustrated fully-foamed spa owners are citing expenses up to $2,000 to repair leaky hot tubs with some companies seemingly charging to actually pickup the hot tub and repair it at their business.
Make no mistake, repairing a leak in a fully foamed tub means potentially hours of work, scraping out foam to find the problem area – especially if the leak comes from the back of a jet or from a plumbing manifold that is foamed in.
Some fully-foamed hot tub owners may be lucky enough using a bottle of Fix-a-Leak, a liquid solution that is poured into the spa and patches up small leaks without needing to start digging around in the foam and fixing the plumbing. Some have had decent results with this, while others have not. If the leak is too big, it will need to be fixed the hard way.
The hard way is to start digging foam out, only to find that the leak may be completely somewhere else as seen in the video below.
Buy Fix-A-Leak in the U.S. here: Fix A Leak Pool Leak Sealer – 32 oz (32 oz. for about $22)
Buy Fix-A-Leak in Canada here.
For fully foamed tubs that have bigger leaks or cannot be fixed by the fix-a-leak solution, either digging through foam to find the leak or else even putting a colored dye in the water (food coloring) and see where this color ends up coming out of. Some repair techs actually have to tip up the spa on end and dig from the bottom. It all depends on the type of spa and the location of the leak. If the spa is under warranty, make the factory or selling dealer take care of this.
PVC Parts in Hot Tubs
Hot tub plumbing systems usually have a combination of flex hose, manifolds to split up the lines from large main plumbing to smaller jet lines, couplings, PVC adapters, pump unions, valves and other hot tub plumbing fittings. They are typically glued together with quick drying PVC glue. It is important to select the right PVC parts to fix any cracked manifolds or other parts.
Note: In the spa industry, plumbing parts are usually identified by the INSIDE DIAMETER OF THE HOSE or PIPE connecting to the fitting, not the actual diameter of the opening on a PVC coupling etc..
The water’s journey begins at the suction fitting in the footwell as the spa pump forces water from the suction, through larger diameter plumbing (1 1/2 or 2 inch usually). It may pass through elbows, tees and manifolds which then divide the water flow up to the single jet lines. The primary pump may also pass the water through the filter and heater, unless a dedicated circ pump is being used. On the way there are couplings, tees, wyes, elbows, manifolds that may have caps or plugs in them, and other flexible and rigid pipe parts that finally lead to the jet body attached to the rear of the spa shell. The jet inserts fit into specific jet bodies and the water comes back out the jet to create a soothing massage.
Instrumental in the water flow is the spa pump, and instrumental in making sure the water is hot is the spa heater. The whole process is orchestrated by the main circuit board in the 120V or 230V spa pack and controlled from the topside control panel, which is typically low voltage.
See a wide selection of hot tub PVC parts at discount prices from a great online Plumbing Shoppe called Hot Tub Outpost.
Enclosed Air Barrier Type Spa Leak Repair
For the air barrier type of spas, locating any leak is usually as easy as opening a side panel or two and looking under the skirt to find where water is dripping or accumulating.
If the leaks are evident right after the spa has been sitting out all winter in freezing temperatures with no water in it, then chances are some of the manifolds or piping has cracked. The actual plumbing parts are not even that expensive with most PVC connectors available for a few bucks online. They just need to be replaced and glued using fast drying PVC glue such as Weld-On blue glue.
Some spas will have the clips on every plumbing connector and others will have these connections glued into place. The ones with the clips may just need to be re-seated, or the clip may have lost some tension so replace the clip.
If the leak is just a small one, you may be lucky enough by using Fix-a-leak liquid. That tends to work on light leaks.
Leaks can be found by searching for discolored foam if the leak has been there for awhile.
Search for the Leak
Start with the most obvious locations such as pump unions, gate valves, pumps (pump seals in the pump), heater or heater unions. Turn off power to the spa for safety before beginning your search.
A pump leak may happen at the unions or it may be the pump seal that has failed, usually because of poor water chemistry. Smaller circ pumps were notorious for leaking, and many times they were just replaced entirely rather than repaired. See our pump repair section for ideas on replacing a wet end or replacing pump seals.
If there are no obvious signs of a location where the leak originates from, then next check any other part of the plumbing that could have come loose through vibration over time. You can also check the ozonator and blower if so equipped. Sometimes if the check valve inside the blower line or ozonator fails, water can damage these components also causing a short circuit.
Service valves are especially prone to leaking like the old style slice valves by Magic Plastics and others. If they leak, there is a gasket inside that may need to be replaced, or exchange the entire slice valve. If you don’t particularly need service valves (which would then mean draining the hot tub in the event of a major service need that does not happen too often) then you can also just take out the valves and glue the plumbing parts back together using a coupler or extended PVC coupling. You could also insert newer style ball valves that are less prone to leaking.
Jet backs may have a leak or a particular plumbing connection may be the source of the leak. In that case, the plumbing will have to be cut and re-glued.
A trick to finding the leak if it is not apparent is to allow the water level to go down until it stops leaking. Then you will know at what height the leak is occuring in the plumbing to refine your search. At least this method will find the lowest leak in the case of more than one.
Cracked Shell Leak
This is more rare than a plumbing leak in a spa. But if there is a crack in the spa shell below the water line, then that is a problem that will require fiberglass repair and then retouching the acrylic with a color kit. Contact us if you have this issue and can refer you to the correct materials. Specify if you have Lucite or Aristech acrylic, or what brand of spa it is.
Fixing a leak means getting back to the business of enjoying a good soak in the hot tub.