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Winterizing Your Spa

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Winterizing a spa or hot tub if done properly is a complicated procedure. Winterizing should be done by a spa / hot tub service center, that will guarantee that you will not have a freeze up, or if you do that they will repair all damages done by the freeze up at no cost to you. A frozen spa can be very pricey to fix.

With that in mind here are some basic winterizing tips. Keep in mind however that not all spas or hot tubs are plumbed the same, so please refer to your owners manual and the dealer you purchased your tub from before attempting this.

What you will need:

  1. A wet /dry (shop vac) vacuum.
  2. 1 to 3 gallons or RV antifreeze (nontoxic, used in Recreational Vehicles water tanks)
  3. Channel lock pliers (16" works best for most tubs)
  4. A funnel or turkey baster
  5. Time, expect two to three hours.

Now that you have those things:

  • Drain the spa
  • Vacuum all of the jets and injectors, until there is no more water coming out.
  • Remove your filter and vacuum at the filter plumbing. (Make sure not to vacuum any O-rings up)
  • If you have an air channel, turn power on , and make sure the pump (s) are NOT running. (sometimes this can only be accomplished by unplugging the pumps from the control box) then turn your air blower on until water no longer comes out of air holes. Then turn the power back off.
  • Loosen the plumbing connections at your pump and at your heater. Vacuum any water that comes out.
  • Reconnect the plumbing to the heater, and the lower of the two connections on your pumps.
  • Add RV anti-freeze to the pump using your funnel. Most pumps will take approx. 4 oz.
  • Reattach your pump unions.
  • Add approximately 1oz. of RV anti-freeze to each of the jets. (use funnel or turkey baster)
  • Add RV anti-freeze to the plumbing that is attached to your filter until it runs out of the intakes in the foot well of the spa. (This is not possible in all spas)
  • Add anti-freeze to the air channel / air injectors, this can be tedious but is worth the effort.

In climates that get heavy snows it is a good idea to place some 1/4" plywood over your cover to help reinforce it.

Then cover the spa with a tarp, and strap the tarp down, this will help keep winter winds from getting to your cover.

In the spring, or when you are ready to start the tub back up:

  • Make sure that all fittings are tight.
  • Fill with cool water
  • Turn the power on.
  • Run the jets on high speed for 15 minutes.
  • Several times during the 15 minutes that you are running your pump, turn your air blower on and off. This will purge the air lines.
  • Drain the spa / hot tub
  • Put your filter in the spa / hot tub.
  • Refill and treat the spa / hot tub water chemically like you would during a water change.
     

More Info on Winterizing Your Spa

Winterizing Your SpaFrom top to bottom, inside and out, spas need extra loving care to prepare for the cold conditions and months of non-use that hard winters can bring. The reasons may seem obvious.

"If you left a spa filled with water and did not properly winterize it, it would be totally destroyed," said Tom Esser, sales manager for Alpine Pools Inc. of Alison Park, Pa. "The spa would not even be repairable in the spring."

"As the water froze, it would break the plumbing apart, crack all the fittings and explode the pump. Even the stainless steel heating elements would expand to the point where you wouldn't be able to get a proper seal," he said.

"We've had some cases where folks have left the Spa filled with water, where the whole spa froze like in a big ice cube tray," he added, "and it actually ripped the top edge of the spa."

To prevent this extensive damage spa retailers and service professionals advocate performing a variety of winterizing procedures. While each firm takes a somewhat customized approach to winterizing based upon customer needs and regional demands, the basic procedures remain the same.

Before emptying the spa of its water, many technicians say they treat it with a dose of several chemicals. This prepares the water for its next stop - most of it will be dumped on surrounding soil, but a few drops may remain in in the system all winter.

"We pre-treat the water," said Michael Charles, owner of Maximum Comfort Pool & Spa in Vail, Colo. "We shock it with chlorine so that the little bit of water left has some chlorine residual, and then we leave some wintertime algaecide in place so that the water that does stay has some kind of protection in it."

The most important step in the winterizing process involves removing as much of the water from the spa system as possible. Technicians use a blower vacuum, shop vacuum or specialized drain kit to quickly blow or draw all of the water out of the main tub as well as from the jets, pipes and plumbing systems.

"We go through a procedure of removing all the water from the recirculation lines and from the tub itself ... by pumping, vacuuming or blowing it out - whatever it takes to remove the water," Charles said.

Then, "if the spa has a blower," Esser said, "we turn it on after the spa has been totally drained, to force any residual water out of the blowing loop or air injectors."

Some technicians have found success incorporating equipment that they typically use in other aspects of their business.

"We do vinyl pools also, so we have a special vacuum, a Mighty VAC, that we use that sucks our vinyl liners and also has a reversing action that blows out the water in the spa," said Terry LaDue, owner of Sparks, Nev. based Sun Leisure Inc. "It seems to work very well because it is compact, and packs into the truck easily."

Once the water is emptied, technicians suggest doing a quick once-over cleaning of the spa surface, paying close attention to any stained or scratched areas. "Generally, if the spa is going to be down for the winter," Esser said, "we recommend if it is an acrylic spa to clean the surface and put acrylic wax on the spa."

Next, the hot tub's equipment receives special attention. After completely draining the spa of all water, technicians pull the drains on the pumps and the main drain.

The goal, said Charles, is to "disassemble all of the things that you can disassemble to allow breath-ability, venting and drying. Usually, you take drain plugs out of filters and pumps, remove lint pots and disassemble union fittings so that you can open the piping, so that any water that might be in there can drain out."

"Most heaters," added Esser, "have union ends on them or a bolt-on flange that holds the element into it that we loosen to let the water flow out."

"Then, we generally drain the filter area," he said. "If it's a pressure-style filter, it generally has a drain plug on it. If it's a vacuum-style filter, you generally have to use a shop vac on it to get any residual water out of it.

As to the cartridge, "we would normally remove the cartridge for the fitter and clean it," just like normal, Esser said. "I would probably leave it out of the spa for the winter."

Take the time, the technicians say, to thoroughly remove all of the water. There are no shortcuts here; if you rush the process, excessive water could remain and the pipes could freeze - causing additional headaches.

"Do it systematically, going from pumps to heater to jets, and then other circulation components," said Ken Leonard, president of Indianapolis based Carefree Spas Inc.

"When you start with a system, you stay with the system until it is finished. You never start doing one then go to another and then come back to the first one," he said. "This way, you are assured that the water is completely out of the system."

When taking the equipment apart during the draining process, technicians take extra steps to ensure that the pieces remain grouped together, saying that this saves time and aggravation in the spring. "We wrap them up and put them inside the spa so that they aren't lost," said Leonard.

"In some cases, if we take a drain pipe off, we will take a rubber band and fasten it to the pump so that it is right there," Charles said. "Sometimes you take all the miscellaneous parts and put them in the skimmer basket and put the skimmer basket in a protected area so that it is all kind of kept together."

Winterizing Your SpaAdd antifreeze - if you wish

Technicians offer differing points of view on the value of filling the plumbing with antifreeze as part of the winterizing process. While many say that if you drain the spa thoroughly, it should not be necessary, others advocate its use, saying it provides a safeguard against freezing.

"If you continue to use the vacuum and continually use both the push, and pull features," Leonard said, "you should empty it completely. Since all the water is out of the spa, there is no need to add any more antifreeze. The most you'll have is just a mist in the spa, nothing that can hard-freeze on you.

"If we know the spas and have worked with them before, we are pretty confident that all the water is out," Charles said. "If you know that there is a low fitting or a low line that may not drain out, the better or more experienced technician knows where that is and how to get to it."

If a technician determines that all of the water cannot be removed a given unit, however, many sources say adding antifreeze becomes a discretionary call. For others, a dab here and there or a good fill-up remains standard procedure.

"We add a little bit of antifreeze, probably about a pint, inside each of the outlets, jets, returns and any suction appliance," LaDue said, "to make sure the spa is protected if we didn't get all the water out for some reason.

Stewart Couch, owner of Hotteras Realty in Avon, N.C., where crews winterize about 170 spas each fall, has developed an innovative technique that takes the fill-'er-up approach. He has rigged up his own antifreeze funnels, using a 3-foot tube that has a plunger with a stop valve on one end and a 5-gallon drywall bucket on the other.

"You don't go inside the spa, you just put the plunger cap over the intake valve and move the whole thing so the antifreeze is sucked through the system," Couch said. "When it spits out pink, you know that the whole plumbing system has the antifreeze.

Esser says he simply pours the fluid in, choosing a nontoxic, biodegradable product such as that available recreational vehicles' water systems.

"The antifreeze used in the car is poisonous," he said. Although does make every effort to remove antifreeze in the spring, there's no reason to risk exposing future bathers to the propylene ethanol in standard antifreeze. "Spa users could accidentally drink it or it could be absorbed through the skin," he said.

One final equipment-related precaution can bypass such springtime problems as corroded electrical contacts and rotten 0-rings.

"The only time that we see customers have problems in the spring is if they haven't lubed things up enough," Esser said.

To prevent dry rot in O-rings and fittings, he recommended applying a nonpetroleum-based lubricant or any other silicone- or Teflon-based product. Petroleum would cause the 0-rings to expand or deteriorate, he said.

Technicians also suggest paying attention to the spas' electrical contacts. Exposure to humidity and moisture could lead to the formation of a white, salt-like powder, an oxide, that can interrupt the spas' normal operation.

"In the winter, the contacts undergo a weathering process," Esser said. "Once you turn the spa off, the spa reaches the same relative humidity level as the outside air. While there is no protective that won't burn off the contacts right away, techs must be ready to deal with them in the spring.

"If they do get corrosion, they'll have to use a contact cleaner on it, come springtime," Esser said. "On some of the contacts, it's as easy as spraying oil on a contact cleaner. However, on some of the units, you actually have to use a fine sandpaper and run it between the two contacts."

Some firms include care and maintenance of the vinyl spa cover with the winterizing package. Others offer this option at an extra cost. After applying a conditioner or protectant to the vinyl, most technicians advocate securing the cover with tie-down straps or placing an additional covering - either plywood or a tarp - over the spa to help it stand up to the winter ahead.

"After we winterize, we put the cover back on the spa and then we put two pieces of half-inch exterior plywood on top," Esser said. "The plywood helps us distribute the weight of the snow."

"We still recommend to our customers during the winter that if they start getting a half-foot or more of snow, they should shovel the top of the cover," he added. "If they are doing it on a standard cover, they should use a broom to sweep off the snow, but since we place plywood down, a shovel works nicely."

"As an alternative, we put the cover back on and wrap it in Visqueen, a thick heavy-duty plastic that comes in rolls," Leonard said. "You take some duct tape and tape it down."

In regions where the snow remains exceptionally heavy, technicians strategically place supports in the spa to help keep the cover from sagging under the weight of the snow.

"There are two means that we'll use to do that," Charles said. "We'll put in supporting-lumber, like cross members, to help hold up the cover, or we'll use these little tables - called Fun Time tables - that you can put in the spa."

"We'll cut them to a level in which they'll help support the cover from snow weight," he added. "The tables have suction cups on the bottom so they won't scratch up the bottoms of the spas. We also use these tables in the winter to hold up the covers when the spas are full and running."

During their final inspection of the spa area, technicians may also check the spa skirt for needed repairs and signs of rot or peeling stains. By fixing these problems early in the season - and preparing the wood for the exposure ahead - they prevent moisture from seeping in and the wet winter from causing additional damage.

"The spa skirting or any type of wood should be moisturized," Esser said. "The manufacturers generally have recommendations on that but we use boiled linseed oil or tung oil."

"It should be done, depending on the type of wood, either quarterly or at least once a year," he added. "The harder the wood, the more moisturizer you have to keep on it."

Before leaving the spa to the elements for the winter, technicians do their best to keep nesting rodents at bay. "Most of our spas are skirted," Esser said, "So underneath the spas, we generally put moth balls, which help to keep rodents from nesting."

The distribution of mothballs depends on the style of spa, retailers say. For full-foam units, techs recommend putting mothballs around the equipment area. Spas without full-foam. insulation will need to have mothballs scattered through out the inside of the skirting.

Once technicians undertake these steps, they wait for spring, confident that they have staved off the winter elements - and that their satisfied customers will call for start-ups, ongoing service and more.


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