electrical system of a Hot Tub/Spa is responsible for running
pumps and motors, igniting gas heaters, and operating controls.
When a major renovation or installation of electrical circuits
is required, it is ideal to 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.
An electrician will 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 will help keep you and your family safe.
Electrical Terms and Definitions
Amperage (amps) is the term used to describe the actual
strength of the electric current. It measures 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 the two.
Circuit is the path through which electricity flows.
Conductor is any substance that carries
electrical current. Such as a wire, metal, or the human
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 to negative
Gauge refers to the size of an electric
numbering system of wire gauges works in reverse. A 10-gauge
for example, is thicker than a 14-gauge wire.
Line refers to a wire conducting electricity.
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
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
Multi-meters : In order for you to service
any spa equipment, it is essential to 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 and could result in parts being replaced
that might not need to be. If you do not have
a meter capable of each of these
functions, either buy one at a local store 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 following tests.
Voltage Testing :
Simply decide what voltage you expect to find at a test
set your meter 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.
These results can easily be
misleading because even a neutral wire carries electricity when a
component is running.
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
supply leads are providing power.
Amperage Testing : An amperage test
can only be conducted when a component is
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).
If your voltage supply to the pack is lower than the
volts or 240 volts as mentioned,
then your amperage draw will be somewhat lower as well.
On 120 volt tests, an amperage reading should only
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 reading.
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 hazard.
Ohms Test : Using the ohms scale on your
meter will determine whether or not you have continuity
in a circuit. Continuity is defined as 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. So, when testing a switch for continuity,
your meter needle should read 0 ohms if the circuit is closed or "on".
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
Line Service Check : Many installations
have faulty line service. Before assuming that your
problem is with the equipment, always check for the
coming into the equipment. 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.
Ground Fault Circuit Interruption Protection
: (GFCI) protection is necessary in case
anything electrical should allow electricity to
leak to grounded metal in connection with the spa.
possible if after years of use a heater element should rupture and the
ground wire should
happen to become disconnected. A GFCI will sense this
leakage and shut the voltage
to the power pack off.
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 components.
240V Circuit Breaker Installation : There
are two methods of rated 240
volt GFCI breakers on the market today.
They are the Square D model QO 250GFI and the ITE Siemens
model QF250, each rated for up to 50
amps. For the Square D model,
a common mistake that occurs by not following the instructions
is made by connecting the load neutral
from the equipment, the
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 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 neutral.
Circuit Breakers : 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.
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. In any case, some of these
require waiting up to 30 seconds before the breaker can
Troubleshooting and Replacement : When
a breaker will not reset, it might mean that the breaker
is faulty or the circuit is overloaded, by that I mean the
circuit is demanding too much current. An overloaded circuit
can be the result
appliance that is faulty, an unintentional ground, 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 circuit.)
Troubleshooting can be 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 doesn't solve the problem, disconnect each appliance
from the circuit one at a time, resetting the breaker after
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 still trips, the problem might be
in the wiring between the breaker and the appliance. Do
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
breaker that feeds the entire panel. Remove the faceplate
from the breaker panel. Make sure the breaker in question
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.
Wiring : Puttling new wires in a circuit
or adding a circuit is a job best left to a professional
but it is advisable to know a few things about
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. You can always use wire that
is heavier than the breaker and appliance
require, but never use wire that is thinner
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
for wiring your home, it is advisible to replace it whenever
Wires are sold in various colors. The standard denotation
of wire coding is that Green wire is always ground, Black
and Red are used for
hot lines, and White means neutral. If you must use a wire
color not in keeping with this code, tape the correct color
over the wire or clearly label it. Never assume that the
previous technician used the correct colored wire.
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 !!! Use flexible, waterproof conduit and connectors
for outdoor installations, such as wires from heaters or
or time clocks. Often a sub panel
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
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 some appliances.
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, 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
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 in use.
ALL POOL AND SPA EQUIPMENT MUST BE GROUNDED !!!!
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) 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.
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 grounding takes place where an appliance
was electrified and you
it, and complete a pathway for current to the ground,
the GFCI detects the drop in the current it is receiving
breaks the circuit.
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 breaker does.
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 time.
If a GFCI keeps breaking the circuit, you troubleshoot
the problem in the same manner as any other breaker. 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.
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 are
all considered switches. An
understanding of the
basic concept of switches will help you troubleshoot electrical
A basic switch is a break in the hot line of a circuit.
The most basic on/off switch is 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. This means there
is often more than one control or switch on each appliance.
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 work.
There are two kinds of circuits, and therefore, two kinds
of switches. First, switches wired in series are those
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.
Here 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 means there is more than one way for the
circuit to be completed, and each independent of the other.
The drawing shows that the current will reach the appliance
if either switch is closed. 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.
Relays : A relay is a switching device
on a circuit that controls current flow in another 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). Relays allow you to run thinner, less
expensive wires over long distances. For example, a safe
12-volt circuit can beused near a pool or spa to
220-volt circuit that
operates a pump motor or blower. Relays are just switches so some control
and time clock makers include relays in their designs. Instead
you to flip a switch however, the relay turns on or off
when powered by electric current, thus turning on or off
Testing : Testing for the presence of
current at a connection or appliance is simple. You need
and to 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 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 110 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
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. First,
check the voltage at the appliance, then at the breaker,
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.
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 right.