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Tracking down the leak - 2015 Hot Spring Envoy NXT with ACE - Any help appreciated


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When starting this journey back in November 2020, I had no idea how frustrating this experience would be.  Today we were told by the factory service technician the following:

1. The earliest they will be able to fix my leak will be in JUNE, that means a seven month wait from when I reported the leak to Watkins. 
2. They will not service my hot tub at my home.  This was understandable given the size of the leak and them wanting the environment of a controlled temperature in a workshop.
3. The move fee would be $900.
4. The repair would be an 8 hour minimum, if I remove the bottom.  The bottom is glued on and the tub needs to be flipped upside-down and weighted to glue back on. 
5. The total cost of this repair will be $2500-$3500 and so far I have performed the foam dig out, identified the leak, removed the tub from power, cleaned up, and discarded several hundred pounds of soaked foam.  I still need to remove the bottom and will have an upside-down hot tub carcass behind my otherwise pristine home for the next six months.  Removing the bottom will likely take a full day.

So in a nutshell: This is a foam-filled tub.  Repairing leaks in it is a nightmare.  It is going to be a seven month wait and $2500-$3500 in expenses, after my spending days to help mitigate the expense.  I have spent hours attempting to mitigate this by performing a lot of the work to help the situation.

Watkins has offered to supply plumbing diagrams and parts.  Nothing more, they will not goodwill this as I am the second owner and even though the leak has clearly been there several years (per the factory-trained technician) they refuse to take any accountability as the leak was not reported in the warranty period.

I am planning to reach out to others in this forum and others to find out how people in my position have fixed this, and their overall experience with Watkins (Caldera / Hot Spring).  Did you just pay the expense?  Did you sell the tub?  Trade it for another brand?  How did you come to resolve the issue?  How were you treated along the way? 

IMPORTANT:  If you are considering purchasing or have a Watkins tub on hold please consider the cost of repairs due to the IN FOAM PLUMBING and the lack of dealer support options.  Watkins checked and they have one dealer in our area, and they are expensive and overbooked.  If your spa fails, will you be able to stomach the investment as a sunk cost?  Please let my experience help factor into your purchase.  If you are expecting a first-rate experience or a company that would goodwill a manufacturing failure I would look elsewhere. 

Last, if we chose to keep it all of the handling will likely cause another leak.  Back to square one...
What an absolute nightmare

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Almost did the hard part..

Digging in further: In hopes of not having to completely remove the bottom pan glued onto the base of the cabinet I opted to dig out the foam on the adjacent side of the leak. Our technician thought the four-way manifold was the source; however, it was not. Once the new side was torn down it was clear the leaking pipe went up and around the manifold deep into the center of the tub. I refilled it, setup power, and chipped away to be sure.
 
Looking at the plumbing diagram I mapped the leaking tube to the left-side (center most) hand massage jet in the captain’s chair. There is hard foam coating the pipe all the way back to the jet and I am slowly chipping my way back to see if it can be repaired without removing the bottom.
 
Right now, I am unable to dig back far enough into the tub to get to the leak.  The foam seems to get really hard the more compacted it is, and the shell is very tight in the armrest area.  Chipping away with my Snap-On gasket removers has slowed to a crawl.  
 
Now that I am certain of the leak source, I am confident this was the result of a manufacturing defect. The plumbing is deep in the cabinet and tightly secured to the shell with hard foam.
 
I have spent another three hours on this again attempting to mitigate the labor expense. I would also be happy to move the spa into my heated garage since the dealer does not have space until June in their workshop. I can keep consistent temperature in the space for the cure time of the glue. Also, what glue is used?  Does anyone think this glue will not set in outdoor temps (35-55 in Oregon)?
 
 
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I agree with RDspaguy.  If you are already this far, might as well finish the job and avoid the downtime and expense associated with your local dealer since it appears you are already not a fan of them.

Regarding your opinions about Hot Spring, you are entitled to those.  I will say this though.  Having sold hot tubs for 20 years, Watkins has been by far the best manufacturer I have dealt with in terms of dealer support and customer service and it’s not even close.

just to make sure that the correct facts are presented.  Only Highlife Hot Spring uses the multi density spray foam.  Everything else from Hot Spring and Caldera has been FiberCor, which is a loose fill insulation since either 2010 or 2011.  You also mentioned Watkins not doing anything for you being 8 months out of warranty but you stated you are the second owner which means the original warranty did not transfer to you.  This is written in their warranty.  
 

Additionally, regarding the ACE salt system.  The lifespan you are getting from your cells is about what they should be lasting so I’m confused why you have “accepted” this?  Did someone tell you they last longer?  And, if you were not ok with the cost, why not just disconnect ACE and do something else like Frog @ease or Nature2 with MPS and chlorine?

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Thank you for the reply.  My thoughts on the local dealer - The technician who came out has been honest, courteous, and very polite.  They are overwhelmed with repairs and installs and backed up for months.  There is only one dealer service group in Portland so I am going to have to wait for them unless I can do it myself. Not his fault, just the economy and pandemic.  I would never blame the repair staff.  

In terms of warranty: Being a second owner should not be a rare occurrence given the length of time it takes to order a new Watkins product, and the residual value of the spa. Many will opt for a clean, modern example and should still be considered a customer asset to Watkins.  I am clear that warranties do not transfer. That is why my ask has always been in terms of goodwill as this mess was not created by neglect of the spa by Aaron (original owner) or I. I am not asking for a free repair. If I need to chip in; I have already spent hours of my personal time finding the leak, removing the foam, taking hundreds of pounds of soaked foam to the dump, removing the spa from power, pulling the sides off, and more. If they would like to flip the fiscal responsibility where I cover parts and they cover the remainder of the labor (just for the leak repair, I can reassemble the spa) then an equitable and fair resolution will be met.

I am certain my Tahitian was foam filled as I replaced the LED lighting.  It may have been made prior to FiberCore.  Thank you for the clarification.  Our Caldera dealer is no longer in business so I have not seen the spas in a while. 

Other questions:

If the precision jet is leaking at the shell would it send the water down the space between the jet plumbing and foam?  I am thinking of replacing the topside jet body and seal prior to tearing the bottom off.  The bottom is glued and has a ton of foam sticking to it.  If I have to remove it, any advice?

Also, what is the best/safest tool to use to chip into the hard foam?  I have read a drill with wire brush can work...

Respectfully, I am not claiming they offer poor support to dealers.  My subjective take is unique to my singular experience and it is unique (newer top-of-the-line spa + second owner + manufacturing defect + Covid + poor customer service).  I simply wish to share my experience as being handed a $3500 repair estimate along side a seven month wait is not ideal in any case.

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On the ACE: We love the soft water feel of salt water.  I knew the cell was a wear part, but did not know the cost.  We will continue the expense as the water quality benefits are worth the price.  We never use boost, and are careful with water chemistry.  

As it stands keeping water to treat in the tub and not on the patio is my first priority. 😄  The cell failed again just prior to draining the spa so it was a front-of-mind thought...

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Does it leak faster with the jets on? 

There are 2 basic types of jets. One has a jetback that the plumbing connects to on the back and a thru-wall that screws into the jetback from the front. The other has a jet body that goes through the shell and gets a nut on the back before the plumbing is connected to the jet body. The first type may be replaceable from the front, if it will unscrew without breaking and leaving the threads in the jetback. The second cannot be repaired from the front. 

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Yes, if the jets are on it is 3-4x the flow rate.  I can also slow it down with the diverter valve.

I chipped away at the hand jet on the side closest to the cabinet (not the leaking side) to get an idea of how the valve body attaches.    I worked my way up the line with my gasket remover until I hit PVC.  Once I hit the PVC the hard density foam coating will not chip off.  It seems bonded to the white PVC and does not come off in chunks like on the pink piping.  Picture below...

 

jet3.jpg

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There is a tool, I'm sure, but you can use channel locks.

You are in luck, most likely. It has a jetback and thru-wall and you should be able replace it, assuming that the flange doesn't break off and leave the threads behind. It is most likely cracked just behind the flange. Nothing to lose by trying, as if it does break you will have to dig it out anyway. Unless you can finagle the threads out through the hole.

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I got it out.  

 

1. Taped the shell to avoid scratching it.

2. Grabbed it with the channel locks.  Expected a fight.

3. With no pressure at all it spun out.  It was finger tight at best.

No cracks in the jet or jet body.  the red oring is there and was not damaged.  It appears there was some clear silicone on the back of the jet (pictured) that was near gone.

My question.  Should I attempt to silicone the fitting and snug it down?  Could this be the issue?  I am thinking i should give it a go before tearing off the bottom.  Thoughts?

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If you are sure it is not cracked silicone should do the trick. I would put a dab on my finger and smear it around on the threads just behind the flange far enough to just barely reach the threads in the jet body past the o-ring. If you caulk the whole threaded part it will be a problem getting it out in the event that you still need to. Tighten it down finger tight then snug it just a bit with the channel locks. Those thru-wall fittings are notorious for cracking behind the flange, and if you crank it down it will.

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I am pretty sure the leak is coming from the hand jet.  I did exactly what you are saying, as the foam was wet all the way to the top and the speaker housing was full of water.  I dug several feet in the wrong direction twice as the water follows the space between the hard foam and plumbing.  It goes everywhere.  I finally broke the hard foam open one of the lines  and water came out like a faucet.  The only thing on the other side is the hand jet near the middle of the spa.  Nothing else is plumbed on the line.

In the image you can see the water flowing down the tube.  The hand jet sits at the end of the line.

leak1.jpg

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RDSpaGuy, I had to order a proper underwater silicone.  I bought Boss 801 after reading posts on the forum.  It will be a day or two to get via the mail.

I have marine products but fear they would never come off if I use them, making it harder to properly repair if the leak is at the plumbing and jet junction.

I am debating capping the line and filling the jet with epoxy if it is leaking at the junction.  I would just chop it out when the weather improves, I am not certain I want to take the bottom off it...  

Much respect to anyone who does this for a living, getting the hard foam out is a chore...  

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I just saw the video, looks like a pretty good leak and it appears you are either close to or have found it.  I applaud your willingness as most customers will not even remove a door panel.

If you don't mind me asking, why share it to Hot Spring's Facebook page though?  I get you are frustrated and I would be too, but other than an unfortunate situation, I don't understand the desire, or expectation of "goodwill".  Correct me if I am wrong, and I hope I am, but I see doing that as an attempt to either shame them into some type of compensation for the repair costs or to just deter others from their product because of your current feelings toward the company and your situation?

I know the saying "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" and while that can be true, more often that not it also permanently ruins the relationship and likely would prevent any future goodwill gestures.  

Having been in sales and customer service for 20 years I strive to help all of my customers, though it is inevitable that there will be situation where a customer is dissatisfied.  The customer that complains the loudest will be taken care of but the customer that is the most respectful is the one that I will go the extra mile for to make sure they are satisfied in the future.

With that being said, MyHotSpringLeaks, I really do hope your situation gets resolved to your satisfaction and that you do not have to wait another 6 months for a working hot tub.

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