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Froze my hot tub plumbing - looking for suggestions before I rebuild it.


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New owner of an old hot tub and in my first winter of use, I had a bit of a freak accident. 

During a 6 foot snowstorm and high winds, snow forced its way into a small hole in the deck surface, which melted and tripped the breaker.  I was visiting family far away and by the time I got back it froze up.  Funny part is I had previously installed a wi-fi controller but it has been so flaky that when I saw "no connection" I just assumed there was a problem with the device itself or the internet connection during the storm.

Looking for advice before I rebuild this.  All installation and setup was from a previous owner, so everything is open to revisit.   I can easily reorder all of the broken parts and just re-assemble it, but wanted to ask if there was anything you would recommend changing in the pipe routing, or in the components, to provide better maintainability, performance, and frost avoidance in the future?

For example, some ideas:

1. Put in some plywood to raise the "floor" of the spa cabinet up 1 foot, to get it closer to the hot tub and reduce the amount of empty space in the cabinet.  Right now my spa runs on full blast every so often  in the winter due to the spa pack seeing temps of <55F.  This cannot be disabled and it can be quite annoying when you're trying to sleep.

2.  Should I opt for a top-load filter housing and mount it to the heater inlet in order to avoid the janky pipe strap anchoring method?  Seems like I could use a different filter housing to make the system a bit more stable.

3. Of course I will plug the holes in the deck surface so snow does not get down into this cabinet again.

4. is it worth the trouble to add 2" foam insulation to the interior of this cabinet?

Pics below should help get a sense of what I'm working with right now. (some were taken over the summer, before the freeze up)

Chris

 

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Before you do anything, do you have any sort of house warranty?  I would start by contacting the warranty company, or contact your home insurance company - tell them what happened.  There's a small chance your tub is covered by warranty or home insurance and they'll pay for repairs/replacement.

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They won't cover it anyway. Freeze damage is considered negligence. 

I would definitely add some insulation, and run a separate 20 amp circuit on a different breaker for a space heater. Get one that is thermostat controlled, not just hi/low/off, and keep the thermostat set low so that it only turns on when it's cold in that box. I would also insulate the exposed pipes above the deck.

Hopefully it only froze the equipment, but you might want to close the valves and fill it up before going too far. If you froze the pipes in the spa itself, you might rethink fixing it. 

I would get an upright filter if there is room to pull it out from the top (2x the height of the filter plus a few inches at least). Putting a flushmount filter in the deck is another option, but that exposes your filter top to the cold. Not a problem if you have the space heater.

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17 minutes ago, RDspaguy said:

I would definitely add some insulation, and run a separate 20 amp circuit on a different breaker for a space heater. Get one that is thermostat controlled, not just hi/low/off, and keep the thermostat set low so that it only turns on when it's cold in that box. I would also insulate the exposed pipes above the deck.

Thanks - great idea!

17 minutes ago, RDspaguy said:

Hopefully it only froze the equipment, but you might want to close the valves and fill it up before going too far. If you froze the pipes in the spa itself, you might rethink fixing it. 

Really worried about this.  I was able to get the water to flow out of the filter lines, but when I closed the gate valve on this side I could not get water to drain from the blower side.  I believe all the lines from the tub outward are thawed out, but the internal blower lines may be frozen solid.  I really hope I don't have to pull off the wooden trim work (its the slat and stainless band style) so it would be a huge pain in the ass in the winter to fix a burst line...

17 minutes ago, RDspaguy said:

I would get an upright filter if there is room to pull it out from the top (2x the height of the filter plus a few inches at least). Putting a flushmount filter in the deck is another option, but that exposes your filter top to the cold. Not a problem if you have the space heater.

This is already in the works.  I just bought a screw top filter that I'm planning to hang from the deck rafter by building a plywood bracket to hold it, and not have to deal with the flimsy pipe hanger and having gallons of water drop whenevr i unscrew to clean the filter.

I also thought about deck flush mounting it, but that would mean I would need to run the pipes outside of the box (as the spa is much wider than the box).  Still thinking about it..

 

 

The other crazy idea I had was spinning the tub 90 degrees and pointing the plumbing outlets where I have more deck space, and building a box with a hinged lid I can mount everything in that would double as a step (and flush mounting the filter in it).  It could be tucked against the spa wall so heat would transfer between.  A lot more work (since the spa is round), and probably a summer project, but something I have thought about.  This would save a lot of hassle going under the deck to do any repairs. 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 minutes ago, chrispomeroy said:

the slat and stainless band style)

That's a good thing, most likely. Most tubs of this type are stapled slats and fully foamed, and you are very hard pressed to remove the sides without damage. If a band holds them on you can at least remove them.

9 minutes ago, chrispomeroy said:

 box with a hinged lid I can mount everything in that would double as a step

This is how it's usually done. It can even be a removeable box with 2 or 3 steps that can slide back from the spa, since the side facing the spa is open. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

I decided to rebuild the system in the same place. 

All my plumbing is roughed in but not cemented yet and wanted to get an opinion on the layout.

New design:

  1. All plumbing is much higher now so when I insulate this "control room" it should retain heat better.
  2. I installed a much nicer drain valve (blue handle in pic 2) which is 1.5" so should help drain the tub much faster and easier.
  3. The new filter is larger, a top-load screw cap design, and has a spring bypass valve.  It should be easier to operate than the previous bottom loader. There's just enough clearance to R&R the filter.
  4. New gate valves and almost all new PVC.

Things left to do:

  1. The pump platform is not level - I will be fixing that.
  2. I will be adding some rubber mats under the pump & controller.
  3. I will add insulation around everything.
  4. I have to move the breaker box up higher to get it out of the way of the plumbing.

 

BIG QUESTION: I read somewhere you want the pump assembly to be the lowest point in the system.  The way I have this system rough plumbed in today the return pipe is about 1" lower.  Will this cause a problem when refilling?  I can lower the pump/controller 1-2" if this is best practice to keep it the lowest point in the system. 

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2 hours ago, chrispomeroy said:

will add insulation around everything.

Do not directly insulate the equipment and pumps. Insulate the space, but the pumps and control system need air or they overheat.

2 hours ago, chrispomeroy said:

this cause a problem when refilling?

No. 

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Cemented all PVC and reassembled everything but now my GFCI subpanel breaker trips when I turn the breaker to ON, after about 3 seconds.

I hear the spa pack click twice, the the board LED turns on, and the heater LED.  Pump does not start.

Heater element measures 9.8 Ohms across element.

Next, I disconnected the lines from the GFCI subpanel breaker to the pack, it does not trip with no load.

Next, I disconnected the Heater and Pump, (No ozone, no blower, no lights, or other pumps are in use in this system) - breaker still trips after 3 seconds.

 

Besides re-checking all my wiring, what would be my next diagnostic step? Replace the 50amp GFCI breaker?

Any other electrical-related common issue that could happen after a freeze-up?  Could the fault that occurred which tripped the breaker due to a short from melting snow have broken the breaker?

It's possible, but not likely, water got into the subpanel during the snowstorm, but everything is bone dry now.

 

 

 

Edited by chrispomeroy
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White (neutral) wire from spa must connect to the gfci breaker, which has a pigtail that goes to the neutral bar. Verify it is wired correctly.

Any moisture inside the breaker can cause a trip, but would likely happen even under no load.

Gfci breakers are very sensitive (they have to be to do their job) and are prone to failure after multiple trips. 

If the neutral and ground connect at any point between the breaker and the spa, from improper wiring, water, even spiderwebs with condensation, it will trip.

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I just re-confirmed wiring was set up correctly. (L1,N,L2 spa leads go directly to GFCI breaker, Feeder line connects to 4 subpanel bus bars, and GFCI N pigtail goes to Neutral bar.

Then, tested continuity across the Board terminal Ground and Neutral and there was continuity. hmm.

I removed the spa L1 & L2 leads from the breaker, and still have continuity.

Removed spa Neutral lead from breaker - no continuity.

With the breaker and spa leads removed from the subpanel, I tested for continuity from panel Neutral bar to panel Ground bar and it has no continuity, so I think the panel and internal bus bars are correctly isolated.

I can't really understand how there could be continuity from Neutral to Ground through the breaker. Even with an internal short, the breaker does not have a path to ground as it just connects to L1,L2,and isolated N bar, but I ordered a new breaker to hopefully fix the problem.  

Edited by chrispomeroy
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16 minutes ago, chrispomeroy said:

Removed spa Neutral lead from breaker - no continuity.

On the wire or the breaker?

17 minutes ago, chrispomeroy said:

With the breaker and spa leads removed from the subpanel, I tested for continuity from panel Neutral bar to panel Ground bar and it has no continuity, so I think the panel and internal bus bars are correctly isolated.

The neutral and ground should be bonded in the main panel, and could be in the sub-panel as well depending on how it is mounted/isolated. If the ground and neutral feeding the sub-panel do not have continuity you have a problem between the two panels or in the main panel.

 

21 minutes ago, chrispomeroy said:

can't really understand how there could be continuity from Neutral to Ground through the breaker.

There can't, except through the neutral pigtail, which should be grounded via the neutral back to the bond in the main panel.

The gfci looks for balance between the two hots and the neutral via magnetic field generation, so it's like a mini amp probe built in to the breaker. Any change in the magnetic balance, from a ground fault, improper wiring, or worn/wet breaker will cause a trip. They are made to trip at .005 amps difference, which can be accomplished by high humidity in some cases. 

But this could be a lost, or partly lost, ground or neutral wire, or a poor ground at the main panel or even transformer feeding the house. This is known to happen alot in areas in a drought, as the moisture in the soil dries out and reduces the conductivity of the soil the ground rod is in.

I would look at nothing but this 60v reading until it is resolved. It could be the only problem or not, but it may damage any new parts you put in.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks RD, yeah it's been a while since I wired a subpanel and forgot how it all worked. Thanks for clarifying.

Bought a new GFCI breaker. Checked all my wiring again, the subpanel grounds.  Disconnected the pump and heater, flipped the breaker and it tripped again after 3 seconds.  Looks like I bought a new $200 breaker for no reason... Damn, it's not the breaker.

I was left with thinking I had to disconnect the controller again and bring it inside to inspect everything closely.  That would be a huge pain.

 

Then I got to wondering, since the controller is starting up for 3 seconds before tripping, perhaps there is some circuitry that will short out the electrical supply in the event something is damaged, a fuse is blown, or something is plugged in wrong. Something that is outside the current supply path perhaps.

I noticed on the board I had left a 4pin plug disconnected which is a combined heater high limit sensor and the water temp sensor.  Plugged it back in, flipped the breaker, and it stayed on.  

It continued working even after I added the pump and heater.

I'm pretty baffled why this would be designed in this way.  I can see the board but wanting to power the pump or heater if it has not temp input, but why short circuit itself?  Seems like a little overly cautious and could send an installer or owner like myself down so many confusing diagnostic paths.

 

Is this common?

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That is not how it works, and I cannot explain why it would trip with the sensors unplugged. That should cause errors on the display and shut down the equipment. On older systems it might turn on the blower if it has one. 

On 1/24/2022 at 3:40 PM, RDspaguy said:

The neutral and ground should be bonded in the main panel, and could be in the sub-panel as well depending on how it is mounted/isolated. If the ground and neutral feeding the sub-panel do not have continuity you have a problem between the two panels or in the main panel.

 

On 1/24/2022 at 3:40 PM, RDspaguy said:

would look at nothing but this 60v reading until it is resolved. It could be the only problem or not, but it may damage any new parts you put in.

 

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