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Don't Get Soaked!

If you are even considering the purchase of a used spa (and the daunting task of moving it) keep in mind: it can be a somewhat risky proposition, even for the very committed do-it-yourselfer.

We'll show you how to evaluate second-hand hot tubs: where to find one, what to look for, and how to spot defects to avoid the shock and expense of buying somebody else's problems.


  Avoid problems with second hand hot tubs
Don't do this! Read about proper Hot Tub Wiring
Don't make the decision to spend a dime on a used tub until you've considered all of the issues that will immediately confront you after writing that check:
  • Moving the spa from the seller's location to your house
  • Site preparation and setup
  • Electrical wiring and hookup
  • Cleaning and decontamination
  • Repair expense after setup

Before you start shopping, take a test dip in our online Spa Simulator, especially if you've never owned one before. You'll likely have some repair work ahead of you, and this will give you a good basic understanding of how hot tubs work.

CAUTION: Electrical repairs and wiring work can be dangerous, especially around water. Wiring and repairs must be made by a qualified electrician or spa technician in accordance with the National Electrical Code and local code requirements. Regardless of who performs the work, make certain that all electrical power to the hot tub or spa is disconnected prior to making any inspections or repairs.

Shut the power off at the service panel, and as a secondary precaution, disconnect the power to the spa as well. Do not attempt to perform electrical service connections or repairs unless you are qualified.

Finding a Good Used Spa

Although a spa store might seem the logical place to start shopping, buying a used hot tub from a dealer should really be your last resort. Dealers are in the business of selling new spas. Most will have a pre-owned junker or two on the premises, but if you show interest they will likely try to lure you into buying one of their expensive new spas. To make similar profits on a used model, they would have to price it well above its value, much like the tactics of used car salesmen. See Salesman Tricks to avoid.

classified ads The best place to start is the classified section of your local newspaper, especially if you live in a larger town. Families are often forced to sell their hot tubs when they move, and these operational spas are sometimes good candidates for consideration.

Online auction sites are not reliable sources for used hot tubs for two good reasons: shipping is impractical for most sellers, and buying one sight-unseen is far too risky.

How Much Should You Pay?

Value of a used hot tub This is a difficult question, and will depend upon a number of factors including the age of the spa, condition, and features. Unfortunately for both the buyer and the seller, the price that the seller paid for his hot tub has little relationship to its second-hand resale value. We'll explain.

Put yourself in the seller's shoes for a moment. For example: he may have paid $6,000 for his hot tub at the local spa store three or four years ago. $3 grand might sound reasonable-- that's half-price! But thanks to The Spa Depot's factory-direct to consumer brands like the high quality Belize Spas premium line, a brand new spa with similar features and warranty can now be had for less than $3,000 delivered. With the retail middleman cut out of the deal, the used spa price in our example (with no warranty) looks a lot less attractive. Keep this in mind when haggling with the seller.

What to Avoid

Like an abandoned car, never run or taken out on the road, a spa stored empty or not run for a period of time will quickly begin to deteriorate. Condensation will form on electrical components causing corrosion and bad connections. Pump motor shafts can rust and lock up from lack of use. Seals and gaskets can dry out, shrink and cause future water leakage after refilling. junk car

Note also that a spa stored "empty" in sub-freezing temperatures is a prime candidate for leaks. Why? Even after draining, up to 6 gallons of water can remain in the pipes, pump and plumbing. When subjected to very cold temperatures, this water will freeze and expand, causing plumbing system cracks and fractures. Of course, an unheated spa full of water can meet the same fate.

sun damage of shell Conversely, exposure of an uncovered acrylic shell to heat from direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time can cause visible blistering of the acrylic layer, or concealed delamination of the fiberglass underside shell reinforcement. This often irreparable damage is accelerated in a hot tub with no water in it.

Amazingly, we have seen stores with brand new, empty uncovered spas sitting in the parking lot, under the hot summer sun!

So when shopping for a used hot tub, avoid units which have been stored or neglected. Only spas which are currently set up and operational should be considered for the investment of your hard-earned money. Be sure that the hot tub is filled with water and run for at least 24 hours with temperature set to maximum... then perform inspections.

Inspecting & Evaluating Used Spas

It's been said by spa repair technicians that if buying a used hot tub, you can bet the next $500 in your checkbook that you'll need service sometime within the next year or so. From our long experience as the nation's leading replacement parts supplier, we'd agree-- that's a fairly good assessment.

The repair dollar estimates below can vary widely, but will give you a rough idea of your risk exposure when buying used. Repairmen that will make a house call for under $200, even for the most minor issue, are becoming rare. You will shoulder all of this burden without the benefit of a new spa's warranty.

Spa Shell & Cabinet
Carefully inspect every inch of the hot tub's shell. This is the vessel that holds the water-- so this is vitally important. Acrylic shell repairs are not possible where large cracks, checking, blisters, breaks or any evidence of leaks due to these defects is present, so avoid used spas with these problems. Since the cabinet supports the shell, check it for soundness as well.

Acrylic shell cracks and leaks

A warped spa shell is another insidious problem that is normally impossible to detect by visual inspection alone. Over time, filled with thousands of pounds of water, a hot tub's acrylic shell can slowly bend out of shape if not situated on a perfectly level, hard, stable foundation. Until the tub can be relocated onto a flat surface and checked to see if it can be rocked slightly, corner to corner, this remains unnoticeable.

Spa shell cracks

Acrylic Fractures

Acrylic Shell Cracks After Moving
When the spa is refilled with water on a new level foundation, a warped shell may slowly begin to form tiny fractures. Over time, this can result in vessel leaks. Walk away if you see evidence of these problems or if you can't verify that the spa was operated on a level surface by the previous owners.
  Small cracks and blister voids in acrylic can be effectively filled and repaired with only one product:
PlastAid acrylic repair compound
With the spa running, ask the owner to show you how to operate the topside control pad. Switch through the various functions, verifying the operation of high and low jet pump speeds, thermostat, light, etc. Electronic control pad

Check the various other topside control functions. The air valve in particular should provide ample air injection to the jets when rotated fully to the on position, decreasing gradually to no air when rotated in the opposite direction.  If air is still injected when turned fully off, the valve is defective. Check diverter valves, if so equipped.

Equipment access panel removed The illustration (left) shows a hot tub's equipment access door removed to reveal the control system box (2) and pump (1). Locations of components vary from brand to brand.

The top side keypad directs the operation of the control system-- the digital brain of the hot tub.

A rapid clicking or continuous chattering sound coming from the control system is indicative of defective relay contactors or related problems which can be very expensive to repair. A burned-out spa light is a minor issue. Have the bulb replaced to verify that the problem is the bulb, and not the light control circuit.

Ask to see the owner's manual, an invaluable source of future reference information, should you decide to buy. You'll also want to see the repair & maintenance record, same as if you were purchasing a used automobile or second-hand RV.

Cost of repairs Control System Repairs or Replacement:
$250 - $1100+

Most spa jets are flow and direction adjustable. Check each jet with the spa running to verify these functions. Some jets have ball-bearing spinners which can become frozen-- make sure these jets spin freely. Jet bodies themselves are not terribly expensive, but the labor costs can be high since replacement is often time-consuming.

Cost of repairs Jet Replacement (each):

Heating System
Check the water with your own digital oral thermometer.  If it will not reach and maintain 104° F, it has problems. Compare your temperature reading to the spa's digital readout to see if they are a pretty close match. If the seller won't let you do this test, don't buy.

Cost of repairs Heating System Repairs:
$100 - $200+

Pump Leaks & Motor Replacement
Open the equipment door and check for puddling or anything indicative of active leaks around the pump shaft. Pump seal leaks are not unusual, but the repair cost can vary widely depending upon whether the pump is a common generic or a proprietary model. In some cases replacing the seals may be sufficient. If the wear and corrosion is severe, the entire pump may need to be swapped out.

Listen to the pump when the spa is running. You should hear a strong and steady low-pitched hum from the motor. If you hear grinding, whining or just about anything else, an expensive replacement is likely imminent.

Cost of repairs Pump Repair or Replacement:
$150 - $450+

Avoid Electric Air Blowers
Although popular years ago, most good manufacturers have abandoned powered air blowers. Air blower orifices can be sources of dangerous airborne mold and bacteria, since they can't be effectively sanitized by the treated spa water. Blowers quickly cool down the hot tub water, wasting large amounts of reheating energy. They are also loud, sounding like a vacuum cleaner. Modern spas have air-induction jets which mix air with water, so separate blowers are unnecessary. Avoid used spas with blowers.

Wood Rot & Vermin
Even an exterior wood skirt surround that appears to be in good shape can buckle or begin to fall apart when the spa is moved to a new location. Underlying wood rot in the framing or support members is not always visible from the outside of the spa. Skirts rot from the inside out, and from the ground up. Spas that have been sitting on soil or next to a wall or in a deck tend to rot out faster than if situated on a concrete slab in an open-air, well ventilated area.

The illustration (right) shows the supporting wood structure of a hot tub with the skirting panels removed. Without removing the panels, the only way to inspect for rot is to tilt the empty spa up on its side. Interior framing wood

Wet or rotting wood attracts carpenter ants and termites, which can quickly devour and weaken the entire structure. Rodents have been known to shred the insulation off of the acrylic shell and plumbing to make nests, no place is warmer than a nice insulated spa surround when the water temperature is at 104 degrees. They love to gnaw on hoses and nibble wiring, sometimes not quite enough to actually break them until the spa is moved to its new location.

Inspect for evidence of mice or rat droppings, their calling cards. If you notice any signs of rot, vermin, or disintegrated insulation, you'd better put your wallet in your front pocket and make a fast getaway!

If the spa is equipped with an ozone purification system, be aware that these degrade over time and will typically be exhausted after about 36 months. If the spa is older than that, and the owner has not serviced the unit, it will need a new one or service. Some ozonators have replacement modules, others require complete replacement.

Cost of repairs Ozonator Service:
$75 - $200+

Foam Insulation & Vessel Leaks
Carefully check the foam insulation on the hot tub shell's underside. If you notice damp or badly discolored areas, this is indicative of leaks. So are any white chalky areas.

Most of today's spas feature insulation systems where the shell is coated with a layer of high density foam with a dead air space within the insulated cabinet walls. In a used spa, this is superior to a spa cabinet which is fully-foamed (typically with a low density foam). Why? Eventually, even the best-maintained spas can spring a leak which will need to located and fixed. Cabinet insulation system

It is nearly impossible to pinpoint a leak in a fully-foamed spa without literally tearing it apart. Such a repair, even if you can find someone willing to take it on by digging out the insulation, can be terribly expensive. Avoid fully-foamed cabinets in used tubs.

Cost of repairs Vessel Leaks:
$250 - $1000+
Energy Consumption
Spa energy efficiency has recently improved dramatically. For example, several Belize Spas can often be operated for about a dollar a day. Avoid spas over 5 years old. You might save a few bucks up front, but end up paying huge electrical bills to heat a poorly insulated, obsolete hot tub.
Cost of repairs Poorly Insulated Spa (monthly extra expense):
$25 - $100+

Electrical Service & GFCI Tripping
All spas must be connected to an electrical service protected by a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) for safety. Any tripping of the GFCI will immediately cut the power to the spa. This is indicative of an electrical malfunction requiring the immediate attention of a qualified electrician and/or spa technician. The culprit could be almost any of the electrical components. Avoid like the plague used hot tubs with tripping problems.

Note: Modern 220V spas use 4 wire connections (L1, L2, neutral, and ground). Older spa equipment used 3-wire service with no neutral which do not meet today's electrical code requirements. Also be certain to test the GFCI if the spa has an integral one (they have a test button on them). It is common for older ones to go dead, not even sensing ground faults anymore. This is a dangerous condition that requires the immediate attention of a qualified electrician.

Cost of repairs Electrical Repairs or Upgrades:
$250 - $1000+
Spa Cover
Carefully examine the cover-- odds are it may need to be replaced. If deteriorated, heat leaks will occur at the hinge-fold and on the spa shell rim due to improper seating of the cover edges. Most importantly, a heavy cover indicates water-logged foam-core insulation and zero R-value.

Check for excessive fading from sun damage to the vinyl. Look for broken handles or missing cover locks. Check the underside too. If it reeks strongly of mold or mildew odor, you've got a rotten one which will require immediate cover replacement.

Cost of repairs Spa Cover Replacement:
$350 - $400
New Filter Cartridge
Replacement of the old filter cartridge is essential for sanitation. Fortunately they are easy to change and inexpensive when purchased from The Spa Depot. Spa Filter Replacement Guide
New filter
Cost of repairs Filter Cartridge:
$25 - $75

Chemical Kit
Although we supply a complete professional startup chemical kit with every new spa we sell, with a used hot tub you'll need to acquire these items to maintain water sanitization. Although the previous owner will usually be glad to get rid of the old, stale chemicals on hand, it is not worth the risk to use them when the health of your family and the quality of your spa water is at stake. You'll save about half the cost of local retail when you buy your spa chemicals, supplies, and cleaners online from The Spa Depot.

Cost of repairs Spa Chemicals & Supplies:
$75 - $150

Moving the Hot Tub

Don't forget to consider the expense of moving the used hot tub from the seller's location to your home. You can get free delivery with a new spa, but buying used also means renting a flatbed truck or trailer. Spas are heavy, so plan on having 5 or 6 friends on hand (and plenty of pizza) to help with loading and unloading, or hire a moving company to do it for you. moving trailer
Cost of repairs Spa Moving Expense:
$75 - $350

Site Prep and Setup

setup If you've gotten this far, and found a suitable used spa that meets your needs, budget, and standards, there's still quite a bit of preparation to do. Fortunately, our SpaCyclopedia has just about all the information that you will need:

ABCs of Water Chemistry
Care & Maintenance
Equipment Troubleshooting


Decontamination of the Old Spa

For health and safety, it's absolutely essential that any used spa be thoroughly decontaminated and properly sanitized prior to use. Even one that appears clean on the surface can harbor a virtual witches brew of mold, fungus, bacteria, viruses and algae deep within the recesses of its plumbing systems, especially if maintenance was lax. microorganisms

These microorganisms reside within biofilm: a sticky emulsion which coats the hidden pipes and plumbing, comprised of rancid body oils from the previous users, together with slime, dirt, hair, dead skin cells, yeast spores and other organic contaminants. Following our Spa Decontamination Procedure is highly recommended prior to bathing in any used hot tub by your family and loved ones.

Prior to using a second hand hot tub, be sure to use Spa System Flush to completely flush the plumbing system of oily residues, dirt, grime, and other debris. Spa System Flush cleans out plumbing

Beautifully durable LifeCast Spas are now more affordable than ever before!

spa customers write  Consumer Reviews
Spa System Flush
"I can not say enough great things about Spa System Flush. I run a spa and hot tub cleaning company and I have used this product for 4 years. I couldn't be happier with the results, because my customers couldn't be happier with the results. It quickly purges out disgusting sludge from the plumbing, leaving everything clean as a whistle. Thanks so much!!"

Mark Walsh
Walsh's Hot Tub Care

Olympia, WA

DuraTherm Spa Covers
"I just wanted to write and say how impressed we are with you!! We ordered a replacement cover, lift, filters and trial pkg of scented oil. We received everything in a very timely matter. Today we received the cover 2 days ahead of when we were told it would ship!! It fits like a glove, better than our last one. We really like the clips on all sides of the over to hold it down. We live in KS out in the country where sometime we have 50+ MPH winds (that is how we lost the last cover). This will defiantly hold it down. Not to mention that your cover cost less than a local store that would still charge us tax plus not made to fit and no way to get it home! This was delivered right to us. The filters we order we had paid for 1 of them what we paid you for 2!! Then we got free cleaner and a rubber ducky! WOW!! As you can read I am REALLY HAPPY with my service and you can expect me back for ALL my hot tub needs!!"

Mike and Janelle Dickinson
Colby, KS

Spa Depot, The, Spas & Hot Tubs - Dealers, Olympia, WA

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