During the Fall and Winter Months, Keep Home Electrical Safety in Mind When Using Hot Tubs and Spas
With the cooler weather upon us as we head into November, many of us will be thinking about using our hot tubs more frequently. You may be thinking your hot tub is in the same condition as the last time you used it. But are you sure? It’s important to remember that time and weather can affect a hot tub’s performance. A very well-known fact is time ages everything, including hot tubs, no matter if they are installed indoors or out. Hot tubs get old and the internal equipment may stop working. Outdoor hot tub installations have an added challenge of being exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light and other element’s including rain and snow. UV light is known to increase the aging process on exposed non-metallic electrical equipment associated with the hot tub while rain and snow affect the metallic components. Other influencers that increase the decay of hot tub equipment is the chlorine or bromine in the water that can cause corrosion in or on metal motor parts, electrical equipment, electrical terminals, and electrical conductors. So, when was the last time you inspected the motor, terminations, bonding connections, or tested the ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection?
You may be thinking, I didn’t know I needed to check my tub in this way. Why do I have to check that stuff? But remember time and weather have adverse impact on all things, especially hot tubs and associated electrical equipment. Because corrosion may cause malfunctions in electronic components within the National Electrical Code® (NEC®), section 680.44 required GFCI breakers, and they should be tested regularly according to the manufacturer’s installation instructions. Those instructions also cover the approved method for testing the GFCI breaker. These are simple and easy tests that homeowners can do to determine if the hot tub is safe. The usual test method includes:
- Push the colored test button on the breaker body which should move the breaker handle to the middle position. If the handle doesn’t move, or trip, contact a qualified electrician to replace the GFCI breaker. A breaker handle that does move to the middle position is correctly operating.
- Reset the GFCI breaker by rotating the handle completely to the “off” position and then rotate back to the “on” position. A properly functioning GFCI breaker can prevent high leakage current into the hot tub water that could result in an unfortunate electrical shock drowning (ESD) incident.
Terminations are another critical component of the electrical equipment installation. The NEC®, section 110.14, requires all conductors to be torqued tight in accordance with the manufacturer’s installation instructions and not the ole tight as I can make it method. To check the terminations, you must remove the access panel cover on the hot tub skirting and look inside to see the wires landed on the exposed terminals, such as the bonding terminal, which is frequently found on the exterior of the hot tub’s control box. If there is a bonding conductor installed under the perimeter surface this is where it would be terminated. Look to see if there is greenish colored corrosion around the terminal and the copper conductor. Any corrosion around a terminal or conductor can interfere with the performance of that bonding system and should have maintenance done to remove the corrosion. Other terminations that should be inspected periodically by a qualified electrician are within the hot tub disconnect, hot tub control box, and service or feeder panel.
Typically, hot tubs are installed utilizing non-metallic conduits because of their corrosion resistance, but those raceways are not immune to the effects of UV light and may become brittle, breaking down over time. Inspect these components for cracks, separation, broken supports, and any exposed wiring that looks out of place. As a homeowner, if you do run across any breakdown in the wiring methods used to energize your hot tub, or if you’re unsure about any of these inspection points, contact a qualified electrician to conduct the appropriate inspections and/or make the necessary repairs. Failure to do so could result in a malfunction of a necessary component and cause a shock or ground-fault.
Hot tubs are a great place to relax and unwind if they are kept in good repair. Remember to test your GFCI protection and keep an eye on the other components for deterioration. Delaying maintenance could be a bigger problem in the end.
For more information and resources about hot tub and spa safety, visit the NFPA electrical safety around water web page.