Simple steps YOU can follow on just how easy hot tub refurbishment can be!
Have you ever wanted a hot tub but didn’t have $5,000 just laying around?
That was the boat my wife and I were in. We knew our family would use it and would love it. But with a new baby on the way and having just replaced one of our cars, a brand new one and the expense that comes with that just wasn’t in the cards for us.
The following post walks you through the EXACT steps I just took in my hot tub refurbishment project:
- Finding a used hot tub and paying movers to move it
- How to level a hot tub in a backyard
- How to run electricity to a hot tub
- How to fix cracks in the acrylic shell of the hot tub
- How to replace the heater, pump, and blower in an old hot tub
- Finding & fixing leaks in the hot tub
I walk you through, step-by-step, all the hurdles I had to jump through in doing just that. Just look for my TIPS where I point out specific things I wish I had done.
All in all, instead of spending $5,000 or more, we got our hot tub up and running for well under $2,000. And if you don’t have the same electrical panel issue we had, your cost will be much less.
You could easily buy and fix a hot tub for under $1,000.
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Want to know the process I went through on hot tub refurbishment? Read on!
So we began looking at places like Craigslist to see what was out there.
One thing we did consider before diving into a full-on hot tub refurbishment was an inflatable hot tub.
They are inexpensive and easy to set up or take down. More importantly, they are easy to move if you move. If that sounds appealing, check out my complete review of the Intex inflatable hot tubs.
I bought one just to check it out, so it’s hands-on and thorough.
But ultimately, they just sounded, well . . . cheap. I probably would have gone that route but my wife was determined we’d get a “good” one or wouldn’t get one at all.
So we kept looking until we found the right hot tub
Then one day we saw one listed on our local neighborhood HOA Buy-Sell-Trade Facebook page. It was listed at $500 and judging from the pictures it was pretty large; it could be just what we needed.
Given where we saw the ad we assumed it was right around the corner, but in fact, it was a good 30 miles away (not sure how he got added to the page since he wasn’t a resident of our neighborhood).
In the end, my wife talked the guy down to $150.
We came to find out a client of his had simply asked him to get rid of it as they now had a built-in, so I’m sure they simply told him he could keep whatever he got.
Then we had to get about the business of finding someone to move the tub. After all, these things can weigh anywhere from 500 to 1000 lbs (empty) so it’s not an easy DIY.
TIP: Don’t agree to a specific amount of money until you see the tub in person
1. Finding movers who will move an old hot tub
We Googled “hot tub movers”.
We considered renting a truck and hoodwinking some friends. But in the end, we found a local guy and his business Unique Moving & Hauling.
Judging from all the pictures on his Facebook page of hot tubs getting moved, we knew this guy was up for the job.
He asked for $350 to move it and $150 to “hook it up”.
Now when my wife spoke to him she thought “hook it up” meant literally to run a line from the breaker panel and hook it up. In reality, he meant to connect the existing power line to the control box in the hot tub.
As simple as that part really is, $150 is a bit steep in my opinion as it would probably take him 5 minutes.
2. Moving the hot tub to your house
So I drove out to where the hot tub was and met the seller and the movers on-site.
I was amazed to see the movers consisted of just a flatbed trailer behind a truck and 2 guys. But when those 2 guys know what they are doing, it makes all the difference.
The tub itself was very large; easily big enough to hold 6 or 7 people. It was clearly a little older than the seller had described (I’d guess a decade or more) and a lot of the wires had been chewed on by animals.
The seller had also taken much of the wood paneling off, claiming to help make it easier to move.
In retrospect, I wonder if it wasn’t because some of the wood was either missing or rotted (hard to tell until I began to put it back on).
Check with your movers, but I don’t think removing the wood is necessary at all, and figuring out how to put it back on (the pieces were like a jigsaw puzzle) was more time consuming than it should have been.
At any rate, knowing I would minimally have to give the movers something for their time, I continued with the transaction and figured I could work everything else out later.
The movers stood the hot tub up on its side and used a thin but sturdy sheet of plastic to slide the tub across the grass to the flatbed.
I loaded up all the individual pieces of the wood siding. We were done inside of 30 minutes.
TIP: Don’t remove the wood paneling from the tub unless your mover requires it
3. How to level a hot tub in a backyard
I planned on having the hot tub on paver stones I had laid out in an 8′ square in a fairly level section of my yard.
In retrospect, I wish I had taken the time to make sure they were completely level as they were off a little bit.
The hot tub came off the loader’s truck just as easily as it went on, and turned up on end, it easily slid through our fence gate and into our backyard.
They moved it right where I wanted it and then centered it onto my pavers.
Once it was sitting there, with my trusty level, I realized it was about 2″ higher towards the front than the back. Luckily side to side was about even.
I knew I wanted to level it before I put water in, so I rented a refrigerator dolly/hand truck (click to reserve on the Home Depot site) from my nearby Home Depot.
The refrigerator dolly’s front lip is nice and small; perfect for sliding under the side of the hot tub I wanted to raise and easily allowing me to lift it.
There would be no way to lift the tub by hand without multiple helpers.
Thus while I lifted it up a few inches, my daughter Astrid placed support wedges under the hot tub frame.
One thing I did before filling was ensuring we had supported the weight everywhere under the tub; not just across the back where it was lowest.
After all the entire hot tub’s frame is made of 2×4 wood. The last thing you want is, once full, for an unsupported mid-section to crack under the thousands of pounds of weight.
So I placed braces under the diagonal cross supports, and thinner braces on the sides going towards the front.
TIP: In retrospect, there is no substitute for making sure your pad is level first.
4. How to run electricity to a hot tub
This proved to be one of the biggest challenges we faced in the hot tub refurbishment process.
After all, I hadn’t looked at my panel before making the decision and I’m not an electrician.
Here’s what you need to know first:
- Locate your outdoor electrical panel – the panel in your garage or closet is not the one you’ll use
- Make sure the panel has at least 1 open slot – meaning every breaker slot isn’t full
- If all slots are full be prepared for an expense – If all slots are full they will need to either replace the panel with a larger one or run a sub-panel off of it. Either option can be upwards of $1,000 or more (much more depending on who you talk to).
In our case, despite our house being only 10 years old, the outside panel was indeed full. I talked to at least 5 electricians including 2 guys in the neighborhood.
The first guy wanted almost $3,000 to replace the whole panel with a new larger one and then run the line down the side of my house. The next guy wanted $2,500 and another $1,800.
Finally, I came to the guys at Texas Electrical Services.
They quoted me $875 and said they did not need to replace the panel. They said they had a special dual breaker they could replace one of the existing breakers with that would allow them to run the hot tub off of that.
It worked like a charm and those guys were fast. The new breaker was in, and the line run down the side of my house to the small box that houses the hot tub circuit breaker.
TIP: Don’t buy a hot tub until you know your electrical panel can handle it
From there, they ran a flexible outdoor conduit under my deck and to the hot tub.
I went along behind them and buried the exposed portion of the cable in the ground, about 18″ deep. Make that go super quick by renting a trencher (click to reserve yours on the Home Depot site) from your local Home Depot.
Check out this quick video on how to use a trencher and you’ll see just how much quicker & easier it is than digging with a shovel!
TIP: Get at least 3 quotes from electricians as mine varied from $875 on the low end to $3,000 on the high end
How to fix cracks in the acrylic shell of the hot tub
To fix the cracks in the acrylic shell of a hot tub, first drill 2 small holes on either end of the crack to keep it from spreading. Then use an acrylic repair paste to fill the crack. Sand it smooth and buff smooth. You can even add a small amount of acrylic paint to the paste to match the color of the hot tub.
So we noticed that the hot tub had a few minor cracks in it. Here’s a more detailed step-by-step of what I just described:
- Drill a very small hole at both ends of the crack. You want the hole to be larger than the size of the crack but not much larger
- Get Plast-aid Acrylic Repair Kit (click to see the current price on Amazon)
- Mix the powder & liquid components according to the instructions and quickly spread into the crack and holes
- Wear latex gloves to make for easy clean up on your hands
- Quickly wipe away all excess from the shell as this stuff dries quickly
- You can mix a small amount of acrylic paint in this to match the color of your tub; as is, it dries white.
- It can be sanded and buffed afterward
TIP: don’t ignore cracks in the shell as they could get larger over time
For larger patch jobs, including holes, Spa Bond Hot Tub & Pool Leak Seal Patch Kit (click to see current price on Amazon) works awesome.
It comes with small peel and stick clear patches that you just place where you need them. Works on the hot tub shell, but also works on inflatables, and PVC pipes.
How to replace the equipment in a hot tub
The main equipment in a hot tub which can be replaced is the control box & heater tube, the pump(s), and the blower. To replace them, turn off the power, drain the hot tub or close the gate valves, disconnect the PVC connections, and install the replacements in the same manner as removing the old equipment.
Initially, my plan for repairing the hot tub did not include fixing or replace the old equipment.
I assumed hot tub refurbishment on the equipment would be above my payscale. Thus I set about looking up hot tub repair companies on Yelp.
I found a few.
Some would not work on above-ground hot tubs (yes, I pictured the Sneeches with their snoots in the air a little bit).
Some quoted me $2-$3 thousand dollars (hmmm . . . why would I spend almost as much as I could buy a new one for?)
Finally, I found a company I thought was great called PoolSmart.
They came out for free and took a look. The guy indicated he’d get back with me within 24 hours. Fast forward 6 weeks and several calls to both him and the owner and I gave up.
It’s hard to imagine a business being as flaky with such poor customer service and follow through as PoolSmart.
So if you’re in the Austin area, I’d recommend steering clear of them.
Their loss though, as knowing how easy it really was, I would have spent twice as much with them on repairing the hot tub out of pure ignorance.
At first, I thought I would just replace the cables that had been chewed through.
But after a lot of Googling and contacting hot tub parts companies, it seemed apparent that the equipment I had, Teledyne Laars, was at least 10 years old and the company no longer in business.
I also found that the existing hot tub plumbing was 1 1/2″ PVC whereas the new equipment was 2″. Hopefully, that’s not an issue you encounter.
TIP: Don’t waste your time going to plumbing supply stores (or places like Home Depot) for PVC adapters or components; they likely won’t fit. Contact the manufacturer of your new equipment for any needed parts
Hot tub parts are seemingly like cell phone chargers in 2005; each one is a little different.
At any rate, let’s review what the major components of a hot tub are:
- The control box & heater (click to check out the one I bought from Amazon) – This allows you to turn the heat up or down and may have a timer. It has a large metal tube which houses the heater element
- The pump (click to see the one I got from Amazon) – this is what pulls the water through the system and heater
- The blower (click to see a great one on Amazon) – this is what causes the bubbles
- The topside control panel – while you don’t have to have this, controls you can reach while sitting in the tub make life easier; isn’t that what a hot tub is all about? Purchasing the above-linked control box will include this
- Ozonator – An optional component that eliminates or reduces the need for water chemicals. Most older hot tubs won’t have this but most likely can be added
Now, this part of the hot tub refurbishment process may sound daunting to some of you.
Just realize that the control box/heater and the pump just connect to each other. Water comes in from the hot tub on the pump side, goes through the pump and into the heater and then out the other side of the heater back to the hot tub.
I’m not a plumber but once I had the right parts and adapters, I installed everything in under 30 minutes.
I will say if you’re replacing the control box/heater and the pump and you’re buying what I’ve linked to above, make sure you get this PVC elbow joint (click to get on Amazon) to connect the 2.
The blower is not connected to the plumbing at all, other than getting electricity from the control box via a simple plug ‘n play connector.
That connection also allows it to be controlled from the top side panel.
Plumbing-wise it connects right to a separate line (often to the left of the other equipment) right into the hot tub.
When in doubt, take pictures of all the existing equipment you want to replace and just take it one item at a time, putting the new equipment in exactly like the old was.
I did find that the topside panel was not quite the same dimensions as my old panel and the cut out in the shell. And my equipment did not come with an adapter as some do.
If you find yourself in that boat, I simply went to home depot and got a couple of small steel plates and screwed them in on either side of the panel, and neatly siliconed around everything.
How much does it cost to replace a heating element in a hot tub?
The heating element by itself for a hot tub is typically about $30. However, a complete heater tube will be closer to $250, and installed by a professional can be up to $500.
The heater is a tube that attaches to your control box typically. Inside the tube is a heater element. So first you’ll need to decide which piece you want to replace.
The water comes off the pump and into the heater tube and then out the other side back to the hot tub. You will want to make sure and select one that is compatible with your control box and pump.
Typically, a complete unit one like this one from Hydro-Quip (click to see current price on Amazon) is well under $300.
A basic heater element like this one from Universal Incoloy (click to check current price on Amazon) is under $30.
How much does it cost to replace a pump on a hot tub?
The pump is what moves the water through the heater element and back into the tub. It should not be confused with a blower that produces the bubbles.
A good pump, such as the HydroMaster pump (click to see the current price on Amazon), is under $300. As easy as it is to do, there’s no reason to pay someone to do it for you either.
How long do hot tub heaters last?
The average hot tub heater element lasts 5 years. In fact, hot tub heater elements are one of the most common things to break on a hot tub.
Unfortunately how long they last depend on a number of factors; how hot you set it, the brand of equipment, and environmental factors.
Luckily replacing one is one of the easier aspects of hot tub refurbishment.
How do I find a leak in my hot tub?
To find a leak in your hot tub, look for pooled water behind the panels of your hot tub on the ground, and then feel for moisture around nearby pipes and fittings.
Once the equipment is in and you have power to it, it’s time to fill ‘er up and check for leaks.
Hot tub leaks are fairly common and are usually easily fixed.
If you see water where you connected the new equipment simple check to make sure the connections are tight. Also, make sure the included rubber gaskets were put in place when you connected them.
If you see small amounts of water coming through the foam from some unknown jets, those can be a little trickier to fix.
I would start by using Marlig Fix-A-Leak as directed on the package. Essentially you just pour it in (no draining necessary)!
I have a detailed Review of Marlig’s Fix-A-Leak (click to read on my site), so check that out if you want greater detail on how well it worked for me and exactly how to use it.
Suffice to say it fixed my leaks almost instantly and without repeat treatments.
But even if you have to occasionally repeat the process, it’s easier than ripping out the foam and trying to locate and tighten or replace the leaking jet(s).
The other thing that definitely works where you have leaks at PVC joints or almost any kind of plumbing connection is JB Weld WaterWeld (click to buy on Amazon).
This is an epoxy that you mix right before application (some latex gloves help keep your hands clean) and apply right to the leak.
It sets in under 25 minutes and hardens completely in 1 hour. It also works great on moist surfaces or even underwater!
You can see where I applied it (rather sloppily but no one will see once the panels are back on) in 2 places. It’s the putty-like stuff that is white.
Accessories for your hot tub refurbishment project!
Also, I’ll just note that I added these heavy-duty plastic steps (click to see current price on Amazon) to make it easier to get in and out of the tub – an especially nice touch with a pregnant wife!
The only other thing I didn’t really mention was the cover.
Ours is in OK shape but not perfect. But new covers are pricey! On the underside are some tears that expose the large Styrofoam blocks inside.
Thus I’ll be buying a Tear Aid Vinyl Repair Kit (click to check current price on Amazon). That will have my cover looking and working like new in no time!
Lastly, we bought this handy hot tub cover lifter system (click to see current price on Amazon) to make it easy for my wife and kids to take the cover off and on, and it changed everything!
Instead of the cover being a complete beast to lift on and off, often falling off (potentially damaging it) now, we can all lift it off pretty much one-handed; even my teen daughters!
This kind is designed to slip under the hot tub. I saw some of the reviewers saying they tapped it under their full tub with a rubber mallet.
I tried that without much success.
Now, of course, I could have emptied it, but I ended up not attaching the bottom plate and just screwing it into the deck our tub sits on these days (we moved after this post was originally written and our tub now sits on a wood deck).
That worked GREAT and did not require me to drain the tub.
Now that I’m done, I could certainly use a hot tub!
Did I cover all the hot tub refurbishment steps you were looking for?
In this post, I walked you through the EXACT steps I took in finding and buying an old hot tub for next to nothing on a neighborhood Facebook group page.
Then I showed you everything you need to know about repairing the hot tub, but also all my best tips on everything from moving it, to leveling it in a back yard, fixing cracks, and leaks and even replacing old defective equipment.
If I can do it, I KNOW you can!
Have you had trouble repairing a hot tub?
Photo credits (that aren’t mine or which require attribution):
Hot tub moving pictures taken from the Unique Moving & Hauling Facebook Page