July 29, 2015

Holy Flaming Hot Tub!

Or, Why You Should Have an Electrician Legally Install YOUR Hot Tub

I can’t help it – when I think of hot tubs, I imagine the old Looney Tunes cartoon where some antagonist (be it Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, the green eyed monster, or anyone else) is trying to turn Bugs Bunny into stew – they prop a pot on a fire and then get a bunny and vegetables and steam going, sometimes going so far as to use a recipe book.

Heeeyyy, whats up, doc?

However – considering the rustic turn that hot tubs have taken in the last ten years, it isn’t quite exactly fair to blame me for feeling that way…

Heeeyyy, whats up, doc?

Wikipedia says the very first hot tub was a cauldron-like rock formation, created by a volcanic collapse, that filled with water – and people would drop hot rocks in it to heat the water up.  Today, a hot tub has many purposes and uses – it is therapeutic, the principal tool in hydrotherapy, a social gathering point, entertaining and fun, and it can be a sign of prestige, status, or wealth.  The technology behind a hot tub has advanced in leaps and bounds over the last century, too; we’ve moved from wooden barrel tubs and natural rock pools that held steaming spring water to jetted tubs installed in individual bathrooms for luxurious bubble baths daily.

From used oil and wine barrels…
…To modern luxury at its finest!

Modern hot tubs are also a danger zone – it is where electricity and water coincide.  Because of this, national code for both indoor jetted tub and outdoor hot tubs has gotten more elaborate and complex; regulations are stepping in to protect us from ourselves.  Why would they need to do that?  Because these tubs come loaded with electronics, circuits, heaters, pumps, and other pieces of moving equipment that put the customers and users at risk of burns or electrocution.  Worst case scenario?  Full on holy flaming hot tub!

This tragic hot tub fire could have been prevented – but the worst part of the scenario is what happened to the house whose deck this hot tub happened to be sitting on.

These sad tragedies occur all too frequently – and the worst part is that a lot of these fires could have been prevented by proper installation, spacing, and protection for the electrical elements of these great grown up bathtubs.

A contributing factor is of course the tubs themselves – the quality of their manufacture, the maintenance and routine inspections of all moving and electric parts, and installing them per code.  Recently, to save on things like weight and manufacturing costs, hot tub makers have started using more and more plastic parts and less and less metal.  What this means is a higher risk of fire when problems do occur – and less likelihood of keeping fires limited to areas like control boards, switching relays, or pump boxes.

Even in snow and full of water – hot tubs can, and will, burn

Another frustration new hot tub owners encounter is that they invest a large amount of time, money, effort, and planning into getting their hot tub – frequently designing an entire landscaping or deck design to accommodate or feature the tub – and the person that sold it to them doesn’t warn the homeowners of several key things.  One of the most important factors is that hot tubs draw a lot of power; between their pumps, heaters, and monitoring equipment, they need a very high-powered circuit.  Not only that, but the circuit is usually a 240V (like your dryer or stove, not 120V like most  other outlets in your home) – and in our region, the hot tub circuit has to be dedicated and have nothing else on it or plugged into it.  Our customers often find that this means they have to upgrade the size of their electrical panel, which is perfectly sized for their existing house circuits, an air conditioner, and not much else.

Plastic electrical boxes don’t ground – they just burn

Hot tubs that are also incorrectly installed become hazards as well.  If the electrical systems are not installed by a licensed professional who obtains a permit from your regional building department and has his work inspected for code compliance, that can also lead to serious complications.  Using the wrong size wire for installation can result in wiring fire, failures, or worse.  Anytime we mix water and electricity, safety needs to be the number one priority.  In addition, code requirements build in an extra layer of protection, such as:

  • Lights over the tub must be at least 12′ above the water line
  • Overhead power lines must be 10′ away from the edge of the tub
  • Overhead power lines must be 22 1/2′ above the tub
  • The tub must be 6′ away from metal, or the metal must be bonded
  • The tub must be 6′ away from any lights
  • A clearly labeled, readily accessible emergency shutoff must be installed at least 5 ft away, adjacent to, and within sight of the spa or hot tub
  • Permanently installed pools, storable pools, outdoor spas, outdoor hot tubs, fountains, diving structures, observation stands, towers, or platforms must not be placed under, or within, 10 ft of communications cables
  • Underground wiring isn’t permitted under permanently installed pools, storable pools, outdoor spas, outdoor hot tubs, or fountains. Nor is it permitted within 5 ft horizontally from the inside wall of the pool, spa, hot tub, or fountain, unless necessary to supply the permanently installed pool, storable pool, outdoor spa, outdoor hot tub, or fountain equipment
  • Branch-circuit conductors for permanently installed pool, outdoor spa, and outdoor hot tub motors must be installed in rigid metal conduit, intermediate metal conduit, PVC conduit, or Type MC cable listed for the location (sunlight-resistant or for direct burial). The wiring methods must contain an insulated copper equipment grounding conductor sized in accordance with 250.122, based on the rating of the overcurrent device, but in no case can it be smaller than 12 AWG
  • Cords are permitted if the length doesn’t exceed 3 ft and it contains a copper equipment grounding conductor, sized in accordance with 250.122, based on the rating of the overcurrent device, but not smaller than 12 AWG. For outdoor spas and hot tubs, the cord must be GFCI protected and it can be up to 15 ft long
  • 15A and 20A, 125V receptacles located within 20 ft from the inside walls of a permanently installed pool, outdoor spa, or outdoor hot tub must be GFCI protected

These – and many other rules – regulate hot tub installations.  Please make sure you use a licensed electrician, who provides you with a legal hot tub hookup, pulls local building permits, and arranges for you to have the correct inspections.  Your electrician should protect you, your home, and your family with their work!

This hot tub burned its way right through its deck!

Please make sure, when you invest in an item like a hot tub – hopefully, something that will bring years of joy and relaxation to you and your family – that you go to every possible measure to make sure your installation is safe, your family is protected, and your home will escape the wrath of … the holy flaming hot tub!

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Swartz Electric – Your Colorado Springs Electrician performs electrical work throughout Colorado Springs, Monument, Black Forest, Fountain, Falcon, Woodland Park, and everywhere in between. We are the electricians in Colorado Springs to solve your electrical problems and meet your electrical requirements.

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This is an original article written by Mai Bjorklund for Swartz Electric. This article may not be copied whole or in part without the express permission of Swartz Electric, LLC.

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