Used Hot Tub Evaluation Checklist

Here is a quick 10 point checklist that can help identify problems when shopping used hot tubs.

  1. Make Sure It Runs – this may sound silly but the first thing you want to do is make sure the spa is running. Many times sellers will have the hot tub drained and turned off claiming everything works and that you should take their word for it. I would avoid making a purchase in this situation. Even if the seller has good intentions a used hot tub that sits for an extended period of time can incur problems. Hot tubs that sit drained and unused can have dried out seals, corroded electrical components from condensation, mold and mildew growth in the plumbing lines, or cracked plumbing lines if it sat thru a winter (freeze damage). You should, with your own eyes, see that the tub is running with the pumps on, individual jets on, lights on, and water hot. If the tub has a stereo, TV, or other special features then we would recommend turning those on too. Note: If the jet pump (motor) is on and there is a grinding sound then the pump is likely to fail in the near term because the bearings are wearing out.
  2. Inspect for Leaks – Ask that all of the panels be removed with the spa running and inspect around all of four sides for leaks. You can start with the access panel side where the equipment is located and look around the base of the motors and heater assembly for signs of past or present leaks. You can see water staining on the base of the hot tub if a leak had occurred in the past. Also look around the other sides of the spa for traces of past or present leaks. Any wet concrete on a dry day around the perimeter of the hot tub is also evidence of a present leak. If the spa is fully foamed then you can push on the foam to see if it is spongy or wet.
  3. Look for Corrosion – Remove the hot tub cover and inspect the area inside the hot tub, above the waterline for signs of rust on any exposed metal (handles, grab bars, etc.). Also look for heavily discolored or disintegrated pillows. Rust and disintegrated pillows typically happen as a result of poor water chemistry. If the water has not been well maintained then you can expect it has also caused damage over time to other components such as heaters, pumps, plumbing, and jets.
  4. Waterlogged Cover – It’s pretty safe to assume that most used hot tubs will require a new hot tub cover. You can easily identify the need to replace the cover by its weight. Hot tub covers are made of a vinyl exterior and Styrofoam core and should be very light and easy to open. A hot tub cover that is extremely heavy and hard to open is waterlogged. Waterlogging can happen about 3-5 years into the life of the cover due to the hot steamy nature of the hot tub. The R-value or insulation value of the cover also diminishes greatly 3-5 years in and the cover needs to be replaced.
  5. Brands – It is always wise to do some research on high quality brands before shopping the used market. Finding a well-known, premium brand gives you some assurance that the spa was built with high quality components and workmanship and it also lets you know that you can still find parts.
  6. Avoid Proprietary Parts – Avoid brands that use proprietary parts. The reason for this is that you are locked into purchasing parts only from that manufacturer and its dealers. Prices are generally much higher for proprietary parts/labor and fewer independent service techs work on them. Brands like Jacuzzi, Hot Springs, Sundance, Bullfrog, and Caldera are just a few that use proprietary parts and although they are premium brands they can be very expensive to work on. Look for other quality brands that don’t use proprietary parts and can be serviced and repaired by any qualified service technician (parts are also readily available online).
  7. Warranties – This checklist item only applies to a used hot tub that still is under warranty. Hot tub industry manufacturer warranties range between 1-5 years on equipment and between 5 years and lifetime on the shells. This exact length depends on the brand and model. It is important to note that warranties do not transfer from a seller to a buyer even if it is within the warranty period, therefore, there should be no value considered when purchasing a used hot tub that is still under factory warranty.
  8. Cabinets – Avoid wood cabinets as they deteriorate over time especially in wetter climates. They also require staining or painting every couple of years. Look for a synthetic cabinet or composite cabinet. These are much lower maintenance, keep their look, and insulate better.
  9. Shell Damage – It is also important to visually inspect the hot tub shell for any signs of cracking, blistering (delamination), or crazing (small spider web like fractures). We would recommend doing this inspection when the tub is drained as it is much easier to inspect. If you see evidence of any of these aforementioned signs then we would recommend walking away even though in some cases the damage maybe repairable. Please note that there are lots of different types of shell construction, however, our recommendation is for a fiberglass backed acrylic shell which is the strongest shell design used in the industry.
  10. Maintenance Records – It is helpful when evaluating a used hot tub to see the maintenance and service history of that hot tub. It can give insight into how the tub was cared for as well as reveal past issues.