Q: I bought a Balboa spa controller from Aqua-Man.com in Oct of 2008, and it appears to be having a problem (not heating).
Here's what happened...last week, while the spa was running, there was an "electrical" noise, followed by a burn smell coming from the spa. This resulted in the house circuit breaker for the spa to trip. After letting the spa sit for 30 minutes (and the smell gone), I turned the spa back on.
The controller went thru its diagnostics, and the pump came on. I tried cycling the pump, and it went from lo to hi back to lo. I checked the temp, and it was 89 - which is OK, as I had the spa off for the day. After a bit, the heater light on the panel came on. I thought ok, things are working.
Well, after 2 hours, i went back out, and the temp was now 87 - normally, it would be up to about 100. So, I immediately turned the spa off, and sent this e-mail.
A: If you smelled an electrical problem then the problem might be visually evident, have you looked inside the control box?
If everything is working except the heater and you are getting no error messages from the upper control then there is a pretty short list of potential trouble makers. I will put the three most likely down below.
One is that the element itself has failed, but it is unusual you would have smelled the failure.
Two is that one of the heater switching relays on the board has failed, but with the way Balboa handles their relay timing, this does not happen much anymore.
The last immediate thought I have is a loose connection on one of the incoming power wires. Loose connections produce heat and can eventually burn the wires off at the connection, this will be visually evident.
So take a look inside and see if it all looks normal to start and check the upper display for error codes. If you see nothing if you could get a voltmeter and give me a call from near the unit we should be able to resolve it pretty quickly.
Q: Well, I think I know what's not working - the heater, removed the cover, and what I found was that the contacts on the heater element were seriously rusted and corroded - to the point that the right one (as you're looking at the unit head on) was broken from the rust. So, no more troubleshooting, I think. No other signs of burns or damage to the controller. The fact that the controller would run the pump, and try to run the heater, kind of would indicate that it's ok.
Would it be safe to assume that the heater is shot? If so, where do we go from here? I wouldn't have thought that this would have happened in a little over a year. To me, that's poor quality on the part of the manufacturer.
In any case, I would like to get whatever "replacement" needs to take place "in the works". If you need me to do more diagnostics and/or troubleshooting, let me know. Also, if you want me to send the old heater to you so that you can send it to Balboa, let me know, as well.
And, just so that you know, the end of the spa is NOT directly exposed to the elements. The spa is under a covered porch, and the end of the spa is enclosed behind a sheet of plywood. So, basically, it's a dry area.
A: Rusty heater terminals makes me first think of spa water chemistry imbalances, so we should have a discussion about how you keep your chemistry.
I start by asking what chemicals do you use and what do you use to test the water? A discussion can often find an overlooked problem, so let me know as much as you can.
As for the heater you can order the replacement at the link below:
Make sure you do a thorough job cleaning any oxidation off the jumpers that go from the board to the heater terminals, we do not want a bad connection there for sure.
Q: To test the water, I use a standard spa chlorine/acid test kit. i use the same chemicals as I use in the pool - liquid chlorine and acid, but at a seriously lower level. In addition, I use very small pieces of chlorine tabs to stabilize the chlorine.
I would like to open a discussion with Balboa about the failure of this part. I spent almost $500 a year and a half ago, and now I have to spend about $175 on a replacement heater unit. If I had know this would happen, I would have either gone with a different brand, or kept trying to fix the old unit.
A: Balboa and all other manufactures use essentially the same heater assemblies, the choice of brand is not very significant if we a purely talking heater elements.
The way that you are handling your spa’s chemistry is very non-standard for a portable spa, and is likely to be the main factor in the early demise of your heater.
Liquid chlorine and liquid acid are formulated for swimming pools, and would be very difficult to use correctly in a few hundred gallons of water. You would need precise measurements (most likely measurements down to fractional ounces) to dose a spa correctly with those chemicals. This means that the likelihood of large swings in pH and alkalinity is very high.
Chlorine tablets are a significant problem when used in a portable spa. Chlorine tablets (unlike bromine tablets and granular or liquid chlorine) have a stabilizer in them called cyanuric acid, this is a particular acid used for swimming pools as a supplement and is not something desirable in a portable. Cyanuric acid levels will be on the rise in your spa every time you add a chlorine tablet, and will remain in the water until the spa is drained.
All of these factors are bound to add to an erosion of the alkalinity levels in your spa making the water very corrosive. I see no mention of monitoring the alkalinity in your spa, and it is one of the most important items to monitor in a spa for the long term health of the equipment.
With low alkalinity, the metal parts of the spa take the worst of the stress followed by other parts.
The unfortunate truth is that unless you change your chemistry practices no heater from any manufacturer is going to have a long life in your spa. The part of your new pack that failed is not one of the complicated electronic parts, but it was the part that was directly exposed to your spa water.
I would highly recommend that you drain your spa and thoroughly clean or replace the filter cartridges, and refill with fresh water. Then switch to bromine tablets and dry acid formulated at spa strengths.
I would also recommend a test kit that can measure bromine, ph and Alkalinity to use for weekly monitoring. You will likely find that you will be using an alkalinity increaser rather than an acid to control your alkalinity.
Q: Thanks, Dave....
Makes sense. Will get a new heater unit, drain the spa, refill, and start over - with SPA chemicals.