Sunday, 10 May 2015

Replacing Hot Tub Covers

When is it time to replace a hot tub cover?

While there is no set point at which a cover should be replaced, most covers will need to be replaced after 5-7 years. Over time, hot tub covers will become saturated with water, becoming heavier and heavier. Eventually they will either become too heavy to lift or the seam between the two sides of the cover will tear and the cover will split in two. Covers can also start to "cup" if they are subjected to  heavy loads, like an excessive amount of snow or ice.

Covers should be replaced as soon as you notice either happen. Foam insulates by trapping
A badly cupped hot tub cover. Any cover
that develops puddles like this is cupped and
should be replaced.
warm air in the bubbles of the foam. As  covers become saturated and those bubbles fill with water the cover will lose it's ability to effectively insulate and can cause your monthly energy bill to increase. A cupped hot tub cover will also cause an increase in energy costs as it causes the corners of the cover to lift up, breaking the seal around the edge and allowing the heat to escape.

What to look for when buying a new cover

The first thing to do when looking for a new hot tub cover is to look at a sample of the covers the retailer provides (or at least a sample of the vinyl). Check the thickness of the vinyl, the thickness of the cover, and the quality of the stitching as these are usually the first things that are neglected on cheaper covers.

 If your hot tub has a cover lifter we've found that a 4"-3" tapered cover tends to sit best, and last the longest. Thicker covers will tend to put added stress on the seam of the cover when sitting on the arm of the cover lifter. As it gets saturated (and heavier) it will rip on that seam. The added insulating ability of the thicker cover is therefore negated by having to buy a new cover sooner.

Most retailers will also offer different "foam densities". The higher the density of the foam, the better the insulating value of the foam, and the stronger the cover will be. While the added insulating value of higher foam densities is not very significant, the added strength can be a big plus if you experience heavy snowfalls, or if there is a chance of pets or children climbing on the cover (still not recommended).

Some common extras you can get for covers are a full foam sealer (also known as a full hinge seal or centre seal), aluminum backing for the foam to help strengthen the centre of the cover (and help prevent cupping under heavy loads), and a vapour barrier wrap around the foam.

Thermal images of a cover with and
without a full foam sealer. Without the
full foam sealer there  is a 19 degree
difference, with it less than 1 degree!
 A full foam sealer is a piece of foam that fills and insulates the area between the two sides of the cover. Without it the cover will have a 1" gap that is only insulated by the cover's vinyl skin when it is closed. Most covers will come standard with only small (4") pieces of foam on either end of the cover. These are useful for preventing evaporation, but do not offer much in the way of insulation.
Wrapping the foam with a plastic vapour barrier will help slow down the rate at which water saturates the foam, extending the life of the cover. They will typically range in thickness from 2ml to 10ml, the thicker the better.

Lastly, watch out for some online retailers that will advertise low prices for their basic covers. When those retailer's covers are priced with features that are comparable to what other retailers provide as standard they will often end up being very similar priced. By buying a cover online you may also be losing out on free delivery or disposal of your old cover, and if there is a problem with the cover you would have to worry about return shipping and dealing with notoriously bad online service.

Extending the life of your hot tub cover

We'll close out this entry with a few tips for how to extend the life of your current hot tub cover.
  •  Keep the cover clipped in to prevent it being potentially carried off and damaged by high winds.
  •  Avoid resting anything heavy on your cover, remove any heavy loads of snow or ice in the winter. When removing snow off of a cover don't use a shovel. Shovel blades can catch on the cover and tear the vinyl, leading to the cover rapidly becoming waterlogged. Brushes used for cars work well.
  • Leave your cover fully open for at least 30 minutes after shocking your hot tub. After you shock the hot tub, strong chemical vapours are released that can harm the underside of the cover.
  •  If you don't have a cover lifter, use the cover's handles when moving the cover on and off the hot tub. This will reduce wear on the stitched seams of the cover and prevent them tearing from improper handling.
  • Clean your cover using a UV protecting spray at least twice a year to help reduce the harmful effects of the sun on the vinyl finish and stitching.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Biofilm -What It Is and How It Affects Your Hot Tub

What Is Biofilm?

Biofilm is any group of bacteria and other micro-organisms that stick themselves to a surface which is in regular contact with water. These micro-organisms will cover themselves in a protective layer of slime that is resistant to disinfectants (like chlorine or bromine). Biofilm can harbour harmful bacteria like Legionella (Legionnaire's Disease), Pseudomonas Aeruginosas, Mycobacterium Fortuitum and E-Coli. It forms naturally under most conditions but thrives in dark, warm (>90°F), water rich environments. If the surface that biofilm is on dries out it will not die but rather it will go into a dormant state, reactivating once it comes in contact with water again.

How Does Biofilm Affect My Hot Tub?

As mentioned in the last section biofilm forms on any surface that is in water, or that is in consistent contact with water and thrives in warm, dark areas. The plumbing and filtration system in hot tubs provide an ideal environment for biofilms to grow. Add in all of the organics that humans introduce in the water like lotions, soaps, antiperspirants, and sweat and you've got a perfect environment for biofilms to grow. Because of this, even relatively new hot tub (less than a year old) can experience problems with biofilm.

Biofilm will greatly decrease your sanitizer's (chlorine/bromine) effectiveness in keeping your water bacteria free as the residual in the water is constantly being used up trying to get rid of the biofilm. You may also notice it as a visible ring at the waterline or discolouration on your filter.

How Can I Get Rid of Biofilm?

A hot tub with plumbing cleaner running through
it.The dicoloured foam is biofilm that has been
lifted off the surface of the plumbing.

Biofilm growing on the shell of the hot tub (usually at the waterline) can typically be wiped off with disinfecting wipes. Biofilm growth on filters and in the plumbing can be more difficult to remove however. As previously mentioned simply draining the hot tub and waiting for the plumbing or filter to dry out will not kill biofilm, just put in a dormant state. Once you refill the hot tub, or re-wet the filters, it will reactive itself and continue to grow.

In order to get rid of existing biofilm in your plumbing you will need to add a pipe cleaning product, typically right before draining. The cleaner is added with the jets running for a few cycles to allow it to properly circulate through the entire plumbing system. The hot tub is then drained and re-filled. To clean your filters properly soak them in a chemical cleaner made specifically for cleaning hot tub filters for a few hours or overnight.

How Can I Prevent Biofilm From Returning?

Adding AquaFinesse weekly will keep
biofilm from forming and will even
break down existing biofilm.
Once you've removed the biofilm from your hot tub you will want to keep it out. Enzyme based products like Natural Chemistry's Spa Perfect or Eco One's Spa Monthly can be added weekly or monthly to break down oils and other contaminants. These products rely on natural enzymes to break down the protective slime layer that covers the bacteria and will help to slow the formation of biofilm but won't completely stop it. Plumbing cleaners should still be used at least once a year to clean out the hot tub's plumbing and the filters should be chemically cleaned 3-4 times a year to rid them of biofilm.

While not cheap, we have found using AquaFinesse weekly to be the best way to keep biofilm out of hot tubs. It can even break down existing biofilm, allowing you to treat your plumbing without having to drain and refill the hot tub.

If you have any questions about biofilm or any other water care issue call our certified water care specialists at 905-666-5333. Like us on Facebook ( or follow us on Twitter (@thespashoppe) to get notified when new blog entries are posted.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Opening Your Pool Properly For An Easy Pool Season

Opening Your Pool Properly For An Easy Pool Season

Pool opening season is right around the corner and there is no better way to ensure a smooth, easy pool season than by opening your pool properly.

Opening Your Pool

The first thing to consider when opening your pool is when to open your pool. The earlier you open your pool the better chance you have of opening with clear water. Algae will start to grow around 5°C (40°F). The warmer the water is, the greater the potential algae growth so it is important to get the pool running and treated with chlorine as soon as possible. This is especially true if your pool has a safety cover as they let some sunlight in, accelerating the algae growth further. By opening your pool early you avoid the cost of fixing a serious algae problem. To clear a typical algae bloom can cost $300 or more in chemicals and requires you to run your pool pump 24hrs a day until the water is fully cleared. If you are unable to open it early, or are waiting for someone to open it for you, you can pull back a corner of the cover and add some chlorine to the water to inhibit algae growth until you are able to get it open.

Spring Cleaning

Silica sand under a microscope. Notice how rough the sand is.
This roughness is what helps the sand to trap debris.
The two things that are most neglected when opening pools are the filter and the salt cell (if you have a salt pool). The sand in your filter should be chemically cleaned at least once a season; either in the fall right before you close it, or in the spring right after you open it. Backwashing will remove any debris the filter traps but oils and lotions will remain on the sand and can eat up your pools chlorine residual. This will increase your chlorine usage, costing you money, and will also increase the chance of your pool turning cloudy or green due to a lack of sanitizer. The sand should also be completely changed every 5-7 years. Silica sand (the type of sand used in sand filters) starts off having sharp peaks and valleys. It's these peaks and valleys that trap the debris in the filter. As water passes over the sand it starts to round off those peaks. This leads to the sand becoming less and less effective over the years and can cause the water in the pool to become cloudy much easier.

A salt cell before and after cleaning.

If you own a salt water pool you should also be cleaning your salt cell every spring. Over the course of the pool season calcium and other minerals can deposit on the cell, causing scale to form. This scale can drastically reduce the efficiency of your salt cell, a layer of scale as thick as one sheet of paper can reduce its efficiency by up to 50%! This either leads to less chlorine in the pool, causing cloudy/green water, or you having to boost the output of the cell, reducing the life of the cell. To clean the salt cell simply soak it for a few hours (or overnight) in a special cleaning solution that you can pick up at any local pool supply store.

Other Things to Consider

  • It's important to get the water balanced properly as soon as you can. Improper water balance can cause damage to your pumps, filters, heaters, salt cell, vinyl liner, concrete, and plumbing. Improper water balance can also lead to cloudy looking water and will reduce chlorine's effectiveness, leading to water turning green more easily.
  • To get the best possible circulation make sure that your pool's return jets are pointed downward on a 45° angle and (if you have more than one) that they are pointed in the same direction. This creates a "vortex", ensuring the maximum amount of water possible is being moved while minimizing "dead spots" (areas of no circulation where algae can grow much easier).
  •  For the first few days after your pool is opened the pump should be running 24 hours a day. This will ensure all of the water is properly treated and filtered, and will help to clear any cloudiness or algae blooms (along with maintaining a chlorine residual). After a few days, if the pool is clear, you can start running the pump for less time. Note: It is much better to run the pump during the day and shut it off at night. During the day the water is warmer and the Sun's UV rays are hitting the water, both of which will quickly deplete your chlorine residual. By running the pump during the day you will keep a steady dose of chlorine entering the water, greatly reducing the likelihood of running into issues with water clarity or algae growth.
  • Only backwash your pool when your pressure gauge reads 8-10lbs higher than the pressure you started with after your last backwash. Dirty filters will actually filter better than clean filters. Consider replacing your pressure gauge every year as they are generally very poor quality and do not last much more than a year. They are inexpensive to replace and make it much easier to gauge when to backwash your pool.
Anything we missed? Add your suggestions in the comments section below. 

The Spa Shoppe is a hot tub and pool supply store in Whitby, Ontario. We carry the full line of Hydropool hot tubs and swim spas; and offer service on all brands of hot tubs, pools, and swim spas. Like us on Facebook ( or follow us on Twitter (@thespashoppe) to get notified when new blog entries are posted.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

PH and Alkalinity and Why They Matter

PH and Alkalinity and Why They Matter

Most hot tub and pool owners are aware that they need to maintain a proper pH and alkalinity in their water, but few people actually know why. In this post I will go over what pH and alkalinity are and why they matter.

What is pH?

The pH scale
pH stands for "potential of hydrogen" and is the measure of how many hydrogen (H+) ions are present in water. The less hydrogen ions there are in the water the more acidic the water becomes. pH is measured using the pH scale you're familiar with from science class where 7 is  neutral, 0 is the most acidic, and 14 is the most basic (also known, confusingly, as alkaline). This scale is logarithmic and not linear; meaning that as you go from one number to the next you increase or decrease acidity by a factor of 10 and not one. (For example, water with a pH of 6.0 is 10 times more acidic than water with a pH of 7.0).

What is alkalinity?

Total alkalinity of water is a measurement of how much acid the water can neutralize without changing the pH. As things are added to the water that could raise or lower it's pH, alkalinity will act as a buffer and prevent sudden shifts in pH. It is measured in ppm (parts per million). The higher the ppm, the more buffering ability the water has, and the less the pH will be affected by highly acidic or basic substances being added to the water.

What causes changes in pH and alkalinity?

The short answer is basically everything and everyone that goes in to the water. Everything has its own pH and alkalinity. If you add something to the water (Including humans. Our skin is fairly acidic with a pH of around 5.5) that is acidic/basic or has low/high alkalinity you will lower/raise the overall pH or alkalinity of the water.

pH in Hot Tubs and Pools

So how does this relate to pools and hot tubs? There are four main things that pH will affect; bather comfort, water clarity, chlorine efficiency, and the longevity of the equipment. Equipment in this case refers to pumps, heaters, filters, o-rings and gaskets, pool liners, concrete pool finishes, hot tub jets, pillows, covers and basically everything else that comes in contact with the water.
Cloudy water caused by high pH.

Water with a pH of less than 7 will start to become more uncomfortable and will wear out equipment quicker (especially anything made of metal). Water with a pH of more than 7.8 will also become uncomfortable, can become cloudy looking, cause scaling on surfaces of pools and hot tubs, and reduce chlorine's effectiveness.

The pH of your eyes is slightly basic, sitting around 7.3-7.5. By keeping the pH in the ideal range of 7.4-7.6 you will greatly reduce the red, irritated feeling eyes that many people experience when swimming in unbalanced pools while also keeping your chlorine working effectively, keeping your water clear and getting a longer life from your equipment.

Alkalinity in Hot Tubs and Pools

A hot tub heater element that has been
corroded by low pH.
The ideal range for total alkalinity is between 80-120ppm in hot tubs and between 80-150ppm in pools, depending on the finish of the pool. Water with an alkalinity less than 80ppm won't be able to buffer acids well; leading to rapid fluctuations in pH (tending to stay on the acidic side). Water with an alkalinity higher than 150ppm is buffering too well. The pH of the water will stay the same or raise despite pH reducers being added to the water. This can lead to the discomfort, cloudy water, chlorine inefficiency, and scaling that high pH brings.

Tips and Best Practices

Always adjust alkalinity before pH. Wait between 2-3hrs for a pool and 1hr for a hot tub after adjusting alkalinity before adding any other chemicals. This will give the alkalinity booster/reducer a chance to fully work and give you the most buffering ability before adding anything else.
  • Adding air to water will increase it's pH. Turn your hot tub's air controls off when you get out to prevent pH creeping up on you.
  • Make sure to regularly change the water in your hot tub (between 2-4 times a year, depending on usage) to keep the chemicals you add working at peak efficiency.
  • Make sure to get your water professionally tested at least once a month as the test kits at a pool or hot tub store are generally far more accurate than home test kits/test strips.
  • If your test kit is always reading low the reagents/test strips may be expired. Bring a water sample to your local pool or hot tub store and see how the readings line up. If the water test results are higher than what you tested it's time to replace your reagents/test strips.
  • Is your water looking crystal clear? It might still need balancing; just as basic water can become cloudy, acidic water can be very clear.

Anything we missed? Add your suggestions in the comments section below.

The Spa Shoppe is a hot tub and pool supply store in Whitby, Ontario. We carry the full line of Hydropool hot tubs and swim spas; and offer service on all brands of hot tubs, pools, and swim spas. Like us on Facebook ( or follow us on Twitter (@thespashoppe) to get notified when new blog entries are posted.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

How To Save On Your Hot Tub's Monthly Energy Cost

Welcome to The Spa Shoppe's first blog! This will be a blog aimed at teaching hot tub, and pool owners how to get the most out of their hot tubs, and pools. We will discuss everything from water chemistry (and why it's important), to proper maintenance (with the least amount of work), to troubleshooting problems (and how to prevent them from happening). I thought I'd start out by talking about something that everyone wants to know, how to save money on your hot tub's monthly hydro bill.

Fixing Leaks

Most hot tubs today are fairly well insulated when new; however foam hot tub insulation, and covers can become waterlogged and lose effectiveness over time. If you notice a leak be sure to get it fixed as soon as possible. You're losing water that you've already paid to heat and have to replace it with cold water that you have to then pay to heat. Once the leak has been fixed be sure to also remove and replace any insulation that has become saturated. Foam insulation works by heating the air bubbles within the insulation. If it gets wet and those air bubbles become water bubbles it loses most of it's insulating value.


Thermal image of the centre of a hot tub
cover without a full hinge sealer.
For that same reason you should replace your hot tub covers as they become saturated. When buying a new hot tub cover check to make sure it has a "full foam" or "full hinge" seal. This is a piece of foam that runs the entire width of the cover and is designed to insulate the center of the cover when the cover is closed. Without this you will only have a thin piece of vinyl insulating the hot tub between the two foam sides of the cover. 

Programing Your Filtration

Check your owner's manual to see if your hot tub allows you to control it's filtration cycles. Most newer hot tubs will allow for at least some degree of controllability over the start time and run time of the hot tubs filtration. Program your hot tub to only run mid day, or overnight to avoid peak energy rates; most hot tubs will only need to run 8-12 hours a day to properly filter the water with average use. Some hot tubs now allow you to program each day to run differently to account for the different peak energy times on weekends. Note: Some hot tubs that use a circulation pump to filter the water are designed to run for 24hrs a day and shouldn't be changed. Check your owner's manual for more information.

Economy Mode

If you're going on vacation, or just won't be using your hot tub for a few days check to see if you can set to economy mode. This will drop the set temperature 10-20 degrees, and only heat the water on a filtration cycle. Some manufacturers even have preset programs that allow will automatically switch between economy mode during the week and standard mode during the weekend if you are a weekend only user. Note: Economy mode should only be used if you are not planning on using the hot tub for two or more days, any less than that and it is more efficient to keep it at a set temperature. You can instead lower the set temperature by 2 degrees. Even a 2 degree drop can make a big difference in the energy consumption of a hot tub.

  • Clean or replace dirty filters. A dirty filter doesn't allow water to pass through it as easily as a clean filter does; making the pumps work harder to keep up.
  • Shut your air controls off when you're not using the hot tub. The air that is added will cool down the water and cause your heater to work harder to keep up.
  • Make sure to lock your cover clips when you're not using the hot tub. These clips help to keep the cover firmly closed; without them the cover can be lifted by the wind, or from positive air pressure building up under the cover if your air controls are left open. This will allow heat to escape. If your clips are broken you can buy replacement clips from your local hot tub store.
  • You can install a floating thermal blanket that sits on the hot tub water; adding another layer of insulation and slowing evaporation. If you have a well insulated hot tub a significant amount of the overall heat loss will come through evaporation.

Anything we missed? Add your suggestions in the comments section below.

The Spa Shoppe is a hot tub and pool supply store in Whitby, Ontario. We carry the full line of Hydropool hot tubs and swim spas; and offer service on all brands of hot tubs, pools, and swim spas. Like us on Facebook ( or follow us on Twitter (@thespashoppe) to get notified when new blog entries are posted.