How To Fix a Frozen Hot Tub


All across the US, cold fronts are making their effects felt. From freezing temperatures, to snow and frigid winds, wintertime can be brutal. While many of us escape to our hot tubs as a refuge, even those aren’t entirely immune to the effects of the cold weather. If you’ve have ever had a frozen hot tub, you know how much damage can be done if not prevented or caught early. There’s a reason hot tub retailers love wintertime—it’s when the demand is at its highest for replacement spa parts that are damaged when the hot tub becomes frozen.

Prevent Hot Tub Freezing

As long as your spa is operating, at least on low speed with all of its valves and lines open, the water won’t be stationary long enough to freeze along the surface which will prevent severe freeze damage. NEVER turn your spa off at the breaker unless you are prepared to immediately drain and winterize the system.

Check your spa regularly. Even if you’re not using it on a daily basis, you should still be checking it to make sure it’s working. Untold damage can occur in less than 24 hours. If you’re not one who uses your hot tub during the winter months and aren’t likely to keep an eye on everything regularly, it might be best to winterize your hot tub and keep it empty. Just make sure you blow out all of the jets and pipes so that nothing freezes.

Install a digital spa pack with freeze protection. For in-ground spas, installing a digital clock will allow your system to automatically turn on the pump when the temperatures outside are low. Most of the digital spa controllers will have a freeze monitor that will turn on the pump if the outside air temperature reaches 40° F.

DON’T turn the temperature down too much. Keeping your water hot during the winter will protect your equipment and be the most energy efficient route. Some may think that turning their water down below 90° is a good way to save energy. It’s not. If you have a power outage or your heater goes out some time during the winter, a stable water temperatures between 100-104° and a tight-sealing hot tub cover will keep everything well-insulated and protected. Water this hot can often keep its heat for 2-3 days during a power outage. Unheated water combined with low outside temperatures can freeze in only an hour of not circulating. Once frozen (even if the power returns) the spa won’t be able to circulate water and cannot heat itself.

Cover up! Having a hot tub cover that is well-maintained and that seals properly keeps everything clean and functioning. In some parts of North America, it’s so cold that leaving a hot tub cover off for even a few hours can turn it slushy. Keep the cover on when you’re not using it and make sure it’s doing its job, meaning it doesn’t have any tears, isn’t picking up water, and is sealed all the way around the perimeter of the spa shell. If you have clips, make sure they’re buckled so the cover stays secure and the wind doesn’t pick up the cover during any snow storms.

If you do think your spa has quit working during the winter and may freeze, don’t panic. Look at it first while the water is still warm and see if it can be fixed before needing to be drained and refilled. Hot tubs are specifically designed so that they don’t have any freezing issues. The large amount of warm water in most modern tubs cools slowly and will help keep it from freezing, hopefully giving you enough time to resolve it without draining.

Unthaw a Frozen Hot Tub

If you do have your hot tub freeze (in varying degrees), here are the steps you need to take to unthaw and protect your equipment.

Turn the Power to the heater and pump OFF at the circuit breaker.  If you have a small space heater, set it next to the pump compartment so that the internal pipes can begin to unthaw. Always watch the space heater and don’t leave it unattended.

Use something like an ice pick to chip away at the center of the water until a hole has been established. Add buckets of hot water to the system either from the tub or boiled on the stove to melt the ice.
Start to remove the water from the hot tub with a wet/dry vac. Continue this process (adding hot water, removing melted water) until all the ice and water has been removed.
Open the drain valve on the pipes and let the space heater melt and exit the pipes.
Use something like a heat gun to finish thawing the pipes if necessary. Begin at the drain, holding the heat gun a few inches from the pipes and move in a gentle side-to-side motion while moving up the pipe. Keep it moving to prevent heat damage.
Use a wrench to open pipe joints as you are applying the heat. Open the pump and heater junction to allow the melted water to drain out.
Assess the Damage

After your pipes have been emptied and the unit is devoid of water, you need to look at the equipment and assess what repairs need to happen.

Most freeze damage effects the following parts: the wet end of the pump, spa plumbing, spa packs, etc. These are what you should check first. If caught soon enough, all of this can be fixed fairly easily. If the spa has been frozen for weeks, there’s a chance that the hot tub is beyond help.
Turn on your equipment and make sure it’s working. Don’t leave pumps and heaters on for more than 2-3 seconds if the hot tub is empty.
Most cracking damage from any expansion caused by freezing ice happens to the heater body, the filter body, the cylinder that holds the filter cartridge, or the pump. Pipes rarely have a clean break. Rather, they have thin cracks that may eventually shatter.
Filling the tub is a good way to see where the leaks are originating from. Once the tub is filled with water, watch for running water that may indicate leaks from a broken pipe or affected equipment. After identifying parts that need fixing, you can drain and repair. For small leaks you can use Fix-A-Leak to seal and repair the damage.
If you don’t see any running water, you can turn the spa back on to check for any abnormal sounds and leaking water (not slow drips). If everything looks right, there’s a chance you caught everything in time and saved yourself a few hundred dollars in repairs.
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Kasey LaRose
June 21, 2016

We would suggest calling the spa manufacturer and asking their advice about what sensor is causing it to read “Ice” even though it is warm outside. It could be a very simple fix, but see what they say. They may have a few ideas for how to fix it without having to call a spa technician.

Tom Kumashiro
January 21, 2016

Thanks for the valuable information. I may be in trouble since it’s been a few weeks since I discovered that my power went out or it turned it automatically because of the cold, (this just before I had to leave for two weeks). I don’t have a space heater but I’m wondering whether wrapping the pipes with a heat tape would help unfreeze the pipes.

Kasey LaRose
April 19, 2016

It’s possible. I have not tried out this solution, but it could work. Once the pipes were frozen for an extended amount of time, I would think whatever damage was going to happen, probably happened. Maybe nothing happened? But to use the tub again, you are going to want to make sure that the pipes and equipment are not frozen when you start it back up. A space heater inside the cabinet is what we would recommend.

June 20, 2016

My spa froze when I went on vacation. I emptied the spa and did not get all the water out of the hoses and jets and what not. When I returned I tried to fill it up and turn it on. I turn it on at the gfi and power comes on at the control panel. It’s giving off an (ice) code on the display panel and the pumps will not turn on, when u hit the jet button it just makes a clicking sound like it’s trying to switch on the pump. I can’t see any damage or leaks at all. The heater is working, I’m guessing since it got cold the spa sensors are keeping it from starting up or something I couldn’t find any reset buttons or anything. What should I do ? Do I need to call someone to look at it. It’s 85 degrees outside now and I still can’t get it to fire up

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