To be a good hot tub tech, you need the sleuthing skills of a detective, the discipline of a commercial pilot and a large measure of patience. But where does a new spa recruit develop such abilities?
A good place to start is the upcoming PSP Expo seminar "Troubleshooting Portable Hot Tubs: Tips on What to Look For" on Thursday, November 2, from 7:30 to 9 a.m., in the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.
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Teaching the course is 40-year veteran of the trade John Schaedler, vice president of operations/facilities at Aqua Quip in Renton, Wash.
The seminar will be based on the Certified Hot Tub Technician handbook; the goal for most attendees will be eventual CHTT certification, which requires successful completion of the CHTT exam, proctored in a variety of locations throughout the country.
Not everyone in attendance will be new to the trade; some seminar students are old hands at hot tub repair. Schaedler says different people take the course for different reasons.
"New technicians are looking to get a handle on good troubleshooting procedures, and the CHTT offers a good foundation in installation, service and maintenance. But we also get experienced technicians who are just looking for the certification — the CHTT emblem to put on their work shirt.
"It helps with marketing; it helps tout the service tech. Having certifications adds legitimacy in the eyes of the customer. I've had experienced service people tell me they came to the class for that reason — they said they were already well versed in the topics of the course, but wanted the marketing edge the CHTT certification provides."
The course offers a broad grounding in the major tenets of hot tub repair, starting with the first priority for any technician, safety. Here, Schaedler offers a few brief tips for those just learning spa service:
Most technicians are taught safety rules about working with electricity and other hazards, such as slipping on icy decks, but the safety mission extends to the customer. Techs should be looking for safety threats to the people who will use the tub.
I like to use the analogy of first aid certification training: One of the first things you learn is when you come onto a scene of an injury, look around and survey the area. You can't just dash to the person lying on the ground because there may be threats in the area.
We use the same approach to working on the tub. When you walk into the area, look around. Are there threats to the customer's safety? You need to be aware of all the things that could cause a problem for the customer and make corrective notes for later: "I noticed you didn't have your cover fastened," "I notice you don't have a breaker within line of sight of the tub," things of that nature.
A technician should also have a basic understanding of health risks to bathers with heart conditions, pregnancies, etc. You don't need to learn the exact recommendations, but when you're talking to the homeowner, they should know where to direct the customer to get detailed information.
Practical Knowledge: When to Fix
It's always a question a tech should keep in mind. There are so many spa manufacturers and so many considerations that bear on the decision — especially the availability of parts — that some experience is required to make a good choice.
But whatever you do, always remember that a customer doesn't want to hear what you can't do. They're looking for what you can do.
They don't want to hear, "I can't do anything with it." They want to hear, "We have some options…"
Maybe one of the options is a new tub, but they want clear choices spelled out for them. And if a new tub is the option they want, a tech should make a recommendation for that. If it's through the tech's own company sales department, that's great, but independent technicians also need a relationship with a hot tub seller for these situations. And they need to be ready with that solution: "I know a replacement model that would work perfectly for your situation."
Repairing electrical systems starts with safety, and safety starts with the power, of course. Make sure it's off.
Step one is to disconnect the power and then lock the box out. That is, take measures to ensure the power cannot be turned back on until you are done, as that's a major cause of accidents.
This is especially a possibility when something else is wired onto the same circuit as the tub. So the tech turns off the circuit, someone in the home sees a light go out or a plug go dead, wanders down to the box, and flips the circuit breaker back on.
A good thing to do is to padlock the circuit box so no one comes back around, says, "Huh, somebody left the power off this circuit," and switches it back on. Lock it out if you can. At the very least, put a note right on the box that tells someone you're working on the tub and not to mess with the breakers.
John Schaedler will be teaching Troubleshooting Portable Hot Tubs: Tips on What to Look For (ID code TH04) on Thursday, November 2, from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Register online at poolspapatio.com.
Schaedler is in his 40th year with Aqua Quip in Renton, Wash., currently serving as vice president of operations/facilities. He has helped develop training programs and taught pool and spa courses both residential and commercial to CPO students, health departments and through APSP. He helped with the development of the CHTT program and continues as instructor and advisor.