What is a spa controller? And how to choose the right one

Ever wondered how a spa pool knows to turn the pumps and heater on, run the filtration cycles? In this article, we’ll explain what a spa controller is and how to choose the best one if you need to upgrade.

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What is a spa controller?

The spa controller unit is the central brain that connects to and runs all of the plumbing equipment in your spa or swim spa.

Your spa controller connects to the circulation pumps, blower, massage jets, lights and also to other accessories such as ozone or UV sanitiser. A spa controller can also be known as a 'hot tub controller' or 'spa pack' and helps you enjoy a relaxing soak in your spa

How do I choose a good spa or hot tub controller?

Choosing the right spa controller can give your older spa a new lease of life and make your life so much easier. Not to mention you will save money on energy costs!

As is often the case, you get what you pay for! The better quality product will often cost a little more but will last the distance. We always recommend choosing the best quality option that is within your budget.

Look for the features below when considering the best one for you;

  • Expandability for adding extra accessories like another pump, lights, heat pump or an ozone unit
  • Wifi connectivity - enabling you to monitor and control your spa remotely
  • Availability of spare parts
  • Common support
  • Easy to install
  • Compact size for easy retrofitting if replacing an existing controller
  • Heat pump connectivity for future-proofing
  • Smart technology for energy saving

What is the difference between a spa controller and a touchpad?

One common misconception about spa controllers is that the control function is contained within the touchpad or spa (hot tub) control panel.

This is not correct – the touchpad (also known as the keypad) enables you to adjust the settings on your controller (such as the temperature or to turn pumps and jets on and off.)

The controller is a box that usually sits inside the cabinet under your spa. In many cases, the heater element is built into the controller also.

The touchpad is connected to your controller via a cable that runs through the cabinet underneath your spa body.

If you need to replace either the controller or the touchpad on your spa, make sure you are clear about which one you are looking for!

How much does a spa controller cost?

As a general rule, a new spa controller will cost between $900 and $2000 Australian dollars to replace, depending on the make and model of spa controller you choose and any additional accessories that you may require.

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Do older spas have controllers?

No. Many older spas did not come with a controller unit, there was simply one main ‘On/Off’ button that turned everything on or individual air buttons that each controlled the pump and heater and other components.

Older types of spa pumps contained heater elements built into them, so as the water flowed through the pump it was heated, then circulated throughout the spa. The only way to save money on running costs was to turn it off completely – but this meant the heater had to work harder to heat the water up from cold every time.

Read on to find out how modern spa controllers help save money on energy costs and give you options in your spa.

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Why should I upgrade my spa controller? (How does a new spa controller save money?)

Modern spa controllers allow your spa to operate much more efficiently by keeping your spa water temperature maintained at your desired temperature. This saves you money on energy costs.

Modern spa control systems monitor your spa temperatures all the time, enabling the controller to 'learn' what times your spa loses water temperature, so it will program the spa heater to turn on at the right times to maintain the spa temperature while optimising your energy usage.

This can also provide faster heating as your controller turns the heater on at the most efficient time of day. (Note that you must set the time and date correctly on your control panel to get the full benefits).

Modern controllers also save energy by turning certain components off when another one turns on.

Please note: Replacing your spa cover and adding insulation inside your spa cabinet can also help save money on heating.

Can I use my existing spa pumps on a new spa controller?

Yes, in many cases you can upgrade your spa controller and still use your existing pumps and other componentry in your spa pool. You may need to change the plugs on the end of your pumps and components to AMP cables that will connect to the new controller.

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How do I replace my spa controller?

If the existing spa control system in your spa has stopped working it may be more efficient to upgrade your controller to a new controller so you can enjoy the benefits built into more modern spa controllers. Follow the steps below to help identify the best controller for your particular spa.

  • Determine how old your spa is
  • Identify the volume of your spa water
  • Identify what accessories are connected to your existing controller (pumps, blower, ozone etc) to determine which size controller you need.
  • Think about any new accessories you would like to add now or in the future (heat pump, UV, saltwater chlorinator etc)
  • Select a spa controller with the appropriate heater size and accessory ports

You will most likely need a spa technician to help with the installation. Any electrical work should be carried out by a licensed electrician.

How can I control my spa or hot tub remotely?

The SpaNet SV series can connect with the SpaNet Smartlink system which enables you to monitor and control your spa remotely from your mobile device. Your smartphone or tablet can become a remote control for your spa!

Is the heater built into a spa controller?

In the old days, hot tub and spa pumps had a heating element built into them.

In modern spa systems, the heater is part of the control box. The sensors in the heater tell the controller what to do and to adjust the temperature.

How long does a spa controller last?

As a general rule, a spa controller should last at least 10 years, as long as you treat your spa with care and respect.

Help your spa controller last longer;

  • Be gentle on the touchpad. (No button bashing!)
  • Ensure your spa water is balanced correctly to avoid damage from too high or too low pH
  • Keep your cabinet sealed and clean inside to avoid bugs and dirt getting into your controller
  • Disconnect power in an electrical storm. (Damage due to an electrical storm is not covered under warranty, this would be covered under your insurance.)

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Got more questions?

Talk to us on live chat, or email us your spa controller questions and we'll be happy to help!

*Disclaimer: In this article, we’ve used brand names not affiliated with Spa Store™ or Vortex Leisure Pty Ltd, the parent company of Spa Store™. All information, including pricing and product details, was accurate at the time of writing (March 2022) and may change without notice. *

The following registered trademarks are owned by companies not affiliated in any way with Spa Store™ or Vortex Leisure Pty Ltd: SpaNet®, PowerSmart®, SmartLink®, SmartStream® are owned by Spa Net Pty Ltd. Balboa®, ControlMySpa™, Balboa Bluetooth Audio, bba™, TP/SpaTouch™ are owned by Balboa Water Group. Davey®, SpaPower® and SpaQuip® are owned by Davey Water Products Pty Ltd.

Affiliations: Spa Store®, Spa World®, Vortex Spas® and Fisher Spas® are trademarks owned by Vortex Leisure Pty Ltd.

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