Tales from the Cabin
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Cabinitis: Robert Burns Revisited

What happens when a hot tub is left defenseless in midwinter?

By Lars F
Published: February 1, 2005
To quote Robert Burns, “the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley (go often awry).” I have to tell you, the poet was completely correct. My best laid plans this past year did “gang aft agley.”
Let me tell you the saga of my hot tub.
I was so proud of the spa I had installed in my gazebo at the cabin. I rhapsodized eloquently on the joys of a great hot tub excursion on a cold winter’s night. I incurred great expense to make certain the hot tub had its own freeze backup. And I installed a separate gas heater in the gazebo so that if the freezeup feature on the hot tub ever failed there would still be ample heat in the gazebo to prevent freezeup.
I was quite certain I had built in all the proper backups and that a freezeup problem would never happen to me.
Well, I now have to eat a large chunk of humble pie.

The sequence of events in the great hot tub fiasco unfolded like this:

Big bill. My first indication of trouble was when I received my December electric bill and saw that it had jumped to over $250. Since we hadn’t been to the cabin in December, I knew something was very wrong. I immediately drove up to the cabin to find that the hot tub wouldn’t shut off.
I called the hot tub dealership. They advised me to place the spa in standby mode until I had more time to work on it.
Bad advice – and my first bad mistake.
Neither of us realized that the heat probe sensor had failed and would ultimately cause a failure in the circuit board in the control system. Sometime during the month of January, the control board conked out and the freeze protection feature on the hot tub became inoperative.  
Well, no real problem, right? That backup gas heater I had installed would keep the room warm enough so the tub wouldn’t freeze up.
At this point I became intimately familiar with Murphy’s Law. During the same period of time when the hot tub’s control board conked out, the gas heater failed to ignite and never recovered ignition. When I arrived at my cabin in early February, I found a totally frozen hot tub – one giant ice cube!
Perfect timing for my second bad mistake.
Meltdown. I manually restarted the gas heater and went to bed for the night, forgetting that things tend to break when they’re thawing out, not necessarily when they’re freezing up.
Two water pipes in the gazebo broke during the night, and I awoke to find several inches of water on the gazebo floor with icicles hanging from the deck all the way to the ground.
What should have been a wonderful, relaxing day was spent mopping up the floor with towels and manually draining the hot tub with pails.
Both motors and all the piping on the system had to be dismantled and taken back home so all the broken parts could be repaired. One small ray of sunshine in this otherwise joyless day was that the hot tub motors are located on the outside of the hot tub so removal was easy.

You’re kidding! When I got the parts to the hot tub dealership, the repairman told me they often recommend installing a couple of thermostatically controlled 100-watt bulbs in the motor unit in case of a temperature control failure. The final insult to my diligence! Two 100-watt bulbs could have prevented the entire freezeup.
The poet Burns was right. My best laid plans had gone awry.
My hot tub is all repaired and operational once again. You can bet that next year my hot tub will be protected by its current functional backup and by two 100-watt bulbs.
A large glass of milk goes well with humble pie.

Lars F. has refused the 12-step plan to control his cabinitis. Only his first name is used to protect his identity.

(Robert Burns quote taken from the poem: “To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With the Plough.”)

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