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95-96 Hot Springs (Watkins) Heaters

My '95 Hot Springs Classic F with the 115V heater went out and needed to be replaced with part# 34798, which is a 1500W cartrige style element that was used on Hot Springs and Tiger River spas from 1995-97. The part had no technical problems, but Watkins (OEM spa mfg of Hot Springs, Tiger River, and Hot Spot brands) no longer supports it. The new part is 73790, the Watkins "No Fault" 6000 which supercedes all heaters from 1995-2006.

Unfortunately, Watkins deserves "Lots of Fault" for this PN change. Unlike the first "No Fault 6000" from 1997-2002, which lost it's UL rating and had to be recalled due to risk of fire, the 34798 cartrige unit was model of efficiency and reliability. Yet Watkins decided to discontinue it and force buyers to purchase the new 73790 and conversion kit. Part 73790 runs from $250 to $350, the conversion kit for'95-96 owners is another $30-40, and if you pay Watkins dealer/service labor, you'll probably be in for another $150-200 by the time you're done. That's a lot of money for a 10 year old spa, especially when Watkins still supports the same 115V heaters used from 1980-94!!! In other words, Watkins screwed up and failed to meet UL code and forced reliable model owners to upgrade, too, in order to offset the costs.

Need "More Fault" on Watkins? Well, being a cost analyst for a major engineering firm, I've deduced costs from suppliers for a living and worked with the best automotive engineers in the world. I figured out that Watkins marks up its prices a wopping 400% to 500% from the time they order the completed heater assembly to the time it gets sold retail. You would expect maybe at most 300% to the end customer, so Watkins gouges. If you explain you have an old tub and can't justify putting $400 into a new heater, they just try to get you to buy a new tub.

The truth is, if you have a 120V Hot Springs or Tiger River with the 34798 heater, there is another part you can use. Part 34742 is the Hot Spot cartrige element. It is only 1000W instead of 1500W, but will fit with slight modification. THIS IS ONLY FOR PEOPLE WHO FEEL COMFORTABLE DOING THEIR OWN WORK. If you screw up, you won't be able to return PN 34742. Proceed at your own risk. If you succeed, you will be able to get years more life out of your existing '95-96 plumbing.

1) Heater elements 34798 and 34742 are very similar. The 34742 heater core is 1" shorter and won't be problem fitting into the 34798 cartrige. HOWEVER the aluminum intake housing is longer on the Hot Spot 34742 and will not fit. Use a hack saw (or rotary cutting tool) to carefully cut back the intake housing to 3.5", like it is on 34798. Be VERY CAREFUL not to cut through and hit the heater core. I recommend taking a heavy card stock and wrapping it around the core to prevent any damage.

2) The cord end is different. Remove the Hot Spot plug from 34742. Cut the JJ plug (keeping several inches of cord) from the old 34798. Connect the JJ plug to the new 34742 heater using a connector that is proper for the amperage (I'd recommend heat shrink, crimp connectors, which melt and become water resistant - consult an electric shop on the proper weight of connector if you're not sure). Connect the three wires by matching the colors of the insulation. You can go with an extra heat shrink around the entire wire splice to make it completely water proof. Again, this is ONLY recommended for people with competency in working with wiring.

3A) The mounting phlange for both heater elements has a triangular bolt pattern on 2.25" centers. Match them up in the new cartrige housing. Take note of the two O rings which provide the seal (one around the base of the intake housing and the other in a groove in the cartrige). These will need to be properly seated and in good condition to prevent leaking.

3B) The 34798 cartrige housing (the black thing the elements slide into) has a black nub that fits in an extra hole on 34798 mounting plange. The nub MUST be carefully filed down flat with the rest of the cartrige housing surface. If not, you will not get a good seal and will have to drain and start over. Carefully use sharp knife and sandpaper (I used a small rotary tool grinder). Once the nub has been filed down flat, you can insert the new 34742 element.

3C) If you had a ground wire coming from the control pack and attached to the element mounting phlange with a screw, go ahead an attach it after the new 34742 element has been screwed firmly in (but not overtightened).

4) Plug the JJ plug into the proper outlet on the control pack.

5) Fill the tub completely, as per the Hot Springs owner's manual directions, before powering up. As the tub fills, check to make sure there is no leakage from the new heater element.

6) When full, go ahead and power up the hot tub (make sure you have a dedicated 20 amp GFCI protected power source, which you should have had before you ever had the heater problem). Remember 34798 was a 1500W element and 34742 is a 1000W element used in smaller Watkins/Hot Spot tubs, so it will heat more slowly than the old one. It took my converted 34742 30 hours to go from 50F to 98F. If you're not that patient, you may want to just invest in the new 73790 Heater conversion. Once heated, the 1000W element has no problem keeping the tub hot, even when it's belowing freezing outside.

PS - Overall, I think my Hot Springs Classic F is a good, economical tub with very durable construction. My main beef is that Watkins discontinued a perfectly good heater design (even an offical Hot Springs repair guy said the 34798 was a great heater and worth keeping if you could find a good used one) that was only 10 years old. For that reason, I wouldn't have gone back to another Watkins product if I had decided to get a new tub instead. I had to do a lot of research before spending the $200 on 34742 and attempting the conversion. Fortunately, my educated guess that it should work fine (Watkins will tell you it won't) saved me a lot of money. I've seen other posts about the discontinued 34798 heaters on the internet and I hope this helps somebody out. I would also encourage all 95-96 HS/TR spa owners to complain to the president of Watkins and the Better Business Bureau. Watkins can order 34798 heaters from Vulcan Electric for about $50 each in lots of 100, so it's incredibly cheap of them not to support their customers with this product.

PPS - this worked for me. Again, you need to assess your own level of comfort doing the 34742 conversion, which will require a certain level of competence with wiring and basic tools. If you don't feel comfortable, I'd recommend using the new 73790 conversion, which is reputed to be a quality heater assembly.

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