Hot Tubs, Whirlpools, Spas, I want them all!
So, you’ve decided to invest in a hot tub or spa. These amenities can provide hours of family recreation and a peaceful escape from the grind of ordinary life. But there’s also the issue of maintenance and choosing the right model.
Hot Tubs and Spas
A hot tub is a large tub or small pool full of heated water and used for soaking, relaxation, hydrotherapy, reading, or meditation. In most cases, they have jets for massage purposes. Hot tubs are frequently located outdoors, although they may be sheltered against sun, rain, wind, or snow.
There are essentially three different styles of hot tubs:
- Simple wooden-staved soaking tubs
- Fiberglass-reinforced plastic spas (whirlpool tubs)
- Bathtub-sized indoor units
This style of tub is constructed much like a very large barrel with wooden staves. The water within is usually still, circulated only for the purposes of heating and filtering it.
The tub is often inset within a wooden deck and is entered from that deck. Seating within the tub usually takes the form of wooden benches or a seat that forms a ring around the inner circumference of the tub.
The tub is filled once at system startup and is then maintained in much the same manner as a swimming pool. In simple designs, chlorine is used as a disinfectant. More sophisticated designs use an ozone generator, reducing the amount of chemicals needed to disinfect the water. The tub is heated by electricity or, occasionally, natural gas or propane, or rarely, wood fires.
This style of tub is very different from the wooden soaking tub. These are usually less deep and manufactured from fiberglass-reinforced plastic formed into shapes that provide a variety of seating arrangements within the tub. Each seat is usually equipped with hydrotherapy jets that allow a forceful flow of water to be directed at various parts of the body. The water flow may be aerated for additional effect and some or all of the jets may also automatically move or rotate, causing the changing pressure of the water on the body to provide a massage-like effect.
These tubs may be free-standing or recessed within a surrounding deck. If free-standing, they are usually entered by climbing a short staircase of one or two steps and then stepping over the side of the tub onto one of the seating areas. A common misconception with hot tubs is that they need external plumbing when in fact most modern units are self contained and consequently only need filling with water.
Although Jacuzzi is probably the best known brand name of spas, the company now concentrates on making bathroom fixtures.
Effective insulation greatly improves the energy efficiency of a spa. There are several different styles of spa insulation: some manufacturers fill the entire cabinet with foam, while others insulate the underside of the shell, the inside of the cabinet, or both. Not surprisingly, many manufacturers advertise the superiority of their approach to insulation, but few independent side-by-side comparisons are available.
Spas usually have several independent water circuits with one providing heating and filtration and the others driving the hydrotherapy jets. Sophisticated computer controls are now common and many tubs now are equipped with extensive lighting, sound systems, and even flat-screen televisions with integrated DVD players.
Much smaller spas are now commonly available for installation within an ordinary bathroom. Resembling conventional bathtubs, they are filled afresh for each use, don’t contain any heating or filtration mechanisms, and usually contain just one hydrotherapy water circuit. They may accommodate one or sometimes two people simultaneously.
The spa is the smaller cousin of a pool in size, but takes the origins of its name from the mineral springs in Spa, Belgium. Inspired by therapeutic powers the spring offered, spas are now miniature hot tubs that not only provide warmth but also a place to escape and relax. For the most part, spas include devices that create jet streams or whirlpools that mimic water currents and enhance the calming effect.
Construction of Home Spas
The Spa Shell
The spa shell is significant because it is a very visible part of the spa and you want it to stay looking nice. More importantly, though, you want it to remain intact and leak-free because unlike other mechanical components, the shell cannot easily be replaced or repaired if problems develop.
The shell is composed of a surface and an understructure that are bonded together during the manufacturing process. The surface is the source of the color, look and feel of your spa, so it should resist deterioration due to the sun, spa chemicals, or normal wear and tear. Some high-end shells have special coatings to make them more stain resistant and even anti-bacterial ingredients molded right into the shell material.
The understructure of the shell is the source of its strength. It is the main reinforcement for the shell, and if it is of poor quality the shell will tend to bubble, crack or even delaminate and come apart. If the understructure is not built with sufficient strength and durability, the shell will be unable to withstand prolonged pressure from the heavy weight of water in the spa.
The spa cabinet is significant because it is the other very visible part of your spa. If the cabinet deteriorates or otherwise decays in some manner, your hot tub will become an eyesore and may even fail structurally.
For many years, spa cabinetry was made of wood, most commonly redwood or cedar, and this is still popular today.
The quality of wood has a direct effect on the color and overall look of the cabinet, and on its longevity. Wood cabinets require regular maintenance, though, especially in climates where they are exposed to wind, rain, snow, or the drying effects of hot sunlight. Typical maintenance includes staining the wood annually, plus taking precautions to keep water from pooling and standing in contact with the wood, which can cause it to rot.
Synthetic materials are becoming very popular because they require little or no maintenance to keep their handsome looks. Early versions of synthetics looked very â€œplasticâ€ and cheap, but modern synthetics have a rich, elegant look that spa owners really like. Coupled with their easy care and long life, synthetics are thought by many to be the wave of the future in spa cabinetry.
Whatever material you choose for your spa cabinet, it is important to select a cabinet style that allows easy access to internal components such as pumps and heaters. A fully removable panel is best, but a standard access door is acceptable in most cases. The easier it is to access internal parts, the less you will pay in labor charges for any repairs that may come along.
Seating And Jets
The style of seating you choose is a very personal decision. Some people like to have a relaxing lounge seat and dedicated therapy seats, while others prefer a combination of bench seating and therapy seats. For most spa buyers the choice is driven by their intended uses for a spa.
For instance, if hydrotherapy will be the primary use then it is important to buy a hot tub with therapy seats in the appropriate shape and jet configuration for the body area that will be the focus of therapy. If socializing and entertaining are at the top of the priority list, though, then it is important to buy a spa with seating that makes it easy to accommodate groups of people and facilitate conversation. Bench seating is usually a good choice for buyers with this use in mind.
Spa jets, both their position and their function, are another important choice that is personal in nature. Buyers primarily seeking hydrotherapy benefits from a hot tub usually favor multi-functional jets that provide varying massage movement and intensity. However, buyers who are more interested in using their home spa or hot tub for entertaining or other social purposes often prefer standard jets, in varying quantities and positions.
Selecting a Spa
An entire slew of factors come into play when deciding to purchase a spa. One immediate decision to make is whether to have an outdoor or indoor spa. Outdoor spas are far more common, as indoor spas create moisture and must be kept isolated from various points of the house. Above ground or in-ground? In-ground spas can never be moved, but above ground units are more vulnerable to the elements. What level of equipment would you like to include with your spa? This will be affected by the amount of space you have.
Other topics to consider are size, weight, price, not to mention aesthetic trim elements such as color, style, even accessories.
Spa Necessities and Maintenance Accessories
Spas require the same chemicals that a pool would require to keep it clean and bacteria free. However, because of the special construction of spas, they require their own set of chemical balances made for their volumes and circulation.
Outdoors spas often come with standard covers, to protect the water from the elements and debris. These covers conserve the heat of the spa and save energy costs. Most are hard cover shells, but soft covers are also available. The best place to start searching for a spa cover is the manufacturer that made the spa, as they will often have the model and corresponding style in stock.
Caring for the Cover
When it comes to caring for your hot tub cover, quality and cleanliness are key.
Quality: Avoid cheap covers because they will only end up costing you more in the long run. Quality covers will have a polystyrene foam core that is heat-sealed in heavy plastic sheeting. You want to look for marine-grade vinyl with mildew and UV inhibitors. You also want to be sure that the cover has a double reinforced folding center hinge, steel reinforcement inside, adequate locking fasteners, and a zipper.
Cleaning your hot tub cover: In order to prevent dirt abrasion and mildew, it is important to adhere to the following steps prior to application of vinyl protectant. First, rinse with cool water using a lawn hose. Next, spray your cover with a gentle, non-foaming cleaner and wipe it clean. Using products such as laundry detergents and dish soaps are not recommended as they can actually remove part of the topcoat and cause premature vinyl failure. After you’ve wiped the surface clean, rinse thoroughly with water and allow your cover to dry. This cleaning procedure should be repeated monthly so that there’s never any buildup.
Clear Water Basics
Proper water maintenance reduces the number of chemicals you’ll end up using in your hot tub. Keep the following items on-hand to ensure a fresh, luxurious spa experience.
Baseball caps, bathing caps, ponytail holders, etc.: The bottom line is that you want to keep long hair out of the water, which also helps prevent against gel, shampoo residue and certain other hair care products reaching your water and creating foam.
Spa cleaner: When cleaning your hot tub, avoid oil, soap, or ammonia-based products. You may opt for a water and bleach solution or purchase a professional spa cleaner. Always rinse well afterwards with fresh water, and be sure to dry the shell of your tub with large, dry towels.
Filters: It is important to replace your filter every twelve months to avoid cloudy water. In addition, you should also clean your existing filter every thirty days and soak it in a degreaser solution. Some people prefer to have two filters, which they use on an alternating basis, allowing one to soak in the cleaning solution all month while the other is in use. Make sure you rinse your filter thoroughly before you put it back into your hot tub.
A Word About Weight
If you are going to put a hot tub on the main floor of your home it is very likely you will need additional floor support. If it happens to be placed over a wall in the basement you might be all right. In any case you should contact a structural engineer and have him/her take a look at your house and give you a professional recommendation in writing. If you need to upgrade the structural support, take the letter with you to get a permit. Since the engineer is working for you, the recommendation will likely be more reliable than asking the permit department.
Why bother getting a permit? Because you need to inform your insurance company that you have made such a major change to your house – all that water and all that weight will probably not be covered by your present insurance policy unless you inform them, and they will want to know that it was put in with a permit. Of course, you could skip all of this, but if the floor falls in, or you simply end up with major water damage, don’t be surprised if your insurance company refuses to pay.
Maximize Your Fun Factor With Hot Tub Accessories
In addition to making sure you take care of your spa, you also want it to be a fun place where family and friends gather to relax. Affordable accessories like the ones listed below will help enhance the experience:
Plastic playing cards: Imagine enjoying your favorite card game without any worry of spoiling the deck.
Spa tables: In addition to providing a surface for those card games, this will also hold your refreshments, the remote control, and just about anything else you might want to bring into the hot tub with you.
Booster cushion: Those who are tired of floating around in their seats will probably love the comfort of these water-filled cushions.
Floating drink holder: An alternative or just a great addition to the spa table, these fun floating trays have the ability to hold a variety of snacks, drinks, and personal items.
This paper is intended for informational purposes only. Nothing contained herein constitutes legal, financial or other professional advice. Transmission of these materials is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, any relationship of any kind between the provider and the recipient. Some of these points may not apply in your area. Different term and conditions may vary from state to state and province to province. All articles, text and photographic material presented here is for the use and pleasure of the recipient only. Download PDF