FINDING THE BEST HOT TUB
You buy a hot tub to enjoy, not to maintain it. Maintenance levels can vary greatly, depending on the type of water management system, the quality of the skirting (exterior sides) and cover, and the quality of the electrical components and pumps.
A high quality water management system will run 24 hours a day on a circulation pump. This ensures continuous filtration, especially when you are in the spa. It will also utilize an ozonator. This creates ozone, an unstable molecule that destroys bacteria and lowers the need for chemicals in your spa. The best systems will mix this ozone with the water within the plumbing system, returning clear, clean water to your spa. If the ozone is injected directly into the spa, it does not mix well with the water, lowering the effectiveness-plus these systems shut off when you enter the spa, just when you want them to be on! Having a high quality water management system will save the most time in spa maintenance.
The skirting and cover quality will affect how much time you spend keeping your spa looking good in your backyard. Most reputable spas will come with a vinyl coated cover that will withstand UV, rain, and dirt. They need to be cleaned every few months and can be treated with cleaners and protectants just like the vinyl in your car. The skirting of spas was traditionally made of wood. The trouble with wood is that it looks great when it is new, but it is horrible to maintain. It is fragile and needs to be re-stained every 4-6 months. New synthetic materials make this job easy as most can be cleaned with a hose and require little or no other maintenance. New advances in materials are allowing spa manufacturers to offer several solutions to match your backyard.
Quality electrical components are important in spas, just as they are in any other household product. If it breaks right away, you are spending time trying to schedule service instead of enjoying the spa experience. Check the track record of the company you are doing business with and request referrals from your local dealer. Make sure that the customers that have had the product for a long time are still satisfied. Don’t be fooled by stories about Horsepower, number of jets or pumps, etc. What is important is that the product satisfies your needs for years to come.
Warranties vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Request a copy of the warranty for any hot tub you are interested in purchasing. The key components to look for in the warranty are the hot tub shell (typically at least 5 years against leaks/failure), the plumbing (typically at least 3 years), and electrical components (typically at least 5 years). These are the main areas you should be concerned about, but read all of the fine print. Typically, there is no service charge for warranty items unless you are a certain distance from your dealer. Also, do not just count on the warranty. If your dealer is no longer in business when you need warranty service, or if the dealer had bad service reputation, you will have a harder time getting your hot tub fixed. Remember, you are buying the retail company, the manufacturer, and the hot tub when you make a purchase. Do your homework and make sure you are happy with all of them.
Almost every retail hot tub store will have financing options for you. These terms will vary from dealer to dealer and at different times. Based on the financing programs available to the company at the time. For more information on this, contact your dealer.
This is a question that every potential hot tub owner should ask. Otherwise you could be saddled with a huge electric bill after getting a “great deal” on a hot tub. Most high quality hot tubs should not cost more than $25 per month to operate, but the monthly costs can vary $50 or more, so ask the question! Most manufacturers will offer energy guides to show you what the approximate cost will be. If they don’t – BEWARE. Energy costs will also vary by time of year, as you will use more electricity to keep your hot tub warm in the winter than in the summer. The key variables that will add cost to your purchase price, but save you money over the lifetime of the product are: insulation, filtration, and heating.
The insulation of the product (or lack thereof) has a huge impact on your electricity bill. Full-foam insulation (where the entire cavity under the spa is filled with foam) is by far the most insulating option. Many companies will only partially fill the cavity, or even leave it open and only insulate the panels on the side of the spa. The story you will get from these companies is that leaks are difficult to fix if you have full foam. That’s true, it is more difficult. So would you rather have a well-insulated spa designed not to leak, or a poorly insulated spa designed for leaks?
Your spa uses electricity to turn on pumps and filter the water. The most efficient process for this is the 24 hour circulation pump. This pump uses a fraction of the energy of a big jet pump, and keeps your water cleaner. Bather load will also affect how often you need to filter, increasing or decreasing your energy consumption.
The heater in your spa will also make a big impact on your energy bill. Heaters that only have one setting will always heat at the same rate. Heaters that can operate at several different wattage levels will only expend as much energy as needed to heat the water, instead of always giving full power. Also, fast-flow narrow heaters are more efficient than heaters found in slow flow wider tube heaters. The thin flow of water over the heating element will heat the water faster and more efficiently than a thicker flow of water flowing more slowly. Ask your dealer about these components in your spa.
Warranties can be a measurement of the hot tub quality. However, they aren’t worth the paper they are written on if they are not honored by the manufacturer or the dealer. So a more important issue is to buy your hot tub from a reputable dealer and manufacturer. By making your purchase with a reputable manufacturer, you not only get a thorough warranty but you get one from a company that is known to back their product. The combination of a strong dealer support when you need it. Don’t forget to talk to existing customers to judge their satisfaction level! Then you will really know!
All portable hot tubs are built to circulate the water contained in them. You fill them once, and then replace the water based on your manufacturer’s recommendation (typically every 4-6 months). While the water is in the spa it is constantly being purified and filtered. The temperature also remains constant in your hot tub. You set it to the temperature you desire, and leave it there. The only time you would typically need to change the temperature is if you were planning a long period of non-operation. Hopefully, you are starting to appreciate the importance of the water management system and insulation of the hot tub you decide to buy. This will greatly affect the experience and cost of owning a hot tub.
LET’S GET TECHNICAL
We discussed this in the question about cost of running a hot tub, but let’s go into more detail. The short answer is YES. And any retailer of a spa that is not full-foamed will tell you all about this. Here are the real facts:
If there is a leak in the plumbing contained in the foam, it will take your service person a few minutes longer to find the leak. There will also be a minor cost in replacing any waterlogged foam. With that said, you’re going to be charged for a minimum of an hour for your service call. Whether they get the job done in 30 (non-full foam) verses 45 (full foam) minutes, it really doesn’t impact the cost of the repairman’s time.You will save several dollars per month with a full-foam hot tub versus a non-full-foam hot tub. If you are planning to own your hot tub for several years, the full-foam option will save money. Plus, full-foam helps to hold the plumbing in place. When your jet pump is turned on and off it gives a powerful jolt to your plumbing. If your plumbing is not locked in place with foam, this process will develop leaks in your spa over time. So, we recommend you choose the design that is more energy efficient and built to prevent leaks, not make them easier to repair – Full Foam.
We talked a bit about ozone in the question about the cost of running a hot tub. Now that you understand better why a water management system is so critical to your hot tub experience, let’s talk in more detail about ozone.
Ozone is an O3 molecule. It is typically created by passing oxygen over an ultraviolet bulb or a corona discharge chip. This creates the unstable ozone molecule, which will eventually stabilize to not only kill, but burn up organic material (bacteria, dead skin, or other great stuff that can be introduced into your hot tub!). By adding an ozone system to your hot tub, you can use the ozone to do some of the purification process for you, reducing the need for chemicals.
What are the differences between ozone systems? There is a critical difference that determines how effective your ozone is at attacking organic material. Most ozone systems are added into the spa and inject the ozone stream directly into the hot tub body of water. The ozone then quickly rises to the surface, not coming in contact with very much water, and therefore not doing very much purifying in your spa. Not only that, but the longevity of ozone is much longer in air than in water. So you now have a layer of ozone in between the water surface and the bottom of your cover (you can smell this ozone build-up when you lift the cover). This ozone eats holes in your pillows and covers over time, and allows water to get into the foam of your cover, causing it to become waterlogged.
An ozone system that is incorporated into a water management system will introduce the ozone into the plumbing of the spa, it will then take the ozone and water and vigorously mix the water and ozone in a mixing chamber; leading to a much higher level of purification because every molecule of ozone touches more molecules of water. Then, this mixture of ozone and water will be run though several feet of plumbing that is designed to allow the ozone to change back into oxygen before it enters the hot tub body of water.
Understand this – Humans are organic material, just like bacteria. Breathing ozone will start to irritate your throat. The first ozone system we described turns off the second you touch the spa control. This is because this system is not allowed to run while you are in the spa (so that you don’t breathe the ozone). But you have to ask yourself – when do you want your water to be clean? – When you are in the hot tub! The second system is safe for use when you are in the hot tub, and runs 24/7, keeping your water crystal clear and clean and creating a safe environment for your family.
People ask this question, even after hearing the sales pitch, because they still question why these are important. Like buying a car, the horsepower number is not actually important. In this case, neither is the number of jets. These are just marketing numbers, often used to distract you from the real performance of the product, what is important is that the SYSTEM is designed to give you the best possible hydrotherapy massage. This requires the horsepower to be balanced with the size of the plumbing and the number of jets. Larger pumps and plumbing allow manufacturers to add more jets per pump to a hot tub design. Too many jets without the proper horsepower of plumbing will result in poorly performing jets. Too much horsepower with plumbing that is too small or with too few jets will result in a waste of power, and you will be paying an electric bill for big pumps that are not giving you the therapy that you want.
The bottom line – don’t get obsessed about the numbers. The top manufacturers employ certified engineers to balance the plumbing system, place the jets in optimal locations, and decide which EXPERIENCE is best for you.
You want convenience to get to, yet a private place where you can soak in peace. So try and place it close to the door you will most frequently use to gain access to your tub. Make sure the side where you will access the tub is open and allows for safe entry into the spa.
The hot tub should be placed on a surface that can support its weight. Concrete pads are ideal material, but firm ground, decks, and gravel are also suitable – IF they can support the load. Always consult a licensed contractor if you are concerned about the placement of your hot tub. Landscaping for your hot tub will make it look like part of your backyard. Decking, plants, pots, and other backyard items are great in helping achieve a great look. Just make sure that you leave plenty of room to get in and out of the tub, and that the plants do not get into the hot tub water!
HEALTH BENEFITS OF HOT TUBS
There are many health conditions that can benefit from the chain reactions that occur when you immerse your body in warm water with therapeutic massage jets. Water exercise in a heated pool improves strength and mobility in elderly patients with arthritis in their hips and knees. (Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, December 2003)Medical experts say that, over time, the warmth of the hot tub brings about positive changes in your circulatory system. After a few minutes, the blood vessels dilate, lessening blood pressure: the muscles relax; pain is temporarily relieved; the body cleans itself (through perspiration); healing is promoted; and insomnia is lessened. Hydrotherapy is also used to treat muscle weakness, balance disorders, diabetes and other diseases that impair circulation, cramps, premenstrual syndrome, arthritis, back pain, musculoskeletal injuries and soft tissue injuries. When focused on the back it is useful for diseases of the lungs, bronchial asthma, multiple sclerosis, spinal disease, back pain and weakened back muscles. Consult your physician if you think a hot tub might be the medicine you have been looking for.
You have two options when considering how to manage your spa in the winter. Most people buy their hot tub with the intention of using it when the outside temperature is coldest. This is when it is the most enjoyable! Also, keeping hot water in your tub is the safest way to prevent freezing damage.
If the outside temperature is too cold, or if the spa is not in use in the winter months, the best option is to drain and winterize your hot tub. We recommend that you work with your dealer on winterizing your spa to insure that it is done properly. Improper winterization is not typically covered under your warranty.
As with winter use, the safest situation for the longevity of your hot tub is to leave the water in it and keep it running at optimal levels. The difference with summer is that you can turn the temperature down, save energy, and enjoy a “cool tub” in the summer months.
Again, if you must drain your tub, please consult your dealer for help with the procedure.
When you first install your hot tub, it is a good idea to bring in a sample of your water to your hot tub dealer. Chemical balance is not difficult, but you first want to find out the hardness, mineral, and calcium levels of the water in your area. It may be necessary to initially treat your water to take care of these problems. Once your dealer has helped you to prepare your water, balancing your Alkalinity, pH, and chemical level is as easy as purchasing a chemical kit from your dealer and following the directions.