Shopping for Spas
Spas, Hot Tubs and Jacuzzis are words that attempt to describe the same product. A stand-alone unit (no plumbing required) will provide a hot water, muscle-soothing experience, combined with massage-like jet action to invigorate the body.
When shopping for a Hot Tub there are many things to consider. We will attempt to walk you through the shopping process and hopefully provide you with information you can use. Your Hot Tub shopping experience will be exciting and also confusing at times. Take your time, ask questions, and sit in the hot tub. Check for durability, ruggedness and energy efficient, care-free operation. Remember, your Hot Tub will provide you with many years of family enjoyment if you invest in the right Hot Tub.
Questions to answer before leaving home:
What you should know to make an informed decision:
1) WHERE IS THE HOT TUB GOING TO GO?
Answering this question will help you limit your Hot Tub shopping to units that will fit your location.
For Hot Tubs to be located indoors, the Hot Tub selected must fit into a doorway, approximately 30-32 inches wide and 78-82 inches high. Your door may be different so please measure before coming to the store. The Hot Tub must also be able to be moved inside the house to the final location. Please measure all doorways prior to shopping in order to save you time by only looking at units that will fit.
Outside placement of a Hot Tub is usually not restricted in size, but because most Hot Tubs range from 6′x 6′ to 8′x 8′, you may want to measure your deck or patio to determine how large a unit you can reasonably fit on your site.
2) WHAT SITE PREPARATION MUST I DO?
Since most Hot Tubs are placed outside, the homeowner must provide a level surface on which to place the Hot Tub. A concrete slab works, as well as a properly constructed wood deck (2×10′s, 16″ on center, no span larger than 8′ between support posts. In addition, a flat surface constructed out of pea-gravel will suffice. Just try and remember the unit weighs 600 to 1,000 pounds (empty) and for a safer delivery both for the unit and the delivery personnel, please do not attach any railings until after the Hot Tub has been delivered.
3) FOR WHAT PURPOSE ARE YOU INVESTING IN A HOT TUB?
- Therapeutic – Someone in your immediate family has a specific ailment that would benefit from hot water therapy. If this is the main reason for your purchase, it is very important that the family member sit in any unit you are considering purchasing to ensure they are receiving therapy from the unit where they need it most.
- Stress & Relaxation – Largest category of Hot Tub buyers. Looking for a quick daily or every other day retreat from the hectic pace of their lives. Great for families looking to spend some time together without the interruption of television, telephones, and instant messaging.
- Social – Party, Party, Party. Primary emphasis is on a large tub, lots of water, room for entertaining, and a place to socialize.
4) WHAT ARE THE ELECTRICAL REQUIREMENTS?
Most Hot tubs will require a 240 volt dedicated line either 40, 50, or 60 amp service with a GFI disconnect located outside between the breaker box (inside the house) and the spa (outside the house).
If your house does not have enough electrical power to support these requirements, there are other portable Hot Tub units that simply plug into a regular household outlet (Softub).
5) WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT METHODS USED TO INSULATE A HOT TUB?
3 INSULATION METHODS USED BY MANUFACTURERS
- Fully Foamed System – In this system the entire underside of the spa within the cabinet is filled with foam with the exception of the area surrounding the pump motors to allow for proper ventilation.
Advantages – The greatest benefit to the consumer especially now in the days of going green and conserving energy. More foam and less air pockets greatly increase a Hot Tub’s efficiency. Another important function of the foam is to provide support for the plumbing of the hot tub. The foam will actually prevent movement and vibration that is a result of pumps turning on and off and water moving through the plumbing.
Disadvantages – This is the most expensive method of insulating your hot tub but also the most effective.
- Warm Air Barrier System – An insulating system which is constructed by placing little to no insulation material on the back of the Hot Tub shell and then insulating the inside of the Hot Tub cabinet to form an air barrier chamber. Within this chamber the radiant heat generated by the pump motors is captured and recycled in order to raise and maintain the water temperature.
Advantages – Reduces production cost for a manufacturer and allows for easy access to all plumbing and equipment which reduces labor charges on future repairs.
Disadvantages – Unfortunately no hot tub cabinet can be completely sealed without ventilation or the pump motors would overheat and burn out. So if there is no foam covering the plumbing wind will blow into the cabinet it will simply carry away any precious heat that would have accumulated inside the cabinet. But the biggest drawback to this system is that all plumbing is unsupported and suspended in air. There really isn’t anything to help support the plumbing and prevent undesired movement of the pipes and hoses. Leaks can form more frequently in a tub insulated with the Warm Air Barrier System.
- Very Little or No Insulation – Obviously in our climate you would not want to place a hot tub outdoors without insulation. Unfortunately, there are several large home supply stores that sell “outdoor” units that have minimal or no insulation. Remember, you get what you pay for.
Advantages – Low upfront price.
Disadvantages –High energy costs and frequent repair costs caused by unsupported plumbing system.
6) WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND PUMP HORSEPOWER?
There will always be at least one spa retailer who only sells based on the number of jets or pump horsepower. It is very important for you the consumer to remember that a properly engineered and designed Hot Tub contains appropriately placed jets to provide maximum hydro massage therapy. This requires the placing of jets in an anatomically correct way to target muscle groups most likely to cause tension and pain. In addition, these jets must be powered by correctly balanced water flow rates in order to maximize your hot tub experience. Remember, getting knocked over by a fire hose does not feel better than properly targeted and powered jet action.
7) HOW IS THE HOT TUB STRUCTURE CONSTRUCTED?
2 TYPES OF STRUCTURES
- Wood Frame – This is the most widely used structure construction in the industry mainly because wood offers the most benefits to the end user. A well built wood hot tub structure should be constructed of stud reinforced 2”x4” pressure treated lumber. The same materials used in home construction.
Advantages – Most wood structures provide ample strength and rigidity while offering a higher level of heat retention as wood is itself an insulator. A properly constructed wood structure also offers a longevity that will stand the test of time. Pressure treated lumber is insect repellant and is not affected by high moisture environments such as that of a hot tub.
Disadvantages – Buyer beware there are different types of wood structures you should be aware of as you shop for your hot tub. Some manufactures will use a 2”x2” untreated lumber to create the structure of the spa. This is a way for a manufacturer to cut cost while still being able to say they have an all wood structure. Untreated lumber has a higher probability of rotting away over time and does not protect against insects. A 2”x2” frame does not offer the strength and rigidity needed to properly support the weight of a hot tub in the long term.
- Steel Frame – Some manufacturers use a steel frame structure as an alternative lower cost construction method.
Advantages – This material is highly rigid and is lighter weight than wood.
Disadvantages – Steel is a horrible insulator. In our cold Wisconsin winters steel frames quickly radiate heat causing rapid drops in internal cabinet temperature which in turn forces the hot tub to run more often increasing its energy consumption. Steel frames also have a tendency to rust out in high moisture environments thus reducing its longevity. Steel frames are typically combined with a Warm Air Barrier Insulation System
8 ) IF I HAVE A PROBLEM, HOW WILL MY SPA BE SERVICED?
- Factory Trained Technicians – Some companies, due to their high volume of sales and large geographical territory of customers, will work with several Factory Trained Technicians that are contracted to provide for a specific dealer. This provides direct manufacturer tech support and faster service calls to the consumer. These technicians work directly for the manufacturer of the Hot Tub, and are certified/trained to work exclusively on that brand of tub. These technicians are extremely skilled and their performance and training is monitored by the Hot Tub manufacturer. Customers will experience service that is second to none because the techs make repairs much faster and more efficiently and are required to stock certain parts from the Hot Tub manufacturer.
- In House Service – Usually performed by smaller size retailers whose customer base is located within a certain area. The person providing the service is typically not as efficient as a factory trained/certified technician. Often times several trips are required to complete the repair do to a lack of parts inventory. You may have to wait several days or even weeks before your hot tub is operational again.
- Yellow pages – One-time spa retailers at shows or fairs, or discount retailers who, after the spa has been delivered, will tell you to look up a name in the yellow pages if you have a problem.