In Hot Water

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In todays stress-filled world, homeowners continue to seek comfort at home. And what better way to soak cares away than in a backyard spa? Given the amazing selection of products available today, consumers are sure to find one to create their ideal oasis.

Photo by Sundance Spas, courtesy of Georgia Backyard

Generally speaking, the terms hot tub and spa can be used interchangeably. Most people think of a hot tub as a fiberglass or acrylic tub set in a wood frame. These are usually portable units that are completely self-contained and need to be professionally wired to an outlet, says Jim Armes, president of Executive Pools and Spas in Canton. When they hear the term spa, people usually think of built-in gunite or concrete spas normally partnered with built-in swimming pools. Basically, though, hot tubs and spas are the samealthough these days, the word spa is more widely used.

Whirlpools, on the other hand, are generally thought of as indoor fixtures, like garden tubs, usually found in a master bath in place of a regular bathtub. While you may hear the term Jacuzzi used interchangeably with hot tub, spa or whirlpool, its actually a brand namealthough it does fit in with both categories because Jacuzzi manufactures both hot tubs and whirlpools.

Photo courtesy of Hilltop Pools & Spas Inc.

Hot tubs and spas enjoyed strong sales in the 70s, but their appeal waned over the ensuing decades. Today, however, theyre experiencing a resurgence in popularity thanks, for the most part, to competitive pricing. Consumers have a wide range of choices, with many high-tech options available. Shoppers can expect to pay between $4,000 and $8,500 for a quality hot tub.

Be wary of companies that offer hot tubs at incredible low, low prices in the $2,000 to $4,000 range or less. Low-end models typically have cheaper equipment, less jets and no insulation, which means higher operating costs, says Dwight Jeffrey, owner of Prestige Spas in Marietta. They just arent as high quality, and they wont last as long. In the long run, if you can afford it, its a better investment to go ahead and spend a few extra dollars for added quality.

For a high-end hot tub with all the high-tech features, prices can go up to around $12,000. When you get to the higher end, people start adding waterfalls, lighting packages, cover lifters and stereos with built-in speakers, and all of that adds up on the price, Jeffrey says.

Prices also play a key role in the popularity of built-in spas. Before, a pool was lower-priced, and a spa was higher, Armes says. The price of a pool has gotten to where it makes sense to put a spa in. On average, in-ground spas that are partnered with pools start at around $7,000, which includes the spa, the heater, automated controls (usually tied in to pool controls) and installation.

Photo courtesy of Watercolors LLC and Eberly PR

Space is one of the major considerations when planning for a new hot tub or spa. Always think about how much room you have to work with in your yard or around your deck area, says Ken Whitlow, owner of Watercolors LLC in Lilburn. Also keep in mind how many people will be using the spa. Is it just for family, or do you plan to entertain guests? This will help determine the size and shape of spa that will work best for you. Round spas and freeform spas with curved radiuses seat more people than square spas with right angles, because round-shaped spas permit their users to fully utilize all of their interior space, Whitlow says.

Another factor to keep in mind when purchasing a spa is that there are plenty of options available for customizing your purchase. With regard to portable spas, the tub itself comes in many colors, sizes, seating configurations and styles with a variety of standard and optional extras. These extras include color optics, aromatherapy, waterfall effects, misters and more. Some spas, indoors and out, even have built-in television and stereo systems. Keep in mind, though, that while these items can enhance the overall hot tub experience, they will not directly affect the hot tubs performance.

If choosing a gunite or concrete spa, homeowners can choose a product with many of the same options found in a gunite or concrete swimming pool. In fact, you can think of the spa as a mini pool with jets. They can be personalized by color, finish (plaster, paint or pebble), size, shape and depth. Natural stone in varied earth tones is popular for spa edging and decks, Whitlow says. A lot of consumers today also incorporate a gunite or concrete spa into their overall pool design. Theyre using them a lot as a water feature with the pool, Armes says.

Photo courtesy of Hilltop Pools & Spas Inc.

Like other innovative home technology, hot tubs and spas continue to benefit from improvements in the industry. This especially applies to maintenance. Hot tubs and spas require minimal care. Spa technology has increased with solar-powered heaters, automated cleaners, built-in sanitizers and chlorine-dosing systems, Whitlow says. Its important to update a spa, especially a heavily used one, with the latest technologies. Like a car, a spa operates best when it is well maintained.

Just as with swimming pools, water chemicals need to be balanced. If you use your spa every day, its a good idea to check the chemicals every day, Armes says. If you only use it once a week, checking them once a week should be fine. Bromine or natural mineral products work well. Expect to pay around $100 per quarter for chemicals.

Also, microbial filters, which are expected to last two years, cost approximately $80. And even if the hot tub has every bell and whistle available, electric costs shouldnt run more than $25 per month. Finally, the water should be replaced periodically, depending on frequency of use. If you use the tub often, Id recommend draining it once a month, Armes says. On average, this will take 300 gallons of water and cost approximately $20.

For gunite spas attached to a pool, the spas filtering system is usually part of the pools filtering system. Regular maintenance includes checking proper water chemistry (pH levels, chlorine levels, etc.) and cleaning the filtration system (backwashing). Generally, these processes take just minutes per day. Armes says the average chemical cost for a spa is less than $200 per year.

Also important is your spas cover. Folding safety covers are suggested for spas that are widely exposed to the elements, Whitlow says. They help keep spas clean and the temperature regulated to a reasonable degree, which equates to energy cost savings.

Photo courtesy of Prestige Spas

When it comes to picking out the hot tub or spa for you, remember that knowledge is power. Having a basic understanding of the products available in the marketplace is a good way to start. Also, its a good idea to pay close attention the horsepower of the product. For instance, a hot tub with 30 jets and a 1.5-horsepower motor will have stronger force than a hot tub with 60 jets and a 2-horsepower motor.

In addition, read the product warranty carefully. Most lifetime warranties will expire after a certain period of time. Finally, research the company selling the product you want. How long has it been in business? Does it have a good reputation in the industry? How knowledgeable is the sales staff? Ask for customer references, and check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints.

Although it may seem like a bit of work to find the right hot tub or spa for your home, the result will be well worth it. And, before you know it, your stress will float away with the bubbles and steam of your own backyard sanctuary.

Because of improving technology and the fact that home improvement is on the rise, spas are larger and offer more options than in the past.

Swim spas, or jet pools, have adjustable Vadu jets that create a strong current with high volume, perfect for in-place swimming. They also can include massage jets for those wanting to simply sit and relax.

Attached and unattached spas can both be built to include computerized temperature controls and ultra-high-pressure jets that are adjustable in power and range.

Todays spas can include multiple seating options, from curving, built-in beds that meet the exact contour of the owners body to varying seat heights for the comfort of adults as well as children.

One popular option is the spillover spa, in which the water from the spa flows over into the attached pool.The pool and spa share a heating and circulation system, which is cost- effective. Individual controls can be installed so the spa can be heated when the pool is not.

Natural hardscapes with stone edging are popular, and marble, stone, slate and smooth pebble textures are all trendy this year. They are used as functional aspects of a spa, yet they also are used to personalize the surroundings.

Tile (the trendiest colors are blue and lighter earth tones) adds a decorative element to a spa. One trend is to have the spa built with small 1- to 2-inch tiles laid in semicircular arcs on the bottom or as edging bands on steps. Its also becoming popular to use tile throughout the entire spa interior.

Body tubesdeep, narrow spaces on the side of a spa where you can enjoy jets from neck to toe while standing uprightare big right now.

Lighting keeps a spa safe and enhances its design. Some hot trends are color-changing lights, fiber optics and traditional white lights.

Pastels are no longer the most popular color combinations. People are opting instead for neutrals, tans, earth tones, grays, whites and slate, with trim and accents done in blues and other cool tones that are clear and bright.

Information provided by Watercolors LLC
and Eberly Public Relations

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