Hot Tub Overview & Maintenance
Hot tubs and home spas have exploded in popularity over the past decade, because they are more affordable and more reliable than ever before. Of course, not all home spas are built the same, so it is important to learn all you can about what constitutes a quality tub and how to select the features and amenities that are right for you.
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 a popular choice 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 “plastic” 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 for entertaining or other social purposes often prefer standard jets, in varying quantities and positions.
Pumps, Heaters and Controls
Though not as flashy and visible as the shell, cabinetry, seating and jets, the pumps, heaters and controls are vital components of your home spa. Choose a pump, or combination of pumps, that has the power and water-moving capacity to suit the size of your spa as well as the type of jets. High action jets typically require a more robust pump, while standard jets can usually get by with a smaller pump. In most cases, though, a multi-pump system is preferable to a single pump system for the most efficient and effective water movement.
The heater is an essential component that must be sized correctly for the water capacity of your spa. If your heater is too small or underpowered, you will have constant struggles heating your spa water and the heater will be forced to work extra hard. A high quality heater, coupled with good insulation, will go a long way toward efficiently heating the water in your spa and keeping the temperature up where you want it.
Traditionally, hot tubs and home spas used pneumatic controls to run pumps, heaters and the like. Electronic controls have gained some in popularity, but they have a spotty record of reliability and until the last few years have not been a popular choice. Technology improvements have made them much better, though, so don’t automatically dismiss electronic controls when shopping for your home spa.
Filtration and Water Purification
The filtration and water purification systems in your hot tub will have a direct bearing on the time and effort you will spend balancing and maintaining the spa water. Small capacity filtration systems and bare-bones purification systems may cost less up front when you buy a hot tub, but they will usually end up costing you more in chemicals, filter replacement, and time. It is far better to invest in systems that are more robust and save yourself the extra money and time over the long term.
Hot Tub Amenities
There is a nearly endless array of hot tub features and amenities from which to choose. Some of the most common include:
• Fountains and jets
• Multi-colored and multi-functional lighting
• Dual controls
• Padded headrests and armrests
• Drink and cup holders
• Remote control and remote checking of temperature, water condition and pump status
• Shell colors and/or textures
• Power-assisted cover lifters
In addition to these extra amenities, spa dealers also promote and sell various decorative elements like matching steps, planters, bars and stools, gazebos, tables and chairs, etc. The choice of whether or not to invest in these extras is based solely on your personal preferences as well as your budget.