The fall season brings with it cooler temperatures and an excellent time to consider a new hot tub. Having worked in the spa industry for the past eight years, I’ve learned a few things about how to shop for this type of product. A decent hot tub can range in price from several thousand dollars to well past ten thousand dollars. Every buyer should really asses their reasons for wanting a spa first, then do the research, visit your local retailer and never forget to include the intangibles such as warranty and service before making any final decisions. This article is not meant to steer towards any one specific manufacturer or style of spa but instead offer a general glimpse into the preparation a consumer should go through during the buying process to help determine which hot tub best meets their needs in the long run.
One should expect that a good quality spa will last between ten and fifteen years, possibly longer. Try to steer away from any type of inflatable spa as they are almost always considered a short-term investment and are prone to problems due to the very nature of their construction. It’s only a matter of time before the leaks and problems begin and you will most certainly become frustrated in the end. Consider a spa designed for outside as your best investment as these are solid structure products and are relatively easy to maintain over time. Here are ten basic guidelines for making an informed purchasing decision.
- 1. You will need a solid foundation to put the hot tub on. An average backyard spa with no water in it can weigh from 250lbs. to 1,000lbs. Additionally, they can hold anywhere from 200 to 600 gallons of water and more. Water is approximately 8.3lbs./gal. Do the math on that and an average spa with 450 gallons of water with a dry weight of 800lbs will combine to be 4,535lbs and that’s before humans ever go inside. A cement foundation at least 4 inches thick would work best, but any type of base such as wood decking, pavers or even a pre-fabricated spa pad will work. The foundation should be within 3 degrees of level.
- 2. Your spa will require an electrical connection. This is where things can get a little tricky. Different spas require different electrical connections. Some spas are marketed as portable and almost always have a standard 120v connection which is essentially a normal 3 prong plug. An average spa will require anywhere from 40 to 60amps of electricity and the connection will be hard-wired, so no 3 prong plug. Expect to see wires sticking out that an electrician will need to manually connect. It’s a great idea to check the fuse box to see how many amps your home is currently using. Figure out how many amps you have to spare and either shop for a spa based on how many amps you already have or consult an electrician on what it will cost to add some additional electrical output to your home.
- 3. Your local city or village may require a permit. Check with your local municipality to find out if a permit is required to put a spa in your backyard. Don’t try to skip this step. The small fee you pay for the permit is worth the safety regulations the village may have in place and you don’t want to get a letter in the mail several months later asking you to get rid of the spa altogether.
- 4. Do not buy sight unseen. The internet provides a plethora of options on purchasing spas. Many local warehouse clubs and big box stores also typically have one or two spas that they buy in bulk and sell cheap. You might see a picture of the hot tub or see one on a display shelf and think it looks awesome but do not be fooled. Always try to buy local from an established niche store. Your typical local retailer will often have several different models out on the sales floor – many times they are filled with water and running. Touch them, smell them and yes, test them. Bring your trunks with and always try to sit in the spa when it’s running. If you can’t sit in it when it’s running, then sit in it without water, but definitely get an impression for how the seats feel with your body-type. You must be comfortable or the purchase will be a waste.
- 5. Insulation is your best defense against high electric bills. Entertain the idea that the spa is an insulated box full of water with a heater that tries to keep a constant temperature, much like setting the temperature on your thermostat at home. Always ask to see which spas have full foam insulation. Consider that the less insulation you have in the spa translates into the water cooling down faster which means that the heater turns on more often and all this basically boils down to additional expense. Remember that a spa can have a 10 to 15 year life span. Spend a little more money up front for better insulation and you will have far less monthly expense over the next decade of operation.
- 6. It’s not the quantity of jets – it’s the quality of jets. Think about this objectively: you have 2 pumps – each pump is the same size. If one pump is pushing water through a set of 30 jets and one pump is pushing water through a set of 15 jets – which set of jets will have better water pressure? The more openings that a pump has to push water through, the less pressure per opening. It’s not about how many jets the spa has, but rather the placement of the jets and the feeling when sitting in the running spa. Take the time to understand the difference and your money will be better invested.
- 7. A circulation pump is money well spent. The temperature of the spa water can typically be set as high as 104 degrees, although most will find it comfortable around 100 degrees. The job of the hot-tub is to constantly maintain the water temperature 24/7 365 days a year. This means that whenever the spa starts to cool down, a pump will turn on to circulate the water through the heater to bring the temperature back up. On average a good spa will heat-up between 2 – 3 degrees per hour, so this means that a pump could potentially turn on and run for an hour or more at a time and repeat this process over and over for the life of the spa, solely for the purpose of keeping the water temperature correct. What is important here is the size of the pump that constantly turns on because the larger this pump is the more electricity it pulls. As an example, let’s say a spa has 2 main pumps – each pump is 6 horse-power. In order to maintain the temperature, the spa will turn on one of these 6 horse pumps for up to an hour to circulate the water until the temperature is brought back up. What this translates into for the spa owner is a lot of energy use and a large electric bill. It’s a great idea to invest in a spa that contains a circulation pump. This is a separate pump from the main pumps. The circulation pump is typically small, perhaps 0.75 horse-power (so it consumes very little energy compared to a large 6 horse pump) and it essentially runs 24/7, so the water is always moving a little. The advantage here is that the water is always moving through the filters, so it’s consistently cleaner and the heater turns on when needed consuming very little power.
- 8. Warranty can’t be seen but it can certainly be felt. A good warranty is vital. A new spa is all shiny, looks good and usually functions greatÃ¢Â?Â¦Ã¢Â?Â¦.for a time. As previously mentioned, a spa is a box of water with a lot of plumbing, several pumps, a heater and lots of other little parts and it will most certainly need upkeep. A good warranty is like your health – you don’t really think about it until something goes wrong and then suddenly it’s the most important thing of all. A spa cover will most likely be replaced several times over the life of the spa and covers are not cheap, running between $250 and $600 each. If the spa has head-rests, they will undoubtedly be replaced several times as well and can cost around $150 – $500 for a complete set. DO NOT compromise on the warranty – ask specific questions about what is covered and for how long. Are trip charges included? Is labor covered? Does the retailer or manufacturer offer any type of extended warranty? Believe me when I tell you that any and all extra coverage will only help in the long run.
- 9. Good repair service cannot be understated. Some spa dealers will have their own service departments and some will farm-out the work to a third party source. It’s not a question of IF a spa will ever need service – believe me when I tell you it WILL need service at some point. It’s inevitable considering all the internal connections and constant moving water. Take the time to fully understand who will handle the service issues when the need arises. If the dealer you buy the spa from services everybody who calls them for work, steer clear of purchasing a spa from themÃ¢Â?Â¦You may be important while you’re in the showroom because you haven’t given them your money yet, but once you need help, you’re just another number taken in the order it was received. Stick with the local businesses that have their own service departments and ONLY service their customers with factory trained technicians.
- 10. Lastly, be aware that the hot tub industry is very much like the automobile industry in terms of production of new models. “Would you be interested in a well maintained 2010 unit folks? All the upkeep has been done by factory trained technicians and it runs great”. You might not expect a spa to have a specific model year but they most certainly do. Most spa manufacturers shut down their production lines in mid to late December every year for the purposes of adding new technology to their designs for the upcoming year. This is an awesome time to make a purchase as all the dealers around the country are suddenly looking to sell off their supply of products, clear their showrooms of display units and make room for the new stuff which typically starts hitting showrooms in mid to late January of the New Year. Although good deals are often available all year, the end of the calendar year is usually the best time for low prices.
A good quality hot tub will provide many therapeutic benefits and years of enjoyment, but none of this comes at a cheap price. Take the time to research what you are buying and understand everything that you will need to do in preparation. Do your due diligence ahead of time, as this will help insure that when the spa is finally in place and running, you’ll never have to wonder if you should have done something different.