Hot Tub & Spa Buying Guide
Hot Tubs & Spas 101
Types of Spas & Hot Tubs
• Never leave a child unattended in a hot tub or spa
• Always use safety features (like a spa cover) if you have children
• Avoid hot tubs if you're pregnant or have a heart condition
• Avoid soaking for more than 15 minutes at a time in water temperatures that exceed 40°C
• Avoid using a spa when drinking alcohol or taking prescription drugs
A portable spa is a self-contained unit with built-in heating, electrical and filtration equipment for easy installation. It has the same therapeutic benefits as the full-size counterparts, but you can move it around your yard, take it to the cottage, or bring it with you to your next home. Portable spas are also less expensive, can be used indoors or outside, and work well in smaller spaces. Though ideal if you have limited space or funds, portable spas are a bit less durable and less insulated, so they have greater heat loss and take longer to warm up than conventional spas.
Swim spas combine the therapeutic benefits of a hot tub with the exercise benefits of a swimming pool. They come in acrylic, fiberglass or steel panels with vinyl liners and can be installed indoors or outdoors. At less than 18 feet in length, swim spas are smaller than full-size pools, but they offer a comparable workout because you must swim or walk against a steady current of water. Fitness equipment accessories include treadmills, exercise bands and massage wands.
Salt Water +
Salt water hot tubs require less maintenance and fewer hot tub chemicals. This eliminates the need for chlorine, which can cause dry skin and strong odours. Buying a salt water hot tub or installing a salt water conversion system in an existing tub creates a healthier spa environment for you and your family. Therapeutic benefits can include relief from swelling after exercise because heat opens pores and salt draws fluid from the skin. Other benefits include relief from joint pain (salt adds to the buoyancy effect of water to relieve pressure on joints) and softening of the skin (salt contributes to soft skin).
Hot tubs are made from hardwoods such as redwood, cedar and oak, while spas are made of concrete, fibreglass, plastic or acrylic. Hardwoods are extremely durable with natural resistance to decay but can be expensive. Synthetic lightweight materials like thermoplastic are also durable, but they can fade or crack over time and are a bit more difficult to clean and maintain.
Hot tubs and spas come in a variety of sizes and seat anywhere from two to 10 people comfortably. Before making a purchase, consider your available space, needs and lifestyle. You should also consult your municipality and insurer to determine how much distance is required between the hot tub and your house, and the hot tub and the edge of your property.
If you’re using your hot tub or spa for entertaining or exercise, look for barrier-free seating, which lets people slide over and make room. Moulded loungers or bucket seats are comfortable but they won’t fit everyone, especially kids.
The more options available for adjusting the direction and strength of water jets, the better your hot tub will meet your needs. A minimum of 30 jets is needed to massage your body from head to toe, but they should be balanced with adequate pumps to work effectively. If you’re looking for muscle relief or massage benefits, choose large volume jets for a firm massage, adjustable nozzles to target specific areas and whirlpool action to create the desired effect (relaxing or invigorating).
Shells are made of acrylic, fibreglass and resin: they should be at least five millimetres thick and reinforced with fibreglass for quality and durability. Look for a nonporous shell and Microban technology to prevent bacteria, stains and odours, and superior sealant to protect against cracking and blistering. Choose a finish that’s resistant to scratches for longer-lasting enjoyment and appeal.
The hot tub cabinet encases the hot tub and comes in various natural and synthetic materials. Wood cabinets offer a traditional look, but require more upkeep, including regular treatments with a water sealant to prevent rotting. Synthetic cabinets are lightweight, longer lasting and more resistant to cracking, chipping or warping.
Whether the hot tub is used indoors or out, it needs to be well insulated to reduce heat loss and keep energy costs low. You should ensure that all four panels of your hot tub are covered in top-quality insulation. Removable insulation (vs. full-foam) makes repairs easier and less expensive. Look for a combination of polyurethane foam and a vapour barrier for easier access to spa parts and plumbing.
Filtration System +
Filtration is one of the most important factors because warm water promotes bacteria growth and can contribute to skin rashes and infections. Ensure that your spa has an efficient filtration system, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to keep the water clean. Make sure the filter isn’t exclusively sold by the spa manufacturer, so that replacement filters are available if the manufacturer goes out of business.
Water Heaters +
Look for an energy-efficient heater that’s the right size for your hot tub or spa and transfers most of the heat it produces to the water. Heaters are available in natural gas, propane and electric models. Natural gas heats the water more efficiently, effectively and economically, but natural gas heaters need to be professionally connected and weatherproofed to prevent freezing. Propane heaters are portable and easier to install, but also more expensive. Electric water heaters need to have an output of 5.5 kilowatts to effectively heat the average hot tub. A solar heating system is another option, but you’ll need a conventional backup heater in colder climates.
Water Pumps +
Pumps circulate and oxygenate the water and control the power of the jets, so you’ll need pumps with more horsepower if you’re looking for massage action from your hot tub or spa. Most spas come with only one pump, but two pumps are necessary for a therapeutic massage and three pumps will deliver a vigorous massage. It’s important to match your pumps to your jets to keep things running smoothly.
Hot Tub & Spa Accessories +
Hot tubs and spas have a variety of optional accessories, but you’ll want to consider your lifestyle and budget before choosing. Options include resin-covered steps for easy entry and exit, lighting fixtures for safety and convenience, built-in entertainment systems (audio, TV, DVD), and exercise swim jets for therapeutic workouts.
A secure cover can prevent children and animals from accidentally entering your hot tub. It will also keep leaves and debris out, and reduce heat loss and evaporation. Look for a lockable cover with multiple secure tie-downs and dense foam construction (at least 7.5 centimetres thick), so that it's strong enough to support the weight of a young child. Hot tub covers should be dome shaped for optimal insulation and rain runoff, have tight, well-sealed hinges to prevent heat loss, and be made of flexible leatherette for durability in extreme temperature fluctuations.
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• Maintain the filtration system and shell according to the manufacturer’s instructions
• Remove leaves, debris and dirt with a skimmer to supplement the filter
• Consider features like a water purification system (to eliminate microscopic impurities) and a freeze-protection kit (to insulate equipment and pipes)
• Buy an all-inclusive equipment package, rather than individual components, for optimal compatibility and performance
• Make sure the site is level and can support the weight of the hot tub and its occupants; a concrete or stone under-pad is ideal
• Choose a site with easy access to utilities and have a licensed electrician carry out the electrical hookup