Buyer’s Guide

The Hot Tub Buyer's GuideYour guide to the perfect hot tub

Owning a spa allows you to transform your backyard into a relaxing spa environment and the convenience of using it around your busy schedule, never having to leave the comfort of your home.

Once you decide to invest in your own hydrotherapy tub, choosing the right one can seem like an overwhelming task with so many different brands and methods of construction on the market. Since a spa is not an everyday purchase, this guide can help you make an informed and confident purchase, and assist you with hot tub financing information as well.

The size constraints, seating arrangements and electrical requirements are factors in narrowing down the perfect hot tub, and should be your first considerations.

Location

Before shopping, determine where the spa will be placed. Most spas will be placed outdoors on a patio, porch, or deck. The site will need to be prepared prior to delivery of the hot tub, so make sure you measure the area before deciding on a particular hot tub size.

Envision possible outdoor locations by outlining the hot tub’s dimensions with a rope or garden hose. This will give you a visual perspective and help make the decision easier. Remember to leave room for access to the equipment, steps and cover lifter.

Seating

If you frequently entertain guests or relatives, make room for a larger spa with enough seats. Also remember that when there are a more people they are going to need plenty of space for their feet so make sure there is adequate space in the foot well area.

A couple or a single person could be satisfied with a 2-3 person tub, especially if space is limited. Keep in mind an extra seat or two is nice for more room to stretch out and enjoy more variety in seating.

Comfort is a top priority so it is important that you sit in the spa to make sure the seats fit your body shape and size.

Special consideration should be given to ergonomic seating that is designed to support the curvature of your spine, and cradle your neck and head while holding your body in harmony with strategically placed jets that should target specific pain zones for massage.

Portable spas come in either 120 or 240 volts and need to be wired as per local electrical codes.

In general, 120 volt spas will have lower HP rated pumps and a lower wattage heater and are recommend for mild climates or indoor use.

240 Volt spas will have higher HP pumps and higher wattage heater suitable for use outdoors in colder climates.

The spa shell will determine to a large extent the overall look, comfort, durability and cost of the spa.

Cast Acrylic reinforced with fiberglass: is beautiful, durable, and versatile and the most common material used for spas shells. A Fiberglass reinforced spa shell is extremely strong and can be molded into complex, contoured shapes for comfortable, form-fitting seating in a large range of sizes.

Cast Acrylic reinforced with a polymer substrate: provide the same durable acrylic surface, but are more flexible than fiberglass shells and require extra support.

All Plastic: plastic spa shells are made using a process called spin casting where plastic resin is heated up and the mold is rotated around letting the melted plastic form the shape of the spa shell.

Flexible vinyl: Vinyl spas are available as an inflatable or foam. They are extremely portable and can be easily moved and stored when not being used.

Spas shell require to be supported by a frame structure and cladding material. The frame is the backbone and support for the entire spa needs to be strong, stable and weather resistant.

Steel Sub-Structure: Steel has the highest strength to weight ratio of any building material. Corrosion resistant alloy steel will never rot, crack or split and is not affected by insects

Wood Sub-Structure: Wood is the most common material used to support spa shells. There are many different types of wood used to build a sub-structure. High quality cedar and wood treated with preservatives provided the best protection against rot, cracking, splitting and insects.

All spas need to have some type of cladding to enclose the spa shell, plumbing and equipment. The material should be durable and weather well.

Composite:
Composite cladding has become quite popular and is available to different colors to match almost any back yard. Composite material is weather proof and requires very little maintenance.

Wood: The most durable wood for spa cladding is western red cedar and can be stained in different colors. Cedar requires regular maintenance.

There are many different techniques for insulating spas. In order to evaluate the different ways manufacturers insulate their spas it is important to first know that spas loose heat through radiation, convection, and conduction. Choosing a spa that offers the best reduction in heat loss will be the most energy efficient.

  1. 3-7% Conduction: Heat energy is transferred directly through materials in contact with each other, where a temperature difference exists. Heat transfer along a metal rod is a simple example of conduction.
  2. Up to 45% Convection: Air, when heated, becomes less dense than the surrounding air and rises upwards. The denser and cooler air flows downwards. These air movements are known as convection currents.
  3. 50-75% Radiation: Heat energy may be radiated across the air space and then be absorbed by another body. Radiant energy from the sun is an example, where this energy may be absorbed as heat by the human body.
  4. For maximum efficiency hot tubs should be designed to minimize each source of heat loss.

ThermoLock Insulation: Is a modern method of insulation which uses the least amount of kilowatt energy to heat the water and allows access to the spas plumbing for easy maintenance. Thermolock insulation incorporates a perimeter insulation blanket on the inside of the spa cladding which blocks conduction heat loss and in addition traps the heat generated by the pump motor. The heated air helps heat the water in the spa and reduces heat loss through convection. There are different types of insulation material used in this method of insulation (spray foam, styro-foam and high performance natural fibers). The best type of insulation is one that is mold resistant, insect resistant, can be easily removed and replaced to its original condition and comes with the best insulation warranty.

NOTE: Radiation is major source of heat loss. To prevent heat loss through radiation, the perimeter insulation must incorporate a thermal reflector (Survival Blanket) to radiate heat back into the spa plumbing and water.

Foam Fill Insulation: This is the way most spas were originally insulated. This method of insulating consists of completely filling the inside of the spa enclosure with spray foam. And directly venting out the pumps heat. This is the least energy efficient method of insulation and also the most difficult to service. The main benefit of this style of insulation is that it less expensive to build a spa this way then with Thermolock construction.

Most manufacturers have evolved to the more energy efficient Thermolock method but there are still some manufacturers that use foam fill. This method of construction consists of completely filling the inside spa enclosure with low density spray foam. This methods does not offer any reduction of heat loss through radiation or convection and is the least energy efficient method for reducing heat loss.

Another concern of foam fill, is that it is very difficult and expensive to service the plumbing. To properly service the plumbing, the spa typically needs to be returned to the factory so that they can dig out the insulation and then respray the foam back in with special equipment. If the spa is serviced on location, the service tech will have to lift the spa and dig the foam out and then use a can of spray foam which unfortunately does achieve the same quality compared to the special spray equipment used at the factory.

With a size, shape and material type in mind, learning more about the details will help you to get more of what you want out of a hot tub – without wasting money on sales ploys and marketing hype.

Jets and Pumps

All spa jets have a specific GPM, PSI and flow rate. For the jet to perform properly, the spas plumbing, HP of the pump and filter need to be properly sized to match the jets ratings.

Unfortunately, many manufacturers do not fully understand how to calculate Head Loss H L = (F) X (L/D) X (V 2 /2g) and compensate by over jetting a spa, using gimmicky jet packs or excessive HP pumps.

The ideal hot tub will have a perfect ratio of jets to horsepower to balance out the Head Loss of the plumbing and provide optimal jet action and energy efficiency.

Cover

Spa covers are not an option, they are a necessity. Heat rises, and a quality cover will not only conserve energy and save money on electricity, but protect the hot tub from dirt, weather and unwanted visitors.

There are two styles of spa cover Covers that use expanded styrene foam to reduce heat loss through conduction and spa covers that use expanded styrene foam in addition to a thermal reflector (survival blanket). Covers that include the thermal reflector provided greater heat loss protection.

Reputable dealers should always include the required spa cover as standard equipment, not misrepresent it as a free bonus or an extra charge.

Stereo, Lighting and Water Features

Although color lighting systems, flowing water features and audio equipment are not a necessary feature of a spa, these options can enhance the soaking experience and be a great addition to a hot tub party. If you are considering adding these features, special consideration should be given to the placement so that you can actually see them in action. An example would be some spas have lights inside the actual jet so when people are siting in the spa you can’t actually see the jets.

Another issue to consider is that some spas have a negative edge or water feature which prevents the spa cover from properly sealing and lose a lot of heat and use more energy to heat the spa.

Hot tub manufacturers offer different water treatment devices which include ozone, Ultraviolet (UV) and salt systems (Chlorine/bromine generators).

Ozone is a device which oxidizes organics in the water and helps clarify and keep the water fresh. The advantage of ozone is that it reduce demand for chemical sanitizers and makes it easier to maintain the water.

UV is a sanitizer that deactivates bacteria and microorganisms with germicidal UVc light. The benefit of UV is that it reduces demand for chemical sanitizers and destroys chemical resistant microorganisms.

Salt Systems are devices that automatically generate chlorine or bromine when salt is added to the water. The benefit of salt systems are that you do not have to manually add chlorine or bromine. The concern with salt systems is that it creates a very corrosive environment which can shorten the life of spa components (jets, heats, pump seals, etc.) In addition, many communities have banned salt systems from being drained into the sewer system.

Filtration

Originally, most hot tubs were designed with pressure style filter cartridges. This style pushes water through the filter and has a by-pass valve that opens when the jets are on high speed and allows water to by-pass the filter. Unfortunately with this type of filter system the spa water is not being filtered at the most important time which is when you are in the tub with the jets on high speed. Additionally it is more difficult to open the cartridge to remove the filter.

While this style of filter is still widely used, most manufacturers have switched to the suctions style filter which filters the water regardless if the jets are on low speed or high speed. The best suction style filters will have a 1 micron pre-filter and 10 micron cartridge filter.

Almost all new spas have manufacturer’s warranties, but just having one isn’t enough if the service isn’t there to back it up. Obtaining service is difficult if the dealer is not willing or qualified to help coordinate warranty service… or worse, if you discover they have gone out our business when you need them most.

A big box store or online retailer that does not specialize in hot tubs will not be able to assist you with knowledgeable support, and once the warranty is expired, you are on your own.

Now that you have an idea in mind regarding what size, seating, features and options you are looking for, let’s talk about pricing.

Price is how much you pay for the hot tub itself, but the true cost includes more: site preparation, accessories, chemicals, and most importantly, electricity bills and repair expenses. Poorly engineered hot tubs, inferior insulation, spa covers, equipment, and poor workmanship increase the total lifetime cost of your spa.

A spa that has been well engineered and built to be fully service like any other home appliance will provided the lowest cost of ownership.

The company you buy from is just as important as the tub you buy. When shopping with traditional brick-and- mortar spa dealers, big box stores and online hot tub sellers, avoid common tricks and buy from a reputable and knowledgeable source.

Spa Dealer

Specialty spa dealers that have a good reputation in the market, are the best pace to buy a hot tub. These specialty dealers can assist with aspects of the delivery, set up and operation. Most importantly they are there to help provide warranty service is needed.

Big Box Stores

Big Box retailers do not know anything about the spas they sell and can’t provide any service before or after the sale. Without the support regarding spa functions, chemical use, and warranty service, you are on your own.

Online

Online sellers also cannot provide any service before or after the sale and like big box retail you are on your own if you need support regarding spa functions, chemical use and warranty service.

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As a leading retailer of hot tubs in Edmonton, we believe flawless customer service is the key to success in the Edmonton hot tubs business, and that’s why we’re always there for our customers. Whether it’s assisting on a warranty issue or just water balancing a hot tub, we make sure our culture of exceptional customer service strengthens our bonds with our customers.

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