The Ideal hot tub spa
By Paul Bianchina
Few things can compare with luxurious pleasure of relaxing in a hot, bubbling spa right in your own backyard. But once you start shopping around for one, you'll quickly find that there are a lot of choices - sometimes confusing ones - and before investing thousands of dollars, you need to make sure you're getting the one that's right for you.
All That Moving Water
All spas work on pretty much the same principle. Water is placed in the spa enclosure, and is initially heated and then kept hot by a heater. When in use, the hot water is pumped through special jets that concentrate, accelerate, and direct the water flow. Air is also introduced into the water using various methods, which further agitates the water and makes it "bubble."
In the simplest and least expensive spa models, the jets are relatively unsophisticated, serving only to direct the water out in a concentrated stream. There are typically a much smaller quantity of jets, and they are installed and located primarily just to agitate the water - in fact, sitting directly in front of one of these simple, high-power jets can actually be somewhat uncomfortable. Also, the less expensive spas tend to have a seat around the entire interior, something like a simple bench.
At the upper end, the more expensive spas use highly refined jets that are intended to be more therapeutic in nature. Rather than simply directing the water in a concentrated stream, these jets rotate, pulsate, and move around in any number of interesting configurations. There are typically many more jets in the upper-end spas, ranging from tiny to quite large, and they are directed at specific parts of the body, such as the feet, the lower back, or the back of the neck. "Lounges" and other types of individual seating molded into the spa tend to be more comfortable than standard bench seating, and work in conjunction with the different types of jets to direct the water to specific parts of the body.
Some Other Features
In addition to the jets, there are a wide variety of other interesting features to be found on today's spas that add convenience, comfort - and cost. Here again, the wise spa shopper selects the options that are important and skips the rest.
Spas are like swimming pools in that the water remains in them all the time, rather than being drained and replaced like a bathtub. As such, the water needs to be cleaned and filtered continually in order to keep it clean and healthy, which is done with a combination of filters and chemicals. A good filtration system is one of the most important aspects of spa maintenance, and is one thing you'll want to pay close attention to during your shopping. The filter should have a large enough capacity to filter all of the water rapidly and continuously - some larger spas use two filters - and should be readily accessible for easy cleaning.
Chemical treatment is a necessary evil for clean and sanitary water. But much of that chemical usage can be eliminated through the use of an ozonator, which uses ozone to clean the water. An ozonator is available as a reasonably-priced option on most of today's spas, and is well worth discussing with your dealer.
Since hot water is at the heart of every spa, energy-efficient features are next on your shopping checklist. All portable spas use electric heaters that all operate in pretty much the same way, so if you want a spa that's energy efficient to operate, you need to look at how well it's insulated. Most spas use a solid layer of rigid foam insulation between the inner shell of the spa and the outer wood or acrylic walls - the thicker the foam, the better the spa will retain the heat in the water. Look for a spa with continuous, well-applied foam that extends around the entire shell, including underneath the foot well at the bottom. You also want a rigid, well-insulated cover.
Finally, look for controls that are conveniently placed and are easy to understand and operate, and an exterior that is attractive and will be easy to maintain in the years to come. Compare the features offered by at least two different spa manufacturers, then before you make the final decision, arrange for a "test soak" - a private, after-hours trial run in the spas you're interested in - which are offered by almost all spa dealers.