Hot tubs have been popular for a number of years and despite the challenges of the economy currently, they continue to gain in popularity according to consumer surveys.
A hot tub is designed for sitting or lying in up to the neck, and not for swimming. A swim spa, as the name implies, is more like a small pool and designed for swimming in. Both are self-contained bodies of water that are re-circulated, filtered and chemically treated. A hot tub is not drained, cleaned or refilled after each use, but after a number of uses or a maximum period of time. Hot tubs contain water heated to between 30ºC and 40ºC and have hydrotherapy jet circulation with induced air bubble streams, which are controllable to varying degrees, depending on manufacturer and model. Some hot tubs also feature air blowers, where the air is forcibly introduced into the hot tub water via strategically sited jets by an additional electric air pump. Hot tubs can be sited indoors or outside.
The terms “hot tub” and “spa” usually mean the same thing. However, there are two types of hot tubs – self-contained (also called a portable hot tub) and non-self-contained. With a self-contained or portable hot tub, all of the electrical equipment, filtration, heating systems and plumbing are contained below the hot tub’s shell inside the cabinet. There is usually no additional assembly required on site and the product merely requires the addition of water and chemicals and connection to an appropriate electrical supply in order to function.
Families wishing to stay at home and not travel abroad are able to add luxury and potential value to their homes with a hot tub purchase; as well as a focal point for entertaining with recognised and tangible therapeutic benefits. Hot tubs are increasingly becoming items of desire on consumers’ shopping lists, as recently evidenced by DIY chain retailers and holiday lodge operators. Reports show that the term “hot tub” is now one of the most searched for phrases on these sector’s websites. Modern hot tubs are high technology, complex pieces of equipment providing luxury, therapeutic benefits and a great addition to any home.
There are a number of hot tub manufacturers and models available to choose from in the UK today, something for every lifestyle, budget and space. The longest-established and best-known brands come from a variety of locations around the world, including North America, Europe and Australia. Latterly, there has been more equipment coming in from China and some BISHTA members are sourcing good quality products from this country. There have been some concerns within the UK hot tub industry about the consistency and quality of some hot tubs and swim spas coming from the Far East, so it is worth checking to make sure the products are reliable. Sadly, there are unscrupulous traders who go to China and look to exploit the small number of UK consumers who only look for the cheapest priced products and who are happy to buy something over the internet without seeing it first (thereby losing the opportunity to compare it with other products). Consumers should always check the origin of equipment and whether it complies with European legislation (otherwise called CE Conformity), and should always ask to see the product operating first, even if you ultimately buy it over the internet. It could both save money and avoid any problems which may occur at a later stage. If an internet company won’t allow this, serious consideration should be given to walking away.
Hot tubs are typically installed above ground; however you can easily achieve an attractive, built-in look by installing your hot tub partially or completely sunk in a surrounding deck or paving. These self-contained units can be moved and re-installed elsewhere if you decide that you wanted your hot tub in a different location (subject to the base and electrics), or even move to a new property. Separate advice is available from BISHTA on installing hot tubs in the ground.
Non-self-contained hot tubs are almost always installed in-ground permanently and cannot be taken with you if you move house. Inground hot tubs often form part of a spa pool combination; with the electrical, filtration and heating systems located remotely from the hot tub. In-ground hot tubs are usually installed by skilled engineers.
Before deciding on which style to buy, give some thought to how you will use it. If you want to entertain a large group of people, a family-friendly model with plenty of seating might be the way to go. A deeper, less contoured hot tub is ideal for exercising; whereas if relaxation is your goal, look into products with lots of varied, massaging jets and comfortable ergonomic seating.
Also consider the installation of a convenient cover removal/ storage system (cover lifter) and easy water-care methods, as this will assist with maintenance and servicing. Attractive deck surrounds and/or enclosures, special lighting and jets, audio and DVD systems, water features and more can make your hot tub as beautiful as it is comfortable.
Location, location, location. Portable hot tubs require very little site preparation. You will simply need a dedicated electrical outlet, a standard garden hose, and a firm, level, solid surface that can support the weight of your unit, water and occupants without shifting. Patios with good foundations are generally perfect. A location that offers both an attractive view and affords you some privacy is usually best.
Find the right dealer
This cannot be overstated. Whichever way you look at it, a hot tub is a high-ticket, luxury, discretionary item, even, what the industry considers to be the cheaper end of the market. They are also complicated pieces of electromechanical equipment which, once they are in place, are not easy to remove again. It is therefore important that you buy a reputable product from a retailer who can help you through the entire buying process and who can offer comprehensive on-site warranty coverage for a number of years. Once you have decided what kind of hot tub you would like and its best location for you, take some time to choose an experienced, reputable dealer. Look for a BISHTA Member dealer and you will get someone who is dedicated to providing excellent, uncompromised service.
Make sure you try before you buy! Most retailers encourage you to test soak before you buy. This is the best way to ensure you choose the hot tub that is perfect for you. You would not spend many thousands of pounds on any other product without trying it out beforehand, and hot tubs are no different. Each one has their own unique feel. When you do wet-test, note the depth of the water, the seating capacity and location of seats, and the variety and power of the jets. Look for a hot tub with seats deep enough to cover your shoulders; others should be high enough to let you cool down. Make sure you can stretch out and get comfortable. You should check the power available to each jet in each seat, and how controllable that power is. If you have a particular condition that you are looking for your hot tub to relieve, check how it feels to you.
Understand your warranty
Obtain a copy of your warranty before you sign the contracts and be sure to read the fine print. Check if there will be any additional expenses if you need to replace the unit while it is under warranty.
Let the professionals look after the hot tub installation. Make sure a qualified electrician carries out any electrical work according to local codes and check with your local building inspector’s office to find out whether you need any form of permit.
Please remember that water hygiene is an essential feature of all spas and hot tubs. Your dealer will be able to tell you what is available in order to keep your hot tub water hygienic and safe for bathers.
Types of Hot Tubs and Swim Spas
Timber hot tubs
For people looking for a traditional, rustic feel, wooden hot tubs are the perfect solution. Made from oak, redwood or teak, timber hot tubs look like the wine barrels of yesteryear. Timber hot tubs offer the added benefit of natural aromatherapy that cannot be found with any other hot tub construction. As with acrylic hot tubs (see below) timber hot tubs need a permanent platform on which to be sited. Unlike other hot tubs and spas, a timber hot tub can use a wood-fuelled fire as its heat source, allowing it to be placed in remote locations without the need for an electrical connection. This type of hot tub can be of a simplistic design, consisting of the barrel and bench seating. Given the natural makeup of their construction, timber hot tubs can require more maintenance than acrylic hot tubs, but many people choose them for their aesthetic appeal. Please note there are timber hot tubs that can use conventional spa pumps and jets. Acrylic hot tubs Portable acrylic hot tubs are what most often spring to mind when somebody mentions a hot tub. They are the most popular type of hot tub on the market and usually seat between two to ten people. They consist of an aboveground, self-contained unit that requires a power supply and a permanent ground support, usually a concrete pad. Acrylic hot tubs, in general, are more expensive than inflatable hot tubs and offer better aesthetic value. These are the hot tubs which provide all the high tech benefits and can become real luxury items – depending on your budget. The choices when buying any type of model includes things like the number of seats, the efficiency and power of the jets and the ease of the cleaning regime. There are a number of gadgets and optional features like DVD players and speakers that you may wish to upgrade your hot tub with. They normally come with an expansive warranty and have a longer life span than an inflatable and soft hot tubs.
Inflatable hot tubs
An inflatable hot tub is a soft-shelled hot tub, typically made of vinyl, where the structure is made rigid by air being pumped into the frame. They can be permanently sited, or emptied and moved easily, as required. They are popular with hire firms and those who own caravans and motorhomes.
Soft tubs are another example of a soft-shelled hot tub, typically made of vinyl, where rigidity to the structure is usually provided by a foam core. They can also be permanently sited, or emptied and moved as required, or even taken on holiday.
Liner hot tubs
Liner hot tubs are usually constructed of modular timber or synthetic wall sections, with a vinyl liner to make a watertight membrane. They are usually permanently sited and are not easily moved once installed.
Inground spas, including those installed as part of a pool/ spa combination, are the most expensive of all spas, seating between two to sixteen people. The spa’s shell and equipment are all delivered to site separately and require assembly and installation on-site, and the spa itself is concreted permanently into the ground. In-ground spas require installation from a professional pool or spa contractor because of the excavation, concrete, plumbing and electrical works involved. In-ground spas also need to be permitted by Local Authorities, as well as inspected upon completion. Heating is usually provided by separate electrical or gas heating units. For those for whom budget is not an issue, inground spas offer the widest range of options and can have unique, customised finishes which cannot be attained with a portable spa.
Swim spa/ fitness spa/ exercise pool
A swim spa (or fitness spa, or exercise pool) is a small combined swimming pool with hydrotherapy jets, air induction and a counter-current exercise unit. The countercurrent exercise unit generates a current that a swimmer swims against, rather like the swimming equivalent of a treadmill or running machine.
Units are usually described as single-chamber or dual-chamber. A single-chamber swim spa has, as the name implies, just one body of water with the pool and spa areas sharing the same water which is at the same temperature throughout. They are less expensive to buy than dual chamber swim spas, but there is a compromise in that many feel that an ideal swimming temperature is too cool for relaxing in the spa seats, whereas the ideal spa temperature is too hot for swimming. A dual temperature unit has two separate and distinct bodies of water; one for swimming in, the other for hot tubbing in. Both have separate thermostatic controls so that they can be run at the optimum temperature for both activities.
Swim spa installations can be for domestic or light commercial use, providing the unit and its equipment are specified appropriately. It is absolutely essential the potential owner seeks professional advice for any “non-domestic” application.
Where can I go to see a hot tub or swim spa working?
The majority of hot tub dealers in the UK display hot tubs in their stores or showrooms. If you would like to try out a hot tub or swim spa (which we feel is vital), then ask them for a full wet test. It is a very reasonable request and most dealers will agree. Indeed, most dealers provide facilities to do just that.
By testing out the products beforehand, it gives you the opportunity to check the quality and performance of the equipment first-hand for yourself. Unfortunately, there has been a small but significant group of consumers who have fallen foul of one or two unscrupulous internet sellers who are not BISHTA members, selling poor quality and sometimes potentially dangerous equipment from the Far East. Buying from the internet can be a rewarding experience, but please think very carefully before buying from any internet company that is not in BISHTA, and who do not offer the opportunity for you to wet-test their product.
Always ensure you buy from a reputable dealer and check carefully for customer reviews of companies you are considering. That really cheap hot tub may look a cracking deal initially but could end up costing you more money in the long run, so check on the BISHTA website for relevant consumer advice (factsheet 1).
Where can I buy one?
The choice of products on the UK market is wide and varied, and all the world’s most respected and reputable brands are represented here. To find a hot tub retailer near you, then visit the BISHTA website. The British and Irish Spa and Hot Tub Association is the Trade Association representing manufacturers, importers, distributors, retailers and service engineers involved with hot tubs and swim spas. Membership is also open to leisure venues providing hot tubs as part of their holiday package.
BISHTA members have to undertake rigorous water hygiene management training and are compelled to abide by a Code of Ethics to demonstrate they are committed to being professional and reputable companies. All members and their products comply with BISHTA Standards, which are a comprehensive and detailed set of technical and business standards geared to giving a consumer complete peace of mind. The BISHTA website is your source of any information you require on a dealer or a particular brand, so please do utilise it to its maximum effect: www.bishta.co.uk.
How much will it cost?
Like any consumer purchase, there is a wide range between the cheapest and most expensive products on the market. There are many factors to take into consideration, including the size and style of the equipment that you would like. In general terms, you can buy a good quality hot tub for about the same price as a car. There are products which can be purchased from under £5,000, but the higher quality, more reliable hot tubs which come with full service back up usually cost in the range of £11,000 to £20,000, while swim spas can cost anything between £10,000 to £30,000. Above all, apply the same common sense to the purchase of a hot tub as you would any other high-ticket item and, remember the old adage, ‘if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.’
What about maintenance and upkeep?
The important points on upkeep tend to relate to the quality and purity of the water and a good filtration system. All hot tubs and swim spas will come with a warranty, and your dealer will be able to advise you on how to keep high-quality water in the hot tub. Again, use BISHTA for further information. The most important point to keep in mind at all times is that it is straightforward and not time-consuming. See Factsheet ‘C3 Water Treatment’.
Will I need planning permission?
Not usually, however, the installation of a hot tub or swim spa require planning permission, if it is in a conservation area, for instance, or the hot tub is part of a structure in the garden. If there are no restrictions, then you can usually put the equipment anywhere in your garden as long as it is installed on a level, solid base. If in doubt about whether planning is required, check with your local planning office for clarification.
Don’t forget the cost of installing a hot tub or swim spa
When you come to budgeting the cost of your hot tub or swim spa project, don’t forget to allow sufficient funds to cover installation costs. Often these are negotiable, but we strongly recommend that you insist that your contract includes an installation package by your dealer, as the weight of the product will more often than not require specialist lifting and handling equipment. Some companies may offer an all-inclusive service, but more likely the costs will be on top of the price of the equipment itself. Always ask for a detailed written quote so that you are sure of what is and is not included. Installation is not complicated and it is certainly not like installing, for example, a full-scale swimming pool.
You also need to give some thought to any decking, paved or other landscaped area that you might want around your hot tub or swim spa but, again, a site survey ahead of delivery is normally included in the price, this can be discussed with your dealer during your site visit.
Why opt for a swim spa rather than a swimming pool?
Many consumers are torn between the idea of buying a swim spa or a more conventional swimming pool. Here are a few points you may find useful in helping you make the choice.
• Swim spas are generally less expensive in terms of capital cost and installation costs, and take up less space than a traditional swimming pool.
• Swim spas are often called ‘Exercise Spas’ as they combine the physical exercise of swimming against a water current, with the opportunity to relax in a hot tub environment.
• The running and maintenance cost is generally, less than a traditional swimming pool, due to a relatively smaller water volume.
• A swim spa can go with you if you move home.
• A swim spa is designed to be used outside all year round.
• You have the option of fitting a swim spa indoors if you wish.
Whatever your choice of hot tub or swim spa, enjoy yourself, as that is what it is really all about! You will find that today’s hot tubs are amazingly relaxing, but really easy to maintain, and they are also powerful, yet extremely energy efficient.
Once you have done your homework, you will be sure that you have chosen the right hot tub for you and your family. Please make sure that you check the BISHTA website for details of companies that are part of the British and Irish Spa and Hot Tub Association. BISHTA provides an invaluable source of information to find the right dealer or a particular brand. And BISHTA membership is your assurance of buying with confidence from a dealer who is knowledgeable, trained in all aspects of hot tub safety and water hygiene, who is signed up to a published code of ethics, who sells safe and reputable products from respected sources which comply with industry and statutory standards, and who backs their products with comprehensive warranties and high levels of customer service.
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