Hot Tub Buyers Guide - Avoid unwarranted dangerous spas

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“How to make sure that the spa you buy is safe, warranted, and lives up to your expectations”

Hot tubs needn’t pose any risk whatsoever, but if they are not designed, manufactured, set-up or maintained to the required standards, they be dangerous, even fatal.

Google: “Underwater Entrapment Suction”, “Hyperthermia” or “Hot Tub Legionella” for detailed information.

With the recent influx of cheap, unbranded Spas and Hot Tubs, we aim to help you buy a safe, CE approved product, with a good warranty, from a reputable company.

There are a couple of other well-written buyers guides on eBay – be sure to read these too.

 

Why write this guide?

The purpose of this guide is to protect the Hot Tub industry and it’s customers from unsafe products which put the public at risk.

Being a Hot Tub distributor we speak to people in the trade every day. One topic becoming more and more prolific is calls from the public asking:

1.       I have bought a cheap spa on eBay – can you, deliver, install and set it up?

2.       I have bought a cheap spa on eBay – it doesn’t work, can you come and fix it?

3.       I have bought a cheap spa on eBay – do you take second-hand spas or trade-ins?

The answer to these questions is “No”.

Reputable dealers don’t want to be responsible for fitting or repairing products that put their customers at risk. These spas often have no parts common to other brands, and have in-house, factory-made control systems that are dangerous or impossible to repair due to lack of spares. Sadly, unbranded badly-made spas bought on eBay for a couple of thousand pounds often have little or no re-sale value. 

 

What if I can’t afford a branded Spa?

There are a number of options:

1.       Buy a second-hand acrylic spa of a well-known brand

2.       Buy an ex-display acrylic spa of a well-known brand

3.       Buy a non-acrylic, Branded spa such as: Softub, Spa-n-a-Box, Roto Spa etc.

All these spas are safe, CE approved, guaranteed, sold nationwide, have readily available spares and offer much better value-for-money than an unbranded hot tub or spa. Read on to find out why… 

 

What makes these cheap, imported spas so unsafe?

If you look at a top-down picture of the spa, you should see plastic or chrome fittings about the size of a large roll of tape, covered in tiny holes which are normally mounted in the sides of the foot well. These are suction points (where the water is sucked out of the spa by the pump(s), before being pushed back through the jets).

In Canada, Europe and Australia, it is a legal requirement that a pump connected to a pool or spa must have two suction points teed together some distance apart. There have been a number of injuries and deaths caused by underwater entrapment in pools and spas which resulted in this legislation being instated. If a high-flow pump is connected to a single suction point, the force of water travelling through it can be enough to trap a person underwater and drown them. However, if there are two suctions teed together, when one is blocked by skin, clothes, or hair, the water can travel through the other suction point, reducing the suction force and preventing entrapment.

Suction fittings must also be manufactured to a specific standard. They must have the correct surface area, the right number holes which are the correct size and are then matched to the power of the pump. This is to reduce the entrapment risk posed by underwater suction points.  These approved suction covers are designed to stop hair being sucked through the holes in the cover and being spun into a knot behind it. Major international brands use approved and rated suction covers in their spas, plumbed correctly, with 2 suction points per pump (a filter may also count as a suction point).

Unfortunately there are often unbranded spas for sale on eBay, that have two pumps with just one suction point each. Both suction points are right next to each other; doubling the suction force! This means that when both pumps are running there is a huge force sucking down into the bottom of the foot well. These products could be especially lethal for children or those with long hair.

If you have long hair you should always tie it back when using any pool or spa.

You should also avoid putting your head underwater when using any hot tub or swim spa.

Another required safety feature on a hot tub or spa is an over-temperature cut-out at 45 degrees Celsius. Because the body is submersed in hot water, it cannot cool itself. If someone overheats in this manner it is called Hyperthermia (the opposite of Hypothermia) where the body core heats up 0.9deg above the normal temperature, causing possible coma or even death by drowning whilst unconscious. One of our dealers had a member of the public call up for help after feeling very drowsy - their Chinese-made hot tub was at 50 degrees Celsius and still heating. Not only is this potentially lethal, but it could also damage plumbing, fittings and the shell itself. 

 

Warranty:

Major international manufacturers of branded spas offer a full warranty to their distributors and retailers. This means that it costs next-to-nothing for your supplier to warrant your spa. This is very different from the way some Chinese factories treat their resellers, who are often sent more of the same products rather than a re-fund. With this lack of backup, resellers are often reluctant to guarantee their products.

Many eBay warranties are “parts only”. This means if a part fails, you could be asked to locate the faulty part, remove it and post it back to the supplier for replacement at your cost.

You should always check:

  • What parts are covered?
  • How long they are covered for?
  • If on-site labour is covered?
  • If the supplier has been in business long enough to back the warranty up?
  • If the manufacturer is a well-known brand with readily-available spares in the UK?

 

Chemical and Water Safety:

Sellers offering kerbside delivery only, can’t show you how to safely add chemicals to your hot tub.

If you mix the wrong chemicals together then add water, they will explode causing severe chemical burns, scarring and occasionally blindness.

Remember:

  • NEVER mix chemicals together
  • NEVER add water to chemicals
  • ALWAYS wear eye protection and gloves
  • ALWAYS add chemicals to a clean bucket of water
  • ALWAYS test your spa water before you, or anyone else uses it

If you are in doubt, please call us, or your local Spa/Hot Tub dealer who will be happy to give you free advice over the phone.

If you do not maintain chemicals in your spa correctly, there are a number of nasty bacteria that will breed in it – some can be deadly.

International hot tub brands use complicated systems to ensure that the water is turned over and filtered to a required standard. They educate their distributors and dealers in how to teach customers about safe water quality. Responsible sellers include a chemical starter pack and should show you how to safely use it.

The worst examples we have seen are a seller advertising “Chemical-Free Hot Tubs”, claiming that the ozone generator was sufficient to kill all bacteria so no chemicals are needed, and another selling spas with no filter at all. There is no such thing as a chemical-free hot tub.

 

Think About Who You Are Buying From:

Today we have seen people bidding up to £2000 on an unbranded Chinese-made hot tub from France with a £500 shipping charge...           

...now just think about this for a minute: The seller is in France and the product is unbranded. So it is likely to break down and the only person who can fix it lives in France. If it doesn’t work on arrival, or breaks down a week after you leave positive feedback, what can you do about it?

You could try to send it back for a refund and pay another £500 shipping… but then it’s cost you £1000 to ship a hot tub you don’t want.

Please don’t waste your money - Buy from a registered UK business with a trading history, make sure the spa is approved for use in the UK and has a proper warranty.

You will notice that legitimate spa showrooms with a long-established business will never sell unbranded spas, or have anything to do with servicing them.

 

So why shouldn’t I buy an unbranded or seller-branded spa?

1.      It’s likely that it doesn’t meet EU regulations, meaning it is not safe for UK use. As Mattel toys recently found out; just because a factory sells so-called “CE approved products”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their products pass CE approval.

2.      These spas, often made from sanitary-grade acrylic are only as thick, strong and chemical-resistant as a domestic bath tub (designed to take 1 persons weight and fresh water). Hot Tubs have 1-2 tonnes of hot water in them 24/7 for up to ten years. Lucite and Aristech are the two trusted acrylic brands used for Hot Tub manufacture. Some listings will still say "Lucite" when the colours are not lucite colours - Check Lucite's website (www,todaysspas,com) to compare their colours.

3.      Many such spas don’t work when they arrive. We have met spa dealers in France who had to dedicate a whole factory unit to re-sealing every jet and water testing every spa again. Rather than refunding him, the Chinese supplier just sent the dealer more spas of the same quality – so he sold them off on eBay with a 1yr warranty; beware!

4.      The fibreglass used to reinforce the acrylic is often incorrectly bonded to the acrylic causing delaminating shells, blisters and leaks. The vinyl-ester bonding agent is an expensive material that is necessary to stop de-lamination. It is not easily visible and the general public don’t know what it is – an ideal corner to cut if you don't warrant your products.

5.      The layer of fibreglass added to the acrylic to reinforce it shopuld be around 10mm thick. Unbranded spas can have very thin, flimsy shells which flex or break under the weight of water and occupants. A heavy person could easily put their foot through a shell like this.

6.      Chinese unbranded spas can be made in sub-standard working conditions – even outside! Below are some promotional images sent to us by a Chinese manufacturer who appears to be using a basketball court as a production line, exposing the electrical components to the rain:

            

7.      Unbranded spas are often not made to any kind of ergonomic design. We were emailed information on this spa below by the manufacturer: Probably the worst example so-far is pictured below:

                 

·        It is 800mm high and because it has a floor drain, around 100mm clearance is needed under the foot well, making the foot well just 700mm deep. To stop the spa overflowing when people get in, leave 150mm for the water to rise to the lip. This means that water depth is only 550mm (knee deep) at the deepest point! Most people would struggle to submerse themselves in this spa.

·        Worse still, this is a twin pump spa with 2 suction points – see above for why this is inherently dangerous.

·        It does not have a filter, meaning there is no way of keeping the water clean or preventing potentially lethal bacterial growth.

·        Not only is this spa dangerous, but it is not fit for purpose, or approved for use in the UK , yet it was on sale on eBay, in the UK for £2095 + £200 postage.

 

8.      Sometimes the control systems used are a mass of cables and wires, adapted from a whirlpool bathtub or steam room. Often these will have a built-in radio or telephone control.  They look a world apart from a proper brand of Spa Control Gear which uses a nice neat waterproof box that all the pumps plug into.

                  

9.      As you will see in the left picture above, there are no isolation or gate valves. These valves, should be fitted each side of a pump or heater, meaning that if there is a problem, the part can be replaced, without draining all the hot water out of spa. On this spa, every problem will require re-filling and re-balancing the water, even just to check a problem is fixed.

10.  The instruction manual, (if there is one) may be illegible; due to a low standard of English. Below is an excerpt from a promotional email…

"Dear Sir:

The high technology SPA was born  here.She leads  you to remote control your SPA by your telephone.You can control it not only at home but also out side ,even you are abroad.Whenever you will go home to enjoy  your SPA ,You can heat advance to wait for you by your mobile..."

11.  Lastly, sound-out the seller; we suggest asking the following to see how genuine they are:

  • Ask them if they have any in spare parts in stock, and how much they cost
  • Ask them what brand of spa they sell... or are they "own brand"?
  • What is manufacturers’ website address? Even Chinese factories have websites
  • Ask what documentation comes with it – can they email a manual to you?
  • Can they send you a brochure? Branded spas will have a nice glossy brochure
  • How long have they been in business?
  • How long have they been selling spas for?
  • Ask how many suction points / pumps there are
  • Ask if they can advise you on how to balance the water
  • Will they install and set it up?
  • How long is the warranty?
  • Does it only include parts, or on-site labour too?
  • How long is labour covered for?
  • Will they show you how to use the spa?
  • Can you pay a deposit, with the balance on delivery or do you have to pay 100% up-front?
  • REMEMBER - Before you part with thousands of pounds, make sure you know exactly what you are buying!

Here are some pointers to spotting these unbranded tubs:

Having spent many years working in the hot tub trade, we visit international trade and retail shows, and are regularly sent emails from Chinese bathware factories trying to sell us their products - they are easy enough to spot if you know what to look for:

1.      There is often a radio fitted as standard, with speakers in the cabinet walls facing outwards (rather than on the acrylic shell, facing inward).

   

      The four left hand speakers are on unbranded spas, the right hand speaker is not. These speakers are often either silver or white with a kind of triangular arrow design on them. If a spa has these features, you can count on it being made in China .

3.      If the cabinet is painted, stained or even untreated tongue and groove teak or pine with knots in it, it's almost certainly unbranded. Major branded spas are always finished in either Cedar wood, Mahogany, or a synthetic plastic that is both low maintenance and UV stable (not bleached by the sun). 

 

4.      Ask what "Brand" of control system they use, then check out the "Brand's" website. Some well-known brands are: Spa Net, Balboa, Gecko, Spa Quip. Chinese "in-house" control systems can be very dangerous and are not properly designed. The control system ensures the water does not overheat, is filtered sufficiently, and not liable to electrocute bathers!

5.      Cheap spas with expensive-looking extras such as a freeview TV, DVD player etc are usually from China, unbranded . If the TV looks "bolted on" rather than “built in” this is often a clue.  Never pay a premium for these extras – even on recognised spa brands, most TVs have just a 1yr warranty.

6.      Chinese-designed spas tend to have more pumps of a lower power – eg: 3 x 1hp pumps rather than 1 x 3hp pump (three times as likely to break down). There are plenty of Chinese spas that have 2 x 2hp pumps, but if the spa does have 4 pumps and you are already dubious, it’s more likely to be Chinese.

7.      The topside controls are sometimes chrome (not plastic) - all major spa part manufacturers use plastic for a reason. It’s likely that these cheap spas use locally sourced bathroom/shower fittings rather than US hot tub fittings. A chrome control valve may look nice on arrival, but after 6 months of being attacked by chlorine and ozone it will not. 

8.      If the spa has 2 pumps, and 2 suction covers, it’s almost certainly made in china, and not approved for sale in Europe . More importantly, it is very dangerous. See above for more information

9.  Large louvered wooden vents cut into the side are another sign of poor Chinese design. They will leak huge amounts of heat out of them, costing a fortune to run.

10.  Finally, if you are still not sure, then don’t risk it! Call around some local Hot Tub dealers from your area who can sell you a branded ex-display, end of line, or second-hand model. If they are genuine and will give the spa an on-site warranty you are always better off getting something safe, with some back up.

NB : Some suspect eBay sellers have read this guide and edited their listings accordigly to imply their spas are US made...

A number of premium spa brands are now produced in China - not all chinese products are bad! I-Pods, the X-Box, even cars for the UK market are now produced here, however these brands have set-up their own factories, production lines, parts suppliers, and quality control standards - very different to a backstreet factory making small numbers of unbranded "in-house" spas to their own designs! Checking the manufacturer's website out will help you get an idea.

 

At Spa World, we are owned by The Canadian Spa Company and own exclusive UK rights to Monarch Spas - an international hot tub brand with 25 years manufacturing experience. Our hot tubs may still be cheaper, will certainly be safer and definitely last longer than the unbranded products described above.

 

Our Hot Tubs are designed and manufactured using quality branded components, to the highest standards, come with a full warranty (parts and labour on-site), and a money-back guarantee. Why not save a lot of stress and hassle, let us take care of your delivery, installation and warranty. We can set-up your spa, fill it, demonstrate how to balance the water and offer free advice at the end of the phone…

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