Spa Hot Tub Buying Guide - READ BEFORE YOU BUY

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Spa Hot Tub Buying Guide
Where we also try to explain whats what when it comes to spas

Your Height
Generally there are four depths to a spa a)approx 720mm deep b)approx 880mm c)approx 950mm deep and d) 1080mm deep. If you are 6ft and over do not go for the 720mm deep spa, go for one of the deeper models. If you are under 6ft you can purchase either depth of spa, as seats are of various height. The general difference is the depth of the foot well in the centre of the spa, where you place your feet.

If you are taller than 6ft and purchased a shallow spa your knees/legs would be pointing upwards when relaxing with your feet in the foot well which would not be very comfortable after a period of time.

Generally, at this moment in time there are several heater sizes on the market a) no heater b) 1.0kw c) 2.0kw and d) 3kw. The no heater spa may use the heat generated by the pumps to warm the water. The three heaters will heat the water to full temperature when the cover is on. However it is when the cover is off and you are using the spa that you want the water temperature maintained. So the bigger the tub the bigger the heater should be. ie a no heater or 1.0kw heater may not keep the water hot for very long during our cold winter months when the spa is in use, no matter how insulated a spa is. Watch out for people who tell you that the spa has a 5.5kw heater or larger, this is generally non UK specification.

Ozone Generator
An ozone generator be it CD or UV should be considered when purchasing a spa. These generators inject ozone bubbles into the water neutralizing contaminates on contact helping to keep the water clean and clear, in turn reducing the amount of sanitizer required. Some times called “Self Cleaning” which is a little misleading. The generator will generally need replacing every couple of years.

Spa Cover
Most of the reputable dealers in the UK sell their spas with a thermal rigid cover as standard. However there are dealers who supply their spas with a bubble style cover, which only really stops leaves and debris from getting into the water when not in use or the cover is optional at a cost. Remember that the UK climate is cold in the winter, what would be the winter heating costs without a thermal rigid cover. A bubble cover is only really suitable for countries with a hot climate all year round or as use as a daytime summer cover.

Water Pumps “HP” and Jets
There are many ways to measure the performance of a water pump. The most common in use today with the spa manufacturers is horse power (HP) yet this is probably the most misleading to the untrained person.

Lets compare a 2hp pump to a 2 ltr car. 10 years ago a 2 ltr car may have had a top speed of 100 mph and use 4 ltrs of petrol per hour to maintain that speed. Today that same car would only need a 1.4 ltr engine to achieve a speed of 100 mph and will only use 2.5 ltrs of fuel per hour to maintain that speed. Things of got a lot more economical, so bigger is not better in this case.

Also American HP is measured differently to UK HP. 6hp America specification may only be the same as about 1 hp to 1.5hp in the UK.

Also again there is two different ways to measure Horse Power (HP): “Continuous Operating HP” and “Brake BHP”. Continuous Operating is the amount of HP the motor is capable of producing while the spa is in operation. Brake HP is the momentary HP the motor produces at the start up, before dropping to Continuous HP. So if someone tells you the spa has 4, 6, 8 or more HP pump/s don’t be mislead, modern 1.5HP to 2HP pumps on correctly designed spas are more than enough. Also the higher the HP the more inefficient / older standard the pump may be and as a result higher electricity usage.

Approx guide: 5.5 BHP = 2.0 HP, 4.8 BHP = 1.5 HP & 4.0 BHP = 1.0 HP.

The size of the plumbing, bends and many other factors also effect how many ltrs of water will flow through a pump per hour. The best way to see if the spa has the correct pump/s is to put you body in front of the jets and with all of the jets switched on feel the water pressure coming out.

24 hour circulation pumps are very small pumps which are sometimes fitted, really for marketing purposes so the manufacturers can say they have an additional pump, they can also be prone to failure. These pumps rarely fully circulate the water in the hottub over a 24 hr period and can be a waste of time whereas a modern 2 HP will circulate all the spa's water in under 2-3 mins.

Number of Jets
Yes it is nice to have a powerful pump or two and jets giving a white water rafting effect on the water surface when you have friends and family around, and you will enjoy this effect time and time again for the first 20-30 minutes or so of each bathing session, after this many people prefer to just relax with a glass of wine with slow water movement soothing those tired muscles.

Some manufacturers say they have eight jets outlets when in fact they have two jets rotating behind eight outlets.

Also to many large or high numbers of small jets can mean less water pressure coming out of the jets which results in lesser therapy action.

Electricity Supply
Most of today's spas use electricity to operate and run the spa. All spas must be protected by a 30mA RCD and an MCB of the correct rating. Spas generally come in several electricity sizes a) 13A (suitable for a domestic plug top), b) 16A, c) 20A, d) 2 x 16A, e) 32A etc.

All the pumps, heater and ozone generator use electricity, hence if you are looking for a large powerful spa you should not expect this from a large spa which requires a 13A electrical supply, however you will find that even the smaller less powerful spas compare quite favourably to that found at a health club or leisure centre.

For your protection you should only use a CSCS/ECS registered electrician. Ask to see their card - no card then the person may not be competent to carry out the electrical works safely.

Wet Test Facilities
Many spas on the market look very nice from the outside and by changing the type of jets installed or location of the jets to just below the water line, can produce fast moving water on the surface with nothing below, however to feel the real benefit of spa hydrotherapy you need to feel what is happening underneath the water line, this is why we recommend that all customers should wet test the spas.

Spa, Hot Tub, Jacuzzi or Whirlpool - what is the Difference?
Today there is no real difference between a Spa, Hot Tub, Jacuzzi or Whirlpool. A spa hot tub is now the more common name. The word ‘spa’ comes from a Latin acronym – sanitas per aqua which roughly translated to English means Health Through Water.

Who to Buy From
Buying a spa is much like buying a car from time to time you will need to buy additional water treatments, renew filters and maybe have maintenance carried out on the spa to help keep it in tip top condition. In the first few months you may also want the backup of your dealer to assist you in answering water treatment and/or usage related questions.

Taking into account the above try to buy your spa from a dealer who has the back up and experience of spa hot tubs (ATM Spas and Things have over 8 years experience of spas). After all can you really expect a dealer hundreds of miles away or even in another country to come and answer a question for you?

We've been told many stories about internet only dealers who have no showrooms and after paying for the spa it never turns up, your money has gone to an overseas bank account and you can do nothing about it. It looks nothing like you thought it would or has many leaks / faults. To see a BBC News report on non-existent hot tubs purchased via eby click here and see paragraph 5.

Spa Shell Construction
Generally there are 5 kinds of spa construction methods used for the construction of the spa 1) Blow Up – The cheapest way to build a spa and very easy to puncture. Expect this kind of build to last a few months if you are lucky 2) Liner – another cheap way to build is to place a plastic liner inside a frame. Expect this kind of construction to last a couple months to a couple of years max before needing replacement. 3) Thin acrylic surface backed with thick fibreglass shell  – medium cost way to build and very popular in the early days of spa hot tubs and still used today. The shell will last two to five years before starting to blister and need repair. 4) Rota mould – a low cost method of construction, giving a plainer finish, which will last for years. 5) Acrylic shell backed with a little bit of fibreglass – the most expensive spa shell construction method, which will last also last for years to come.

Cabinet Construction
You will also notice that there are two kinds of shell installation into /onto the cabinet a) a shell which sits on the cabinet and b) a shell which overlaps the cabinet.

Firstly a shell which sits on the cabinet is a lower cost method of construction and is not really much good for the UK weather, rain, snow and hail etc all this water comes to rest on the wood at the top of the cabinet, which over a period of years can rot and need treating. The second, an overlap shell, more expensive to build but allows the water to fall away from the cabinet for years of worry free maintenance.

The cabinet can also be made from various materials. Wood is still the most popular with several woods being used a) pine / spruce and redwood are soft woods which really should not be used in this country due to their soft properties, b) cedar is a harder wood and mahogany is a hard wood which are more suitable for our weather conditions.

Synthetic woods and plastic cabinets are now also being introduced to spas due to their low maintenance requirements, ie just wipe down now and again. I've also been told about a metal cabinet spa (good idea in principal) which dents very easy.

To Fully Foam or Not Fully Foam
This along with the pump sizes is my greatest hates about manufacturers. Some will say fully foamed is better because it insulates the spa better, others will say we do not fully foam as it makes it easier to maintain the spa in years to come.

This again is a bit of marketing hype, all that is really needed is a 40mm think insulation on the spa shell, remember the hot water tank in the air-cupboard, this only has approx 15mm of insulation and does a pretty good job.

The main thing to remember is that heat rises so it is very important to have a think thermal cover for the spa. Watch for 25mm (1 inch) covers which claim to be a thick cover.

Spa Warranty Periods
Spa ownership is a medium to large investment for most people and it is important that your spa comes from a quality supplier who offers a quality warranty and a dealer who has technical knowledge back up and will still be here next year (many have come, thinking this is an easy route to make a quick fortune and gone in the last 12 months).

Have a look at the warranty and the small print to see what it says. There are many warranties out there being offered, but when you read them they are not worth the paper they are written on, one example I've seen is after 6 months you pay 90% of the labour and material costs and you have to purchase the parts from the same supplier at inflated prices. The warranty details in the brochure said full 5 year warranty on all parts and labour. The brochure was correct, but it did not make it clear it was only for 10% of the cost after 6 months and the warranty started from the date of manufacture rather than the date of installation. This is the worst one I have seen.

Spa Hot Tub Prices
The subject of price can be a touchy subject with some of the spa manufacturers and dealers. It is important to ask what does the price include, some do not include for VAT in their price lists, others add a couple of thousand pounds to their prices and then start knocking money off every 10 mins or so. Is a thick rigid cover included? VAT etc, a lot do not.

Internet prices and auction site prices generally include everything bar the kitchen sink!!!!!!!!!!! You have been warned. Will you ever see a tub or your money again. To see a BBC News report on non-existent hot tubs purchased via eby click here and see paragraph 5.

Delivery, Installation, Commission & Demonstration
Your spending at least a couple of thousand pounds on your spa investment so it is important that your spa is correctly installed and set up. Some dealers only deliver your spa to your curbside you are then expected to take it off the lorry and move it into place, others if required will expect you to arrange a crane yourself – do you have this knowledge?

For you, your family and friends safety please ensure that you have your spa correctly delivered, installed, commissioned and you have a full demonstration on how to use the spa and the correct procedures with regards to water treatments.

Spa Shell Colour and Type
There are generally 3 finish types of spa shell a) marble, b) quarite and c) metallic. All three finishes look very nice and are all very popular throughout the UK however with the water in South Wales being very soft you may see a slight water line on the marble and metallic finishes which will require an occasional wipe off , you may also notice a slight dulling of the shine around the rim on the marble and metallic finishes after a few months of lifting the cover on and off, however this can polished.

I’ve noticed recently that some dealers are using American specification brochures and some using brochures from Tim Buc Too. These specifications can be very very misleading, one such brochure stated 5,500 watt heater, air boost and 2no 5hp pumps with a 16A electrical supply, a 5,500 watt heater in the UK will require a 22A electrical supply alone. Always ask for the UK specification. One easy give away is if the water quantity is measured in gallons then it is not a UK specification brochure or if the size is given in inches.

Quick Questions

What Is The Running Cost Of A Spa?
A typical 5 to 6 person spa running all year round will cost in the region of £17 to £25 per month for electricity and around £12 per month for water treatments. Add an extra £10 per month for a 7 to 8 person spa.

Is Maintaining The Water Treatments Difficult?
It can be more nerve racking than difficult for the first couple of weeks and then it is like riding a bike. Simply take a test strip, dip into the water and it will then tell you what needs adding, less than 1 minute per day.

We’ve Heard Some Spas Do Not Need Chemicals?
There is not a spa or swimming pool in the world that does not need some form of water treatment, the use of an ozone generator will reduce the amount of chemical used, however you will still need water treatments. A few new non chlorine or bromine treatments have come on the market resently, which should be suitable for people with dry skin conditions, but in effect they are still a chemical treatment and still require a small amount of sanitizer of oxidiser to be added. Several other new products we have tried and they have FAILED to work.

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