There are many ways to unwind from the stressors of everyday life, but perhaps one of the best is by way of water. Feeling sluggish? Drink a glass of water for an instant pick-me-up. Feeling uptight? Relax into a bath. Feeling the aches and pains of strenuous exercise or simply the good old-fashioned passage of time? Consider hot tubs: More luxurious (and fun!) than running a bath, less commitment than a swimming pool, a hot tub may just be just the thing to create a private, relaxing oasis in your own backyard (or even somewhere inside). And the best part of all? This water feature will be at your disposal to enjoy all year long.
The hot tub industry as we know it began in the 1950s when some folks you may have heard of—the Jacuzzi brothers—created a hydrotherapy pump to help alleviate a family member’s arthritis. In 1968, Roy Jacuzzi created the first stand-alone whirlpool tub. The rest, as they say, is history; the Jacuzzi family became a household name and did for hot tubs what Kleenex did for tissues and Xerox did for copy machines. Today, though, there are many manufacturers and many brands of hot tubs, with more features than ever.
Once relegated to hotel pool decks, the stuff of wild parties, or the trusty sidekick to residential in-ground pools, hot tubs are now, like most other home amenities, something that can be tastefully integrated and completely tailored to suit your needs. Christine von Lewinski of Charlottesville Aquatics, which designs, builds and services custom pools as well as sells stand-alone hot tubs, says, “Having a hot tub is a lifestyle amenity that can help you create a retreat right at the convenience of your home.” She says homeowners appreciate having an option that they do not need a vacation to access. And hot tub shoppers run the gamut: there are empty nesters who have worked hard for many years and have successfully gotten the kids off to college, and now are ready for their time to reconnect. There are customers of all ages who seek the major therapeutic benefits to a hot tub as well; spending time in a hot tub can relieve arthritis, back pain or other health issues. Hot tubs are also great for families—particularly those with teenagers. “Soaking in a hot tub is a great way for teenagers to open up and talk to their parents, and it’s a great time for the family to reconnect while they are stargazing,” says von Lewinski.
Choosing the Right Model
Choosing the right hot tub model to fit your needs can be done with a little self-examination. Perhaps the first decision to make is how many people you would like to accommodate and where you want to place it—these are two major factors that play in to what size your tub can be. If you are considering a hot tub for entertaining, you’ll need ample seating; if you’d rather use it more for a private retreat to relax and ease muscle aches, then jet size and jet placement may be more important. Features can be highly personal and you should give this some thought before you buy.
An important feature to consider when buying a hot tub is not only the number of jets, but also the type and placement of jets. There is a huge variety in jet functionality, from pinpoints of water to pulsating waves to the feel of fingers running down your back. Even hot tub seating has many options: some models feature seats that are more upright while others will include loungers, “captain’s chairs” in each corner, or some combination. Sound and TV systems, special mood lighting, even water features like illuminated arcs of water or mini waterfalls are options to amp up your hot tub experience.
One new feature that really makes hot tubs a year-round delight is the ability to cool the water. “In one day, the water in a hot tub can be cooled so the kids can enjoy it during a hot summer day, then it can be heated up so the family can enjoy it at night,” says von Lewinski. This is also a particularly inviting scenario in our fall climate, where the weather can go from one extreme to the other on a dime.
Besides functionality, you’ll have choices to make about looks, too. Interiors of hot tubs are typically made from fiberglass covered with acrylic that comes in a variety of colors and finishes. Covers, typically made of foam core covered in vinyl, also come in an array of colors to suit your preferences.
The cabinets in which hot tubs are housed have come a long way in terms of good looks—and ease of maintenance. Once upon a time they were made from wood, which required the regular cleaning, staining and sealing necessary to maintain its good looks. Today’s cabinets are typically made from polymers that mimic the look of wood, complete with wood-grain embossing. Some manufacturers also make cabinets out of polymer to look like stone. This material requires very little upkeep compared to wood.
Locating your Hot Tub
So you’ve figured out what model hot tub you want; what about integrating this sizeable item into your space? This is one of the most important things to decide. If you put it close to your home, rather than in the far reaches of your yard, you are more likely to use it more often through all seasons. Keep in mind that it can be a long, cold walk back to the house if you’re taking advantage of a hot outdoor soak in the depths of winter.
It is recommended that the company from which you are purchasing your hot tub visit your potential site ahead of time to make sure your plans are feasible. “Having a site visit can help in so many ways,” says von Lewinski. “Most customers have an idea of where they would like it to go, but we can look at logistics like delivery, access for future service, and ways to customize the hot tub setting with things like handrails, umbrellas and music so it’s more tailored to accommodate the customers’ lifestyle and projected use.” This type of visit takes the guesswork and worry out of your new purchase; no one wants the unpleasant surprise of installation issues on delivery day.
One key to successful installation is a firm, flat, level surface, like a concrete pad or pavers. If you’re looking to place the hot tub on a deck, you’ll need to be certain that your deck can withstand the enormous weight of a hot tub full of water—as well as the people in it. (A full hot tub can weigh between 3,000 to 7,000 pounds.) If it’s questionable, reinforcements can be added to your deck—this will just add to your budget and your timeline.
While you don’t need a plumber to help install this water-filled fun—hot tubs are self-contained, filled initially and then filtered—you may need the services of an electrician. Most municipal codes require that you have a dedicated, grounded outlet (a GFCI outlet), and in the right location—a certain distance from your hot tub, for safety. Getting your electrical hook-up up to snuff to accommodate a hot tub is not considered a major electrical overhaul, however, and costs should be minimal.
What if you want to place your hot tub inside—like in a basement or a sunroom? Some of the same rules apply: you’ll need a firm, flat surface with adequate reinforcement, and the added requirement of water-resistant flooring (such as tile or cement). You also need to be sure the room where you want to place your hot tub has adequate ventilation.
Once installed, you can certainly enjoy your hot tub without lifting another finger—but if you are looking to boost the aesthetics of your new spa even further, there are certainly some ideas to consider to create a visually pleasing scene. Some hot tub owners build attractive decking around the tub, making sure that the control panel and electrical supply remain easily accessible. Another tip, if you haven’t already placed it near existing landscaping, is to landscape intentionally around it to enhance privacy and a getaway feel—think lush evergreens, perennial grasses and a trellis that will bloom with flowering vines in the warmer months. Under a pergola, an accent to an existing hardscape, or surrounded by large potted trees and container gardens, your hot tub really can be a destination in your own backyard.
Like a swimming pool, the water in a hot tub needs to be sanitized, whether with traditional chlorine, a saltwater system (in which salt is turned into chlorine) or by using ozonator technology (a mechanized solution to eliminating chemical sanitizers). While there are many options to consider for this task, and at different price points, experts say that maintaining a hot tub has never been easier. Von Lewinski says that maintenance is often front and center in the minds of her hot tub customers. “Nobody wants to add something else to their already-busy schedule—they just want to use the hot tub,” she says. She says that most hot tubs are equipped with some type of automated water sanitation system that takes that concern out of the quotient. In fact, there is now technology that allows dealerships to monitor the chemistry of the water and the functionality of the hot tub without being on site; it alerts the dealership if there is a need for a service visit. “This is very helpful for customers who love to travel. It gives them peace of mind,” she says.
One task you’ll need to put on your to-do list—for no tub is maintenance-free—is the occasional drain and refill. “Expect to drain your hot tub quarterly with average use—I like to tell my customers to do it with the change of seasons,” says von Lewinski. If you use the hot tub frequently or have a lot of people who use it, you may want to drain and refill it more often.
Like any home luxury item, prices for hot tubs run the gamut, from base models to fully loaded. You can expect to pay close to $3,000 for an entry-level tub, on up to $18,000 for a fully-loaded model with all the bells and whistles you could imagine.
Whether for relaxing alone, resting your aching joints, or connecting with family and friends, these at-home water retreats can provide a little bit of luxury to your life—at your disposal, all the time. “Everyone is stressed these days, and the world would be a better place if more people owned a hot tub and used it regularly,” says von Lewinski. Maybe this is just the right season to consider adding this feature to your home and your life.