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Hot Tub Shopping Tips

A hot tub is a wonderful addition to any home. It is a relaxing escape from the stresses and pressures of modern living, and can provide you with hours of therapeutic soaking. Whether you decide to put yours in indoors or outside, there are a number of things to consider when shopping for a new spa.

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How to Buy the Right Hot Tub the First Time: Key Questions to Consider to As You Construct Your Backyard Getaway

by Alice Cunningham

Many homeowners find themselves soaked when it comes to shopping for a hot tub. However, a smart and knowledgeable spa purchase can be the difference between experiencing endless relaxation and hassle-free enjoyment and owning a burdensome, resource-draining machine that ends up costing more to operate and maintain than ever anticipated. Choosing a spa made by an unknown manufacturer or without a proper warranty can leave behind hassle and headaches instead of comfort and serenity. Ask the right questions and comparison shop accurately so you can be confident that the spa you choose will be easy to own and maintain, EnergySmart©, and offer years of enjoyment.


*One size doesn't always fit all. Be sure to consider the primary purpose of your new hot tub and ask important questions. Is it for entertaining, family fun, relaxation? All of these? Depending on what it will be used for, choose a size that fits your lifestyle. If you do plan to entertain, how many people will be using the hot tub at once? Do you have a big family that wants to soak together? Or, will no more than two people share the spa for quiet relaxation and intimate conversation? The most popular size seats four adults comfortably. If you're not sure, go larger. No one ever regrets buying a larger spa, yet buyers do regret buying one too small. A professional can help you measure your space carefully and recommend a spa that's appropriate for the area. Choose a dealer who provides this in-home service.


*Try it wet before you buy it. Want to know if a spa is really right for you? Get wet. Take a test soak to judge seat comfort. Note the torso depth when you're sitting up comfortably. For cooler climates, make sure the water depth reaches over the shoulders. Multi-level seating should accommodate both adults and children. The best option for all soakers is "barrier free" models with no confining seats or other obstructions to get in the way as you move around the spa.

*It's all about the jets. When shopping for a spa, don't choose quantity over quality. Pay attention to jet types and jet placement. One good jet that provides the lower back pain relief you're seeking is worth a dozen jets in the wrong places. Do the jets feel soothing or pummeling? Can individual jets be adjusted for direction? Find out if jet pressure can be regulated. Most spa users prefer to adjust jet pressure for the hydrotherapy they're seeking. Look for jets that go up and down your back for a full back massage.


*Hear the silence. Ask yourself, 'Would I want this right outside my bedroom window at night?' Your neighbors will appreciate a quiet spa, as well. A well-made spa will have no audible noise or vibration when the water is circulating, heating, and filtering. This is especially important if you plan to place it near sleeping areas, on a deck or rooftop.

*Take a deep breath and smell the water. If you smell chlorine in the water or on you skin or notice a scent that masks chlorine odor, the sanitizing system is outmoded and not up to par. Look for a spa that's sanitized with a corona-discharge ozonator (not a flimsily light bulb) with silver ion for boosting the cleanliness. Crystal clean water without effort or hassle should be your primary concern. This is especially important for your health and the health of your family.

*Keep it simple. A simple on/off control panel is best. Avoid spas that need to be "programmed" for operations like filtering and heating. You'll want your spa to be hot and clean and ready to use at all times. You'll use a spa more often if it's always ready when you are.

*Keep it clean. Do not consider buying any spa without full, no "by-pass" filtration. That means that all of the water is passing though the filters when the jets are on. Soaking in dirty, unfiltered water is no fun and can be a health hazard. Filters should be top loading, readily accessible for cleaning, and not stuck in the equipment bay. Most importantly, filters should be sized for the spa's gallonage. A major problem with poorly made spas is filters too small to adequately filter the amount of water in the spa.

*Keep it safe. Select a spa with locking cover and locking control panel to keep out small children. Consider safety rails and non-slip steps for ease of entry.


*Check under the hood. The quality of the construction and materials used will determine how long your spa will last, the actual long-term cost, and the maintenance involved in its upkeep. Ask your dealer for a product brochure or search the manufacturers' Web site for the details on how each spa is made and the parts and materials used in construction.

*Ensure rock solid construction and warranty protection. Be sure the shell is made from a durable material that has been tested over time. New pearl metalescent finishes should be laminated over the most durable material possible like ABS. Be sure the material you select is resistant to UV, chemical damage, and cracking and has a bona fide warranty to protect your investment. Seven-year warranties are the best way to go. So-called "lifetime" warranties are meaningless because most states put a limit on what constitutes "lifetime." Avoid cabinets made of wood, which will quickly turn black and moldy. Embossed wood-look cabinets made from rigid polymers will give you low maintenance, high durability and retain their good looks for years. The cabinet warranty should be at least five years.


*Save money while saving energy. Portable spas are much more energy efficient than built-in spas, but only if properly insulated. That insulation and insulating value of the spa cover will be the key determinants of operating costs. The most EnergySmart© spas are totally foam-filled with 3lb density. Avoid spas with "peanut" pellet insulation stuffed under the cabinet or those with no insulation at all. Beware of manufacturers who claim that no insulation allows easy access to fix plumbing leaks. Don't be fooled into paying for high energy costs forever because the manufacturer can't guarantee against leaks.

*You get what you pay for. Reputable dealers will provide third-party laboratory testing results that document typical operating costs. Heating costs for a "bargain" spa can run three to four times more a month than for well-insulated models which may cost more initially. In the long run, you could end up paying far more for an inferior product and getting less of what you're looking for. Request a cost estimate in writing and ask every referral you call what their experience has been.


*Here today. Here tomorrow? Question each dealer about their spa manufacturer. How long have they manufacturer spas? How big is their dealer network? This is especially important if you intend to move and take the spa with you. This will help gauge how long they company will be able to serve you in the future. Without a strong manufacturer, your warranty will be useless. Small, regional, or local manufacturers typically stay in business less than five years. Look for a manufacturer with at least 25 years of a strong track record and backed by a Fortune 500 company for the best protection for your investment.

*A good track record is the best guarantee of service. The longer a dealer has been in business, the better their track record is likely to be. And, the longer they've carried a particular brand of spa, the higher your confidence level can be. Most dealers have a history of switching brands when problems mount up with that brand, a sure sign that they'll switch again and be unable or unwilling to fix your spa. Look for a solid dealer who's made a strong commitment to stick with a reputable manufacturer.

*Enjoy the experience. Shopping for a spa should be fun and informative. Seek out a low-pressure, reputable dealer who is willing and able to answer all of your buying questions. A high-pressure sales experience will leave you exhausted and tempted to buy despite your best instincts.

*Save time and money with a free, in-home consultation. Choose a dealer who provides a free site inspection to help you determine the best place for the spa, proportions in your yard, and access issues. A professional dealer can also recommend the size of spa appropriate for your space and family needs.

*Buy the dealer before you buy the spa. Do business only with a dealer who will give you service as good after the sale as before your purchase. Choosing a spa dealer is the most important choice you have to make in this process. Pick someone who is trustworthy and can offer the foundations to help build and develop a relationship over the years you own your spa. Make sure that the service staff is factory trained by the manufacturer and carries the proper licensing and bonding.

*Ask for references. A reputable dealer will put you in touch with customers in your neighborhood so you can ask them about the spa and the customer service provided by the dealer. A major part of a top quality dealer's business is based typically on referrals from satisfied customers.


*See the warranty and ask for a copy that you can take home and examine for every brand you consider. Reputable manufactures will have their warranties clearly printed in their product brochure. If a dealer is reluctant to give you a copy of the warranty or tells you that it comes "with the spa" on delivery day, consider this a red flag and find a dealer who can provide warranty details before the sale.

*Read the warranty. A reputable manufacturer will warranty the spa shell for up to seven years against cracking, blistering, and yellowing. The plumbing, jets, and all major components should be warranted for five years. The selling dealer, not a third party, should conduct service on your spa at your home. Beware of hidden charges for home visits and warranty service and manufacturers who require that you send in parts for repair rather than fixing them on site. Finally, the warranty should offer 100% coverage for the entire warranty period, not pro-rated like tire warranties.


*"Add-ons" add up. Beware of "add ons" not included in the purchase price like an insulating cover, delivery to your prepared site, leveling, water care products, and on-site instruction and operation - all of which are vital and should not be incur additional charges. Avoid purchasing from a company that plans to drop the spa off in your driveway for you and your neighbors to wrestle in place and attempt to level. The day your spa is delivered should be one of the happiest days of your life. Don't risk injuring yourself or friends. Professional spa installers should be sent to do the job.


*Don't buy a spa at a carnival or fair. Many spa exhibitors at carnivals and fairs do not have a local showroom or local service. They set up, use high-pressure sales tactics, and pack up the tent once the fair has ended. Many unwary spa buyers lose cash deposits and never receive their spa after succumbing to a slick salesperson at a fair. If you do shop at a fair, look but do not buy even if you are threatened with losing the "deal." A reputable dealer will hold the offer so take time to think it over. Make sure there is a local showroom where you can try the spa wet and be assured of ongoing service and a personal connection with a salesperson who works for the company - not one hired for the days of the fair.

*On the Internet. Researching your major purchase on the Internet is a good way to get the education you need to make a wise buying decision. Do not consider buying a spa from an out of state seller or one out of your local area. Beware of companies that do "in-home sales" exclusively. You'll have no opportunity to see the product, evaluate its quality, take a test soak, or check references.


* Want a hot tub with those frozen chicken wings? "Big box" retailers typically carry off brands or stripped down versions of brands by larger manufacturers. Choices are limited and the wait for service can be very long. The low price you think you're paying initially will cost you far more down the road.

Most hot tub owners say that their spa purchase was one of the best investments they've made. Follow these tips and choose a credible, qualified, and expert hot tub retailer to ensure that you get the right hot tub the first time as you experience relaxation in the comfort of your own backyard.

About the Author

Alice Cunningham is co-owner and co-president of Olympic Hot Tub Company -- the most award-winning retailer in the United States. Alice and husband Blair Osborn have worked together to successfully open, operate, and grow Olympic Hot Tub since opening their doors twenty eight years ago. Olympic Hot Tub is the oldest spa and hot tub company in the Northwest with five retail stores located in Seattle, Fife, Issaquah, Lacey, and Everett and a sales
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