Choosing the Right Spa

Purchasing a spa or hot tub is an extremely personal affair, like selecting an automobile or ordering a specialty coffee. One person’s nirvana is another person’s nightmare. Yet all spas have a few things in common, and knowing what those are will come in handy when it’s time to comparison shop.

Essentially, every spa is composed of a shell that holds water, a cabinet that surrounds the shell, some jets that provide hydrotherapy, a circulating system that pumps and filters the water, and some controls that make the whole thing work. As with owning a car, you don’t need to know how every component is manufactured, but it helps to know the steering wheel from the stereo and the tires from the transmission. So here’s a quick rundown of the major spa components you should be familiar with if you plan to own one.

The Shell

When you look at a spa, the first thing you notice is the shell, the vessel that holds the water. Though you can still find traditional hot tubs made from wood, most of today’s prefabricated spas are made from acrylic, thermoplastic, fiberglass, tile, or soft vinyl. Custom concrete spas are also popular and can be installed alone or in combination with a swimming pool. If your vision for a spa environment simply doesn’t mesh with any of the prefabricated spas on the market, you’ll have to look at custom spa construction, which is likely to carry a price tag double or triple the cost of a prefabricated version.

By far, the most popular material for factory-made spas is acrylic, which comes in an array of appealing colors, from midnight blue to Caribbean sand. Acrylic also comes in several surface styles, from smooth, glossy finishes that resemble shiny new automo-

biles to faux granite surfaces that make the spa look as though it’s been carved from stone. This vast selection of colors and styles makes it possible to find a spa that perfectly complements your indoor or outdoor decor.

The acrylic sheets used to form spa shells are differentiated by their thickness, the way they are backed for structural support, and the method used in forming them into spa shells. Most spa manufacturers use a single acrylic sheet and reinforce it with a layer of fiberglass or thermoplastic. Only a few

A A cover lift makes it easy to manuever heavy or awkward spa covers. Spa steps are used for easy entry.

companies supply acrylic sheeting to the spa industry, which is why spas from two different spa manufacturers may look similar.

So what truly differentiates one’acrylic spa shell from another? Simply put, it’s the seating configuration. Hot tubs are designed to accommodate anywhere from one to more than ten bathers, although the average seating capacity is five or six adults. Among these sizes you’ll find a vast array of seating

configurations using various combinations of lounges, bucket seats, and benches.

To determine the shell configuration that is right for you, think about how you plan to use your spa. On the one hand, if you’re imagining intimate, moonlit soaks with a significant other, you might want a small two-person spa with dual lounges. On the other hand, if you’re dreaming of wild hot tub parties with your posse of friends, then you’ll want as much seating room as possible. And if your spa is going indoors, you’ll want to

restrict your choices to models that will fit through your doorways.

Meanwhile, don’t overlook the growing trend of fitness spas and swim spas, which provide warm-water therapy and enough space for a cardiovascular and strength-training workout. A fitness spa incorporates resistance equipment for strength training, and a swim spa is equipped with a powerful swim jet that creates an adjustable current that you can swim against. (For more information, see Swim & Fitness Spas, page 16).

Two-person spa with dual lounges.

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