If you think the idea of relaxing in an outdoor hot tub sounds appealing, you're not alone. Hot tubs are being installed in many homes; and today's hot tubs are just as likely to be called spas.
"Hot tubs and saunas are slowly becoming household items, and many consider them to be the best investment they've ever made," says Norm Coburn, president of New England Spas.
According to the International Hot Tub Association, the term "hot tub" originally referred to wooden, barrel-shaped tubs, which became popular in the late 1960s. Early hot tubs were fairly simple. They basically held hot water and had enough room for just one or two people. However, when the industry began building tubs of molded fiberglass or with thermoplastic shells, they were given the title "spa" to differentiate them from their wooden cousins. They are now generally large enough to hold several people comfortably.
Unlike a swimming pool, which can be used only during warm weather, hot tubs and spas can be enjoyed year-round, Coburn notes. The hot water (102 degrees, plus or minus 2 degrees) raises your body's core temperature, so you normally do not even feel cold leaving the tub in the middle of winter. "They can even be installed in cold weather, but we do need a clear path for delivery and a working garden hose to fill the spa," he says.
"You can install a Baja hot tub anywhere," says Warren Stefferson, vice president of Baja Products. "They come with custom covers to keep debris out of your hot tub when not in use. We've had customers install our portable spas as a sunken or seemingly in-ground spa in a deck. Your deck can get wet, of course. Any area around your hot tub can get wet just from people entering and leaving it, so it's always important to keep that in mind when finding a location for your hot tub." If you plan on installing an outdoor hot tub, you might want to add shrubs, screens or fencing to provide a little privacy.
Just like swimming pools, hot tubs need to be kept clean. "There are a variety of ways to maintain your hot tub," Stefferson says. "We have the KleenH20 system, which means that your hot tub virtually cleans itself. Our tubs have ozonators, which keep the water sanitized, balanced and crystal clear. We also have dispensers for chlorine or bromine. However, there are many other alternatives available."
Because they are small, hot tubs' circulation systems can have their efficiency lowered by even a little amount of debris. Use a leaf skimmer often, and vacuum or use a spa wand several times a week. You also will want to clean out the debris-free baskets every three or four days. Drain the spa as needed to thoroughly clean the inner services, which may accumulate calcium or algae buildup.
"It's not difficult to care for them," Coburn says. "Just a few minutes a week will keep the water clean and healthy."
The benefits of hot tubs and spas are worth the time and money it takes to install and maintain them, Coburn says. "Hot tubs are great for stress reduction and relaxation, arthritis pain relief, rehabilitation of sore and/or atrophied muscles, increase of range of motion, back pain relief, better sleep and increase of circulation and respiration." He adds that hot tubs may reduce blood pressure, increase endorphins and provide benefits to Type 2 diabetes patients.
"Hot tubs have huge medical benefits," Stefferson agrees. "Plus, hot tubs or spas are wonderful for relaxing each night after a long day of work and for entertaining on the weekends, and they are fun for the whole family."