Personal portable hot tubs have come a long way since their introduction to the public in the mid-1900s. The wine barrel or redwood tub steaming with hot water has evolved into a sophisticated, fashionable unit. Manufacturers have replaced wood vessels with fiberglass and acrylic shells, dotted with pulsating massaging jets and fashioned with water features, lighting elements and audio capabilities.
While the modern tubs may not come equipped with a “magic time machine,” high-tech components may lure one to indulge in the magical therapeutic waters that can be transforming.
“Customization is the key movement in the hot tub industry,” said Jerry Pasley, president and chief executive officer of Bullfrog Spas, a Utah-based hot tub manufacturer. “Consumers don’t want a big wooden box sitting in their yard or on their deck. They desire something more aesthetically appealing, a design that complements their personal space, something to blend more with the outdoor furnishings and meld with the entire backyard design.
“Our researchers looked to see what was happening in the in-ground gunite pool and spa industry for design inspiration,” Pasley said. “Aesthetics and functionality were both important factors for the consumer. The result was a series of hot tubs to address those desires, allowing the consumer the ability to customize both the interior and exterior components. Considerations were made to the type of seating and hydrotherapy options, to the shell design shape, color, and texture, as well as audio and lighting elements. Customizing is a very interactive component of our offerings, with a ‘Design My Spa’ platform on the website.”
The portable hot tub and gunite spa industries are sharing both design and technological elements to heighten the consumer experience. The venture has led to the development of several crossover products.
A unique design component developed by Bullfrog is its patented JetPak Therapy System. The jetted seat backs allow for a truly personalized therapeutic experience, with 16 different interchangeable designs. JetPak technology is more efficient and conserves energy by reducing the plumbing up to 90 percent.
“Our goal was to merge the beauty of in-ground spas with the technology of hot tubs, both in portable units and in gunite applications,” Pasley said.
Thus, Bullfrog adapted the JetPak system for use in gunite applications. Units are installed during the new construction phase or in some instances can be incorporated in major remodeling projects.
Bullfrog spas range from $6,000 to $14,000.
“It comes down to the consumer’s budget and desired amenities,” Pasley said. The price includes a cover, delivery and set up with a standard crane lift. But it does not include the electrical connection or foundation preparation costs.
He recommends homeowners contract with a licensed electrician to run the proper voltage power to the hot tub.
According to Pasley, “There are ‘plug-n-play’ models available on the market that operate with standard line voltage, but water pressure and heating capabilities are reduced.”
Pasley recommends that consumers search the Internet to find the style, size and features they desire. Then they should check reviews on the manufacturer and products including functionality and service. Finally, consumers can locate an authorized dealer in their area and visit the local showroom.
“A great place to start is the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals’ new website, Escape, launching in early November,” he said. “The site will be dedicated to assisting consumers find their perfect hot tub, gunite spa or pool.” He also encourages consumers to buy hot tubs “Made in the USA.”
Rich Simpson, pool division manager of Custom Molded Products, a company that manufactures an assortment of components for the hot tub industry, confirms that customization is a growing trend.
“Advances in technology and products provide a whole new experience for the consumer,” Simpson said. “Our catalog of components, especially with hydrotherapy jets, has expanded over the last 20 years. The growth has been influenced by both consumers and gunite pool builders. They have inspired our team of designers to develop components for hot tubs and in-ground gunite spas. Now, homeowners with inground spas can receive an equal therapeutic experience as those with a portable hot tub.”
CMP’s jet components come in several applications for gunite spas, including jets for new construction, renovations and retrofit capabilities.
“The rotating therapy jets with two holes at 45-degree angles are the most popular jets in retrofit applications. The pulsating spinning action provides a gentle therapeutic massage,” Simpson said.
He recommends consulting a trained and licensed gunite builder about the options most appropriate for a specific installation.
Las Vegas portable spa expert Renee Gibbs, owner of Spas by Renee, also agrees with the trend toward customization. Gibbs focuses on customizing the exterior and surrounding space of the portable hot tub installation.
“Aesthetics around the spa is important,” she said. “Consumers are looking to blend the spa into their environment whether the spa is partially submerged, or with decking and patios built up around the spa. Camouflaging the unit with stonework and landscaping is also popular.”
Her team has the capability to design the hard- and soft-scape components or can work with the homeowner’s landscape contractor to achieve the desired look.
As for the interior components, Gibbs said homeowners can choose from amenities such as diversity in hydrotherapy, contoured seating, multilevel and cooling-off benches, lighting, water features and audio Bluetooth capabilities.
When it comes to operation costs, Gibbs said, “by design the concept of a portable spa is to keep it running 24/7, maintaining a constant temperature and ready for use. An energy-efficient hot tub will cost on average about $20 a month.”
In comparison, a gunite spa is designed for use-on-demand, turning the spa on 30 minutes before use. The most common source of energy for gunite spas is natural gas, which is a more efficient means of heating the water than electricity. Using an energy-efficient, variable-speed pump for circulation — six to eight hours a day — further reduces the cost of maintaining a gunite spa.
Thus, from a use factor one won’t see a huge cost differential between a portable hot tub or gunite spa. But the initial cost to install a standalone gunite spa starts at about $25,000, but when built with a pool, the cost is reduced to around $10,000.
“The hot tub was once a casual space to socialize over a beverage, or specifically for therapeutic purposes,” Pasley said. “Now the hot tub is a full-on entertainment venue for one, a family or group of friends.”
— Joseph M. Vassallo, CBP, APSP Fellow, is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning pool designer. President of Paragon Pools, Vassallo has co-authored five pool design books and is currently a featured designer on HGTV.com. He can be reached at 702-400-0679 and www.paragonpoolslv.com.