Shopping for a portable spa demands as much consideration as a new car purchase. Here's how to avoid getting yourself into hot water.
From its humble beginnings as a converted wooden wine vat, the personal spa has evolved into a sophisticated and increasingly popular addition to homes across the country. Today, close to one million households regularly enjoy the soothing benefits of hot water spas, and this popularity has spawned a staggering selection of spa styles, shapes and sizes.
The portable spa remains the most popular choice among homeowners, and for good reason. Ranging in price from about $2500 to $9000, portable spas are considerably more inexpensive than built-in units. Because they are self-contained, with plumbing and all other equipment hidden within side-skirts, portable spas can be located indoors or outdoors. Portables sit above ground, on a flat slab. Because they are not permanent property improvements, they normally don't require building permits, nor will they increase your property taxes. In Southern California where many homeowners have a lot of equity in their homes, this could save you hundreds of dollars per year compared to a built-in spa.
Most portable spas weigh less than 500 pounds, and range in size from small 4 footers that hold 125 gallons to 8 foot spas holding 500 gallons. The smallest accommodate two people, the largest eight. A step up from there is the swim spa, which ranges in width from 7-12 feet, 13-24 feet in length. Swim spas use high-powered water jets to create a swimming treadmill with a strong current. Before deciding on a spa, estimate how many people will normally use it at one time, and buy accordingly. You could save space and money.
When shopping for a spa pay close attention to the control panel. Many spas are available with fully automatic controls that can be set for continuos low-speed heating and filtering, or to automatically switch the unit on or off. For colder climates, some spas have built-in freeze protection, with temperature sensors in the plumbing that automatically switch the heat on when the mercury dips below 40-degree F. Some spas offer automatic chemical controllers that monitor and dispense the correct amount of pH-controlling additives to the water. Most current chemicals are free of heavy chlorine odor associated with early spas. Carefully consider the advantages of electronic control panels over air switches, and made sure the warranty offers complete coverage: An air switch costs about $10.00 while an electronic panel can cost over $250.00 to replace.
In the beginning, spas were molded entirely of fiberglass. Today's portable spa features a tough thermoplastic shell, with fiberglass sometimes used as a structural backing. Acrylic is the most popular shell material. Resistant to impact, sun damage, water-cleansing chemicals, and extreme temperatures, acrylic is also available in a rainbow of colors and patterns. The latest shell construction uses a thicker polymer called Rovel (tm) backed by thick foam for structural integrity. Rovel comes in a slick, or leather-like texture.
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