Spa Buyers Guide
When you are ready to look closer at buying a hot tub, what should be looking for? What do you want to avoid? Even long-term spa owners can feel overwhelmed when looking at the variety of spas available today. Where do you begin?
SOURCES OF INFO
We recommend you utilize as many resources as are convenient to you. Obviously, do your internet research. You probably already have, since you are reading this section of our website. Include the manufacturer’s websites too, but also visit the independent ones as well – like spasearch.org or poolandspa.com – to get some comparative information. Don’t neglect more traditional sources. Talk to any of your family or friends who have owned a hot tub before. Ask the dealer for references from previous customers.
Make absolutely sure you spend some time researching the store you are considering buying your spa from. The quality of the dealership is just as important as the quality of the spa. A well-built spa can be with you for twenty years or more. You are certain to have at least one question about your spa within that time – and your dealer will be your primary resource. Be certain you are comfortable with them, and that it seems likely they will still be in business – selling your brand of spa – many years down the road.
So which brand is the best? There are differing opinions, but you can get a quality spa from several different manufacturers. Paying more does not necessarily mean you are getting better quality. You can probably think of several high-end, luxury car brands with a reputation for spending a lot of time needing repairs. Similarly, the least expensive model is often not the best value. So how to you settle on one brand? Here are a few questions you should ask a dealer about the brand they are selling:
- “How long have they been manufacturing spas?”
Look for a large manufacturer with a long history of making spas. Smaller makers of spas may have a harder time supporting you down the road. You occasionally need a part for your vehicle – it is likely you will need one for your spa during its lifetime. Small manufacturers may be more susceptible to economic cycles, and could be more likely to go out of business in the future. A big brand is more likely to be around in 20 years.
- “Are their manufacturing facilities certified?”
Look for manufacturing industry certifications, like ISO9001. This is a strict 3rd-party certification that audits and randomly inspects the manufacturing plant and actual manufacturing process to ensure that each and every spa is built to the same, exact standards every time. You are more likely to get a quality-made hot tub from an ISO9001 manufacturer.
- “Is the company privately or publicly owned?”
Look for a publicly traded brand – they are held to higher standards of financial health than privately owned spa makers. Buying from a publicly owned company can further tilt the odds in your favor that your brand will still be around for many years to come.
- “What industry recognition or awards have they received?”
Look for a brand that has many independent certifications from the spa and hot tub industry. Logos from the National Sanitary Foundation (“NSF”), Consumer’s Digest “Best Buy”, Spasearch.org certifications, or poolandspa.com “Best of Class” can indicate a history of quality products.
Additionally, industry awards for manufacturing innovations – like the John Holcolm Silver award, ENVY award, Flex You Power award, and California’s CEC certifications can set one brand apart from another.
There are so many spas on the market, with each trying to claim they have some unique feature that can be found nowhere else. You will find trademarked names for each brand’s jets, pumps, heater, filters – so it becomes hard to try to sort through all of the information and compare them to each other fairly.
There are a few questions you can ask any spa dealer that will let you know if their brand is just another “typical” spa, or if it is truly different from the rest.
- “What water care systems are available?”
There is no such thing as 100% “maintenance free” water care systems. Any system will require a little attention on your part. But there are definitely some things on the market that make water care much easier than others. A better spa will offer you more of these options – both traditional ones and cutting-edge technologies.
Any spa should be able to use a chlorine or bromine based routine – you simply add either as needed. Others will offer a cartridge-dispensing-based system to slowly release sanitizing agents into the water at a set rate. Better options include a high-output, corona discharge ozone system. The most advanced systems to date will actually generate natural sanitizers from softened spa water (water with a small amount of natural salt in the water itself).
- “How often is the water filtered?”
The best answer is “always.” There are some situations where a spa that only filters the water at set cycles can be acceptable, but spas that are the most efficient and easiest to keep clean will filter the water continuously, using a small, dedicated “circulation pump” to do the job. Additionally, the filter design should not require frequent replacement of some or all of the filters, and it should not clog easily from dirt, oils, or detergents.
- “How many different jets are there?”
It’s not how many jets, but how many different jets you want to ask about. Ideally, each seat of your spa feels unique from every other seat. This gives you a better hydrotherapy experience than a spa with the same one or two jets scattered everywhere. You will prefer more jet variety over more jet quantity. You also want as many ways to customize the water flow and pressure in each jet as possible. Look for a spa with the most differentiation in each seat’s jet orientation and design.
- “What options are there for colors and cabinets?”
Several colors of interior shells should be available, but focus more on the exterior finish. Its design will be seen much more often than the interior color. Most brands have moved away from traditional redwood siding, and are offering synthetic cabinets instead (some brands have offered them for over 12 years). There are some hot tubs that are even offering faux stone siding to better complement your decor. You can even find brands that will offer completely customizable sides – meaning the spa can have whatever you want attached to it on-site, to perfectly blend into your existing backyard design.
- “What entertainment options are available?”
Not everyone wants a stereo with their spa, but if you do, ask! Some manufacturers use “stock” stereos – like you will find in your car – recessed in the spa, and a few speakers. Better brands will have more creative options. You can find wireless iPod players, for example, that let you keep your ipod docked inside the house, yet you can control the volume and track with a waterproof remote while inside the hot tub. You can even find wireless, outdoor-rated TVs for your hot tub!
All brands claim to be energy efficient. But which ones truly are? You don’t have to get the models you are considering into the lab and test them yourself. A few key questions will set the efficient ones apart from the rest.
- “How is the spa insulated?”
You are looking for “fully foamed” if you want the most efficient spa available. Some spas use trapped air as an insulator, while others will use just a small layer of foam or radiant barrier on the back side of the interior shell. Brands that choose these methods don’t do it because it makes the spa cheaper to operate. They do this because it is cheaper to build them this way. Fully foaming the interior cavity of the spa continues to be the best design to minimize heat loss from the water.
- “Do your spas meet the California Electric Commission (CEC) efficiency requirements?”
California recently enacted strict standards for the maximum amount of power consumption of a hot tub, based on its size. If a brand you are considering meets the standard, great! The best followup question is “Did they have to change the design any to pass the test?” Some manufacturers had to scramble and redesign their spas due to this tougher law. Others passed with flying colors – their spas didn’t require even a single change.
- “What is the estimated monthly operating cost?”
For many years, very few brands offered an estimate of your monthly expenses. Now, several brands publish some type of approximate cost. However, take a close look at what they provide. Some calculations are based on electrical rates far lower than we pay here in California, so your actual costs will be higher. Others will have their costs based on far lower usage of the spa than another brand.
For example, one brand uses “3 times a week for 20 minutes each use” to calculate their estimated costs, while another is based on more than twice as much usage of the spa – 6 times a week for 30 minutes each time. Which would you expect to have a lower “cost to operate” on their website, but would that still be the lowest if all the hot tubs were used for the same amount? Look closely to be sure you are comparing “apples to apples” so you don’t jump at an artificially low estimated cost.
Warranties on spas go beyond just “the numbers” in the brochure. There can be lots of hidden conditions! For example, some brands require you to pay the costs to ship your spa back to the factory for repairs, along with the shipping cost to return the spa back to the you if there is a warrant-able failure!
Without having to go to law school to learn to read all the fine print in the various warranties, what simple questions should you get answered to ensure the spa you are considering is backed by a truly comprehensive warranty?
- “What parts are covered by the warranty, and for how long?”
When some brands say “components” in their warranty, they only mean the pumps, while others will include the pumps, jets, plumbing, and controls as part of their “component” warranty. You will also find warranties that prorate the replacement part. Meaning, with some spa manufacturers, if you are 4 years into a 5 year warranty, and a part covered by the warranty fails, you only are credited a small portion of the replacement cost, and have to pay the rest out-of-pocket. Better brands will provide a full, no-cost replacement part for the entire length of the warranty period.
- “What exclusions are there in the warranty?”
Some warranties will offer a long period of time for a component – say, five years. But there could be exclusions if the component fails due to “poorly maintained water.” Other brands will have no such exclusions. If you can’t find any exclusions listed in the warranty paperwork, ask the dealer. If a dealer says there are no exclusions, get it in writing.
- “Who does any needed warranty work?”
This is a question that pertains more to the dealer you are working with, rather than the brand of spa. Some places – like your “big box” stores in particular – only sell the hot tub. If you need service, you have to call an 800 number and hope for the best.
Other stores – typically retailers that specialize in spas – will have an in-house service department. The same people who sold you your hot tub will also be trained by the manufacturer to make any repairs. You are likely to get much better service from a locally owned specialty spa retailer which also has a service department.
- “Does the warranty cover parts only, or both parts and labor?”
You will find warranties that cover the parts and the labor. Others will cover the labor, but will allow the dealer to charge a “reasonable travel fee” for a repair. Still others only cover the parts – and you have to pay the labor yourself. Get clarification before you decide on a spa if you will have to pay any charges for warranty-related repairs.
- “What happens to my warranty if this spa manufacturer goes out of business?”
This is why a publicly traded company can bring better piece of mind. They are required to set aside a specific amount of money for each and every spa sold – and place it in a third-party escrow account to which they have no access. They only receive the money back from the account when that specific spa’s warranty period expires. So even if the manufacturer does go out of business, the money in the account is available to pay for warranty repairs to customers of that brand. Only publicly traded companies are required to do this – privately held manufacturers are not.
Finally, when it comes to a warranty – if you only remember one thing, remember this: get it in writing! Make sure you have a copy of the manufacturer’s warranty to look over before making any buying decision. Additionally, If a dealer tells you he or she will do something or cover a part or component that is not specifically spelled out in the manufacturer’s warranty statement, get that in writing too before handing over a single cent. Any professional spa retailer will have the warranty for their spas readily available, and will have a written version of their store’s policies available for you to have as well.
Why do we sell the brands of hot tubs we have available? We started selling spas well over 25 years ago. And we asked the same questions when we selected the spas for our store then as you should still ask today. Which brand is more efficient? Which brand is easier to keep clean? Which brand has the best warranty and customer support? Which brand will likely be around year after year?
We continually assess and shop the spa and hot tub industry to provide the best products for you. We regularly turn away manufacturers that wish to be sold in our store. And we consistently find that the Watkins Manufacturing family of spas remains the industry leader.
Therefore, we offer all of Watkins Manufacturing’s brands, each unique in their own design, style and features. We proudly have the complete line of HotSpring Spas, Caldera Spas, Limelight Collection Spas, HotSpot Spas, and Fantasy Spas available. All of these brands of hot tubs allow us to offer a variety of models from the largest, most luxurious style to a value-driven “bang for the buck” spa.
EXPERIENCE IT FOR YOURSELF
Request a test soak appointment! Click above to email us the date and time you would like to come by – we will let you know if that time is available. Or you can always set up a time the old-fashioned way. Reach us 7 days a week at (530) 273-4822.
When doing your own search, you should have settled on a reputable dealer you are comfortable with, who is offering a hot tub that is efficient, reliable, and easy to maintain. There is a next logical step. Try one out! You should at least climb into a few “dry” to test out the fit. But nothing compares to trying it out for real.
We will gladly let you take a test soak in the store for free. Appointments are available most days of the week, at times convenient to you. Give us a call, and we will reserve an appointment for you.
Even if you don’t want to kick off your shoes to experience what a hot tub can do for you, we can still give you a one-minute demonstration. All you need to do is ask! Anytime you happen to visit, we can show you hands-on what a hot tub can do to relax you. No swimsuit or towel required.