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Soak It All In | Today’s Hot Tubs Offer Advanced Features to Help Wash Away the Worries

Since ancient times, people have been using heat, water and massage to soothe aching bodies. Hot tubs combine these therapies and provide comfort and community to help us both entertain and heal.

From the wooden barrel-like spas of the ’50s and ’60s to the fiberglass revolution of the 1980s, the hot tub industry has seen massive growth since tubs first started as a luxury product for California homeowners to entertain guests. By the ’90s, these backyard additions began to feature “zoned” massage jets and better sanitation and filtration. Even so, visit a hot tub showroom today and you’ll find that the tubs don’t even compare to the ones 15 years ago. Technological advancements have brought many added features and styles that can be customized to the individual homeowner.

Splashy features
“A deep square tub with a jet at your back” no longer describes today’s hot tubs. Size, shape, and jet variations have risen to a new level.

SIZE: A big factor in choosing a hot tub is often size and, more specifically, how many seats. Today, we have more options than the traditional four seats in each corner — you can find tubs to seat as many as 10 and as few as two. No matter how many seats you choose, you’ll find seats designed more ergonomically than ever before, contoured to better fit your body and featuring soft padding to support your head and neck.

Hot tub retailers say the best way to choose a hot tub is to visit their showroom and step inside. “There are so many packages [to choose from], with different jets and contour seats, a wide variety for anything the customer is going for,” said Jason Vaughan, vice president for sales, new construction, with National Pools of Roanoke. “Depending on what your body makeup is, it is best to come try it out and find out what is the right fit for you.” National Pools is a retailer for Hydropool Self-Cleaning Hot Tubs and Serenity Hot Tubs.

LOCATION: Vaughan said it’s helpful to first plan out the space for your hot tub. “Put it where you have a nice view, can use it under a shelter so you can use in rain and snow even, and where you can give it more of a custom look, being creative and building a space around it.”

If you intend to use your hot tub well after the warmer months, it should be closer to the house. You will also need adequate, level space and may need to consider pouring a concrete slab or building a deck. Homeowners should also check to make sure there is clear access for delivery. It’s also helpful to check on your power capacity. Many people will need to call on an electrician to boost the amps required to run the pumps.

JETS: The days when one jet behind your back pulsed at a single speed are long gone. Now most models come with a series of jets and multiple controls to adjust speed and intensity. You can target almost every part of the body: feet, calf, legs, upper and lower back, neck and shoulders. Some models are so advanced that you can purchase multiple “jetpacks” with many different levels of intensity, from deep penetrating massage to a smooth cascading waterfall.

LIGHTING: Other bells and whistles include more “mood lighting” options, illuminating not only the water but also the exterior to make it safer to get in and out of the tub. Hot tub lights can come in different colors and levels of brightness. In addition to lights, many designs have built-in grab bars for a safer climb in and out.

FOR THE SENSES: A fan of aromatherapy? Some high-end models come with an aroma infusion system that allows you to pick your choice of calming fragrances. Other fancy features include molded cup holders and ice trays to keep drinks cold.

SMART FEATURES: It seems like everything has become “smart” nowadays, and hot tubs are no exception. Many high-end models can be turned on and off, as well as temperature controlled, through a phone app.

The pandemic, Vaughan said, spurred more people to build an outdoor oasis, and that trend hasn’t left. Hot tubs have become a central hub, with many people choosing to create their outdoor living rooms around them. That includes adding TVs — yes, you can find waterproof LCD TVs marketed especially for hot tub areas (check out SunBrite TV online for one example).

Budget friendly
One option we certainly didn’t see 15 years ago is today’s inflatable, plug-and-play tubs. Portability and affordability are their biggest selling points. Not only can you move them around your yard, you can take them camping or on vacation, and they collapse for easy storage. Temperatures get as high as a typical hot tub, up to 104 degrees (the CDC’s recommended healthy maximum), and they have multiple jets for massaging mainly your lower back. While not as long-lasting as their fiberglass counterpart, they are one of the most affordable and easy set-up options. Popular Science listed Coleman SaluSpa Inflatable Hot Tub as the best overall inflatable hot tub for 2022.

Just swimmingly
Does a hot tub seem too small and confining? Do you want to exercise and relax? Then a swim spa may be your solution. These new half-pool / half-hot tub products have recently taken off with homeowners. At the luxury end, the pools are double the size of a hot tub but more slender than a pool, so you can have the best of both worlds.

Powerful jets allow you to walk and swim against currents so you can get your exercise before sitting down to relax on hot tub-style seats in the corners. High-end models even have built-in TV and stereo systems.

Cool by the pool
If you’re already contemplating building an in-ground pool, an adjoining spa is an option. Pool construction companies, such as National Pools, can design aesthetically pleasing spas that blend in with the hardscape of the pool. Some people prefer in-ground hot tubs for the ease of getting in and out.

Vaughan said they have also seen interest in building smaller in-ground pools that can be used as hot tubs. Customers have called them a “plunge pool” or “cocktail pool” and at typically10 x 12 feet, they can feature a waterfall, a bench seat, and can be heated close to 90 degrees.

“It can be used at least nine months out of the year, so it extends the season,” he said, adding it can be covered with an automatic cover.

The cleanup
New cleaning processes may well be the best technological advancements in hot tub design in the last couple decades. Who doesn’t get excited at the term “self-cleaning?”

While lower-end, basic hot tubs may still require a floating dispenser with chemicals, the experts have designed water treatment and filtration systems that eliminate a dispenser and do most of the work with less chemicals to irritate the skin and eyes. And while some may require a pool vac to gather debris on the bottom, others have built-in floor vacuums that constantly cycle water.

Hot tub maintenance depends entirely on which brand and model you choose. Some will require completely draining your hot tub three to four times a year and cleaning filters on a monthly basis. Some, like the Hydropool Self-Cleaning Hot Tub (and swim spa), use a high-tech “pure water” system that involves treating the water with ozone (reducing chemical usage by half) then exposing it to a high volume of UVC light for optimal sanitation. The Hydropool has a floor vacuum and advanced filtration system that purports to clean 100 percent of the water in just 15 minutes.

Regardless of how “self-cleaning” your tub is, there is still some level of weekly attention required. “Continual maintenance is key,” Vaughan said. “If you skip it and neglect, it will come back to bite you.”

A healthy choice
Though not the end-all treatment for any condition, using a hot tub regularly can supplement both your physical and mental health care.

Many studies have shown the age-old health benefits of hydrotherapy, from bringing down swelling, loosening tight muscles and soothing joints, to reducing stress, promoting better sleep, and an overall energizing of your body and mind.

A sustained hike in body temperature and circulation can also aid in digestion and help boost your metabolism.

Many people find taking a dip just before bed beneficial. When you get out, the rapid drop in body temperature can help you fall asleep quicker and have a deeper sleep.

That’s perhaps the bottom line for why you might get a hot tub: rest and relaxation. Here’s to all the benefits of a hot tub in 2023!

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