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Hot Tub Basics

A hot tub is a large tub or small pool full of heated water and used for soaking, relaxation, hydrotherapy, reading, or meditation. Hot tubs are frequently located out-of-doors although they may be sheltered against sun, rain, wind, or snow.

There are essentially three different styles of hot tubs:
1. Simple wooden-staved soaking tubs
2. Fiberglass-reinforced plastic spas (whirlpool tubs)
3. Bathtub-sized indoor units

Hot-tub basics: The spa/hot tub market has gone entirely to free-standing spas. These units are all self-contained with tub, motors, filters, and heaters all in one unit. This allows all parts to be UL approved.

Installation: Installation is also simple an owner only needs a garden hose and power supply. Literally, you can just hose it, heat it and get in. Initial costs and operating costs are also less.

On rare occasions, a homeowner might want to install a built-in ground tub. These are much more expensive and rare. However with major remodeling jobs, you may want the additional aesthetics of a tub that is integrated into you master design.

Spa materials: The spa industry has gone with man-made materials for their spas. You'll occasionally find plaster, tile and wood spas in older homes, but these tubs are often difficult to maintain.

The most common material is an acrylic tub with a fiberglass back. These tubs are very strong, easy to care for, insulated for heat and come in a variety of colors and styles. Centrex, a tough thermal plastic, is another material used in tubs. However, it's not as popular because it comes in one color: white.

Acrylic tubs with ABS plastic and backed with foam or fiber is the third kind of popular tub. Its non-porous surface makes it easy to clean. And it's also very strong.

Sizes: Hot tubs come in a variety of sizes. The most common tub holds 450 to 500 gallons of water and comfortably seats six adults. For those private moments, you can find smaller, two-person tubs that hold about 250 gallons of water, however you may want to consider a four-person tub. On average, a six-person tub will cost you $12 a month for heating. And the industry recommends you change your water every 6 months, so you'll see a 500-gallon increase on your water bill for those two months out of the year.

Tub placement: About 90 percent of all owners install their spas outside, partly because outdoor installation and maintenance is less expensive. If you want to install your tub inside, consider adding a ventilation system to your room. The tub will increase the heat and humidity inside the room, which can cause mildew and rot. Proper ventilation fans will take away the humidity and chlorine smell.

Features: Hot tub and spa design has come a long way. Today's models include lifestyle features like special lighting, stereo and speaker combinations and customized head rests, all features you'll want to consider when choosing the right hot tub. Exercise swim jets are good for people with physical ailments or to soothe tired muscles at the end of a hard day. (Remember that lights and stereos will have to be hooked up to your electrical system, too, and that electricity and water don't mix.)

Ozonator: An ozonator is a device that sprays ozone gas into spa water, an extremely effective way to kill off bacteria in the water, keep the water clearer longer than bromide or chlorine and not give off that chemical smell. (The downside is that the ozonator has to be in operation a couple of hours every day and that you must use other chemicals as well.)

Winterize first: Many unnecessary hot tub problems are caused by ineffective preparations for winter, which is why you should talk with your service professional about winterization techniques or (especially) if you shut the unit down in the colder months. Be very careful if you do; any water left inside the hot tub shell, pipes or equipment, when frozen, will expand and crack your unit. A winter cover over your regular cover will help keep your unit in shape during colder temperatures.

Check filter: In the most-abused hot tub category is the filter, which keeps your system clear of everything from hair to bacteria, and today's models include programmable filtering functions for busy people who don't have to the time to keep up with their system.

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