The truth is, there are so many side track issues, exaggerations and outright misinformation perpetuated by manufacturers and retailers alike that even an intelligent, diligent researcher does not have a hope in hell of making an educated buying decision.
Part of the problem is a lot of the retailers don’t really know that much about the hot tub industry
or what really makes a great hot tub. For the most part, they are just regurgitating the pitch they
got from the manufacturer when they bought the line of spas they are selling.
First let's talk about the real issues that will make the biggest difference to your hot tub buying choice, like shell construction and making sure you have a quality parts list that is easily sourced on the open market, then we will reveal the sales pitches that are all about side tracking you... I call these the spin issues, these are the hot buttons that customers want to hear - like how easy it's going to be or how low chemical it's going to be.
The insulation systems used on hot tubs often have the best spin marketing misinformation surrounding
them because hot tub manufacturers spend a lot of time creating sales pitches so that they don't have to spend
a lot of money on quality insulation systems.
This is pretty easy to get to the bottom of, all you have to do is ignore the fake news from marketing literature and look at the science behind efficient insulation systems. Luckily for you, the research has been done again and again and the technical data is there from the regulated home building industries in every cold climate country in the world! They are Unanimous!!! What matters with a good insulation system is the R-Value. So what is this magic R-value thing??? R-Value is just a way of rating insulation systems, the higher the R-Value number, the better the system is at keeping heat from escaping!!! Simple!!! Trust me, no hot tub manufacturers bullshit pitch about some new tech they have, is going to change that reality :)
When it comes to Good high R-value systems in hot tubs nothing beats filling the entire hot tub cavity with foam insulation.
But what type of expanding foam they use is critical! If they use a high density closed cell foam, as a lot of brands do to
help support cheap thin shells from cracking, then you are in for a real nightmare when it comes to repairing leaks because
these polyurethane foams get really hard and make finding & fixing leaks expensive and lengthy. So make sure they are using
an open celled foam which will not only allow easy access for repairs but will also hold its R-value over time!
These foam systems are more expensive but if you go with a cheap perimeter system you will be losing heat and money every moment it runs. If you live in colder areas, it also leaves you far more vulnerable to frozen pipes and damage should you ever lose power. I always advise people to insulate at least as well as the house building code in their area mandates, which in most Northern countries is R-25. Several “miracle” hot tub insulation systems use materials and methods like radiant barriers that have been basically banned for use as a primary insulator in a house. If it isn’t good enough for your house, it isn’t good enough for your hot tub.
Now I will only say this a million times so listen close… components, components, components, components, components, components, components,
In case you missed that folks, it is all about the components; these are the parts like jets, fittings and heating & control systems. When we build a hot tub or swim spa, we can buy good solid parts with decades of proven reliability that can be easily bought from multiple sources and are competitively priced like Balboa heating & control systems, CMP jets, Waterways jets, pumps and fittings or we can buy cheap low quality Chinese made parts and this is where it really gets messy!
"They started making parts that just fit their appliances and they made sure the quality was low and the failure rate was high. It's called proprietary parts and..."
You see the main point of using cheap parts is not just to save money on building the hot tub, it's much much worse than that because the real reason is to take away your freedom to get parts for your hot tub and to make massive profits selling you these crappy high failure rate parts again & because they are specially made to only ever fit their hot tubs and therefore they can control the cost and screw you for years to come!
This is not new, it happened about 15 years ago in the appliance industry.
Do you remember when washers, dryers and dishwashers lasted for 20 years and could be easily
repaired and parts were reasonably priced and super reliable? That's because once upon a time
all the appliances used basically the same parts or close enough that they could be substituted
between brands. And, when something went wrong, you could call your local appliance repair guy
and he would show up, fix the unit no matter which brand it was, right there & and give you a reasonable bill...
thenaway you would go with years more before something went wrong. Then these smartass corporate bean
counters came up with a plan to screw you...
They started making parts that just fit their appliances and they made sure the quality was low and the failure rate was high. It's called proprietary parts & obsolescence and it's a nightmare for you and me. Now when your 3 or 5 year old appliance fails, the service guy shows up, usually he has to go away and order a special part that should cost $50 but costs $300 because you have no choice. It's the only place he can buy the part and if he is an old school appliance repair guy, he will tell you that the unit isn't even worth repairing and mumble about how crap all the appliances are now. So then you will throw it out & go buy a new one and the cost to you and the environment of having this “designed to fail crap” filling landfills and eating up resources to remake again & is astronomical!!
This is now becoming prevalent in the hot tub industry, a lot of the big corporate brands have adopted this corporate profit strategy and are making huge profits off of you at a massive cost to the environment. Several countries are bringing in legislation to stop this but in North America there is no sign of help from the government...
Make sure the hot tub you buy is sustainable and uses quality parts that you can get easily at a fair price!
SIGN UP TO OUR PRIVATE BUYERS SERVICE AND WE CAN HELP YOU AVOID PITFALLS LIKE THIS.
Ok next is the Dealer…
"No hot tub company in the world really builds their own electronic control and heating systems, nor do they make their own jets, pumps or fittings..."
When shopping for a hot tub, retailers will try and scare you into thinking that a local dealer is critical and event sales people will play it off as not important.
So who is right???
It really depends a lot on where you live and which brand you buy...
The reality is the idea of a local dealer is kind of dated... What you need after delivery is timely information, apps like SpaStar, put that all on your phone! And you don't have to wait on hold or hope they are open, you can get the information immediately 24hrs a day.
The next thing you need is accessories and chemicals, which are all available cheaper online delivered to your home and the SpaStar app will have that right on your phone as well.
The last thing you need is service when it breaks and if your area has a lot of independent service people, like the west coast and certain other areas, then you have a rich resource of specialists at hand. These independents who specialize in just fixing tubs are usually better than retailers because retailers focus on sales, these guys do one thing only... they fix hot tubs… and service can be requested with a click of one button on apps like SpaStar. Now all of this is assuming you are not buying brands that intentionally use proprietary parts that are made to just fit their hot tubs; to intentionally limit your freedom to get independent service and right to repair. But the reality, these brands are not a great option anyway not just because of the proprietary parts scam but also because they are overpriced, over marketed, middle of the road spas, tricking you into thinking they are some next generation build quality through tricky marketing spin and pseudo science.
Our Private Buyers Service and Consulting Service can help you through this mess of misinformation and advise you to make sure you are buying from the right source for your area and your brand selection.
The shell is the single most important, and the most expensive part of any hot tub, so making sure your shell is built right is critical. Almost any other part of a hot tub can be replaced but if your shell fails the tub is garbage.
A few quick things before we really get into Structure:
"While the manufacturers of components like Balboa and Waterways hold many useful patents on the parts in your hot tub, very few hot tub manufacturers hold any really significant patents..."
For the most part this is a side track issue... the truth is, most of the hot tubs I see that make a big deal about some super base are just mid grade spas with fancy marketing centered on these side track issues.
Companies that use these over engineered bases try & convince you that it is critical to a well made hot tub and that the base is important to keeping moisture and vermin out of the tub. We also hear these ridiculous sales pitches saying that you can put the tub right on the grass without proper ground preparation. The pitch is that the overall cost of buying the product is going to be reduced by not having to properly prepare the ground… Folks this is just bad advice! We don’t do groundwork to protect the tub, we do it to make sure the ground does not settle unevenly. If you just drop a tub on the ground, you will have to lift it in a few years and re-level it. Do it right the first time… no matter what the sales guy says, put a patio stone base down and avoid the many issues that come with bad ground prep.
The moisture issue is solved by any vapor barrier on the base and the really important issue for controlling moisture is the base you put the tub on, make sure there is good drainage under the spa. Vermin on the other hand, generally get in through the corners at either the bottom where it joins the base or the top where it meets the shell.
On well made spas with good quality self supporting shells, simply means the shell can hold the water without support from a frame. In this case, the frame is just there to attach the skirt to the shell, and does not need to be robust as it is not supporting the hundreds of pounds that a skirt on a hot tub with a cheap shell is. On the cheap shells, you will find the pitch is centered around steel frames or super strong support frames, or even high density structural foam. When you hear this it is a red flag because it means the shell is a cheap cradle supported shell. The frame does not need to be pressure treated, it is not like your deck that is exposed to the elements, your frame is covered by the skirt and is dry & protected.
"We don’t do groundwork to protect the tub, we do it to make sure the ground does not settle unevenly..."
In either case, do not buy into that crazy pitch that you can put your tub on any flat level surface without the proper ground prep. It will not hurt the hot tub, but the ground will not settle evenly and in a couple years, you will have to lift your tub and do it properly.