- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2006

Relaxing in bubbling hot water on a cold winter night is one way homeowners relieve stress. No doubt some even pondered their New Year’s resolutions while soaking the old year away. Long enjoyed for their calming effects, hot tubs are today’s ultimate personal retreats.

Some come with high-tech entertainment systems, lounge chairs and jets galore. No longer just run-of-the-mill tubs, hot tubs come in soft hues and materials that can accommodate any decor and climate.

Industry experts, including Suzanne Barrows of the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals (APSP), headquartered in Alexandria, attribute the 10 percent to 15 percent yearly increase in hot-tub sales to a variety of factors.

Ms. Barrows, herself a hot-tub owner, says the primary reason homeowners purchase hot tubs is to reduce stress.

“Hot tubs are relaxing and provide a lot of relief to some people,” she says, adding that many use the therapeutic waters to help them unwind from everyday stress or relieve aches and pains.

The hot-tub industry saw a spike in sales after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Industry insiders say people were stressed and staying home more, Ms. Barrows says.

She doesn’t expect the growth in the hot-tub industry to stop anytime soon.

Aging baby boomers in their prime purchasing years are seeking more luxury items, such as hot tubs, she says. Compared to cost increases on luxury cars, recreational vehicles and resort vacations, Ms. Barrows says the prices of hot tubs are trending upward at a slower rate.

When asked what new high-end amenity they plan to add to their homes in 2005, 10 percent of homeowners said a hot tub, which fell between kitchen upgrades at 12 percent and in-ground pools and wine cellars at 8 percent and 6 percent respectively, according to a recent Coldwell Banker survey of the so-called “luxury index.”

The latest trend toward luxury is the hot-tub entertainment system, with television and DVD combinations as well as fiber optic and LED lighting.

With the click of a button on the floating, waterproof remote control, a television can rise from the edge of the tub.

“Hot tubs that now come with DVD players, plasma televisions and audio equipment are popular,” Ms. Barrows says.

Hot-tub makers have been able to turn the spa shell into the speaker so that not only is the music heard, but the audio vibrations are felt in the water.

Other features in hot tubs include special lighting effects, miniwaterfalls, reclining chairs with various seating configurations, drink trays and head rests.

“Some models even come with refrigerators,” Ms. Barrows says.

Dawn Rutledge of Aqua Mechanics, a hot-tub dealer in Warrenton, Va., agrees that new entertainment options are popular among buyers.

She says buyers look to hot tubs for relaxation, recreation or therapy.

As far as features in hot tubs go, “It’s all about the jets,” Ms. Rutledge says. “The differences in hot tubs now from those 15 [to] 20 years ago are that they offer more jets and have more durable cabinets.”

Industry experts say buyers have the choice of many types of jets and jet placements, with varying degrees of massaging action to soothe, relax and stimulate muscles and joints.

The number and location depends on whether someone wants to target a specific area of the body or prefers a general massage. If the tub will be used primarily for entertainment, professionals advise homeowners to consider a jetting system that produces a more even flow of water to the entire tub.

Statistics from the APSP suggest that the typical hot-tub consumer makes an average of $75,000 or more per year and has a college degree. Purchasers of in-ground pools make an average of $50,000 and have a minimum of some college experience, statistics show.

Statistics also show that California is the top state for hot-tub purchases. However, homeowners in America’s Northeast spend more time in their hot tubs, using them about 11.8 days per month as compared to those on the West Coast, who show usage of about 8.5 days per month.

Before making a purchase, consider the size. Hot tubs can come in a variety of sizes, and though smaller, two-person tubs exist, experts say the most common type of tub offers comfortable seating for six adults.

Ms. Rutledge says most purchasers put their hot tubs on a back deck.

Edith Pulscak of Long & Foster Real Estate in Fort Washington says most of the hot tubs she has seen have been on a backyard deck or patio.

However, she says, “I have seen them placed in sunrooms, which is nice because the hot tub can be used at any time regardless of the weather or season.”

Those considering buying a home with a hot tub should check with the seller to make sure it conveys. If so, a buyer should determine whether the tub is under warranty and whether the warranty is transferable. They also should make sure the hot tub’s placement is in accordance with local regulations. Also, a potential buyer can ask for maintenance records.

Proper maintenance is essential for hot tubs, and experts say many people mistakenly believe that if the water looks good, everything must be under control.

Ms. Rutledge says homeowners should test the water weekly and drain the tub every three to six months depending on the size and how often the tub is used.

Professionals say to prevent bacteria, clean the filters according to the manufacturer’s requirements and use chemicals in the right amounts to maintain a suitable level of disinfecting chemicals and pH.

Today’s hot tubs include programmable filtering functions for homeowners who don’t have time to keep up with their system. Ms. Barrows advises owners of older hot tubs to have them inspected and fitted for an anti-vortex drain, if possible, so that a vacuum cannot be created. This can prevent entrapment.

When it comes to selling a house with a hot tub, real estate agents say to make sure the tub has been well maintained and looks good.

“The hot tub won’t sell the house, but is a nice extra that many buyers would not add themselves but are delighted to have,” Ms. Pulscak says.

She says some people do not use hot tubs for various reasons. A tub can be removed by the seller if a buyer voices an objection, she says.

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