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What's the difference between a Hot Tub and a Spa?

The term "Hot Tub" originally referred to the wooden, barrel-shaped tubs, which became popular in the late 1960s. Early hot tubs were fairly simple devices, which basically held hot water and had enough room for one or two bathers at a time. When the industry began building tubs of molded fiberglass or with thermoplastic shells, they were given the tag "spa" to differentiate them from their wooden cousins.

The wooden hot tub has evolved over time to include such amenities as seating, jets, filters, and most of the features associated with a spa. In fact, the phrase "hot tubbing" can be taken to mean soaking in either type of vessel.

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What are my choices in selecting a hot tub or spa?

Decide if you want a take-anywhere type lightweight portable spaslightweight portable spa, or a full-size portable spas full-size spa for the family. Full-size spas are by far the most popular today due to the wide selection, ease of installation and low maintenance. 

Spas may also be built into the ground, but in-ground spas usually are lacking in features. In areas of the country where freezing is not a factor, these installations are not uncommon.

The portable spa, which most often consists of a shell with a wooden skirt, usually sits atop a deck or on a concrete slab. These units have the advantage of built-in pumps and electrical systems, so set-up is a snap.

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How do I find a quality brand of spa?

Take the time to look at various brands. Ask about warranties. Quality products will carry ironclad warranties against defects that will cover the shell, motors and control units. Reputable manufacturers will will not be shy about disclosing specifications. Check for either the ETL or UL rating.  "Look under the hood." We cannot stress this enough. If the workmanship inside the access door of the spa looks shoddy, this tells you a lot about what you cannot see.  In these time of rising energy costs, insist on a spa cabinet that is full-foamed, and has other energy saving features.  Make sure the spa has 2x4 framing, not 2x2.

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Should I install my hot tub spa inside or outside?

Each location has its pros and cons. Outside installations may compromise some of your privacy, but you can add screens, shrubbery, or fencing to minimize peering eyes. The outside weather can be a deterring factor, although many people absolutely love the experience of lounging in bubbling hot water while a light rain or snowflakes are falling! It can be exhilarating. Awnings can be built to shelter the effects of weather. It should be noted for those of you who have not experienced it, hot water raises your body's core temperature, so you will normally not feel cold even when exiting a hot tub outdoors in the dead of winter.

Inside installations will add humidity to the air in your home. It is imperative that proper ventilation be maintained to control this moisture and to prevent mildew and other damage. If you decide on an inside installation, be sure to take into account the draining and filling of the unit. There are two other important questions: will it fit through your doorway, and is your flooring strength adequate? Keep in mind that a typical 3-person spa weighs about 2500 pounds filled with water. On the plus side, you will have privacy and convenience. Your unit and cover will also be fully protected from the weather.

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Do I have to install plumbing for my portable spa?

No. Above-ground portable spas are normally filled with a garden hose. Hard plumbing is optional, but very rarely used since it is unnecessary.

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Which are better, gas or electric heaters?

Each type of heating system has its advantages. If you buy a portable spa, you probably will not have a choice, since the self-contained units almost always come with electrical heating units. Some spa owners have modified portable spas with auxiliary external gas heaters. These installations are unusual, but allow for very rapid heating of the spa water. In-ground and custom installations often utilize gas heaters. An advantage of gas besides rapid heating, is the lower cost of day-to-day operation since gas generally costs less than electricity to use.

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How do you hookup the wiring for 220/240 volts?

See our spa wiring video for complete information.

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Should I use a 110-volt or 220-volt electric heater?

We recommend using the 220v option whenever practical, especially on full-sized spas. A 220v system offers the advantage of faster heating which reduces your "tubbing down-time" factor. There is also more amperage available to operate multiple motors, jets, lights, etc. A properly hard-wired 220v system has no cords to trip over or become unplugged. Contrary to popular misconception, there is no significant cost difference in heating with 110v system versus a 220v system. For a truly "portable" installation, 110v is generally more practical. Consult a qualified electrician for your wiring needs.

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Is it expensive to operate a hot tub spa?

It doesn't have to be. A primary cost is heating the water. A modern, well-insulated unit with a quality insulated cover will cost, on average, only about a dollar a day, even in cold climates. The other major cost is water chemistry and maintenance supplies. You can cut these costs by 30-50% on average, just by spa shoppingshopping at The Spa Depot for your supplies!

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What is meant by the spa pump's horsepower (HP) rating?

Spa manufacturers use two different ratings for their pumps: "Continuous Operating HP" and "Brake HP". Continuous Operating is the amount of HP the motor is capable of producing while the spa is in operation. This is the meaningful rating. Brake HP is the momentary HP the motor produces at startup, before dropping to Continuous HP. Brake HP is marketing hype.

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What's the story on ozonators?

Ozonators are electric-powered devices for helping to sanitize spa water by introducing a form of oxygen called ozone into the water. When they first arrived on the spa scene, many people thought they were a panacea for water disinfecting. Although this has proven to be an overstatement, ozonators do have their place, and will help reduce chemical amounts needed. Since ozone has no residual sanitizing ability, it only works while the spa is in operation. In order for the ozone to do its job, the spa should be run 6 or more hours per day. Ozonators must be used in conjunction with another sanitizer such as bromine or chlorine as well as a shock treatment.  See our hot tub spa FAQOzonator Installation Guide.

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Can I save money by using an ozonator?

Yes, the use of an ozonator will cut down the amount of conventional sanitizer needed. The reduction will vary from 25% to 35%, depending on spa usage and amount of run time. These devices use electricity to run, but the amount is really quite minimal.

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Is there an easier way to remove my spa cover?

Use of a cover removal device will allow one person to remove the spa cover with ease, and without back strain. These devices come in a variety of models, from simple slides to more elaborate units, which allow for easy lifting and out-of-the-way storage of your spa cover. Today's cover lifterscover lifts are lightweight and durable, usually made from aircraft grade aluminum with stainless fasteners. They are easy to install as well, usually requiring little more than a screwdriver to set-up.

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What should I look for in a spa cover?

Start with the core. Polystyrene foam, tapered from 4" to 2" to allow for shedding of surface water, is a good choice. Don't settle for an R-value of less than 12. R-14 is even better. Since foam cores absorb water, select a cover with a core that is heat-sealed in heavy plastic sheeting. Marine-grade vinyl with mildew and UV inhibitors is a must. Quality covers will also have two other features: a double reinforced folding center hinge, and steel reinforcement inside. Make sure the cover has adequate locking fasteners, and a zipper for the cover. Avoid cheap covers. They won't last long, and will end up costing you more in the long run both in higher energy usage and in replacement costs. spa cover replacementsCover Replacement Guide

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What are the power requirements for the new lightweight "take anywhere" portable spas?

These spas a designed to plug right in to a standard wall outlet. In outdoor locations, your electrical code may require a GFCI protected circuit.  Check with your local Building Department.

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Can an external gas heater be added to my existing spa and what are the benefits?

In many cases the answer is yes. You will have to splice some intake and return plumbing from your spa to the external heater. Heater installation must be done in accordance to local building code requirements with regard to plumbing, gas lines, electrical connections (if needed), distance from spa, venting, heat sinks, etc. But setup is usually not terribly difficult. Instructions are supplied with the heating units, which are available in either natural gas or propane models. The benefits include reduced heating costs, which will help pay for the heater over time, and much quicker heating time.

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I'm ordering a new spa cover. Is there a benefit in upgrading to a 2-lb. Foam core?

In many cases, yes. If your spa is exposed to snowfall, then the 2-lb. upgrade is a very good idea. It will provide extra stiffness, which will help prevent sagging (and the resultant heat-loss) caused by the weight of the snow. In all climates, the upgrade will give you increased R-value. The upgrade is inexpensive, and will return its cost in energy savings.

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What can I do to protect my spa cover from seasonal high winds?

Although high-quality safety covers come with 4 tie down straps and locking hardware, that alone may not always be enough to stand up to high winds. Thousands of spa covers are lost to storms each year. Fortunately spa cover tie-down strapsHurricane Straps are now available which offer an added level of protection for these conditions. Fully adjustable for spas up to 8 ft. wide, these heavy-duty overall locking straps offer an extra degree of security.

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Why are your spa covers custom made rather than shipped from an inventory?

There are literally tens of thousands of spa shapes, sizes and brands, both old and new, and many color choices. Rather than pull a cover from an inventory of approximate fits, our covers are hand-made, one at a time, for outstanding quality and a fit that is just right, per your specifications and color choice. It takes a little more time to make covers this way, but our customers tell us it's more than worth it.

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