Hot tubs still cool

When it comes to backyard recreation, it's still very cool to think hot.

Hot tub, that is. The hot tub is as popular today as it ever was, although the tubs and the way people use them has changed a great deal.

Brigitte John, co-owner of Desert Pools and Spas in Kamloops, said today's new tubs are vastly different than the ones from a couple of decades ago, although the basic idea remains the same.

A hot tub is just that - a large tub of hot water. In some ways, it doesn't get much simpler than that. But John said many companies today have "improved" the tubs they make by adding features such as TV and music sound systems, waterfalls, LED lighting and special jets.

Some people like that sort of thing, others do not, she said.

Today's tubs often seem a wonder of computer technology, with high-tech digital controllers and heater packs and special pump systems.

"You can get some pretty fancy hot tubs now," she said.

Some of the new stuff is worthwhile, John said, others maybe not so much. The key to buying a hot tub is to shop carefully, she said.

Many people are lured into buying the cheapest tub they can find - such tubs are often found in big-box stores - but saving a few hundred up front may not be a wise investment in the long run.

Another point - many of those tubs being sold online by big-box stores were purchased from manufacturers no longer in business. That makes service or warranty work down the road more difficult.

John said if people want to save money wisely, they should look for a good basic tub with high-quality pumps and heater packs. Leave the waterfalls and sound systems in the showroom.

As well, she advises consumers to consider smaller tubs. The big hot tub parties of the '70s are mostly a thing of the past, she said. These days, most people use them for personal enjoyment or for their immediate family.

"I usually try to get people into a basic tub, especially if they are not sure," she said. "I also try to get them into something a little smaller."

She tells people to budget $6,000 to $9,000 to purchase a new hot tub and plan to spend $20 a month for chemistry and hydro.

As well, buy from a place that will offer the proper support services, she said. It's important the installer spend some time with the customer to ensure they know how it runs and how to properly manage water chemistry.

Roger Korgaard, service manager at Arctic Spas in Kamloops, said maintaining a hot tub is the best way to protect the investment.

And staying on top pf the water chemistry is perhaps the most important step of all, he said.

Hot tub owners should learn how to properly keep pH and alkalinity levels in the proper range. Water chemistry is important as water too acidic or alkaline can cause problems with piping, seals, motors, pumps and heater cores.

Proper pH and alkalinity levels also make it easier to keep sanitizers at the proper level, something that will prevent bacteria and keep the water healthy for human use. It's also important to change the water at least twice a year - more if the tub is used regularly by lots of people.

"If you neglect a hot tub, it's subject to failure. But if you look after them, you can get 15 to 20 years out of them," he said. "There's a regular (maintenance) drill you need to follow. It's something you have to stay on top of."

Korgaard said pumps and covers are most prone to failure in hot tubs. If someone owns a hot tub for more than 10 years, chances are very good they will replace a pump, and almost certainly they will be required to buy a new cover.

Korgaard said many people in Kamloops run their tubs year round - hot in the winter and cooler in the summer. He said hot tubs have become more popular as swimming pools have become less popular.

"Some of the neighbourhoods in town you can't have a swimming pool," he said.

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