4 New Hot Tub Attractions

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Sleek and modern, with custom jets, mobile apps, LED lighting and waterfall features, today’s hot tubs are far from the square, clunky wood boxes of the 1980s. 

Many homeowners have a hot tub on their want list – whether it’s to host backyard parties, reinvigorate their body, improve health, or unwind from work stress – but cite reasons such as the look, energy costs and maintenance as reasons they don’t buy one, says Jake Ricks, online marketing manager for Bullfrog Spas.

To address those obstacles, manufacturers continue to innovate in the way of design with waterproof exteriors, less pipes and more power, better insulation and high-tech amenities. 

Master Spas ultra-premium models, priced between $10,000 and $14,000, have increased to 15 to 20 percent of its total sales. It is an indicator the economy is doing better and people are once again spending on luxuries.


But that’s not to say hot tubs are priced out of a middle class market. The company’s retail outlet in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where it is headquartered, sells to many cops, fireman and teachers.

“They’re not just for the rich,” Lauter says. "There’s a mid-price hot tub that most middle class Americans could afford, and if they buy the right brand from the right company, it will last 10 years without much problems.”

Here’s a look at four trending topics that may change your opinion about whether or not to own a hot tub:

1. App Attack

From mobile apps to touchscreens, today’s high-end hot tubs have gone high tech. How about heating up your hot tub before you ever leave the office? Many models include brackets for mobile devices and crisp audio that connects to Bluetooth technology, replacing the need for a separate stereo. The quality is so good many people use their hot tub speakers to play music while outdoors or turn on the water feature as a backyard showpiece, says Tracine Marroquin, Jacuzzi’s vice president of marketing.

Jacuzzi developed a glass touchscreen for its new J-500 collection and offers a mobile app. The spa includes backlit cascading waterfalls and multicolored fiber-optic lights encircling the hot tub’s interior. The waterfall gives a nice sound and effect in or out of the water, and you can sit near it have it fall on your neck and shoulders.

“The J-500 has a better look, a cooler interface where you can scroll up and down on the control panel to adjust the temperature, turn on the lighting and turn on the jets,” she says. “It knows the difference between a finger and water. That type of application is the expectation of a customer using their phone or who has high-end appliances.”

Most manufacturers have optional control systems that work with mobile apps so you can control and monitor your spa from a mobile device. You can have it ready when you arrive at your vacation home or change the filter cycle while you are away.

Some systems even allow users to watch their favorite shows or movies through an iPad. Another option is full color mood lighting that lights up the whole spa.

“It’s something you would want to showcase in your backyard or your garden, something you would be proud to own and show it off to your friends when they come over,” Marroquin says.

2. Patio Pride

Manufacturers also continue to improve the overall look and performance of home spas, focusing on the benefits of hydrotherapy and a custom massage experience.

Bullfrog’s STIL spa, winner of the 2015 iF Design Award for excellence in product design, represents a new concept in modern hot tub design. Each massage is bio-engineered to offer a personalized therapy. It also features two lounge seats and an open concept to freely move around upright or enjoy all seats at a relaxed recline.

“We saw that being really important for the European market because design is a factor in purchase decisions,” Ricks says. “They really prefer a modern, minimalist design, but we’re finding it’s really catching on in the United States and Canada.”

Bullfrog has a patented JetPak Therapy System, allowing owners to select their favorite massages, place them in their favorite seats and dial in the therapy intensity. Customers can choose from 16 different hydromassages at the time of purchase and upgrade to new ones after purchase.

“One of the really cool things about it is different seats are set at different depths so you can take the JetPak from seat to seat and put it in the seat that fits you the best,” Ricks says.

For people accustomed to in-ground hot tubs, there’s no comparison to the hydrotherapy benefits with these newer seats and jets, Marroquin says. Jacuzzi’s J-500 collection comes with a new jet specifically designed for the hip area, and the J-585 model contains a pair of powerful wrist jets embedded right inside the upright therapy seat.

“We lay out a particular seat to cater to a particular part of the body,” she says. “It doesn’t feel like sitting against a garden hose; it feels more like getting a massage.”

3. Backyard Fitness

Swim spas are growing in popularity and offer a dual function – aquatic fitness and hydrotherapy. Master Spas, the largest swim spa manufacturer in the world, designed its Michael Phelps Signature Swim Spas for training, fitness and therapy, but they can accommodate family and friends as a backyard fun center.

Sales have been strong in the last six years thanks to the Michael Phelps line and aging Baby Boomers looking for safe, low-impact exercise, Lauter says. Nearly 25 percent of buyers are retired.

Easy to install and smaller than pools, swim spas work great for young children learning how to swim or people with back problems, arthritis or knee or hip replacement who want to stay active. They’re also cheaper than building an in-ground pool and can be used year round, Lauter says.

Introductory models cost around $15,000 and work fine for most home users. They are convenient for people who need aquatic therapy or prefer swimming for aerobic exercise.

“You can put a swim spa in your backyard and be done in 30 minutes and not have two hours invested in a workout,” Lauter says. “When you swim against the current, you’re expending a lot more energy. And you don’t have the harsh chlorine or have to use a public pool and public locker rooms.”

Some swim spas have a separate hot tub. Others have traditional seating and jets to enjoy the benefits of hydrotherapy or a backyard party – just turn up the heat.

The Michael Phelps line features Wave Propulsion Technology with a unique propeller design that provides a wide, deep and smooth current for novice to competitive swimmers. Master Spas also created SwimNumber App (SNAPP) for the iPad, allowing users to create, customize and save workouts. The app intuitively controls and changes the speed of the water current at timed increments.

4. Minimal maintenance

Another development to help time-strapped owners has come in the way of water treatment options. The various manufacturers are going about it in different ways, but the goal is to make the spa as maintenance-free as possible, Lauter says.

Some spas use salt or minerals. Master Spas’ system takes a little bit of chlorine and uses a combination of minerals, ozone and ultraviolet light.

The mobile apps also allow people to remotely change settings. The innovations translate into clearer water, fewer chemicals and worry-free, efficient filtration. 

“People are busy, they want to get in and get out,” Lauter says. “For a lot of people, when they buy a hot tub, it’s intimidating. They think it’s going to take a lot of time like a pool does. It’s so much easier with the automatic systems that are out there.”

Bullfrog has developed a filtration system with disposable filters and a quiet, vibration-free circulation pump to minimize noise. Innovations in plumbing technology and insulation also have made them much more energy efficient, so owners shouldn’t see much of an increase on their electric bill, Ricks says.

A hot tub can be installed in a day. Most spas are best kept outdoors or a three-season room due to ventilation, electrical issues and the actual weight of the spa, Ricks says.

Some 120V hot tubs can be plugged into an outlet, but it is safest to have them hardwired into a home by a trained electrician. Standard spas are 240V and must connect permanently into the power supply.

Tags: hot tub, summer, swim spa, fitness