20 Questions You Should Ask Before Buying a Spa
Provided by Blue Water Pools ®
1) With all the brands available to the consumer, are some brands better than others?
Yes! Major brands that manufacture a quality product will often offer several lines. Each line will offer different features. The company may give you a choice between finishes, bells and whistles, horsepower, the number of jets, or a difference in insulation, features, or even warranty coverage.
2) How can I tell if a brand is a major brand with quality products?
The appearance and price are good indicators. Do your research. Look at the lines in three or four retail stores. You will begin to see differences in the cabinets, the covers, and the number of jets and horsepower. Check to see if you can actually sit in the spa. Cheaper spas are often displayed on edge so you can't tell that they are shallow. The water should hit you in the upper chest area, not at waste level. Check out the insulation. If the insulation is only on the shell and not on the walls or floor, you will be paying more for electricity over the years because heat generated by the motors will be expelled from the unit and not utilized by the spa. Find out what brand is used for the electronics. Ask our sales staff which brands of boards can be rebuilt at a minimum cost to you and which brands do not offer this benefit. Some spa manufacturers have equipment that is proprietary. This means you can only get the parts from the dealer and they are often very expensive. Check out all brands you are interested in on the net. Look at their brochures in stores. The presentation to you is important to major brand manufacturers. They do not cut corners. Just like with anything else, if the price of the spa is too good to be true, it probably is.
3) How can I know if a retailer is a good company to buy from?
That is probably the most important question of all. Call the better business bureau and check reputations. A company that has many complaints registered against them will probably not support you when you really need them. Some companies will be nice to you until they get your money. They are retail oriented and not service oriented. Find out if they have trained and educated staff to service your spa after the sale. Ask to talk to the service manager. Find out if they like working there and what the company's attitude is towards good service. Find out if they have been to a company spa school for training or what they did to prepare for the job. Is the store clean and neat in appearance? Is there a good selection that indicates the retailer is in the spa business? Ask for references.
4) What are the details of my warranty and what is/isn’t covered?
All spa warranties are broken into several categories: Parts/ Labor, Structure, Shell, and Cabinet. Each of these categories will have a different length of time that your spa will be covered depending on the quality of the spa. The most important is the structure and shell because these things cannot be repaired or replaced. The best quality spas have a fiberglass shell with an acrylic surface and this is because fiberglass is the strongest and most durable material. Lesser quality spas have a one-piece polymer shell that is less expensive in materials and cheaper to build. Structure is also important because its strength and durability determines in part how well the shell holds up. Most spas have a wood structure, which is acceptable and has been the standard for years. Good quality spas have treated wood frames whereas poor quality spas have untreated wood frames. The highest quality premium spas have galvanized steel frames, which never ever rot. These spas are truly built to last a lifetime. They are 200% stronger than wood and 20% lighter.
Spas also have one of 3 types of part/labor warranties, which will give you a good clue as to the quality of spa. 5-year parts/labor warranties indicate a premium brand spa and 3-year parts/labor indicate a good quality spa, but not necessarily top of the line. Both of these types you will likely find in retail dealerships backed by a reliable manufacturer’s warranty. Lastly are spas with 2 year or lesser warranties. These types of spas are usually built by little known manufacturers, will not have any local service center, and are often questionable whether you can get parts for them, let alone service. Beware of these low-end spas especially if a reputable spa dealer with a storefront does not carry them.
Even with premium warranties, there are some things that are generally not covered. Find out what these items are. There should not be a long list of exclusions. The most common things are fuses and wear out items like filter cartridges. If you live too far out of town, trip charges will also likely apply because warranties only cover the time at your house. Ask for a copy of the warranty policy before you buy. There are many ways manufacturers and shady companies can skirt warranty issues and make you pay, so read the fine print and don’t be fooled. For example; Lifetime warranties are rarely truly “lifetime”. They may cover 100% the first year, and then taper off drastically so after year 3 or 4 they only cover 10% for the “lifetime”. This can even be true on lower end spas that are lower priced, which is ok, as long as you know what you are getting for your money. Make sure the warranty on your spa starts the day you buy it. Some manufacturers’ warranties start the day the spa was manufactured, not when you bought it.
5) If I have a warranty issue, how do I go about getting it covered?
Reputable companies should service what they sell. And this should be easy, fast and hassle free for you. You should not have to jump through hoops to get service on your spa. Unfortunately, every company will probably tell you they have great service and you don’t really know for sure until after you have spent thousands of dollars and an issue arises. You can ask some questions though that may give you some insight. Ask what the process is for warranty claim. How many days will it take for a service person to come out and complete the repair? Will parts have to be ordered or does the company stock them? Do you have to deal with the manufacturer or will they handle everything? Are there any out of pocket expenses?
6) What is the risk of buying from a truck at a weekend sale or a discount outlet?
What you may not know is that most spa retailers only service what they sell. This is important to know because you may not be able to get service if you don't buy from a reputable retailer with a spa service department. Spas are all different and very complex, so is better for a retailer to only work on their brands because they can educate their staff to focus on those brands. This makes it simpler and more cost effective. It is also better for the consumer because a service truck can carry every part and only the parts needed for that brand. This reduces the cost for the consumer because it is likely that one trip will fix your spa problem.
7) What is the difference between buying a 110 or a 220 spa?
There is a lot of difference. 110 need a 30amp or 20amp breaker which most people have, or they come plug and play with their own cord and GFCI (ground fault breaker). 220 spas require a 50 amp GFCI and have no cord so a licensed electrician must hook them up. Many people do not have a 50-amp breaker in their box so often times an electrician must install that as well.
If you buy a 110 spa you must know that industry standards recommend not having more than six major sized jets or 9 smaller ones to move water. Since all jets are connected, the more jets you have the slower the water moves through all of them. Some manufacturers will put in three large jets and divide the other three among 5 or 6 little jets without compromising your flow rate. If you have your spa hooked up to 110, you will not be able to run the heater at the same time unless the spa has a 1.5 hp motor or smaller. It will draw too much amperage. So if you want to stay in the spa for extended periods of time, the water will cool off. Over a period of a year 220 is more cost effective than 110 because it heats faster and runs less hours of the day.
If you switch to 220 you will need several things. You will need a 50-amp GFCI breaker and it will have to match the brand in your breaker box so costs vary. You will also need two #6 wire and a #10 ground wire in conduit to go from the spa to your breaker box. The shorter the distance the less money it will cost. Costs can accrue from $200 and up depending on distance, labor costs, and materials costs. But we think that it is worth it. Here's why. We had one of the first spas. It was a simple design with one horsepower and four jets. It took 17 hours to heat it to 100 degrees in the summer and over 24 hours to heat it in the winter. When we switched it over to 220 after 20 years of good service, it now heats in 5 hours in the summer and 7 hours in the winter. That's good for us because it means we don't have to miss a daily spa and we can run the pump without the water-cooling off. Since 220 spas require a bigger breaker and draw more amps, you also get to have more horsepower, which translates to lots more jets!!! More jets can mean a bigger spa. A bigger spa means more room for friends and family. More room for friends and family means MORE FUN!
8) What is important to know about motors?
Our new Coleman spas have a rating that looks like this 2.5/4.8. The first number means continuous duty horsepower rating or low speed. The second number is the maximum duty horsepower rating or high speed. Motors also are either 1 speed or 2 speeds. One speed motors are either off or on full blast. Two speed motors have a low speed so you can sit and soak and talk with water flow moving, or turn it on high for deep muscle massage. Many spa manufacturers cut costs by providing only 1 speed motors as they are less expensive, which sacrifices therapy so find out exactly what’s under the hood. Motors are also classified as 48 frame or 56 frame. The latter is a high efficiency motor designed to run cooler, longer, and less expensively. Of course these motors are more expensive so you will usually only find this on high-end spas.
9) What does it cost a year to run a spa?
The biggest factor in this is how well your spa is insulated. Well-insulated spas cost around 25 to 50 cents a day to operate. Secondly, high efficiency 56 frame motors require less electricity than standard 48 frame motors. Thirdly, number of motors and the size of the spa plays a part. Spas with 3 pumps are a little more expensive to run than those with one pump and a smaller footprint.
10) What different ways are there to insulate spas?
There are three typical insulation practices. One way is to insulate the unit with full foam after the unit is built. The spa is turned upside down, foam sprayed in, then the bottom is screwed on. Full foam is not always used as an insulator. If the structural material selected for the spa is not strong enough to support the owner's weight or the weight of the water, foam is used for strength. It depends on how strong the fiberglass shell is and how many layers are applied by the manufacturer whether the spa can stand alone without full foam. Adding foam is much less expensive than making a stronger shell, so some manufacturers use full foam insulation as a way to cut costs. The second way to insulate a spa is by just insulating the shell. This is the least expensive way to insulate a spa and still make an attempt to do so, and often, low-end spas are insulated in this manner. These spas are considerably higher on your electric bill, especially if they are large.
The third way, preferred by us, is called “Thermolock Insulation”. This involves insulating the walls, the floor, and the shell. We prefer this method for several reasons. First it insulates better than the old method of full foam. Since the motors and plumbing are not encased in foam it is easy to work on. Secondly, there is a large dead air space inside the spa. This traps the small amount of heat generated by the motors and uses it to heat the water from the inside out rather than expelling it outside the spa to keep the motors cool like full foam spas have to. This makes for higher efficiency and lower electric bills.
11) What are the disadvantages of full foam insulation?
Any leaks in a full foam spa are a serious problem for the service company and the spa owner if the spa is out of warranty. Number one, since all jets are tied together and covered in foam, it is impossible to find a leak quickly because you can't really tell which one is leaking. All the foam fills up with water and then runs out at the lowest point. So if your spa is not quite level it may be running out on the left side but leaking on the opposite side. The water that leaks out of the spa tends to saturate the foam and it is nearly impossible to lift to get under it to search for the leak. Also the foam has to be torn out and destroyed it to find the leak. Costs to the customer are exorbitant and can go as high as $500-$1000 dollars for labor if the spa is not still under warranty. The other disadvantage to full foam is that the manufacturer has to design a way to exit the heat generated by the motors so they don't overheat and burn up. So an auxiliary pump can be used or louvered doors can be installed to keep pumps cool. This is very inefficient and creates higher electric bills.
12) What will it cost to replace major parts after the warranty is out?
This depends upon the brand of spa you buy. Many manufacturers have proprietary parts in their spas. This means that you can only get the parts from the dealer, and of course this means they can charge you whatever price they want. We recommend steering clear of spas that have proprietary parts for cost reasons and in case the manufacturer or dealer goes out of business. Most power packs run from $300 to $600. It contains the electronics, heater, timer, board, etc. Motors to run the pumps run $2-300, and combination pumps and motors can run $3-400. Smaller parts such as relays, sensors, heaters, or valves cost less. We estimate we have spent $500 on our spa in twenty years. It is back to new and performing great.
13) How often will I need to replace my cover?
Covers will have to be replaced over the years. No mater how well a cover is insulated from the water it covers, the foam will eventually become saturated with water. It then becomes too heavy to manage. You can expect to have to purchase a new cover about every 5-7 years. A Cover cost from $400-$500.
14) What is the difference between the marble and granite spas?
Not much. Both are the same acrylic material. The granite look is becoming more popular than the marble finish. Granite doesn't show scratches or water spots as easily as marble. We have noticed that the lighter colors show off the lighting in the spa better than darker colors whether it be fiber optics or incandescent lighting. Select a color that you will enjoy looking at for a long time.
15) How often will I need to change the water?
You will need to change the water when the organic waste material and total dissolved solids become so high in the water that your sanitizer can't keep up with it. Remember, unlike a pool with thousands of gallons of water, you will only have from 175-400 gallons. That is a little bit of water. It will build up waste products from clothing, detergent that you wash your clothing in, fabric softeners, makeup, deodorant, hair products, and oil from your skin. Each time you get in you'll add more waste products for your sanitizer to oxidize out. Eventually, your sanitizer won't be able to get it all out and the water will need changed. Most of our families change water about every three to five months. But if you spa alone three times a week in a large spa, you might need to change the water twice a year. Best advice is to change it when it is starting to take more shock to keep it clear, when it begins to develop a smell that is no longer fresh, or if you are unsure. And remember, water is still cheap, so it will be less expensive to change the water than to keep pouring in expensive chemicals.
16) What is the best way to empty and clean my spa?
Most spas have a gravity drain that you can hook a garden hose up to. Make sure that it is on the outside of the spa. It is a pain to have to start removing side panels to get to the drain. Keep in mind if you use any gravity drain it is going to take 6-10 hours to drain, and there will still be some water left in the bottom. The best way is to use a pump attached to a garden hose or Quick Drain Vac, which acts as a siphon.
17) What size spa will I need?
You will have to access your family's needs. If you want it for two people, a medium spa with 4-5 seats should be enough to provide varied jets and enough legroom. If you want to spa with your children, buy a large spa. If you want it for parties and entertaining, choose one that seats 6-7. And remember all guests or family members may not want to spa at the same time. We had our little spa open for a wedding celebration and people were in and out of it for several hours in different groups. Don't get a spa too small. If you displace too much water and own a small spa you will have to fill it up each time you use it. Make sure you have enough legroom so guests are not cramped. Try out the spa before you buy it. Get in it dry to see how well it fits your body and how comfortable it is.
18) What can I expect to spend on chemicals a year?
The least expensive sanitizer would be bromine or a non-chlorine product like EZ Spa. Of course the easiest way to keep your spa looking clear is to buy a spa with an ozonator installed. An ozonator emits UV light that kills bacteria. It is not harmful, has nearly any smell, and is used in conjunction with a minimum amount of other chemicals. If you have an ozonator your chemical bill should be about 1/3 what if would be normally ($100-$150 per year). We do not recommend adding products to the spa that are not actually needed. We teach our customers to buy only what their water needs. The other philosophy of doing business is to teach routine maintenance. With this method you would add 10 things to your water each week whether you needed it or not. This is expensive and wasteful.
19) How do jets relate to horsepower and the $ amount of the spa?
The more jets you have, generally the more expensive the spa is. This is because it takes more pumps with higher horsepower to pump water through all those jets and that translates to a higher cost for the manufacturer, which transfers to the customer. The rule of thumb for a good therapeutic flow rate is no more than 6 medium sized jets per horsepower. So, if you have a 2 pump spa that has 4 hp pumps, there should be 48 jets or less in the spa for the best therapy. Be aware that some manufacturers build spas with 60 jets but not a lot of horsepower. They are usually a lot less money, but compromise the one thing that matters most, your therapy! So do the math. You can also ask to feel the spa running with water in it before you buy so you know what you are getting.
20) What are the most common things that could go wrong with my spa?
The three most common wear out items are filter cartridges, spa covers, and the seal in your pump/s. These usually need replaced in about 5-7 years of ownership. If you ever see a small leak in your spa it is probably the pump seal. Do not let this go or it will eventually damage the motor. Call your dealer for service; pump seals are an $8.00 part, whereas the cost to replace the motor is several hundred dollars.
It is also very important to watch the ph in your spa. If it gets too low, the water becomes acidic and starts eating everything metal and everything plastic. That means the jets in your spa become brittle and start breaking, the pump seal, and your heating element goes out prematurely (even if it’s titanium), and your pressure and temperature sensors corrode. All of this can be prevented by doing weekly water testing and adjusting with a very inexpensive chemical called ph increaser [$5.00].