What to really look for when buying a spa (without all the sales ‘fluff’)

Just like any big decision, buying the right spa for you requires a degree of homework first. Yes, initially to take the plunge (so to speak) is largely an emotional decision, but soon enough you realise there’s a lot of choice in the marketplace and the information you receive can be quite confusing if you don’t know what to look for!

Essentially however, buying the right spa boils down to what you want to do with it and whether its features and benefits are ultimately important to you. While a great retailer should ask you key questions about your needs and lifestyle, if they don’t, you should ask key questions of them and their products! Challenge them on why their products are right for you – and don’t settle for sales ‘fluff’.

It’s about making sure the spa you’re spending your kids’ inheritance on is just perfect for you and your lifestyle. Here’s some tips to help you along the way!

Seating capacity & Layout

If the spa that you choose has the wrong seating layout and moulding, it’s not the right spa for you. That’s why trying each spa in a SPASA (Swimming Pool & Spa Association) Member showroom is absolutely vital. Remember, it’s your family and yourself who will use the spa, so choose a spa that suits you; what’s right for you isn’t right for someone else necessarily. And don’t worry, while it’s great to try a ‘wet’ spa that’s working in the showroom, your prospective spa might not be set up ready to go, so just sit in it and relax. Imagine yourself and your family / friends in the spa, and switch seating positions to test them out!

A key point here, other than the obvious layout and mould is that the foot well size is important. That’s the bit at the bottom of the spa where your feet rest. All to often, customers buy a spa that is advertised to ‘seat 5’ but forget that there’s going to be up to 10 human feet inside the footwell! Make sure there’s plenty of space for long limbs and big feet!

Choose a layout that suits your spa habits. If you like your own moulded seat, great! But if you like wide open spaces, choose something with bench seating or a more open plan.

Hydrotherapy or ‘bubbles’

The known benefits of hydrotherapy are clear and well documented. But you should ask yourself whether it’s gentle heat and a spa experience that you are after, or genuine massage in areas of your back or neck that you need. Neither is right. It’s personal choice. Speaking to your physiotherapist, chiropractor or doctor might assist, but ultimately it’s your decision based on a check of your actual needs. If you want all the power of a full, multi jet massage experience (plus the standard ‘bubbles and water’, be prepare to pay that little bit more for more jets and pumps to give you what you really need.

And here’s where calculating the Pump-to-Jet-ratio is very important. The spa should be powerful enough to give you the power you require. For instance, a 3 pump unit with 120 Jets is a ratio of 40:1, which is far less powerful than a 2 pump unit with 60 jets! Ask questions of your salesperson and do the numbers yourself! Anything less powerful than 40:1 is weak. Anything better than 35:1 is generally preferred in terms of real water jet pressure.

Insulation

This is the most important feature when it comes to the running costs of your spa. The cost of running your spa is directly proportional to its ability to retain heat. That’s because the heater won’t be coming on nearly as much in a well-insulated spa. And this is completely irrespective of the KWh or power of the heater unit inside.

With this in mind, you should always ensure that you getting the very best insulation for your money. Shell, pipework, cabinet, and base insulation is important. But at very least, the shell must be closed-cell insulated. Also, note whether the base is fibreglass or just soft material like canvas or cheap plastic. Beware of gimmicks that state ‘7 layers of insulation’ or similar, and often includes the layer of ‘acrylic’ which is simply the top coloured surface of the spa! Check the facts; insulation should be high grade closed cell and properly installed foam. Cabinet insulation should be foam with reflective (not absorbent) material to retain heat inside the spa. The hard cover should be a heavy foam cover with means of draining water from its core (to keep it light), and make sure it folds on itself, with handles and a locking mechanism for easy removal & security respectively.

Sanitisation

All spas in Australia need to meet sanitization standards and should come with Ozone Purification. This is an easy and effective means of purifying water. However, great spas come with at least the option for a UV-based sanitization system which passes water through a special ‘UV-bullet’ of light that destroys bacteria and other ‘nasties’. Alongside an effective filtration system that captures water from all directions (preferably without any moving parts) and a physical filter, UV sanitization is your second level of insurance against harmful water contaminants. It’s standard on most great spas or on more ‘premium models’.

But it should never stop there. Just as with your home swimming pool, you will need very small (but no more than recommended) amounts of specific chemistry (such as Lithium Hydrochloride). Ask your spa professional about the recommended doses and frequencies of application. With spas fitted with UV Sanitization, the chlorine is effectively destroyed, so there’s no chlorine smell or negative effects on those who might suffer sensitivities!

Salt water in spas are generally corrosive to equipment, and while marketed as a ‘selling point’ on some spas, the process uses the salt chemical compounds to create actual Chlorine. So, not only is it a myth that properly installed salt spas are ‘Chlorine free’; be cautious of the ‘lower running costs’ selling point as well. After warranty expires on your equipment, you could be up for significant spa repair bills when using salt and you still need to balance PH levels and clean/replace filters so the cost saving is either negative, or negligible. As with any purchase, it’s entirely your choice.

Warranty, service & support

Perhaps the most important consideration when purchasing a spa is whether you have purchased from a reputable, ‘bricks and mortar’ store, from a company that understands their product and is available 7-days-a-week, to support your questions and handle any issues you might have. As a rule, trust a SPASA registered member and never buy new spas online (eg. from e-bay). All too often we hear that the spa was eventually delivered (via truck, from a dark warehouse located in an unknown place) and dropped off on your property, and that was literally the first and last time the customer heard from or saw a representative from the company! You will almost always save a dollar or three doing it this way, but it will pay you back to do your research thoroughly and always speak with a spa expert at a SPASA registered business, in person!

While warranty periods do vary, it’s important to go with the company that you know truly stands by the product they sell. Ultimately this comes down to reading the warranty details, and examining the manner in which the spa business allows YOU (the customer) to choose what you want and doesn’t pressure you into a purchase. Remember, you have statutory rights under Australian Consumer Law in any case, so certainly check the warranty periods first, read the fine print and then – ask the real questions! Give examples, such as, “If the pump leaks after 2.5 years, what will actually happen..?” This way you’ll get the answer that best reflects the actual likely outcome from a very ‘realistic’ situation. If they don’t know, or they hesitate, don’t buy the spa. And if the answer sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Finally, beware of salespeople who talk down competitors in ANY way; this is usually a sign that they are desperate for the sale and don’t have faith in the benefits of their OWN product! This behaviour, while rare, is against SPASA industry ethical guidelines and should provide you a clear ‘red flag’ to you during the purchase experience.

Enjoy the process of purchasing your new spa. It should be a fun, relaxed and exciting time for you and the start of years of enjoyment.

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