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Water World: Shopping for Spas and Whirlpools

To Keep from Taking a Bath, Shop for Spas and Whirlpools with Your Mind and Not Your Passions
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97

(continued from page 1)

So how does a buyer wade through this water world and choose a suitable portable?

Above all, don't get distracted by the food service bars, rainbow colors and other enhancements. Ask dealers for documented information regarding operational costs, servicing and warranties, and most importantly, assess your true needs.

Larger 400- to 500-gallon spas, while costing more to heat, are practical for families with children, or with a lot of friends. Besides allowing bathers to move around, these units have so many individual jets and multitiered seating configurations that they prompt one dealer to exclaim, "They're heaven, the equivalent of having six masseuses simultaneously working on your body."

These roomier units offer seats at different depths as well as lounges and recliners of various shapes. In larger spas the jet system is also diversified, offering a variety of distinctive "feels" (or water pressures and patterns), which is key when soothing different parts of the body.

"I love larger spas; they represent true freedom," says Steve Baum, the owner of All Baths and Spas in Yonkers, New York, who has been selling spas and whirlpools for 27 years. "The cost to operate a deluxe large spa is only a few pennies more than a small unit, but the roomier ones are the only way to go. They epitomize comfort and the good life."

Yet in some instances, buying one of these models is inspired more by fantasies than by sound judgment. For even though some buyers associate these roomier spas with Bacchanalian parties and reveling, they are more realistically akin to seldom-used guest bedrooms. As Kudisch cautions, "The reality is that one to two persons generally use a spa. Sure it's great to have a large spa when entertaining. But how many parties do average people have a year? While I'm not suggesting buyers should only get two-person units, they must forget their fantasies, be flexible, and allow daily use to dictate what's purchased."

Opinion is also divided about the current "Indy 500" rage, which has manufacturers increasingly styling their shells with deeply contoured bucket seats and lounges. Some spa dealers say these seating arrangements give the shell a futuristic look, and add to the feeling that a spa is a multidimensional environment with "comfort zones." One Florida salesman insists "a lot of people like pre-assigned seats, being in one place for a specific jet system. Most spas are compartmentalized today, and these comfort zones, all offering a different jet experience, are the future."

Yet others in the industry throw cold water on the bucket seat trend. As one industry analyst contends, the deeply recessed sculpturing can weaken the strength of fiberglass shells and reduce the spontaneous movement inside a spa.

"While bucket seats are great in a Maserati, in a spa they create barriers between people," insists this critic. "These big buckets and lounges lock you into one position, and so the jets only hit certain parts of your body. That is, if your body can even fit into these restrictive contours and buckets."

Spas can be custom-built to fit your body's specifications. A local pool contractor-turned-spa maker might have a few molded shells in his showroom and be equipped to "customize" them with jets and pillows. But beware! More accustomed to building swimming pools, he'll usually offer a one-year warranty, while most established spa manufacturers (with a network of dealerships) give five and seven-year guarantees. Plumbing outlets and home centers also sell spas. But the safest approach is going to a specialist, a spa dealer.

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