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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 2)

The next step is choosing seating arrangements and other comfort features, and the only strategy to accomplish that is the "test soak." Too many people just sit in a dry spa, thinking this will help them determine if a unit is comfortable or not. But a spa has a completely different feel when your body is immersed in water, so when comparative shopping, bring a swimsuit, enter a "mood room" that dealers generally offer to provide privacy, and get wet.

"You can only tell if a cigar is good by smoking it, and it's the same with spas; buyers must try them to really judge the different soaking experiences," says Baum. "What's comfortable for a 6-foot-2-inch guy could feel terrible for a 5-foot-2-inch woman, so buyers have to move around in the water and try all the different positions and jets. It's a frightening statistic that 90 percent of all spa buyers don't take a wet 'test drive.' But even before I sell a brand, I go to the factories and soak."

Seating arrangements are a consideration when assessing feel. Though many spa manufacturers boast that their lounges and recliners are "ergonomically engineered," these "pre-assigned" and deeply recessed seating zones are confining to many bathers. At its most relaxing best, soaking is a moving experience, and it shouldn't demand the contortions of a Harry Houdini.

Enjoying ease of movement is one of Baum's comfort priorities. But he also advises buyers to take the "agitation" test, to feel the jet action in their trial soaks, and to distinguish comfort from water-pounding punishment.

Spas today are equipped with all kinds of jets, from Hot Springs' "soothing sevens for 1997" and Sundance's 14-nozzle Accu-Ssage system for upper body massages, to Dimension One's AquaPed jets that "customize foot, ankle and leg therapy needs" (many dealers will also customize jets to suit specific hydrotherapy needs). Most of these water-spouting devices can be personally adjusted, depending on a bather's preference for a simple relaxing soak or for a more intense bout of hydrotherapy.

Yet Baum, who has recently begun selling high-performance Artesian spas, still insists, "Forget all the fancy talk about 'jet systems' and 'multidirectional movements.' The only way to judge water flow--what's comfortable and what's an extreme firehose--is to get into a wet spa and feel the action. Companies are now playing a numbers game, adding more and more jets. But the only thing that counts is how these jets feel."

Pumping up jet firepower isn't the only sales trick these days. Spa manufacturers are also playing the horsepower game.

Hot water is magical only when it surges through those hydrojets at great force--and to create this heat and circulation, portables rely on equipment systems known as "skid packs." These support systems, comprising pump, filter, heater and, frequently, air blower, are built into a portable unit; generally at least two 1.5- or two-horsepower pumps are needed to propel the water in a 400-to 500-gallon spa, says Baum.

But to jazz up even their smaller spas, companies are now offering three and four-horsepower pumps. While in-ground spas usually need extra power to circulate their larger amounts of water, it's Gary Kudisch's contention that this horsepower craze is just another example of manufacturers "getting off on more gongs and whistles."

"Companies like to list a unit's 'peak,' super horsepower figures, but that's misleading the public," says Kudisch. "The only important factor is the continuous-duty, 1.5, 1.65 horsepower. That's what actually turns the water. All those fancy numbers are a lot of bull."


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