A hot tub is a large tub or small pool full of heated water used for hydrotherapy, relaxation or pleasure. Some have powerful jets for massage purposes. Hot tubs are sometimes also known as spas or by the trade name Jacuzzi.
In contrast to a typical bathtub, a hot tub is designed to be used by more than one person at a time, with many models accommodating four people. Hot tubs are usually located outdoors, although they can be installed indoors. Also, the water in a hot tub is not changed with each use, but is kept sanitary using methods similar to those used for swimming pool sanitation. Another difference between baths and hot tubs is that soaps and shampoos are not used in wet-jetted hot tubs (although they can be used in air-jetted hot tubs).
At the time of writing this article the cost implication of owning a hot tub at home (from Amazon) is as follows:
- 2 – 4 seater economy hot tub cost between £350 – £500 with home delivery
- 4 – 5 seater luxery hot tub cost between £3000 – £4000 with home delivery.
The earliest hot tubs were calderas in which hot stones were placed to heat the water. Therma in Ikaria has been a very popular place particularly for hydrotherapy ever since the 4th century BC. The remains of wrecked marble bathtubs along with a pre-historic aqueduct that have been unearthed from this area bear ample testimony of the place’s popularity in the ancient times.
In 737 A.D., Japan’s first onsen opened near Izumo, Shimane, and centuries later the first ryokan (inns) were built, offering food, accommodations, and soaking tubs called ofuro.
In ancient Rome there were three types of baths: baths at home (balnea), private baths (balnea privata), and public baths (balnea publica). The practice of bathing was so engrained that the Roman legions, during their long occupations in foreign lands, built their own baths at mineral and thermal springs in the newly conquered lands. Examples are found all over Europe.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 and the rise of Christianity, cleanliness was abandoned since the Church considered that the practice of bathing a prelude to forbidden behaviour.At Cluny custom required monks to take a full bath at Christmas and Easter. Private bath-rooms in castles, such as the one at Leeds, could often accommodate multiple bathers. From the 13th century onwards, baths gradually came into re-use, particularly in southern Europe under the influence of the Moors.
In the 1940s hot tubs began to appear in the USA, inspired by the Japanese ofuro. Hydrotherapy pumps were introduced by Jacuzzi. Fiberglass shell hot tubs appeared around 1970 and were soon superseded by cast acrylic shells.
The plumbing of the hot tub consists of:
- A pressure system delivering water to the jets
- A suction system returning water to the pumps.
- A filtration system: the plumbing has to incorporate a filter system to help clean the water. Some models use a separate small 24/7 filter pump while others use programmed settings of the main pumps.
- Induced air: The jets may use a venturi effect to incorporate air into the water stream for a lighter massage effect; this requires another set of hoses.
- Some models use an air blower to force air through a separate set of jets for a different “bubbly” massage effect; this is a separate system from the induced air.
- An ozone system: ozonation is a common adjunct to water maintenance, and if installed will have its own set of hoses and fittings.
Heating and energy use
Hot tubs are usually heated using an electric or natural gas heater, though there are also submersible wood fire hot tub heaters, as well as solar hot water systems. Hot tubs are also found at natural hot springs; in this case, the water may be dangerously hot and must be combined with cool water for a safe soaking temperature.
Effective insulation greatly improves the energy efficiency of a hot tub. There are several different styles of hot tub insulation: some manufacturers fill the entire cabinet with foam, while others insulate the underside of the shell, the inside of the cabinet, or both. Not surprisingly, many manufacturers advertise the superiority of their approach to insulation, but few independent side-by-side comparisons are available. The hot tub pump and hot tub heater represent most of the power consumption in a hot tub and vary in use of power depending on their size.
Energy efficiency of the tubs has been studied by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PGEC). The industry has responded to the study.
After this study, both the California Energy Commission and National Resources Canada have taken an interest in the energy efficiency of portable hot tubs (late 2006). California’s portable electric hot tub listing include R Values of thermal insulation, and standby watts.
Hot tub covers have been shown to reduce most of the evaporative losses from the pool when not in use. With this component of heat loss being 70% a cover with even a small R-value is able to achieve as much as a 75% reduction in heating costs when used as opposed to leaving the water surface exposed.
There are several different types of spa covers. Some covers are better for insulation and therefore are lighter on internal parts and energy efficiency. Some examples of covers are: insulated, aluminum, rolling, or a tonneau.
Sanitation and water quality
Since hot tubs are not drained after each use one must be careful to treat the water to keep it attractive and safe. It must be neither too alkaline nor too acidic, and must be sanitised to stay free of harmful microorganisms. Partly due to their high water temperatures, hot tubs can pose particular health risks if not regularly maintained: outbreaks of Legionnaires’ Disease have been traced to poorly sanitized hot tubs. Typically chlorine or bromine are used as sanitizers, but salt water chlorination is starting to become more common. Hot tubs should also be periodically shocked, which means oxidizing or breaking down organic material left behind from the sanitizer, as well as non-filterable material such as soap films and perspiration.
Sanitation can also be aided by a non-chemical ozonator.
For aesthetic reasons, and for the sanitizer to work properly, water should be neither too alkaline nor too acidic (low pH). The hardness level water, measured as the amount of dissolved calcium, is also important. Insufficient hardness can lead to corrosion and water foaming.
- Portable vinyl-liner hot tub: these are cheaper and smaller, and require less power, e.g. 110-120 V 15 A household power circuits in North America.
- Roto-molded hot tubs are constructed with the shell and surrounding cabinet as a single piece. They have molded seating.
- Acrylic: these hot tubs have a cast acrylic shell, supported by a frame structure, and are usually surrounded by a skirt of either cedar or simulated wood-grain plastic. They typically can seat two to seven persons or more.
- Cement: hot tubs can also be built of cement, above-ground, or in-ground like a small swimming pool.
- Wooden hot tubs: round wooden hot tubs peaked in popularity in the 1970s, having now been replaced by modern construction methods. Wooden hot tubs are often made of redwood or cedar and assembled from vertical staves and the structure is held together like wooden barrels, with metal bands.
- Stainless steel hot tubs can be made in any shape and size and are extremely durable.
- Glasfiber hot tub: glass reinforced polyester (GRP) hot tubs have made of a plastic matrix reinforced by fine fibers of glass.
Sitting in water above normal body temperatures can cause drowsiness which may lead to unconsciousness and subsequently result in drowning. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that water temperatures never exceed 40 degrees Celsius. A temperature of 37 degrees is considered safe for a healthy adult. Soaking in water above 39 degrees Celsius can cause fetal damage during the first three months of pregnancy.
It is also recommended to install residual-current devices for protection against electrocution. The greater danger associated with electrical shock in the water is that the person may be rendered immobile and unable to rescue themselves or to call for help and then drown.
Between 1980 and 1996, the CPSC had reports of more than 700 deaths in spas and hot tubs, about one-third of which were drownings to children under age five. In the same period 18 incidents were reported to the CPSC involving body part entrapment. To reduce the risk of entrapment, US safety standards require that each spa have two intakes for each pump, reducing the amount of suction. From 1999 – 2007 there were 26 reports to the CPSC concerning circulation entrapments hot tubs and spas, including three deaths.
In 2001 and in 2012 the CPSC issued recalls for spa heaters which overheated and caused fires.