By Terry Arko
Throughout history, water has been considered an everlasting commodity. However, much is changing and worldwide water supplies are dwindling due to pollution from overuse and industrialization. Water is a necessity for drinking, cleansing, hydrating, agriculture, food processing, power generation and sewage transport; therefore, the further its replenishment becomes unsustainable, regulations dealing with its use will only increase. As a result, the idea of selling hot tubs as a luxury item could become more difficult. Further, it also begs the question, what will the future hold for an industry where water is the integral part of what is sold and serviced?
To avoid the effects of possible water regulations and ensure the success of the hot tub market, it is time for the industry as a whole to review how hot tub water is treated and managed.
Do current chemical programs create waste?
Traditional water maintenance for hot tubs requires draining the water once every three months. Considering the average hot tub contains 1,325 L (350 gal) of water, and assuming owners perform regular maintenance, this means 5,300 L (1,400 gal) of water is drained from one hot tub per year. When looking at the bigger picture, and taking into account there are approximately 6.5 million hot tubs in North America, it would mean more than 30 billion litres (8.4 billion gallons) of water is drained from hot tubs annually.
Despite hot tub water usage being only a drop in the bucket when considering Canada (1,494 m3 [52,760 cf] per person/capita) and the United States (1,682 m3 [59,399 cf] per person/capita) consume more water than the average of 14 other countries,1 if strict water conservation restrictions were enacted, it would certainly have a profound effect on the hot tub industry. Therefore, a water maintenance program, which would be effective at conserving water, would be ideal. For instance, if draining requirements were reduced to once per year, it would result in a savings of more than 21 billion litres (5.5 billion gallons) of water.
This type of forward thinking is required to ensure the future success of the hot tub industry. Current water maintenance programs are involved and cumbersome and usually mean adding various chemical substances, with each increasing the buildup of solids. This leads to further problems, which makes the water increasingly difficult to maintain; thus, draining the water becomes the obvious answer.
Why do people buy hot tubs?
When asking consumers why they purchased their hot tub, typical responses would include: stress relief, relaxation, physical therapy or health or simply family fun. The one thing they would never say is they bought it to practice water chemistry.
Today, consumers are becoming more resistant to maintenance programs that involve measuring and adding a variety of products to a bucket and waiting to pour the concoction into the water—this is the era of blister-packaged dishwashing soap and one-cup coffee packs. When considering maintenance programs for hot tubs, the industry must find ways to incorporate simplicity into the system as consumers are demanding it.
Norm Coburn, owner of New England Spas and Saunas in Natick, Ma., agrees.
“Most potential hot tub customers simply want to know if they are going to be a slave to maintaining water chemistry; they want to know how difficult or easy it’s going to be. Once I assure them it will only take a few minutes per week, they tend not to dwell on chemistry,” he says.
“My business has always focused on a ‘minimalist’ approach to using chemicals in spas. This has been good for the environment as well as my business, as we focus more on high-margin services rather than low-margin, commodity chemicals.”
And, as water rates increase and regulations on draining and usage become more prevalent, dealers are doing their part to ensure the consumer’s perception of hot tub ownership does not change.
For instance, Alice Cunningham, founder and co-owner of Olympic Hot Tubs in Washington State, explains to her customers that using a hot tub is far better for the environment and conserves far more water than a typical bathtub.
“Many of our customers use their spa for stress relief after a busy day,” she says. “They want to sit in hot water and let the tension leave their body. However, if they did this in a bathtub, it would be far more wasteful and damaging to the environment.”
For example, a typical 303-L (80-gal) bathtub used twice a week for six months would require 10 times the water needed for most average hot tubs. Further, if compared to a typical jetted or whirlpool bathtub used over the same period, it would require 16 times the water.