By Vic Walker
Today, most consumers are very conscious of energy use—no matter the product. Therefore, it is important for manufacturers to consider the impact their products have on the environment. The trend to go ‘green’ is growing and has spawned several innovations as it pertains to product design and development. This method of thinking has also made its way into the hot tub industry. While most consumers know what a modern hot tub is, most still think they cost a lot of money to own and operate. In fact, the cost of operation is one of the most commonly asked questions by consumers shopping for a hot tub.
Early hot tubs might not have been the model of efficiency that modern designs are, but what appliances in the late ’70s were? In fact, most appliances were void of any energy guidelines until 1992 when the Energy Star program was initiated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This is a voluntary labelling program designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products to reduce greenhouse emissions. Computers and monitors were some of the first labelled products; however, the EPA eventually expanded the label to include office products, and residential heating and cooling equipment.
In 1996, the EPA partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and now the Energy Star label can be found on most major appliances, including office equipment, lighting, and electronics, in addition to new homes, and commercial and industrial buildings. The program’s overall goal is to give consumers a valid third-party endorsement, allowing them to shop and choose products that have the best energy savings.
In 2010, for instance, the program saved businesses, organizations, and consumers approximately $18 billion. More recently, Energy Star has been a driving force behind the more widespread use of technological innovations such as fluorescent lighting, power management systems for office equipment, and low standby energy use. The latter is what helped the hot tub industry create some of its consumer guidelines as well.
Early hot tub design did not focus on energy efficiency
Early hot tub designs were not that energy efficient. Product design was focused more on promoting relaxation and the product’s social aspects rather than energy efficiency. For example, some of the first wooden hot tubs were gas heated, prone to leaks, and void of any insulation.
With the onset of fibreglass and acrylic manufacturing processes, self-contained portable hot tubs became more efficient by default. Jumping ahead more than 35 years, today’s hot tubs are complex, insulated appliances that are built to stringent energy-use guidelines.
In contrast, it should also be noted, many consumers still want an inground plaster hot tub when they install a pool. These designs are beautiful and may look more integrated, but in the areas of energy efficiency, they cannot be compared to a self-contained hot tub. Plaster hot tubs take a long time to heat up and typically do not have an insulated cover. Once heated and used, the water is then mixed with the pool water volume, losing all of the heat. For a consumer who plans to use their hot tub on a regular basis, portable self-contained designs are far more cost effective to own and operate.
What makes today’s hot tub more efficient?
A key area that has helped hot tubs become more energy efficient is component design. While all hot tubs basically use the same components (e.g. hydraulic pumps, heaters, light-emitting diode [LED] lighting, insulation, and reinforcement systems, etc.), it is the combination of all these (or some) that help the modern hot tub attain an energy-efficient design.
While most hot tub manufacturers do not design their own components, they work closely with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that specialize in component design unique to the hot tub environment.
As energy efficiency is always top of mind for most consumers, OEMs have focused on new and improved designs for hot tub manufacturers to utilize in their designs to help lower energy consumption and cost of ownership.