By Doug Gillespie
The residential swim spa category is in the same place hot tubs were 15 years ago. At that time, 95 per cent of all hot tubs were installed indoors, in a deck or in the ground (without a cabinet). These methods limited the number of consumers who could afford a hot tub, as they were forced to figure out the logistics behind issues such as service accessibility, ground water problems and protection from rodents.
Once the industry started to understand these installation hurdles were prohibiting sales growth, hot tub manufacturers started engineering and marketing above-ground, easy-to-install ‘portable’ hot tubs. This portable option increased the product’s popularity and initiated the sales growth the industry witnessed over the last 10 years.
What is inhibiting swim spa sales?
The same issues that hindered the growth of the hot tub market continue to hold back swim spa sales. The average swim spa has 10 times the number of fittings, suctions, returns and plumbing components a regular swimming pool has—making inground swim spa installations difficult and costly to design and execute.
This method of installation involves lowering the swim spa into an excavated hole; soil is then used to refill the area around the swim spa.
This type of installation can present a challenge when dealing with plumbing repairs. In the event of a cracked pipe or loose fitting, locating a leak can prove rather difficult. Water takes the path of least resistance; with a swim spas’ extensive plumbing and numerous fittings, finding a leak would be similar to looking for a needle in a haystack.
Ground water pressure also presents a problem, as most swim spas are not equipped with hydrostatic relief valves, which allow pressure to equalize when ground water gets too high. Without one, when frozen soils thaw in the spring and the water level in the swim spa is not filled high enough during winterization, the swim spa can ‘pop’ out of the ground.
Equipment installation can also be a dilemma. Most equipment in backfill projects is connected remotely. This means the equipment is installed anywhere from 4.5 to 6.1 m (15 to 20 ft) from the swim spa, which inevitably decreases water pressure levels to the swim jets.
Concrete vault installations
These installations involve constructing an inground cement ‘room’ in which the swim spa is inset. Although this method is better than a backfill installation, it does present its own unique challenges.
The first obstacle to overcome is cost, as a vault can range from $10,000 to $20,000. Similar to a backfill installation, ground water issues are the most common problem. Even with a properly installed gravel drain and sump pump, vault installations can be prone to flooding. If flooding occurs and is not detected quickly, the swim spa’s electronic and mechanical equipment can become damaged.
These installations are also subject to rodent infestations. The warm environment created in the vault provides pests with an ideal home and leaves the swim spa susceptible to damage caused by rats and mice gnawing on wires, plumbing and other components.
Most swim spa manufacturers create one-piece acrylic shell designs, which can make indoor installation quite difficult. How can a one-piece 5.2- x 2.4-m (17- x 8-ft) swim spa be delivered and installed in a house that is already built? In most cases, a swim spa is installed during new home construction or, if it is an existing home, during construction of an addition, such as a four-season room. Installation of proper ventilation equipment to handle humidity levels and condensation can also present a challenge.