Bigger and better

Luxury spas include special features such as color-changing

Here’s a factoid: there are more people in the state of
California with hot tubs than there are residents in the state of
Wyoming, according to Tras Berg, sales manager of California Home
Resort in Morgan Hill.
Here’s a factoid: there are more people in the state of California with hot tubs than there are residents in the state of Wyoming, according to Tras Berg, sales manager of California Home Resort in Morgan Hill.

New spa buyers aren’t after the plain plastic boxes of yesteryear, though, according to local retailers. Instead, they’re looking for amenities to enhance the sensory experience of a spa, and extra equipment to make maintenance less of a hassle.

“We’re selling more of the bigger, full-sized spas with full accessory packages,” said Berg. “As Americans, we have big appetites. We have bigger cars, bigger houses and now we have bigger spas.”

Luxury details, like built-in sound systems, attachable bars and mood-setting LED lights are popular add-ons. Some buyers even go for waterfalls, privacy screens and faux-flagstone exteriors.

“The trend is going more toward the appearance of the spa rather than the functionality of it,” said Malina Anderson, owner of Blackthorne Pools and Spas Inc. in Gilroy.

A 24-year veteran of the industry, Anderson has watched trends come and go. Right now, she said, people are purchasing spas with pearlescent interiors more reminiscent of the 1980s than the textured granite look fashionable in the 1990s.

But even if buyers pay more attention to aesthetics, the basic make-up of a spa’s interior has changed in subtle ways in the past 10 years, said Anderson.

“You still have combinations of benches and loungers you can choose from, but that’s personal preference,” said Anderson. “But if you get a regular bench, a lot of them come with lumbar support now, and some of them it’s more like sitting in a really comfortable recliner than a chair.”

The tubs are getting bigger, too, said Berg. Cal-Spa, one of the largest spa manufacturers in the United States, now makes spas that are 12 feet-by-8 feet and intended to seat 6 to 10 people.Previously, the biggest spa most manufacturers built was an 8-foot-by-8-foot cube.

“Some people get them instead of a pool – people who want water for their kids to splash around in, but don’t want the cost or the upkeep of a pool,” said Berg.

Older spas required careful monitoring by their owners, mainly to ensure that chlorine levels stayed healthy, but today’s spas use ozone, the same purification system used in many industrial sanitizers and home air filters, to clean their water instead.

“It’s a more constant sanitizer, and you don’t get out of your tub smelling like you’ve been in a swimming pool,” said Anderson. “It’s better for your skin, and, with the fumes of the chlorine, it’s probably better for you all around.”

The technology behind spa jets has also improved, said Berg. Buyers can, in most cases, choose from jets in not only a wide variety of sizes, but jets that whirl, move up and down, pulse or massage key body parts like the feet, shoulders and neck, he said.

“It’s a total sensory experience – the feeling of the warm water and the jets, the sound of the music and the look of the lights,” said Berg. “It’s like having a live-in masseuse that never gets tired.”

Installing a spa isn’t a bargain basement affair, though. The most high-end model that Anderson carries retails for $15,000, but most buyers are purchasing deluxe spas in the price range of $8,000 to $9,000, said Berg.

“If people just want the basic, no frills kind of package, they can get a spa for $4,000,” said Berg, but more often than not, they’re interested in extras like steps, deck bars and umbrellas and privacy screens.

“A lot of houses being built are kind of close together, so people can add privacy panels – a section of lattice that would go onto two sides of the spa – or gazebos to their spas so that people can’t just look over the fence and into their spa,” said Berg.

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