HOWEVER SLOWLY, it is getting to be spring, and that means homeowners have license to think about projects that will enhance their homes in warm weather. Just imagine, for instance, sitting on your deck on a warm summer evening, sipping a glass of wine and watching the sunset. Nice, huh?
But why stop there?
Imagine you are out there on a warm evening with your wine, sitting in a tub of gently pulsating warm water that washes away all the aches and anxieties of the day. Now that's really nice.
Dreaming of installing a hot tub or spa on a porch or deck?
It's a great idea carried out by about 3 1/2 million people across the United States, according to Jack Cergol, of the National Spa and Pool Institute in Alexandria, Va.
Today's molded plastic models with high-tech hardware are a far cry from the wine barrel cut in half and filled with boiling water that started the whole hot-tub phenomenon -- in California, of course -- back in the '50s, Cergol said. "But people wanted more than hot water that sort of bubbled at them," he said. Today spas are hailed for relaxation, stress reduction and restorative qualities. They even have therapeutic value, for conditions such as muscle aches and arthritis.
"There's also the Hollywood glamour angle," Cergol said, but, in fact, institute research shows that most people are installing hot tubs as family gathering centers.
They fit the "cocooning" lifestyle that still lingers from the late '80s, Cergol said, as a place where busy people can meet, unwind and share the day's experiences.
"Traditionally it was the dinner table," he said, "now it's the hot tub."
(He noted that kids love them, but that the institute doesn't recommend use of a hot tub for children 5 or younger.)
One great thing about hot tubs is you can put them almost anywhere -- down in the basement, out on the patio, or up on the deck. And you can use it all year -- even if it is outside, if you are willing to brave the cold to get to it.
All hot tubs need is a structure strong enough to support the spa and the water, a protected place (with easy access) for the equipment, and connection to electrical power, usually 220 volts, on a ground-fault-interrupt circuit.
The work-in-progress deck-turned-screened porch Ron has been working on recently includes a 12-foot octagonal gazebo that houses a four-person hot tub.
The homeowners included the gazebo when they put an addition on the house and moved and replaced the deck.
One of the more confusing aspects of shopping for a spa is what to call it. Cergol said that after years of preferring "spa," the industry now is leaning toward "hot tub."
Either of those terms refers to a tub that has jets and a pump to circulate the water and massage your body, and heaters to keep the water warm. Spas or hot tubs are usually free-standing, and operate like a small pool; they are filled with a hose, have built-in filtering systems and usually a cover to keep the heat in and the bugs and leaves out.
A whirlpool tub, on the other hand, is a built-in structure that has jets to circulate the water, but operates as a bathtub -- that is, it's filled and drained every time it's used.
You can take a bath in a whirlpool tub, but bathing in a hot tub is not recommended.
While the comfort factor is a major reason to relish a hot tub, Cergol cited another aspect that's getting attention these days. Besides being good therapy for aching joints, hot tubs may be just what the doctor ordered for maintaining healthy relationships. A recent national survey concluded that the latest status symbol for which Americans long is a stable, monogamous relationship, Cergol said, and the spa and pool folks are convinced that hot tubs can enhance togetherness. "It's a great place to talk things over," Cergol said.
Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc. of Baltimore and current president of the Remodelers Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.
If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at roenovator.net or Karol at karol.menzialtsun.com. Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.
Pub Date: 3/29/98