Into hot water

A hot tub can be a beautiful focal point for any spa or salon but calculating the costs in advance is key

Sitting in a hot tub looking out over the snow-clad grounds of a spa is the stuff of dreams for many clients, but get the planning wrong and hot tubs, or Jacuzzi-style pools, can be a nightmare for operators.

Working out a budget and likely return on investment can be tricky. Once you’ve signed the initial design and installation contracts, ongoing heating, ventilation, filtration, chemical and maintenance costs can be harder to predict.
Calculating the time it will take to make a return on that investment can also be complicated as use of the hot tub is rarely directly chargeable but will add value to the spa experience as a whole so may attract new clients or allow you to charge more for your treatments in general if pool usage is included.
Martin Ursell, managing director of Bos Leisure and director of Anapos by Steamworks, suggests that working out likely usage is the first step in setting a budget. “If you’ve only got seven bathers per hour you can get away with spending around £15,000,” he says. “But for more heavy commercial usage you need to invest in more plant equipment.” Gerard McCarthy, sales director of heat equipment manufacturer Dalesauna agrees. “If you’re thinking about a commercial spa pool you’d be ill-advised to spend less than £30,000,” he says.
Counting costs
Running costs vary enormously depending on size and usage but McCarthy suggests budgeting a minimum of £2,000 a year on chemicals alone.
Most commercial pools need a pump system that automatically releases minute doses of chlorine or, less commonly, bromine or salt, to kill germs. However, Ursell says you can get away with a skimmer spa for light commercial use. “But for more than this you need a deck-level or overflow spa,” he adds.
Spas also need to consider filtration, usually through either sand or glass. “Sand needs changing every six months, which costs upwards of £200 a time depending on the size of the pool,” says Ursell. Ventilation equipment to dehumidify the air and prevent the areas from steaming up also needs to be taken into account.
Deciding how you’ll heat the water is also key. “Using an existing boiler is usually the cheapest way,” says Ursell. “Though if a spa already has a ground heat energy pump, the pool can be fitted to this, which is cheaper.” Sometimes the only option is to have a complete electric system fitted for the new pool, which is more expensive so make sure you’ve checked your options in advance.
Heating costs are a major consideration as most spas keep pools heated 24 hours a day. “You can turn it down by 2-3°C at night then give it a boost in the morning but you can’t shut it down completely as it takes several hours to bring back up to temperature,” says McCarthy.
The Swimming Pool and Allied Trade Association (SPATA) advises members that heat-retaining covers can save as much as 80% of heat loss from the pool surface and that pool shell insulation will also help reduce heat losses.
Return on investment
Working out how and whether to charge for areas such as spa pools, which don’t offer specific treatments, is a hot topic. “Unless you’ve got other heat and water facilities such as saunas and steam rooms, you can’t really charge for use,” says Warrick Burton, managing director of Yorkshire based eco-spa Titanic.
McCarthy advises the way to estimate returns is to work out why you want a hydropool in the first place. If it is mainly to add to your heat suite and allow you to charge for its use you can calculate expected returns fairly easily. However, more often it is to enhance a facility and increase footfall. “Returns are then harder to calculate but you could potentially decide to charge an extra 5% or 10% for treatments because the whole spa experience is better,” he says.
Maintenance matters
Maintenance and infection control is more important in hot tubs than almost any piece of spa equipment. The potential dangers came under the spotlight – and the scrutiny of health and safety officers – with the outbreak of Legionella in pools around eight years ago.
“People were burying balance tanks outside and never checking them. Then clients would get ill and they’d find the tanks had dead rats in and all sorts,” recalls Burton. “I still wouldn’t go near a little six-man whirlpool because there’s too much scope for infection.”
Titanic has larger hydropools with individual jet beds. “There’s a great saying that ‘the solution to pollution is dilution’. Larger pools have more water so less of a concentration of germs,” says Burton.
Avoiding a concentration of germs in any pool involves keeping a good dilution rate. The rule of thumb is usually 30 litres of water per bather per day and large spas may see 20 to 30 people per hour getting in and out for 12 hours a day.
Testing for germs and chemical levels involves a reasonable time commitment from staff and that too needs to be factored into any budget. Ursell says most spas will need to do manual tests three or four times a day and some spas are oblivious to this when planning a pool. Titanic Spa manually tests all its pools every two hours. Additionally, automatic chemical dosing systems usually check levels several times a minute.
“Even though chemicals are usually dosed automatically, environmental health demands you do manual checks, cross-check them against the automatic system and keep records, because all the gunk in the water coats the sensors and can impair the reading, so you may have to check three times a day,” says McCarthy. Pools also need to be emptied and cleaned regularly, which takes upwards of 30 minutes.
Titanic Spa has three pool plant operators with qualifications from the Institute of Sport and Recreation Management (ISRM). “Unless you do a course, you’ll struggle,” says Burton.” You can’t just have a go and work it out for yourself.”
Space invader
Calculating the space you need for a hot tub and plant room needs to come early in the equation. “You need to be realistic about where it will go. Can you really get it up to the fifth floor and if you can, will the building take the weight of all that water?”, says McCarthy. “The structure will be at least 2.5m in diameter so you often need to knock down a wall.”
However, Ursell suggests that existing spas can look at hydropool structures that come in two or three smaller pieces that fit together.
Building regulations state you must have at least 2m of headroom from the highest step so if you are installing a hot tub in a new-build facility it’s usually easiest to put it on the ground floor and have it sunken.
One of the strongest messages from pool suppliers is the necessity to bring an expert on board at the very beginning, not least to make sure the architect leaves enough space for the pool plant equipment.
“Whatever space you have for the pool, you’ll need at least the same again for the plant room, which needs to be close to the pool but not too close because the pumps will be noisy,” says Burton.
McCarthy adds: “A common mistake made by architects who have no spa experience is just to draw a circle on the plans for the pool with no consideration of how it’s going to be heated and maintained.”
However, for all the costs and commitments, the hydropool is often the most popular facility in the spa and a major draw for clients. “When health clubs give potential members a tour, the Jacuzzi-pool is traditionally where they ask them to sign up, because they can imagine themselves sitting in there, looking out over the grounds and its aspirational,” says McCarthy. PB
Lorne Kennedy, European sales director for pool design and manufacture specialist Barr + Wray suggests: