Whirlpool tubs, more often referred to as Jacuzzis, are one of the more popular add-on items to a home. However, the term Jacuzzi is actually a brand name and doesn’t apply to all types of whirlpool tubs. Many people think of them as being a necessity for professional athletes in their training room, whether it is in their home or at a sports facility. Their popularity is based on two primary features: their ability to help a person relax and as a method of keeping the body’s muscles toned and flexible. Whatever the reason, there are many considerations that need to be made before stepping into one or making a final purchase.
Many hotels and some cabin retreats have the whirlpool tub as a luxury feature for weary travelers and vacationers. They are sometimes found outdoors, but generally are part of the bathroom featured as an amenity. However, a whirlpool tub is not recommended for people with cardiovascular conditions or diabetics who often experience skin problems after using the tub.
The mechanical function of a whirlpool tub is based on water being circulated through the whirlpool at a high rate of speed and power using either air or water jets. The number of jets will vary depending on what type of jet is being used, the size of the whirlpool, and the general design of the pool. Location of the jets can become very important if the jets are not adjustable. Water jets are far more likely to have this characteristic. The forceful flow from both types of jets will generally circulate the tub of water, but water jets can be used to direct the stream to a specific area of the body.
The mantra that “bigger is better” is very likely to apply to the whirlpool tub. First, the tub needs to be big enough for the user to be able to sit upright and fully extend their legs to get the maximum benefit. In advertisements, people are often seen sitting upright with their hands and arms on the sides of the tub. An owner’s preferred tub size may be restricted by the location of the whirlpool. The bathroom is usually the choice for the tub, though a large living area such as a den can be an alternative if plumbing and electrical modification are made to the area. Bathrooms tend to be smallish, so keeping things simple by measuring the minimum potential “stretch out” space required for the user’s legs is the starting point. Width will be determined by the person’s body size because unless the whirlpool is being used solely for the legs, its basic purpose will go unfulfilled. Most whirlpools will be found in the corner of the bathroom due to the design of the home’s water and electrical systems.
After size, the shape of the whirlpool defines it character and purpose. Most tubs are rectangular (square) or oval. These are the types that will most often be found in indoor bathrooms due to the space and size considerations. However, you can find triangular and even hourglass designs that will add to the appearance and value of the home. Indoor designs are typically for one or two people, and is what distinguishes the whirlpool tub from other types of tubs. While most images of whirlpool tubs show it as an installed structure in the bathroom, there are also freestanding models that require no actual installation. Training rooms and basements are two of the more common places freestanding models can be used.
An essential characteristic of the whirlpool tub is the electric pump. In order for the air or water jets to perform their function, they need to be powered by a pump that forces air or water into the jets. This is not a one-size-fits-all proposition as different people may require different power jet levels to meet their personal needs. Also, the number of jets to be powered will determine the minimum size of the pump to be used. The power of the jets will be determined by a dial-type control that is connected to the pump, usually located on an outside wall. There may also be a timer that automatically shuts the pump off for a predetermined amount of time to protect the individual jets from damage and the general health of the person.
Though the water/air jet experience feels great to the person, there is at least one negative characteristic to the use of a whirlpool tub. Bacteria and mold are likely to build up inside of the tubes that push the air or water through, becoming a potential health problem. These growths are more likely to be found in water jets, so regular cleaning and maintenance is a must. In most cases this does require a periodic visit from a maintenance professional, the exception being that you fail to properly maintain your whirlpool tub. You will notice black flakes on top of your newly filled tub, which is mold from the jets.
The average whirlpool tub will have a 60 gallon water capacity. Based on the average person’s body weight, it will require the tub to be filled with about 39 gallons of water. This is an important number because the owner will have to determine the desired temperature of the water and be able to have a hot water heater that meets the demand. There are units that have an optional heating element to keep the water hot, so a single fill will be sufficient to maximize the stress-reducing features of the whirlpool action.
When it comes to the physical tub itself, the whirlpool tub is much deeper than your average household tub. You step into a standard tub but your step down into a whirlpool tub. It is a feature that is best understood by personally experiencing it, and the importance of this feature will be seen affecting other aspects of the tub, such as its cost and functioning.
Operating a whirlpool tub is simply noisy. Between the noise from the pump powering the jets to the jets themselves, a quiet environment is only possible with a more calming source of sound. Some people soak in the noise as a part of the whirlpool experience, but if you are not this type of person you need to plan ahead before starting it up and taking the plunge.
The material the tub is constructed from is another consideration, both for maintaining the temperature of the water and the degree of maintenance required. There are three basic types of material used in the construction of a whirlpool tub. The most popular is fiberglass, and for good reason. Whether the tub is professionally installed or a do-it-yourself job, fiberglass weighs much less than the alternatives. This makes it easy to install, but even more importantly it works well in virtually any type of home structure. If your current tub or shower area supports the weight of normal material, choosing fiberglass will not require any additional support beans or structures in the bathroom area.
Maintenance of fiberglass whirlpools is far simpler than the alternative materials, but this potentially comes at a longer term cost. It is easily scratched, laying the foundation for future problems. While it is also easily repaired, you may want to get a new tub as over time the color of the tub will fade. This fact will not bother some people since it is only an aesthetic problem, but what offsets the need for replacement is the other fact that it is the least expensive of all of the available materials.
Acrylic is the second choice for whirlpool owners, mainly because its glossy finish brightens up the bathroom and has many of the same advantages and disadvantages as fiberglass. One issue that separates acrylic from fiberglass is while fiberglass only fades, acrylic discolors. There is a difference between a faded yellow tub and a brown tub that was originally yellow. Because acrylic tubs are more expensive than fiberglass, there needs to be a good reason to choose this middle material.
Third on the list is cast iron. People who have owned a cast iron skillet or pot know of the tendency to rust even when not constantly surrounded by water. Proper care and maintenance is essential to anything made of cast iron. But with regular maintenance a cast iron whirlpool tub offers advantages neither fiberglass nor acrylic can match. There is no need to be concerned with scratches or dents, and virtually any chemicals that come in contact with it will not harm the surface. There is a reason they are the most expensive – they are likely to last a lifetime. What must be considered is that the weight of a cast iron tub can stress a home’s bathroom structure, so opting for this material requires a professional evaluation of the current bathroom design.
The presence of safety features such as arm rests or grab bars are far more likely to be seen with a whirlpool tub than a regular tub. Safety is a key consideration when choosing a whirlpool model because experienced users know it is possible your body will feel like Jello after spending 30 minutes or so in the circulating water. Even after testing your limits, standing up to get out of the tub presents a safety hazard. You don’t always fall out of a tub; you can fall backwards into it.
Many installed whirlpool tubs have a deck that surrounds and encloses the tub. This allows you to have items close by to make your hydrotherapy treatment more enjoyable. Though electronic devices are frowned upon (not everyone can be Vivian in Pretty Woman) there are safe options for listening to music that are suitable for the deck. Freestanding whirlpools will not have this option available.
While many articles on the characteristics of whirlpool tubs come to a sudden halt at this point, there are other characteristics in the overall bathroom environment that will tell you whether the tub is a whirlpool type or not. One of the giveaways is the type of ventilation in the bathroom. Because whirlpools use a significant amount of hot water, which produces steam, the bathroom will need to have adequate ventilation to prevent the formation of mold, mildew, and other high humidity growths on the walls and interior of the bathroom. This is true of freestanding models as well.
The need for an adequate size hot water tank has previously been mentioned, but the other consideration, electricity, also has to be taken into account. The electrical outlet used to plug in the unit may or may not be hidden, but it often requires special wiring and outlet for safe operation. Also, the controller on the wall is usually a dead giveaway.
Many bathroom areas will have higher ceilings to reduce the amount of heat building up during the operation of the whirlpool. While greater ventilation is necessary, it is best to avoid having fans drawing the warm air out of the room while you are trying to enjoy the hot water massage you are experiencing. Regardless of the material the tub is made from the heated water gets cool fairly quickly. Higher ceilings move the warm air up without allowing it to escape as quickly, while allowing you to breathe normally.
The characteristics of a whirlpool tub can be found in the positioning of the water and/or air jets along the sides of the tub, its deep tub and large water requirements, and its simple geometrical shape. Unlike a soaking tub, it is noisy but this disadvantage is offset by the relaxing experience that defines the whirlpool tub. Perhaps more than its physical characteristics, the whirlpool tub is defined by the resulting experience its users have. Some people wonder how whirlpool tubs still exist given their water consumption and maintenance requirements, but it was never intended to replace the conventional tub or shower.