The Heavenly Haven of Hydrotherapy Bathtubs

It's the dream of every busy mom or anyone who works on their feet — to shut the door on their day and sink into a blissfully warm bubbling bathtub for a time of personal rest and renewal. While it may seem like only a dream, hydrotherapy bathtubs are becoming increasingly popular as people strive to make their homes a relaxing place to unwind.

Jim Cheshire, showroom manager for Budge-McHugh Supply Co. in Medford, says hydrotherapy bathtubs fall into three basic categories. The most common type he sells is a soaking tub. Equipped with a recirculating heater, it keeps the water from going cold just as you get settled in. "It's perfect for the person who wants to sit in the tub with some incense and a book," he says.

the upgrades

Jim Cheshire of Budge-McHugh Supply Co. compares buying a bathtub to buying a car. While he estimates that "a nice whirlpool or air bath plus one or two amenities" can cost approximately $2,500 to $3,500, the more options you choose, the higher the cost. Basic features might include a 3-speed pump or thermostat control, but there are additional choices for those who want to indulge:

• combined features (for example, whirlpool jets in an air bathtub)

• varying contours for upright bathers or "scootchers"— those who like to lay back

• hand-held showers

• low water shut off (especially nice for parents with young children)

• underwater mood lighting

• touch pad controls

• massage stages

• overhead/ceiling-mounted shower heads

• floating remote controls

• aromatherapy options where scent is added and warmed by the tub

• flip-up LCD TVs

• transducers that mount between the tub walls and turn the water into your "speaker" for music

There is truly something for all tastes and budgets. Once you've tailored your tub to suit yourself, you may never want to get out!

The second type is the hydro massage or whirlpool tub. Cheshire says the forced water of this type of tub is great for targeted massage to areas of the body like hips or feet, but notes that some people have found these to be more forceful than they want.

For those looking for something in between, air baths provide a gentle alternative. "Even at its most intense, it won't be as aggressive as a whirlpool tub," says Cheshire. Warm air is injected into the water giving an effect Cheshire describes as "like sitting in a glass of champagne."

If that sounds too good to resist, what should you consider when planning your new hydrotherapy hideaway?

One of the first things to look at, says Dave Kennedy of Pacwest Plumbing in Medford, is the size of your hot water tank. "Normally you wouldn't have to have an extra source for your tub," he says, but he always recommends looking at the water usage in your home.

"It's one of the first things we look at," Cheshire agrees. "You need to have adequate water if you're going to enjoy the tub." If you have regular demands on your hot water supply, it might be wise to install a larger water heater or even consider a separate water heater for the room with the tub.

Space is also an issue. Hydrotherapy tubs can be larger capacity than a standard tub and usually need space for a pump or blower, as well as a surround of some sort to house the tub. If you are remodeling, Kennedy cautions, you want to be sure you can tie into existing plumbing. And you may need to exercise some creativity with the installation. For example, Cheshire points out that the blower for an air bathtub can be located up to 25 feet away from the tub, so maybe an unused closet could house it.

Having a shower included may require some creativity, too. "Typically, [the tubs] are placed into a pedestal of sorts," says Kennedy. "If you stood in the tub to shower, you'd get water on the horizontal surface." While the tubs are constructed to avoid standing water (even the interior piping slopes), the surrounds need to be protected to avoid problems down the road. Though not impossible, extra care will be needed with installing both the tub and shower system combo.

And, of course, you want to consider the quality and construction of the tub you choose. The biggest culprits? Noise and vibration, says Cheshire. "It interrupts your pleasure."

Look at how the tub and its equipment are constructed and insulated to try to minimize the interference. Buy the best quality surface you can afford. Be sure they are properly installed. And then, sit back and soak it all up.

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