While eco-friendly seems a term far removed from the very concept of a hot tub — filled with energy-hogging heated and chemically treated water — area hot tub gurus say times are heading toward some much needed change.
New technology is bringing about a greener attitude about hot tubs, by way of water treatment, heating methods and temperature control.
Wasted water is high on the list of reasons hot tubs are not deemed eco-friendly, but some careful planning and maintenance can minimize the wastefulness on the part of hot tub owners.
Only draining a hot tub when necessary can cut down on hundreds or thousands of lost gallons each year.
As a rule of thumb, divide the number of gallons a hot tub holds by three, then divide that number by the average number of users in the tub per day. The answer is the number of days between water changes.
For example, a 450 gallon hot tub, with an average of three bathers per day, would require a water change every 50 days or so.
In addition, when draining hot tubs, don't send the water down an alley or storm drain. If it's relatively chemical free, you might want to use it to water the lawn. Test it on a small place first. It might seem like a small step, but every little bit helps.
Chemical-free and chlorine-light setups offer a softer hot tub experience while heater-free heating (yes, you read correctly) cuts down on energy bills, preserving precious resources.
In terms of avoiding chlorine and bromine, the two most commonly used hot tub chemicals, Hot Spring Spas of Southern Oregon owner Gordon Kamm says hot tub owners can choose between equipment-based sanitation or a chemical-free approach.
For those looking to upgrade and go chemical-free, combined ozone purification and silver ionization systems, such as the patented "EverFresh," clean water without a drop, tablet or granule of harsh chemical.
Use of such a system is included on newer hot tubs and can be added to some older models, Kamm says, starting with purchase of an ozonator for around $150.
"The older tubs might take retrofitting or might not, and may not be able to have it added," says Kamm. "You've got to see what's under the hood first."
Can't afford to retrofit the tub just yet? A non-mechanical approach to avoid chlorine and bromine, products like BaquaSpa and Nature2 offer gentler water sanitation.
The active ingredient in BaquaSpa products, recommended by Kamm, a polyhexamethylene biguanide setup controls bacteria and protects hot tubs from water stains and discoloration and bathers from itchy, red eyes and harsh chemical odors.
Nature2, another of a dozen alternatives, is a sanitizing system using patented mineral-bed technology to clean organic matter from water while working with the existing filtration system and a trace amount of chlorine to inhibit bacteria growth and eliminate contaminants.
Making strides toward reduced energy use, utilizing hot tub timers and keeping water cycling will reduce the number of needed water changes while keeping temperatures stable and equipment in good working order.
When the time comes to replace a hot tub, consider chemical-free systems like Caldera Spas or systems that recycle heat from hot tub pumps and motors, like Arctic Spas.
With a special design, Arctic Spas utilize a fiberglass-backed shell, instead of typical foam-packed polyurethane, and directs heat from pumps and motors to the shell of the hot tub to produce temperatures of up to 104 degrees.
"Basically what they do is take the heat generated by the equipment and recycle that heat to maintain the temperature of the spa," says Travis Skabelund of Arctic Spas in Medford.
"With most brands out there, that heat is lost to the environment," he says. "This takes all that heat that's being paid for, and lost to the environment, transferring it to the shell of the hot tub. We have hot tubs running at 104 degrees without the heaters even kicking on."
Finally, once water has been heated, help keep temperatures in check. Industry-standard hot tub covers, on average, lose seven to eight degrees per day. After-market custom covers reduce lost heat to one degree per day. Though standard covers can be found for starting around $200, Alan O'Neal of Medford's Coverplay, Inc. says the $575 price tag for a custom cover is nearly covered in the first year's energy savings.
"There are a lot of ways to be more energy efficient and it's definitely a big help to not lose all the heat that's generated," O'Neal says.
"Hot tubs aren't very green to begin with, but there are more and more ways becoming available to do things in a much better way to preserve limited resources," he says.