Spas gain popularity and gadgets |

Spas gain popularity and gadgets

“From early times, people from the four corners of the globe have benefited from the therapeutic qualities of hot water. Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Turkish, Japanese, and Nordic cultures have long partaken in hot bathing. The earliest examples of hot tubs may have been calderas into which hot stones were placed to heat the water.”

by Sam Bauman

Appeal Staff Writer

I’m not sure where that quote comes from, but it pretty well sums up the history of the ubiquitous hot tub or spa of today. And also today, there are few areas of the United States where the hot tub is as popular as in the Sierra Nevada.

From the small, portable tub to the complex giants complete with stereo and TV, the pulsing jets of water soothe and comfort users after a hard day in the mountains.

So what’s out there for the homeowner thinking of adding a hot tub to the patio? And how much do they cost?

Shierrie L. Johnson, a sales representative at Sierra Nevada Spas and Billiards on at 3270 S. Carson St., had some answers.

“Prices range from $3,000 to $12,000,” she said. “The box shape is the most popular because you can always find room for one more person in the corners. The box is just more comfortable.”

Obviously, round-shaped spas or tubs are less adaptable. “Round ones don’t have the molded shapes that people like,” Johnson said.

Average sales in Carson Country range between $5,000 and $7,000, she said.

Of course, spas these days come with a bewildering assortment of nozzles or jets that spew water mixed with air.

The filtration system is critical in hot tubs, Johnson said. “It’s important to have a filtration system that is separate from the tub itself and is in a tub or container. If there is no container to catch the material caught from the tub, it falls right back into the tub and has to be filtered out again.”

A variety of chemicals can be used to control bacteria, with a chlorine-based type most popular locally. “Chlorine converts the O2 to O3 – ozone – which is a natural purifier.”

Modern spas are made of tough plastic and measure up to 15 feet square.

“That’s why we have a special truck designed to handle spas. We lift them on the truck on their sides. Then we need an entrance 40 inches wide. If there’s no entrance, we use a crane to lift them into place. That can cost $3,000 to $12,000.”

Often buyers want a gazebo to go with the spa. Handsome redwood buildings start at about $4,495 for a 10-by-10-foot structure.

Then there are accessories such as umbrellas that lean over the spa ($395), wooden stairs ($200 and up) or a built-in stereo system.

“But there’s more to a spa then just buy and jump in. Maintenance is critical – keeping the water free of bacteria, knowing when to add chemicals, knowing how all the controls work and what they mean,” said Johnson. “For the first couple of months, it’s important to have a licensed spa contractor near to help smooth things out.”

Spa use has changed lifestyles since the baby boomers have started to retire, Johnson said.

“Families tend to stay home more, want to do things together. It’s safe at home, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in the spa with my son and worked out teen problems and mom problems. You can’t fight in a spa.

“We’ve got a slogan: the best things in life are wet.”

Sierra Nevada Saps also sells saunas ($3,500 for a two-person unit, $7,000 for four persons) and pool tables. If you’re thinking of looking into spas (or saunas or pool tables), call Johnson at 882-3513.


The ancient Roman baths had little to do with personal hygiene. They were aquatic recreational arenas where hundreds of citizens could soak, lounge, and talk.

In Japan, hot-water bathing in freestanding wooden tubs called “ofuro” has been a custom for centuries. American military Occupation forces brought knowledge and admiration of this custom home with them after World War II.

Beginning more or less about a century ago, resort spas gained popularity in various parts of the country, including Saratoga. N.Y. Legend has it that in 1771, Americana Indians carried ailing Sir William Johnson to High Rock Spring in hopes of a cure. Other notables followed, including Gen. Philip Schuyler, George Washington and Alexander Hamilton.

In the 1960s, the first wooden hot tubs began to appear in North America, primarily in California. These early prototypes, inspired by the Japanese ofuro, were sometimes makeshift, often-ingenious devices made from used oak barrels and vats. But bacteria lodged in the wood.

Demand for a practical alternative led to the invention of the lightweight, formed-plastic shell. This became the basis for the popular acrylic spas of today.

Once part of the Roman Empire (now east of Belgium), the town of Spa is where the word “spa” was derived. The town is still a well-known resort for baths and mineral springs. The word “spa” (originally Hungarian) became a generic expression referring to natural mineral springs.

In 1954, an Italian family of seven brothers lead by Joseph Jacuzzi developed and patented a portable whirlpool pump for a relative with rheumatoid arthritis. The pump was later refined and coupled with jets using an air-injection system for bubbles. This air-water mixture proved to be highly therapeutic and spawned an industry that made “Jacuzzi” a household name.

– Sam Bauman