By the time Anthony Ginesi arrived, the damage had been done. The upset customers couldn’t figure out why their year-old, $10,000 portable spa — which someone else had sold them — was losing water.
But when Ginesi saw the spa, he knew exactly why. “You could see the pavers on one side had settled a whole lot,” says the spa service manager for Budd’s Pools in Deptford, N.J. “I could almost stick my fingers under one spot.”
He had seen this problem before. The paver contractor hadn’t done a thorough job creating a solid base. As the pavers settled, it put the spa on uneven footing. The weight of the improperly distributed water caused the shell to first warp, then crack.
Fortunately, Ginesi was able to repair the crack, get the spa back on solid footing and leave the site with happy customers.
But he and others say it’s just one example of what can happen when installers don’t take the proper precautions when delivering and placing a hot tub. Such care, experts say, should begin with a pre-sale site check, then continue during the moving and placing of the spa.
Without proper care and planning, the units can become damaged in a way that voids the manufacturers’ warranty — leaving the seller to explain why.
“Those are some of the nightmares that can happen,” Ginesi says.
To avoid that scenario, here’s a step-by-step look at how to properly site check, site prep, move and place portable spas.
1. The pre-sale site check
This is a crucial step in the process, one many retailers often overlook. The most critical question they forget to ask also is the most basic: Do you have room for the spa you want?
Ginesi recommends factoring in at least 2 extra feet of space around the spa for accouterments such as stairs and general breathing room. “Give it plenty of room and think of how you’re going to accent the spa with accessories,” he says.
Often these accessories include a cover lifter, which can require 16 inches or more to work and store the cover, says Wendy Purser, aquatic engineering technologist with Hampstead Pool, Spa & Patio in Hampstead, N.C. “You should research the type of cover lifter you are using before placing the spa,” she says.
Once the proper amount of room is established, it’s time to make sure there’s a flat, level surface for the spa. But where the customers wants to place the spa, and what makes sense are not always compatible, says Bob Owens, vice president of Poco Verde Pools and Landscaping in Tempe, Ariz. For example, Owens says customers may want their spa against a perimeter wall, but many HOAs forbid such placement. It’s important to check HOA rules before settling on a site.
Customers also must consider electricity. Spas typically require installation of a 220V GFCI-protected outlet and only have about a 20-foot cord. It can be costly to run electricity to a spa, so the closer it is to the outlet, the more economical.
Something many sellers forget is septic fields and tanks. You really don’t want to place spas in these areas, Ginesi says, because the spa’s weight can collapse them.
“If it sinks a couple years later, that could run into a bad situation,” he says. “It’s like, ‘What’s that odor?’ You don’t want to know.”
Also be on guard for sprinklers and other hidden underground elements that can damage a spa or get in the way when installing it in the ground, Owens says.
After checking off all those considerations, look at the site itself. Is it sloped too much? This is especially important when placing spas on decks, since most are sloped for drainage. Gannon says there’s nothing worse than an unlevel spa since water is such a natural level. Too much sloping the wrong way can lead to standing water.
Remember, too, that running spas can be noisy. Surfaces such as tile can amplify that noise, making relaxation more difficult, warns Purser. The same type of surface can be slippery when wet.
Finally, don’t forget to look up. Beware of trees that drop seeds or sap, which can stain the spa. In the same way, make sure the spa is far enough away from the roof. “You don’t want runoff from your roof falling onto your spa,” Owens says.
2. Site prep
This next step is a crucial one, experts warn, since improper preparation can void the manufacturer’s warranty.
An inadequate pad is one of the most common and costly mistakes installers make, Owens says.
“Very few contractors are looking at the specifications of the spa company for the pad itself,” he says. “If that’s not followed it allows the spa company to have a loophole to say it’s the installer’s fault if something goes wrong.”
Most manufacturers require a 4- to 6-inch-thick concrete pad. Ginesi’s firm takes that one step further and adds five pilings — four in the corners and one in the center — to add even more stability.
Proper support is imperative when spas are placed on decks, too. Purser recommends hiring a structural engineer to ensure the deck can properly support the load of the spa — 1,000 pounds for a 400-gallon vessel. Ginesi likes to add an extra deck header under the spa to add support and ensure the deck won’t pull away from the house or sink.
If the customer wants to completely or partially submerge the spa in the ground, there’s even more prep involved. Check with local utilities to make sure there are no services underground. Most have a service that marks areas where utilities are located.
Once the pit has been excavated, the proper concrete pad must be poured, followed by concrete block walls reinforced with rebar, he says. At this point, leave room to access equipment for service. Owens also recommends placing a submersible pump at the bottom of the pit to remove any water that might collect during heavy rains.
This is also the time to think about customer’s access, Ginesi says. A fully submerged spa might look nice on the deck or ground, but it also means hot tubbers are getting on hands and knees for access in and out, which puts stress on joints. Lowering the spa to chair height makes for easier access and still looks nice, he says. “When you explain it to people, everyone really loves that idea,” he says.
3. Moving the spa
At this point you’re finally ready to move the spa. But don’t load it up just yet, say the experts. First, you’ll want to do a pre-delivery site inspection. This allows you to determine access and what types of systems will be necessary for delivery — spa dolly, crane, or something even more imaginative. Installers may have to employ some carpentry skills to temporarily remove sections of fence or even doorjambs, Purser adds. Tree limbs may also need to be trimmed, and bushes and plants removed.
Once the way is clear, it’s time to prepare the spa for moving. Because even empty spas are heavy, the shell can easily get scratched without proper care. Gannon recommends using a combination of cardboard and moving blankets to cushion and protect spas during deliveries.
Owens uses a forklift to gently place the spa on his trailers, but others simply use brute strength, depending on the size. During transport to the home, secure the tub with straps to hold it in place.
While it may seem convenient to move the spa with the cover already on it, Purser advises against this. The cover could come loose on the highway and fly off the spa.
At the customer’s home, many installers use a dolly specially designed to move hot tubs. Ginesi and others recommend carpeting the dolly to protect the spa and its shell. You may need to use a combination of force and levers to carefully move the unit off the trailer onto the dolly and into its ultimate location.
“It’s really just a matter of being careful and conscientious — and having enough manpower to evenly distribute the weight and place it carefully,” Gannon says. “We want it to look as good in the client’s backyard when it arrives as it did in the showroom.”