Hot Spots! Exceptional Values in Portable Spas (cont.)

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Wi-Fi- and cloud-connected controls allow you to monitor the spa and change water temperature, cleaning cycles, jet settings and lighting remotely. We believe that such capabilities might come in handy, for instance, if you want to activate the spa on your way home from work or if you want to monitor a vacation-home spa that’s hundreds of miles away. The latter capability is particularly beneficial if the spa is located in an area that’s prone to freezing temperatures, because the spa’s shell could crack if the water heater failed.

TOUCH UP. Spa manufacturers increasingly incorporate touch-screen control panels for spas, some of which can be detached, so you can activate the spa from inside your home.

TOUCH UP. Spa manufacturers increasingly incorporate touch-screen control panels for spas, some of which can be detached, so you can activate the spa from inside your home.

Watkins Manufacturing

Caldera and Hot Spring (both owned by Watkins Manufacturing) go a step further by allowing technicians or dealers to monitor and diagnose spas through the Wi-Fi module. However, you’ll pay at least $250 per year to subscribe to that service. Jacuzzi’s system doesn’t allow for remote diagnostics, but it automatically sends to a designated dealer an email alert that includes information that helps a dealer’s service technician to assess the problem before the technician arrives to fix it. Users select a dealer to receive those alerts via the settings screen in Jacuzzi’s app, where a list of authorized Jacuzzi dealers is provided based on ZIP codes. If you have a preferred technician or dealer who isn’t associated with Jacuzzi, you should know that the company says unauthorized dealers can’t be added to its system. Jacuzzi’s email-alert service is free.

SPA SOUND. It’s no surprise to us that spa audio systems, like most audio systems these days, incorporate the latest wireless capabilities. Nineteen manufacturers have spas that include audio systems that can stream music via Bluetooth technology from devices such as a smartphone or tablet.

In the past 3 years, manufacturers increasingly added Bluetooth-enabled receivers that are integrated into the spa’s enclosure and are controlled through the spa’s LCD or touch-screen control panel. The most basic control panel allows you to adjust the speaker volume or skip between audio tracks, while other control panels display album art and track information and provide playback controls that are similar to those that are found on a smartphone or certain vehicles’ smart-entertainment system.

You’ll pay at least $800 to add as an option an integrated Bluetooth-enabled receiver that’s controlled through the spa’s primary control panel. (The cost includes built-in speakers.) Artesian Spas, Caldera, Emerald Spas, Hot Spring, Jacuzzi, LA Spas and Sundance Spas provide such an option. Bullfrog International says it plans to unveil similar systems in 2015.

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MOTOR MIXUP. Meanwhile, three manufacturers introduced in 2014 spas that incorporate motors for spa pumps that they say are more efficient than are the spa motors that they used previously. Cal Spas, Saratoga Spas and Viking Spas say the motors consume fewer amps than previous motors did and, thus, use less energy to produce the same amount of water flow and pressure to jets. However, two independent engineers whom we interviewed say that, although such efficiency is possible, the more-efficient motors won’t deliver a noticeable difference in operating costs.

Viking Spas says its new motors draw 30 percent less energy when they operate. Cal Spas says its new motors draw 50 percent less energy. Saratoga Spas didn’t quantify the efficiency changes of its new motors. The company tells Consumers Digest that the primary benefit of its new motors is that they last longer than previous motors did, although the company didn’t say how much longer. All of the manufacturers say their new motors don’t add to the cost of their spas.

Unfortunately, we can’t tell you how much that the new motors will reduce your cost to operate the spa, because no manufacturer provided us with statistics or estimates. Three independent engineers back manufacturers’ claims that it’s difficult to determine such estimates, because too many variables (how often you operate the spa, the duration that you operate it, and jet settings) influence how much energy that a spa consumes.

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