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Whirlpool tubs need extra care

Whirlpool bathtubs -- using water jets, air jets or both -- have become increasingly common in homes because they can help to relieve stress and soothe tired muscles. In some instances they are custom-made or can even be retrofitted in an existing tub, but most often they are purchased pre-built and installed.

One of the first considerations if you're replacing an existing tub with a jetted bath is where you'll put the pump that powers the jets. Sometimes the pump can be placed as much as 5 feet away, other times it must be placed closer. Regardless, you do want the pump and other mechanical systems to be where they can be accessed easily for servicing when necessary, since whirlpool baths may need periodic repairs. You also may want a dedicated heater for the tub if you are expecting to take prolonged soaks or if it's a large tub that uses a lot of water. More information on water heaters can be found in a separate report. You also need heavy-duty electric wiring that will accommodate all this stuff -- 15 amps for some tubs, 20 for others -- but check and strictly follow manufacturer guidelines, and hire a licensed electrician unless you are qualified to run the required circuits and comply with all local safety ordinances.

Water jets are more common than air jets and will give you a more vigorous massage. However, the downside to water jets is that some water will remain in them after you're done bathing, so there is a possibility that mold or bacteria can grow if the jets aren't cleaned regularly. It's recommended that water jets be flushed about every other week. It's also recommend that you not use bath additives, like salts or oils, as they can damage the pumping system. While whirlpool tubs are similar to spas and hot tubs, the water is untreated so they need to be emptied after each use. If you are more interested in a dedicated hot tub, those are also covered in their own report.

Air jets are less vigorous than water jets, a plus for many people who don't like to be pummeled by their baths, but they can be noisier. They can also cause heat to dissipate more quickly. Whirlpool tubs that use both types of jets are less common but can give you a more varied massage; you can use both types of jets simultaneously or separately. On the downside, a combination whirlpool tub will be more expensive to buy and to operate, and you'll need two electric hookups. Running the pump isn't the entire cost of operation -- you also need to consider that you'll need about 50 gallons of warm water to fill some of these whirlpool tubs, which means increased use of the home's water heater. Underfilling whirlpool tubs can damage the pump -- some have sensors to shut off the jets if the water level is too low. If you think you'd like a more peaceful immersion experience, see our separate section on soaking tubs.

Jacuzzi tubs are probably the best known name in the whirlpool tub market, and whirlpool tubs are often referred to, generically, as Jacuzzi bathtubs, but Jacuzzi is a brand name, just as Kleenex is a brand name for facial tissue, and Jacuzzi uses a proprietary type of jets. In general, whirlpool tubs are becoming more affordable as more manufacturers incorporate jets into their standard tubs. A basic, whirlpool tub made to be incorporated into a drop in style installation can be had for as little as $400 -- not including the installation. From there, as with most tubs, the sky's the limit price-wise, depending upon installation options and customizations. We discuss the most common types of installations -- alcove, freestanding and drop in -- elsewhere in this report.

There are some basic safety tips to keep in mind while using a whirlpool tub. Stay in too long and you could overheat -- a particular risk for people with high blood pressure or cardiovascular problems. Check with your physician for advice. Some hot tubs come with non-slip bottoms and hand grips, but remember that, while the pumps are working, you are in agitated water that may affect your balance when you stand up. Some tubs have a mechanism called "spin-free" that will stop the pump if hair becomes entangled in the intake ports.  The tub kit may include a timer, but there may be local code requirements that will require it to be installed a certain distance from the tub to reduce the risk of an electric shock.

Elsewhere in this Buyer's Guide:

Alcove, Drop-in and Freestanding Bathtubs | Soaking Bathtubs | Walk-in Bathtubs | Bathtub Refinishing and Liners | What to Look for | Our Sources

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