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In Hot Water

American consumers are spending a bundle in the bathroom. The bill totaled about $13 billion last year as consumers added space and installed such luxuries as sunken bathtubs for two, fancy fixtures and hot tubs.

Whirlpool bathtubs “are also becoming a very, very hot item,” said Donald Tusha, Heldor Industries’ spa products manager. The tubs function as a whirlpool bath, or a regular bath, with the flick of a switch. Several units, designed to create the whirlpool effect in a regular bathtub, are also available.

Consumers should be wary of hot tub sales pitches that promise increased property values. Such claims don’t hold up in surveys of real estate professionals, who say home buyers will rarely pay more than 50% of the cost and observe that spas and pools are sometimes a deterrent to sales.

Hot tub prices jumped considerably between 1986 and 1987, but industry officials aren’t certain of future trends. In 1987, the average price of a portable spa or tub was $3,971, up 28% from 1986, according to the National Spa & Pool Institute. Permanently installed units averaged $5,795, a 21% jump from 1986. Some industry executives say the price increases reflected a demand for larger and more luxurious units.

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Portable hot tubs have been available for some time, but the units have had a dramatic impact on the industry during the past five years, according to industry executives. They accounted for 76% of sales last year. Homeowners who install swimming pools are increasingly likely to include a spa because the addition doesn’t add significantly to the cost of a pool, industry executives say. A quarter of all residential in-ground pools built last year included a spa.

Hot tub industry executives say they have solved the problem of users becoming trapped under water because of excessive suction from hot tub drains. Still, Los Angeles County records show that 10 people, including six children under 10 years old, somehow drowned in hot tubs or spas during 1987. Consumers with small children are advised to keep the units covered.

Industry executives also recommend that consumers look for the Underwriters Laboratory safety seal because hot tubs involve a combination of water and electricity.


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