Responding to energy efficiency standards and restrictions
The spa industry may soon face a dilemma for retailers and consumers alike: energy consumption. Even when spas aren’t occupied, they use a significant amount of energy due to heat loss. With more than five million U.S. households owning spas, that energy adds up, and as the government takes notice, energy restrictions could be a threat to the industry.
In September 2022, the Department of Energy determined portable electric spas qualify as a covered consumer product under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act because the average U.S. household energy use for portable electric spas is likely to exceed 100-kilowatt hours per year.
The DOE has been re-evaluating its oversight and regulation of hot tubs, and with the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance’s advocacy of APSP-14 — a nationwide standard setting a minimum threshold for energy efficiency of hot tubs and swim spas — retailers and manufacturers are wondering what to expect as energy costs rise along with concerns about environmental impact.
What the pros are saying
Erica Moir, vice president of product marketing at Jacuzzi, says because of the company’s worldwide reach, it has seen the effects of rising energy costs impact other parts of the world more than the U.S. so far.
“The awful reality of energy costs that hit Europe has still not been seen in North America,” Moir explains. “The energy crisis is very regional and means that we have to be flexible in the way we offer products.”
Nathan Coelho, vice president of engineering at Master Spas and a member of the International Hot Tub Association’s board of directors, lists the economy, potentially unsafe and inefficient foreign imported products, constant regulatory changes, HOAs and permitting changes as issues that also pose a risk to the industry, but he says it’s difficult to rank these threats.
“As far as energy regulations causing a restriction on using or selling spas, I’d like to think that it would be difficult to restrict use or sales,” because of how many people rely on the health benefits of spas, he says.
David Kasten, operations manager at Creative Energy in Richmond, California, believes an energy crisis could hit the state soon, affecting hot tub sales.
“I never put anything past California,” he says. “In fact, California is encouraging more energy consumption — not less — by putting restrictions on gas appliances.”
In 2004, California adopted the first standard for portable electric spas that set a maximum limit on the energy consumed to maintain a set temperature, as well as the energy needed to circulate and filter the water when a spa isn’t in use. Connecticut and Oregon followed suit with similar standards in 2007 as well as Arizona and Washington in 2009.
In 2014, the American National Standard Institute approved an industry standard for portable electric spa efficiency that set a more rigid limit on standby power consumption. The standard was updated in 2019, and California updated its standards to match. The APSP-14 standard also requires manufacturers to use consistent testing procedures and methods for determining energy efficiency, along with third-party verification and validation procedures.
Making hot tubs energy efficient
Coelho says no new standards are currently being developed for hot tubs by the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance, but the PHTA does have an active energy coalition that is working with the DOE to adopt energy regulations nationwide. “This effort would require that all spas meet energy regulations in the U.S., no matter where it is sold, since it will be a federal regulation,” Coelho says. “Spas that comply with the APSP-14 standard are very energy efficient.”
After analysis of the standard, The Appliance Standards Awareness Project says, “Ensuring that all spas sold meet the 2019 standard would save 23 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity by 2035. If all states adopt the 2019 portable electric spa standard, the U.S. would avoid emitting 8.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2035, equivalent to one year of greenhouse gas emissions of more than 1.8 million cars.”
ASAP also publishes state-by-state estimates of how much states can save with the adoption of the updated hot tub and other efficiency standards.
Coelho says many manufacturers have maximized additional energy efficiency opportunities by fully filling the cabinet area to obtain the maximum R-value, a measure of insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it, for the spa.
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“We are always looking at the latest in insulation technology to gain R-per-inch,” Coelho says. “There is a bit of a balancing act trying to meet the needs of the customer and energy regulations while also considering the serviceability of the product.”
Moir says energy efficiency is something Jacuzzi strives to improve upon as new products and materials are developed.
“We have an on-site certified CEC chamber and are always testing new materials and solutions for improving energy efficiency in our products,” Moir says. “We have learned so much in the last few years by having the test chamber here to really see the impact of even a small adjustment to the spa.”
Saving energy at home and in showrooms
Kasten advises customers to set the hot tub’s temperature once instead of constantly adjusting it.
“Set it and forget it — unless you are going on an extended vacation,” he says. “Put as much solar on your roof as you can and look into battery backups or natural gas generators.”
Regulating the spa’s air controls is another factor in keeping the spa’s temperature as consistent as possible.
“We also recommend that air controls be turned off to prevent air injection in the water,” Coelho says. If cold air is injected into the water, it cools down, which in turn requires more energy to keep the spa at the desired temperature.
Long-term cover maintenance plays a role, as well. Coelho advises customers to always maintain the spa covers and monitor the weight of the cover. “Over time, the covers will start to get heavier, meaning they are starting to become less efficient,” he says.
Kasten says saving energy in the showroom can be difficult but recommends investing in an efficient thermostat.
Moir says a dealer’s showroom energy usage should consider not only the spas sitting on the floor but also the environment they are in. “We switched out office and factory lighting at our global factories to LEDs,” Moir says. “The project’s paybacks were often less than a year, not only saving energy but also improving lighting in the spaces.”
Coelho also recommends high-efficiency lighting options as well as motion detection systems so lights are only on when people are present.
Both Kasten and Coelho advise keeping hot tub covers closed until customers are ready to view, particularly after hours.
According to Moir, the direct energy savings of the spa for the dealer and homeowner are linked to aligning usage, temperature and scheduling to personal needs. She points to Jacuzzi’s patented SmartTub App as an example of how automation can help save energy. By personalizing a usage schedule, the app can manage heating and filter cycles; it also has smart sensors indicating if the spa cover was left open, she says.
Coelho says the most important thing for dealers to remember is to verify that the manufacturer’s product meets energy regulations, and spas that are only minimally insulated should be an immediate red flag.
“Selling a product in a market that has set energy regulations puts that retailer at risk, along with the manufacturer,” he says. “Selling an energy-efficient product saves energy in the showroom and the field.”