John Tandler was sitting in his spa when a brilliant idea hit him.
Why not use the sun’s rays to heat a hot tub through solar panels?
Tandler, who has spent 15 years in solar and thermal systems product development, got to work.
Last year, he created SunCatcher Solar Spa Cover, a completely solar-powered cover that reduces heating costs up to 75 percent per month. In five years, customers save anywhere between $500 to $1,000.
“Covers usually sit in the sun all day, and it wastes all that energy,” says Tandler, founder of Aztech Energy, the company that makes SunCatcher. “This is just a way to let the heat of the sun go through the cover.”
With just a few hours of sunlight per day, SunCatcher can provide 50 percent of a spa’s heat — up to 160 degrees.
SunCatcher’s solar panels soak up the sun’s rays, then transfer the heat down to the water. LED-light indicators on the panels notify a user when the spa has reached optimum temperatures.
It can be built into any new four-inch tapered vinyl spa cover by any manufacturer, making it an easy $650 investment for dealers, Tandler says. Customers see it on display through a dealer, place an order, and then the dealer contacts Aztech Energy directly to place the customized order.
Tandler, a mechanical engineer MIT graduate, has focused his energy on promoting SunCatcher and its benefits since 2016.
SunCatcher recently won Best Green Product at the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo in Orlando.
Tandler says most potential hot tub buyers are nervous about investing in a product that will suck up a lot of energy. His goal with SunCatcher is to eliminate that concern by providing an eco-friendly product while reducing electric costs.
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SunCatcher is a way for dealers to get those unsure customers through the door, Tandler says.
“This gives them a way of addressing that problem and increasing their sales at the same time,” he says. “This will help them sell more hot tubs.”
Aztech Energy estimates SunCatcher replaces 300 gallons of coal from being burned each year due to using natural sunlight instead of electric.
The idea is for SunCatcher to supplement a spa’s heater without connecting to power sources. A small amount of electricity powers the controller and fans, which are provided by two 12V photovoltaic panels mounted atop the heaters.
The company is looking for supply-chain partners interested in building SunCatcher technology into existing spa products, in addition to dealers looking to showcase the SunCatcher.
“For the dealers, one of the beautiful things about this product is there is no additional installation requirement,” says Laura Levesque-Catalano, Aztech Energy’s director of business development. “It sells like a normal cover. They can sell it right out of their showroom. The customer can just order the shape and size. It’s a pretty easy, noncomplicated sale for the dealer.”
The product does best when positioned on a southward facing spa, but even spas located in another direction can catch sun rays. Clients living in the south will notice the highest savings.
With a life expectancy of up to 10 years, SunCatcher also has a much longer lifespan than a regular spa cover. The panels can withstand numerous elements — including hail and snow — and weight loads up to 275 pounds.
Dealers who showcase SunCatcher in their showrooms receive a complimentary “digital sales assistant” to promote the product. The display tablet serves as an interactive educational tool for guests to see exactly how SunCatcher works.
“It’s such an innovative product,” Levesque-Catalano says. “There’s nothing like it out in the marketplace. We’ve created something that differentiates itself in the marketplace.”