Tag Archives: hot tub

I wish you could watch me change the hot tub water in late fall/early winter

Why? Because you’d laugh the whole time.

If one is going to have a hot tub, and enjoy spar treatments (q.v.), one must commit to maintenance. Once a week that means dunking a test strip, reading the results, dumping some chemicals in, and forgetting about it. But every four months, or sooner if it gets sudsy (or one has gross people over), a full water change is needed.

It’s enough of a pain in the ass in summer, when it’s nice and the trees aren’t dropping a steady hail of pine needles and other tree crap into the uncovered tub. It’s comically tortuous in winter, when someone looking like Gimli the Dwarf in a feed-store hat and swim trunks is doing it. I should have done this last week, when the temp was sunny and sixties, but I couldn’t get off my lazy butt. And just to help remind myself why I should not get slothful, let’s take you through the schadenfreude show you’d have gotten today. Imagine yourself sitting in my adirondack with your choice of drinking and smoking materials, with me performing this for your amusement.

First off: outside in flipflops and trunks. It’s not cold unless you get wet, which; hello, that’s a given. Throw the breaker; hot tub engine minus circulating water equals no good. Pull off the cover.

Now comes the fun and joy. Get out the extension cord (which looks like a mutated Flying Spaghetti Monster and there is that one cord around which everything is hung up, if only you could pull it out, but you have to pull out every other cord first in order to reach it), sump pump, and the most badass addition of my own: a rollable industrial drainage hose that screws onto the sump pump via a fitting. I also had the nearby downspout fitted with a place to stick the hose end. No siphons for me, and no dumping the whole salted-up hundreds of gallonage direction into the water table.

Of course, all the patio furniture is in my way, including you as you sit with your quiet pleasures enjoying my mild but not uncreative blasphemies. Of course, it is impossible to get the sump pump to stay in one place, and its tethered float is designed to become entangled in the electrical cord no matter how one orients it. Then comes rigging the drainage hose, and it’s not as simple as it sounds. When full of water, this hose bends rather than flexes, and we do not want a solid kink, so it must be dragged out to a sort of broad arc before feeding the business end into the downspout. Even then, that end will spasm ba-thump ba-thump as bursts of water surge through it. The only solution with the current hose would require violation of the laws of physics. I am unwilling to become a fugitive from the physics police, so I put up with ba-thumping. Which now begins, as I plug the pump in, walk along the hose troubleshooting kinks and grousing, and prepare for the worst part. At least when I fumble the end of it and soak my legs, it’s with warm tub water.

After I get the old filter and silver nitrate stick out, it’s time for the turkey baster. While the tub still has most of the water, I walk around it using the baster to suck up the sand and grit and crud that I can reach. No matter how hard we try to keep the tub free of dirt, some gets in. Not all of it goes straight to the bottom center. The stuff in the seats, I can get now, so I circulate while sucking up as much of the dirt as possible. As the water level drops, and the clouds begin to threaten, I climb into the tub and start getting all the dirt I couldn’t reach before. My back hurts, and now and then I jostle the sump pump. This creates some minor misalignment that I must remedy before the thing burns up. So there I am, chilled and wet and not having any fun, slurping up grit and squirting it out of the tub. I’m obsessive enough to do a reasonably good job, though my demeanor suggests to you that I am not at peace with the universe. The ba-thumping suggests to me that at least the hose hasn’t come out and drained it all in my yard instead; quiet joys.

Finally, at last, the damn float falls far enough to stop the pump. I shift it around to get as much as the pump will process, then hunker down to get as much of the remaining grit as I can. I remind myself that I like this tub for four months as a result of this activity. Hoist out the pump and hose, picking up the new bits of tree flotsam that have fallen in the past half hour. Close the damn lid; no need for another hour of that stuff. Lift it enough to replace the filter, watching in fascinated disgust at the milky drippage from the old one. No, I’m not throwing it away. I clean these. If you priced them, versus the cost of the horrible cleaning solution, you would clean yours too. But there you sit, smoking something, drinking something, bemused to know that this isn’t close to over yet.

That’s okay. You are not out of smokings or drinkings. Whoever owns the problem must deal with the problem, and I own this problem. I am not by nature a begrudger, nor am I generally envious. You just sit there and enjoy this. I’m managing my First World Suburban Problem.

Now, we’re going to refill the thing. Uncover the faucet (which is wearing its winter cover). Connect the garden hose. Turn it on and first use that water to wash it off, so we don’t do like we did that one time, when we cheerfully stuck the hose covered with ground filth right into our nice fresh clean tub water. Mishandle the hose so that it shoots water all over me, nice and chilly. Say a naughty thing. Shove the hose into the filter, then put a prop in so that the lid can be closed to tree flotsam.

It is now time to start putting most of this crap away. Roll up the drainage hose. Coil the extension cord. The tub will take an hour to fill, so I’m going to take a load off and enjoy a brief interlude of smokings and drinkings with you. I can’t start to treat the tub until the temp reaches 85º F, and I can’t throw the breaker to turn it back on until it is full. Not partly full; fully full. As you tell me about the sillier parts, and I look up at the darkening skies, we hear noises like a horse having bad gas underwater, pressure squeezing air bubbles out of the tub’s circulation system as it should.

One more obsessive check and el tub es el full, as my Spanish-speaking wife might say. Hose out, prop out, throw the breaker upward. Not long after, I hear the startup cycle beginning. Go us. Now comes the gross, hazardous part.

I mentioned the old filter? First I have to hose it out. I set it on the cheap black plastic table, fit the nozzle to the hose, and start blasting it. Four months of accumulated milky residue, at least part of it dead skin, drain away as I hose the filter down. Point-blank range, taking some back-splash. The filter is about the width of a two-liter soda bottle, but longer and cylindrical. I try to hose out each pleat. It appalls me to see just how much crud this thing has caught.

When I can coax out no more residue, now comes the hazardous part. The filter cleaner bottle is covered with warnings: CONTAINS SULFURIC AND HYDROCHLORIC ACID! MIX WITH 4 GAL. WATER AND SOAK FILTER OVERNIGHT. ALWAYS ADD FILTER CLEAN TO WATER, NEVER ADD WATER TO FILTER CLEAN! I remember that from high school chemistry. Since I can frankly do without getting spattered with a couple of different acids, I follow these directions with care; this filter cleaner is evil. I somehow manage to do this without spilling any on myself, remembering to put the bucket where it will live before filling it up, so I don’t have to walk around with acid sloshing out of it.

Hose off the table (calm down; it sits out in the rain all winter, it will be non-gross by spring), cover up the bucket, and it’s a good thing you are running out of smokings and drinkings because I can tell it’s going to start raining in ten minutes max. Thank you for sitting out here to laugh at me.

Later on I’ll come back, run a test strip, dump in some calcium stuff and sanitizers and get a start on lifting the pH, then keep that up until we’re all nice and balanced.

If I’d waited another week, and had to do it in 44º weather with steady rain, it would have been progressively funnier for you (neatly tucked under the house eave with your bad habits) and far, far uglier for me.

We get to do this again in March. In the meantime, spar treatments.


Spar treatments

Deb and I can be very juvenile. I’m talking ‘mocking Phil Keoghan’s accent’ juvenile.

For those unfamiliar, Phil is the New Zealander who hosts The Amazing Race. He’s balanced, entertaining, and has a reality show that is intriguing without appealing purely to vicarious sadism (Naked & Afraid) or glorifying the stupid (Jersey Shore). His accent isn’t heavy, but it does append an R to all words ending in an A sound. Thus Uchenna and Joyce became Uchenner and Joyce, etc.

On each leg of the race, the first team to finish gets a special prize. Sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s a Productplacementmobile from Uncle Henry’s Car Company, but usually it’s a trip for two from Travelocity. Not all the trips are to someplace stupid like Nassau, either. Some actually go to interesting places, and all the trips seem to include a spa treatment, so Deb and I start heckling as the racers hit the mat: “Ready for your spar treatments?” Phil begins to tell them what the trip entails. “Shut the hell up about the ziplining, Phil, get on with the spar treatment!” Phil actually omits the spa treatment. “No! This is fake! It isn’t a trip from Travelocity without a spar treatment!”

We suck. But now that we have our own spar, we can give ourselves spar treatments. And I’m learning to maintain this spar, which is a process. I’m going to present what I’ve learned in mock softball Q&A format.

Q: Is it a lot of work?

A: Nah, except that draining it and refilling it is a little involved. Sometimes I’ll close some of the jets for more pressure on the rest, but that’s easy.

Q: My cousin had one and they all got a rash.

A: Let me guess: your cousin is one of those braying donkeys who ridicules anyone who takes time to do things exactly right. He fell down on the maintenance, didn’t think he had to worry unless he could see floating green things, and met cautions with derision. Now his whole family is on antibiotics. Right?

Q: Is it that risky?

A: Not if you stay on top of the maintenance. If you don’t, it changes from a chemistry project to a dermal immune biology project. If the water doesn’t get treated, it will develop an algae ring. We found that out when we first moved in and took a look before starting the treatment process, and I had to scrub that crap off.

Q: What is the maintenance?

A: Weekly, run a test strip and add chemicals as necessary. If the water level has dropped enough that the filter intake is rasping, add some water. Every four months, drain the whole thing and refill it.

Q: Can you put bath salts in it?

A: I’m told you can, but haven’t tested it myself. I may test it one day just before it’s drain/refill time, just to see what it does to the chemical balance.

Q: Is it spendy to operate?

A: Between the electric bill increase, water bill bump, and the chemicals, I’m told $750 per year is typical. So yeah, kind of spendy to do right.

Q: Do you have to leave it on all the time?

A: Yes. If you’re going to take it out of service, you shut off the breaker and drain the water. It runs on its own cycle for heating and filtration.

Q: Aren’t you worried that people’s kids will pee in it?

A: No, because no minors are allowed in it, ever. Age seventeen and your eighteenth birthday is tomorrow? Sorry. Tomorrow you can. But your child is special and mature and wonderful? I agree, and when she is eighteen and a young woman rather than a girl, we will welcome her. Hot tub = adults place, at least under the lodgepoles.

Q: You expect me to believe you’ve never done it, when you were by yourself?

A: It would immediately cloud up the pool. Therefore, since there are only the two of us, my wife would know. But even if it were just me, no, in fact I would not add urine to a large reservoir in which I planned to soak several times a week for four months, nor would you. I have learned that it is wise to take a leak while changing into one’s bathing suit. It would be horrible to have to get up, go all the way inside, and come back out. Especially in winter. But adults would do that, whereas kids might be too embarrassed, and just hope to get away with it, figuring they can always say they’re sorry and adults aren’t allowed to hold things against them. Problem: no matter how sorry they are, I still have to drain/refill it, and sorries won’t help reduce the cost or headache of that.

Q: But that’s unfair to my snowflake, who is more special and mature and wonderful than all others! Yes, she’s only six, but she would never do that!

A: Here’s the situation. Yes, your snowflake is wonderful, a joy to know. However, children will go to absurd lengths to avoid embarrassment. An adult will make an adult decision (and trust me, there are adults I wouldn’t let near the thing). If the water gets contaminated, I will have to spend a lot of time, money, and effort that need not have been. No, it wouldn’t cause me to hate your snowflake. Yes, I understand that snowflakes make mistakes. All the understanding in my soul will not eliminate my sudden requirement to do a full water change, well before I would otherwise have had to. So, since I recognize that children are children–yes, even yours–and since I do not want to have them learn a life lesson at the cost of me having to pretend not to be very angry while doing an early drain/refill, no kids in the tub. It’s much easier that way than explaining to Parent A that Snowflake A Jr. can’t get in when we let Parent B’s Snowflake B Jr. in. No discrimination, no exceptions, no kids, not even your special angel.

Q: It must be great in winter.

A: In some ways, yes. The only drag in winter is the interval between getting out and getting back in the house. Nothing like standing outside in freezing weather, in your bathing suit, trying to wring as much water out as you can. I think we will get enormous thick terrycloth robes made from actual towels, so that people can dry off by putting them on.

Q: When you go to drain it, do you just siphon out all the water?

A: It’s easier to buy a cheap sump pump attached to a long hose. My drain hose burst this time, oh joy, so I need a stronger one. I want to send the water right into the eave-trough drain, not into the yard. Once I drain it, I climb in with a turkey baster and slurp out any residual sand or dirt or crud. Then I refill it, put in a new silver nitrate stick, change the filter and put the dirty one in a bucket of horribly caustic filter cleaner, and flip the breaker on. Once the water hits about 85º F, I can start the treatment process whenever I’m ready. No spar treatments until I’m happy with the balance.

Q: What do you treat it with?

A: The test strip checks for chlorine level, alkalinity, pH, and calcium hardness. It gets an ounce of chlorinator (which will boil off each week), however much baking soda it takes to raise the alkalinity (which will typically raise the pH as well), some more calcium if it needs it (shouldn’t, except when refilling), and three ounces of shock sanitizer. Thus, we are hitting biology with silver nitrate, chlorine, and shock (potassium peroxymonosulfate). On the first treatment, it’s a gradual process that requires several tests to get the alk and pH where they belong, without overshooting the sweet spot.

Q: Does it get gross when it’s time to drain and refill it?

A: Not with regular maintenance, but it will get sudsy. This is caused by the amount of total dissolved solids plus whatever action has happened on skin oil, stray pine needles, and so forth. If it starts to look like a bubble bath, it’s time to replace the water.

Q: Do you have to shower before you get in the spar?

A: No, but if you’re filthy, it’s the logical thing to do.

Q: Is it worth all that?

A: The expense and effort amount to about $60/month, five minutes once a week, and a couple hours of work three times a year. The payoff is when your whole body aches from a lot of lifting or hoisting or driving or walking, and you can get into a place that will dissolve the pain away. The payoff is when it’s freezing out, and you gaze up from your little amniotic cocoon through lodgepole boughs at the stars and moon, hoisting a libation with your best friend in a non-glass container. The payoff is the ability to make guests feel welcome and relaxed. Yeah, I’ll make that trade.

Q: Any advice for people thinking of getting one?

A: Spend a weekend at a resort where your room comes with a hot tub. Go hiking and get really sore, then come back and hit the tub. If you find you love that feeling, that’s a good sign. If you find you never want to go anywhere else but in and out of the tub, that’s also a good sign you would like and use one.

Get one with a lot of jets and enough pump to power them; pointless to get a tub with skimpy jets. Don’t get it from Costco, because everyone who sells them through Costco seems to go broke, which means no one to call with questions down the road. Look into buying a used one, because quite a few people don’t like them as well as they’d imagined, and wind up selling them at just-get-rid-of-it prices on Craigslist. (Don’t buy one without a manual and a copy of the original receipt, so you know the model, manufacturer, and store that sold it. Or if you do, make sure it’s very cheap.)

Make sure your electrical system can handle a new breaker, because there needs to be one hardwired and probably dedicated solely to the tub. Fairly sure it gets its own circuit, so spring for a professional electrician. Needs to sit on a very sturdy surface, such as a concrete pad; hope you have one. Plan to have a pro come out and walk you through it the first time, so s/he can check out its operation, answer all your what-does-this-dial-do questions, and tell you how to maintain it.