Do you call it a hot tub, spa, hydrotherapy pool, or other?

Do you call it a hot tub, spa, hydrotherapy pool, or other?

Coming to Terms With Hot Water

By Eric Herman, Aqua

Question: What is up with our industry using the term “hot tub” to describe bodies of hot water equipped with therapy jets?

For the longest time, I thought we were comfortable with the term “spa.” It’s a lovely, compact word that conveys a sense of luxury and has served our industry well for decades now. (And as a matter of historic fact, AQUA was once titled Spa and Sauna Magazine.)

Yet somewhere along the line, the fine folks at APSP, once known as the National Spa and Pool Institute, apparently decided that spas aren’t spas anymore. These days, at least so far as the association is concerned, these dynamic vessels are now known as “hot tubs,” as reflected in the Hot Tub Council, the association’s ANSI standards that uses the term and the Hot Tub Technician Training Program.

From my understanding, the rationale for the change, which has been in place for several years now, was to avoid confusion with “day spas,” “pampering spas,” and “resort spas,” those wonderful facilities where one indulges in massages, seaweed facials, pedicures and any number of luxurious treatments.

Frankly, I find that a weak reason to scuttle the term “spa.” After all, there are all sorts of words that have more than one meaning. Depending on the dictionary, the word “set” has upwards of 50 definitions and no one seems to mind. And in the case of “spa,” there’s a wonderful association with health, luxury and indulgence that I argue only enhances the definition. So what if it has two meanings?

Besides, have you ever heard anyone refer to a swimming pool with an “attached hot tub” or “portable hot tub”? They’re almost always referred to as spas. (I have heard spa dealers refer to their merchandise as “tubs” — a somewhat endearing shorthand, I suppose.) When a portable spa is installed in the ground, do we ever say it’s a pre-manufactured hot tub installed below grade? No, it’s always an in-ground spa. Do we use the term gunite or shotcrete hot tub? Not in my experience.

I don’t really have a problem with the term “hot tub” per se, but in my mind, it evokes images of the iconic, repurposed half wine barrels that became popular in the ’70s, most of which did not have therapy jets. In that case, the term is perfectly serviceable, precisely because it means something different than “spa!”

I write this knowing this particular hobbyhorse has long since left the barn and we’re likely forever settled with this ambiguous dual terminology. For my part as a professional wordsmith covering the pool and spa industry, I’m sticking with the tried and true, single syllable, three-letter word that has always conveyed luxury, healing and indulgence.

Ultimately, however, it’s really not that big a deal, after all, a spa is a beautiful thing, no matter what you choose to call it.