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Homestay and rental hot tub maintenance

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Since 1990, HydroTher Hot Tubs have been the #1 choice of architects, consultants, designers and facility operators for commercial aquatic applications.

Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking, Marriott Homes & Villas, and Hopper are few of the many examples of short-term rental agencies cashing in on visitors that want more than just a hotel room while they are travelling. Those providing these short-term rentals are realizing the value of adding a hot tub to their homestays, as they have noticed consumers are willing to pay more for the listing.

Listings with a hot tub average almost $50 USD or more per night than listings without a hot tub. When travellers are deciding where to stay, they will use website filters such as “beachfront,” “lakeside,” “pool,” and “hot tub” to narrow down their search.

Rental owners are aware that adding a hot tub is an easy and cost-effective way to get their property to appear at the top of the search list—they also see it as a salespoint to demand a higher price than competitors. However, once visitors book the unit, hot tub water maintenance and cleanliness becomes a priority.

It is for this reason many hot tub retailers and service professionals are reporting a surge in demand for short-term rental hot tub maintenance. Apart from having a cleaning service between renters, these short-term rental businesses also need to keep those hot tubs in working order and ensure the water is clean. This is where spa retailers and service professionals are leaning toward automation to help keep hot tub water sanitized, clean, and clear—even if they cannot visit the hot tubs between renters.

Salt chlorine generators

Salt chlorine generators benefit spa and hot tub owners because they make water maintenance much easier between service visits. In most cases, a saltwater hot tub can be maintained with just salt for sanitation, white vinegar for pH control, and a phosphate remover. Service professionals installing salt chlorine generators on spas will find their maintenance visits will run smoother, and the spa itself can be left unattended for much longer between service visits. The system will ensure the water remains clear for weeks with little to no attention.

Kevin Brakebill of KNS hot tubs in Bend, Oregon, has been in the hot tub industry for more than 25 years. His company sells, installs, and maintains hot tubs. Brakebill reports there has been a surge in short-term rentals in his market, and most of them have been adding hot tubs at a rapid rate. As a result, his service business for hot tub cleaning and maintenance has grown dramatically.

Interestingly, Brakebill stumbled upon retrofit salt chlorine generators for spas when he started looking for alternatives to traditional chlorine at the onset of the chlorine shortage. He found a salt chlorine generator specifically for spas that is easy to add to spas and hot tubs.

“I tried the salt chlorine generator product and installed it on a spa to test, and it has been working great now for more than two years,” says Brakebill. “I was actually looking to hate it initially because I’ve been disappointed with so many similar products offered in the past, so I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered I loved it, and as do my customers.”

Brakebill explains he has continuously had a problem with chlorine and bromine floaters in spas, because they make water caustic. He says the floating devices are an issue for short-term rentals, as kids play with the units, and some users even toss them out of the spa without checking—virtually rendering them as ineffective in hot tubs at rental properties.

“Those floaters can actually be dangerous for children, and additionally, the system isn’t measuring the water’s need for sanitizer, so I find the bromine tablets cannot keep up with demand, while the chlorine tabs in those floaters keep adding chlorine, even when the spa water doesn’t need it,” adds Brakebill. “The big deal about the salt generator [I found] is that it not only generates chlorine using salt, but it also measures the chlorine levels in the spa water and turns off automatically and stops making chlorine once the spa water has enough chlorine sanitizer.” He says this is a real game changer for spas on rental properties.

When determining the best system to sell and install, the first element to consider is a “boost” function. This feature will help bring chlorine levels up after use, as needed. Another important component is an automatic chlorine detection feature, as it will help prevent over-chlorination of the spa or hot tub water. This is particularly valuable with high bather loads, which is common in short-term rentals.

The ‘boost’ feature

Salt generators are intuitive, making it easy to put a note next to the spa or on the spa cover telling renters to hit the “boost” mode at the end of each day—which is much more convenient to ask of a renter, rather than asking them to test the spa water and add chemicals.

“The mechanism is a small box that I typically mount on the spa with two screws, or I’ll mount on the wall right next to the spa,” says Brakebill. “The device has an easy-to-understand panel with indicator lights, so users know when to give the spa water a boost after heavy use. It also indicates when table salt needs to be added to the water for the device to generate chlorine. It’s so simple: you mount it, plug it into an outlet, and place the cell over the edge and add the drops directly into the spa water, so it starts working immediately, and the spa has a working salt system in five minutes.”

Not only do salt chlorine generators provide better water for users’ health, but they are also cost-friendly, as they reduce the use of expensive chemicals, use less water, and will be more loyal to their spa service provider.

Chlorine detection feature

Some salt generators utilize chlorine detection technology, which monitors the chlorine levels, and automatically turns on when those levels are low. This feature prevents over-chlorination, which can be just as dangerous as under-chlorination. Not all salt systems include chlorine detection technology for automatically generating chlorine when needed, but some brands do. Therefore, be sure to understand the product you decide to install and promote, especially in spas at rental properties.

The installation of one of these salt chlorine generators on a spa at a short-term rental property has helped Brakebill’s service technicians ensure the spa water remains sanitized between service calls. It has also cut down the need to drain spa water.

“Traditional chlorine and bromine products contain compounds which build up and inhibit the chlorine’s ability to oxidize and sanitize the water. As a result, our service professionals would need to frequently drain these spas
to keep the water clear,” explains Brakebill. “Without draining, the water produces conditions which can lead to cloudy water, skin rashes, dry and itchy skin, and worse. These systems help provide extra insurance to short-term rental hosts and ensure their properties receive positive reviews.”

This can be important for service professionals working on spas in semi-private homes, such as those rented through Airbnb. “Unlike private spas where the homeowner takes care of the spa, keeps it clean, and maybe uses the spa three times a week, the Airbnb spas are being used for a week straight, with people dropping wine and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and six or more people are using the spa and not cleaning or checking the sanitizer levels,” adds Brakebill. “My company cannot be there every day, so the salt generator is there in our place, making sure the water has enough sanitizer.”

These advanced salt chlorine systems are available for hot tubs and spas—either online or as drape-over units. They are easy to install, make spa maintenance easier, require a minimal amount of salt, simplify water care to help short-term rental hosts and their hot tub service professionals, and provide a safe experience for vacationers.

Installation at short-term rental properties

Installing a salt chlorine generator on a spa or hot tub involves a simple operation. Connecting a drape-over system involves draining, refilling, and adding salt, plus a small amount of liquid chlorine and acid. It will be necessary to get power to the unit, which is often taken from the spa pack, or by installing a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet.

Jason Minor, owner of Spatacular in Medicine Hat, Alberta, sells and installs salt chlorine generators for new and existing spa and hot tub owners. He says the systems are easy to mount to the side or on a nearby wall, plug in, and place the probe into the water.

“In fact, the unit is so easy to install, we even have some clients buy the units off our shelves to install themselves,” says Minor. All buyers have to do is remove puck dispensers and install a salt chlorine generator in their spas and vacation rentals to instantly upgrade their space.

“We really can’t recommend the old chlorine pucks in a dispenser to anyone—as it feels like suggesting horse-and-buggy technology. Not only do you have to load the dispenser once a week, but as the pucks dissolve, cyanuric acid is released into the water, which builds up and makes the water’s pH go way down,” adds Minor. “Then you find yourself fighting low pH trying to keep the water chemistry balanced, which is a time-consuming, never-ending battle.”

In addition, Minor notes the saltwater provides a softer texture, which is more enjoyable than traditional chlorine. There is no smell of harsh chlorine, or dry, itchy skin after using the spa, which is much appreciated by guests. As most service professionals already know, salt chlorine generators make pure chlorine and improve the spa soaking experience.

Scovie’s Pool & Spa Services Ltd. in Ontario, also says they are installing more of these retrofit salt chlorine generators on hot tubs, especially as more weekend cottages are being offered for short-term vacation rentals. The business serves the Durham Region in Ontario, and has been doing installation and service of hot tubs and pools for more than 35 years.

“We install all our pools with saltwater and have been looking for a salt system for hot tubs for years,” says owner Scovie Burns. “We have tried other systems in the past that just don’t last, so we were thrilled to find these specific salt systems, as they are much better than the other systems we have tried; and because they sense the chlorine over time and do not over-chlorinate or under-chlorinate, it makes it much easier to balance the water. These salt systems provide the exact water quality our customers want, which is clear, clean water all the time.”

Chad Peace at Peaceful Spas in Palm Bay, Florida, refurbishes spas and sells four to five hot tubs per week that often end up at vacation rentals. “Each hot tub is custom refinished and made to fit the needs of the client,” says Peace. “At least 70 per cent of customers choose the salt chlorine generator when we explain the benefits. It is a self-sustaining, automatic chlorine system for spas.”

Peace says having a bromine floating around and treating the water when the spa is not in use can lead to damage, as spas only need the chemicals in the water once bathers use the spa or other contaminants enter the water. Excessive chemicals in the water can harm the acrylic surface of the spa and cause damage to the jets, heater elements, and the spa pump seals.  “This system detects chlorine levels and only provides chlorine to the water when it is needed, ensuring the longevity of the spa,” says Peace. “As a company that refurbishes spas, we know how important it is for the life of the spa to have this unit controlling the water chemistry.”

Getting started

Using the new technology available in these salt chlorine generators for spas makes it easy to start selling and installing them at and for rental properties. These systems are offered as plug-and-play units, meaning any spa can be converted to a salt system. The control box plugs into an available 110-volt outlet and mounts to the side of the spa skirt, or on a nearby wall or post, and the electrode simply drapes into the hot tub’s filter area. If the filter area is too small to accommodate the electrode, it can simply drape over the side and into the spa water, where bathers can easily remove it when the spa is being used, and then replace it before covering. Some manufacturers even offer laminated signage that can be placed near the hot tub that tells spa guests to place the electrode on the hook on the wall when using the hot tub, then gently replace the electrode in the spa water after use.

Hot tub maintenance with a salt chlorine generator simply requires a pH adjustment once a week, as well as a monthly inspection of the cell to help prevent scale buildup. To control pH, use an available pH down or pH decreaser.

The trend toward having a hot tub at vacation rentals is on the rise. Now is the time for retailers and service professionals to offer salt chlorine generators for this ever-increasing number of spas, to help ensure that spa water is clean and clear between service visits, and to ensure renters have a positive review to leave after their visit.

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