Making a case for better hot tub cover fabrication

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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.

In this day and age, the retail market is tough and, unfortunately, this filters down to the manufacturing sector as well. They are inevitably tied together and thus dependent on each other to co-exist. Therefore, due to the aggressive nature of the current retail and economic model, price points have become the be all and end all for those in the hot tub cover industry. Retailers and manufactures are continually looking for ways to produce, sell, and earn more profits.

As a result, some hot tub cover manufacturers have cumulatively introduced lower-priced (low-end) options for retailers as a way to be different or as a way to offer customers something cheaper. When it comes to purchasing agents, price points are the first thing they want to talk about with their supplier or manufacturer, and cost is the first question most consumers now ask the retailer.

In the current economic environment, it is not uncommon for consumers to ask a retailer, “What are my options and how much does it cost?” And this is fair, as an increasing number of consumers try to be more conscious of what they are buying and where they are spending their money. It is human nature to look for the best deal.

The reality of the situation

The fact is, when pricing goes down, so does the quality of the products being sold. Every consumer, at one time or another, has gone with the “to good to be true” deal. Unfortunately, in most cases, the consumer ends up regretting the purchase, as they realize quickly it was not a deal after all. This can often be the case with small scale purchases (e.g. lawn sprinklers, plastic gardening tools, garage organizers, etc.) from mass merchandisers.

What many of these products have in common is they are smaller, easily disposable and/or exchangeable, and hopefully recyclable. However, there are some products a consumer must buy that are none of the above. In the case of a hot tub owner, for example, a standard (low-end), bi-fold cover purchase would fall into this category.

When folded in half, a hot tub cover is approximately 0.3 m (1 ft) thick by 2.1 m (7 ft) long and 1.2 m (4 ft) wide, making them large and hard to manoeuver. They are not easy to carry across the backyard to the hot tub, let alone transporting it home from the store. To be quite honest, hot tub covers can be a pain for the consumer, as they are big, awkward, and fragile.

Cautious optimism

Should a customer decide to buy a low-end hot tub cover, it is important for retailers to explain that they are not repairable. This way the consumer is making an informed purchase decision. Further, a hot tub cover can not only be expensive to ship, but also get damaged in the process. Once the hot tub cover’s foam interior becomes damaged, or the vinyl casing rips, the expected lifespan plummets rapidly. Unlike many other textiles for outdoor use, this product would be deemed irreparable 100 per cent of the time. Therefore, when a customer’s hot tub cover starts to fail, their only option is to purchase a new one.

This is where quality comes in to play. A hot tub owner will typically get one or two years out of a low-end cover. Considering these covers retail for approximately $600 (plus delivery and tax) the customer has every right to expect this same return on their next purchase. Unfortunately, thanks to various competitive pressures and a plethora of online retailers, consumers can find low-end hot tub covers that retail for approximately $400 delivered (sometimes less). When the price drops like this the difference is coming out of somewhere and more often than not it is in product quality.

Every consumer is looking for value, along with better warranties, longer-lasting products, and better-built options. As a result, consumers are much more perceptive in terms of where and how they spend their hard earned money.

Managing the fall out

When these low-end covers fail earlier than expected, the natural progression is for the consumer to be agitated and upset. When this happens, they look to the retailer for help with respect to the product warranty, discounts on a replacement cover, or worse—financial reimbursement.

As stated earlier, these covers cannot be repaired; they have to be replaced, which, in the end, reflects negatively on the retailer. It does not stop here. Once it has been determined the hot tub cover needs to be replaced, the question then becomes, “Who is going to pick up the new cover and dispose of the old one?” Most consumers do not have a pickup truck at their disposal and the hot tub cover will not fit into an SUV, minivan, and certainly not the average sedan.

The consumer cannot just drop an old hot tub cover off at the store either, as this becomes an added expense for someone. For instance, what is the cost of time, the use of shop truck, and an employee(s) waiting at the dump? These are the many hidden costs associated with replacing a low-end hot tub cover.

Further, almost every hot tub cover is custom-made as there are simply too many hot tub manufacturers that offer various models and sizes for any retailer to keep them in stock. As a result, it can be difficult and quite costly to replace these covers.

The answer

Fortunately, these low-end, entry-level hot tub covers are not the only option for hot tub owners. Quality-built hot tub covers are readily available from a handful of manufacturers. That said, retailers can use the following guidelines to determine what they should look for when sourcing a quality hot tub cover supplier/manufacturer. Offering a quality product helps ensure customer satisfaction and return business.

Step 1: Foam density

The most important aspect of any hot tub cover is the foam. It is also an expensive component of the cover. The easiest way to bring down the cost is to lower the foam density; therefore, make sure to ask what foam density the manufacturer is supplying. In the past, the standard was always 0.7 kg (1.5 lbs) and high-end covers were more than 0.9 kg (2 lbs). Today, however, there are low-end hot tub covers on the market that are 0.45 kg (1 lbs) or less.

Step 2: Taper/thickness

The foam density is one thing, the taper is another. This relates to the thickest to narrowest part of the hot tub cover (from the middle outwards). Low-end covers typically have a 76- to 51-mm (3- to 2-in.) taper and, in most cases, will not last a full year, especially after a harsh winter. The cover is a hot tub’s only line of defense when it comes to wet heavy snow, ice, rain, and wind. In some cases, the cover may need to support all of this dead weight for several months if the hot tub is not used during the winter.

With this in mind, a 102- to 76-mm (4- to 3-in.) taper should be the new standard, as the taper on most low-end hot tub covers is simply not enough. In fact, 152- to 102-mm (6- to 4-in.) and 127-

to 102-mm (5- to 4-in.) tapers are now available from all hot tub cover manufacturers.

Step 3: Plastic polywrap

The poly plastic film used to wrap and protect the cut foam (used inside the hot tub cover) from moisture damage is extremely important. Once the foam starts taking on water it will soak it up and retain it like a sponge. This will hinder the hot tub cover’s ability to perform its primary function—preventing evaporation and heat loss.

Essentially, once the foam has become compromised the entire hot tub cover is ruined. Therefore, ask the manufacturer what the foam is wrapped in, how thick is the film, and if the foam can be double-wrapped. The best option is to use a 0.0254-mm (4-mil) wrap or, for a small fee, have the foam double-wrapped.

Step 4: Vinyl

The vinyl that encases the polywrapped foam is essentially the cover’s skin. It is what takes all of the external abuse (e.g. sun’s ultraviolet [UV] rays, rain, wind, sleet, and snow). Therefore, make sure the hot tub cover supplier is using a properly freeze-tested and UV-stabilized marine-grade vinyl.

If poor quality vinyl is used, the skin will fade quickly, dry out, and eventually crack and dissolve. Once this happens, the polywrapped foam will be exposed, resulting in the failure of the hot tub cover.

Step 5: Aluminum ‘C’ channel

Most hot tub cover manufacturers incorporate an aluminum ‘C’ channel as a standard cover component, but that does not mean the retailer should not ask the manufacturer about it. These channels run the entire length of the fold, on both pieces of foam, to help the cover retain its shape by preventing it from ‘bowing’ under the weight of a typical and/or prolonged snow load. If the foam’s rigidity is aided using these channels, there is less chance for the hot tub cover to crack and/or break.

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