The spa experience in your own backyard is one of the finer things in life. 'Spa' is an acronym of the Latin phrase 'Salus per Aquam', meaning 'health from water'. “Hot tub” is the other common term applied to backyard spa units, and if that conjures up images of a circular cedar tub, well those never go out of style! Spas can be therapeutic for stress relief or pain relief. For couples or families, the spa can be the place where everyone unwinds away from distractions of modern life and good conversations can be had. Spas can also be used all year long, even in the dead of winter, so they represent a great way to maximize the use of your landscape.
From a backyard landscape perspective there are a few things to keep in mind when incorporating spas.
Size & Style: Spas come in many sizes and configurations, from intimate two person spas to more ‘family’ sized spas that can accommodate up to eight people. There is also the ‘swim spa’ class of spa which are typically larger and deeper to allow for lap swimming against a mechanically produced current. A swim spa can be a good alternative to a swimming pool in certain applications, especially if incorporating the exercise component is important.
Location & accessibility: We have found over the years that most clients want their spa to be close a convenient door so coming and going from the spa is as direct as possible. In the winter this is even more important for the comfort of the spa users. Where possible, we try and incorporate spas into other hardscaping elements like decks, retaining walls, or patios, so it looks built in rather than plunked as an afterthought into the landscape. Changes in elevation give us the opportunity to build in the spa with perhaps a deck surround or a deck on one side to make getting into and out of the spa easier and by reducing the visual mass of the unit. Sometimes the specifics of the spa, such as the locations of access panels or the function of the covering system need to be taken into account and we are happy to engage with your spa provider to get this information and help make the most or of your spa.
Base: This is where a conversation with your spa salesperson is important as what base the unit goes on may affect your warranty. We prefer to put spas on a concrete base – even if it ends up covered up by other landscaping elements. A concrete base won’t move and maintains a clean level surface. Some spas are marketed to be ok on a compacted gravel base or some combination of concrete blocks and or timbers.
Privacy: Most of the time privacy around a spa is an important factor in incorporating the spa unit into the landscape. We always try to use the cover system to best advantage as many of the current cover systems on the market incorporate some form of lifter system elevated behind the spa when open. This is sometimes also a function of the seating arrangement inside the spa itself. Trees, solid screens, retractable screens, walls, and other landscape elements can all be leveraged to enhance privacy.
Covers: Touched on previously, most spas come with some form of a cover lifting and storage system. These are very much worth the investment as they make opening the spa easy and the cover can be positioned for privacy or wind mitigation. These lifting systems also protect your investment as a good cover saves energy and secures your spa for safety purposes when not in use.
Views: Once in the spa what are you going to see? If you are lucky enough to have a view off property, like mountains, a lake, or other vista, then certainly take advantage of that. In many cases the view from the spa is contained within the property, so we often try and have the focus of the spa be out to something pleasant to look at. Water features and fireplaces make particularly good viewpoints from a spa. If the backyard includes a swimming pool, a good place for a spa can be overlooking the pool both for supervision of the pool but also so pool users can pop over the spa for a warm-up before returning to the pool.
Maintenance: Most spas on the market currently are designed to low maintenance and trouble free. Some even connect via the internet to your local spa technician so they can monitor water quality and spa performance remotely. In the landscape it is optimal to be able to move around the spa to open the cover, maintain the filters, and keep the surfaces around the spa clear of snow or debris.
Surrounding materials: The landscape around a spa can be made from a variety of materials so long as it is clean and slip resistant. Cedar or composite decking make good decking materials while concrete or pavers make good patio materials. Synthetic turf can also be incorporated into the area around a spa.
Accoutrements: There are a few more considerations for spas in the landscape, like where are you going to put your towel or robe? Do you want a place to store spa chemicals and tools? A well placed built-in bench and other smaller touches can greatly enhance the spa experience.
Code & permits: Spas must be wired by a licensed electrician, meet all code requirements, and a permit for that work is required. In the City of Calgary, you also require a spa permit. Some spas have specific wiring requirements or perhaps an Ethernet connection to connect to remote technical support.
PRO LANDSCAPER TIP
When building a deck adjacent to a spa, a height of around 18 inches (45cm) allows users to sit on the edge of the spa and swing their legs into or out of the spa easily.