The Next Logical Step: Automatic Spa Covers

Clean lines and a tidy finish make the cover box on this spa seem like part of the elegant design. (Photo courtesy Thursday Pools)Clean lines and a tidy finish make the cover box on this spa seem like part of the elegant design. (Photo courtesy Thursday Pools)

Automatic pool covers are one of the top convenience and safety products for pools. Owners love opening and closing pools at the touch of a finger because it provides safety and saves heat, water and chemicals.

Spa owners like that, too, so it's no surprise that alongside the surge in demand for spas and swim spas, a new demand for automatic spa covers has emerged. Just like pool owners, spa owners are looking to get the most out of their backyard investment by being able to instantly open and close the spa without wrestling with a cover.

Despite the added cost, for those that are looking for a convenient, safe and aesthetically pleasing spa cover solution, the automatic spa cover has become an attractive option.

Automatic spa cover still under construction by Modish Pools in Indiana. At right, the lid for cover box is still to be added, but note the strong black brackets in place to support it. Also, see the discreet cover tracks hidden under the coping and above the tile line. (Photo courtesy Modish Pools)Automatic spa cover still under construction by Modish Pools in Indiana. At right, the lid for cover box is still to be added, but note the strong black brackets in place to support it. Also, see the discreet cover tracks hidden under the coping and above the tile line. (Photo courtesy Modish Pools)

 

GROWING DEMAND FOR AUTO COVERS ON SPAS

It's a natural progression for auto covers to make the jump from pools to spas β€” for a homeowner to look at a pool cover and think, "I'd like that on my spa," especially in states where pool covers are ubiquitous, like Indiana, where auto pool cover market penetration is estimated at 75%.

"Almost 100% of the pools we build have an automatic pool cover," says Matt Harms, general manager at Modish Pools in Indiana. "So our market is very familiar with the convenience, safety and beauty of this product. We believe this familiarity with the product has fueled the demand for auto covers on spas."

Allan Horwood of Pool Patrol in British Columbia, Canada agrees saying, "Putting an auto cover on a spa was an anomaly in the past, but now it has become a regular request both for new spas as well as existing spa installations."

As a manufacturer, Mike Shadoan, VP of sales for Automatic Pool Covers in Westfield, Ind., has seen the surge on his end as well. "We have seen a steady increase in demand for auto covers being placed on spas and swim spas both in the U.S. and Canada," he says. "We are hearing from our dealers that consumers are investing in larger spas and swim spas with TVs, stereos, lights and a multitude of jets, so adding an auto cover no longer seems that out of the question."

In comparison to a traditional hot tub cover, an auto cover for a spa is expensive, but there are consumers willing to pay for that automation and convenience, says Shadoan. "There appears to be an untapped opportunity for pool professionals who want to start selling auto covers to their spa clients."

SELLING AUTOMATIC SPA COVERS

One of the biggest selling features of any automatic cover is that it makes it easier to use the vessel in cooler months. That feature plays well for spas, of course. "When you think of it," says Shadoan, "in winter, the spa owner is in their home dressed to jump in the spa or swim spa and, the last thing they want to do is wrestle with a cumbersome cover standing in the freezing cold without shoes or a coat. They would much rather push a button next to their patio door, wait one minute for the cover to pull back, and then walk directly into the spa."

Harms agrees, "Most of my clients plan to use their spa in the winter time. They certainly don't want to be dressed to use the hot tub in the middle of the winter, and then have to brush snow off of a hard top cover, and wrestle with getting the cover off the hot tub β€” so the auto cover offers a very practical and attractive benefit."

As this unfinished construction image makes clear, matching an automatic spa cover with an automatic pool cover brings the overall installation together nicely. (Photo courtesy Matthew Harms, Modish Pools, Ind.)As this unfinished construction image makes clear, matching an automatic spa cover with an automatic pool cover brings the overall installation together nicely. (Photo courtesy Matthew Harms, Modish Pools, Ind.)

 

Pool patrol neatly solved the auto cover space problem on this cedar deck swim spa by flush mounting the tracks and using a cedar bench as housing as well as storage. 'It was a very clever and attractive solution in a really tight backyard,' says Horwood. (Photo courtesy Pool Patrol)Pool patrol neatly solved the auto cover space problem on this cedar deck swim spa by flush mounting the tracks and using a cedar bench as housing as well as storage. "It was a very clever and attractive solution in a really tight backyard," says Horwood. (Photo courtesy Pool Patrol)

OPPORTUNITY FOR BUILDERS

The well-documented 2020 surge in demand for pools has been paralleled by the surge in demand for spas and swim spas, and all of these vessels need covers.

What many builders are finding is that by selling auto covers, they have an opportunity to sell another high-end product in the backyard for both the pool and the spa.

"We are pool builders and all of our pools have auto covers, whether it's a gunite, vinyl liner or fiberglass pool," says Harms. "More times than not, when we go on a pool lead, the customer says they are also thinking about installing a spa, and we'll tell them it's a great idea, and we explain that we can build them a spa that will look like and integrate with the pool β€” so the spa looks like it belongs with the pool. And of course, we'll suggest an auto cover go on both."

"There is a real opportunity for builders and installers to up-sell an auto cover on a spa every time they are in the backyard," adds Horwood. "Out of habit, pool builders don't think to offer an auto cover for the spa, but they should because they are missing a profitable opportunity, especially when you have a high-end customer that is automating their pool, adding an auto cover on the spa is a natural."

PLANNING FOR AUTO COVERS ON SPAS

On the installation end, the biggest difference between a pool and spa auto cover is space. And for the spa cover, the challenges are mostly aesthetic.

"On a spa, we have more design flexibility than on a pool because it can operate with a smaller motor mechanism," explains Harms. "Most customers like the spa to look as though it has a 'picture frame' around the perimeter of the spa, and we can do this easily because the cavity for the cover box doesn't need to be as big, allowing us to integrate the auto cover in a very aesthetically pleasing fashion."

Auto covers can be placed on spas that are flush with the deck or sit above the deck. "If the spa is set at grade, or at deck level, then the auto cover box will need to be placed below grade," explains Shadoan. "So the coping that sits over the box will sit flush with the rest of the deck."

If the spa sits up above the ground, typically they are raised about 18 to 20 inches above the deck, then so too, the cover box must sit above the deck. "In order to make the auto cover mechanism a part of the spa design on new spa installations, most builders will usually incorporate the box into the spa wall, so the cover box is essentially integrated with the overall footprint of the spa," says Shadoan. Depending on the size of the spa, the additional space needed for the mechanism box may only add about 1 foot to the length of the spa.

When Harms builds a gunite spa, he explains that the gunite spa walls he builds are typically 12 inches thick. "So, for example, if the water dimension of the spa, from side to side, is 8 feet, then our build dimension, or overall footprint, is 10 feet all around the perimeter of the spa or 1 foot on all sides," says Harms. "In planning, we make sure that motor unit fits within that 10-foot area, giving us the room we need for the motor unit as well as the electrical box to supply power for that motor unit; it can get tight in there, so we plan and design in ways that allow us to shift the system one way or another to increase our available space."

The situation is often different when installers are looking to install an auto cover on an existing spa installation. Although there is less fabric that needs to roll up in the housing, there tends to be less space, available around a spa than around a pool. "Oftentimes, the reason someone has chosen to install a spa is that they have limited backyard space, so they might have really squeezed the spa into the space, which means they haven't left much room around the perimeter of the spa, making it hard to find the space needed to place the housing for the cover mechanism," says Horwood.

These are opportunities to get creative, he adds. He recently installed an auto cover on a swim spa with a cedar deck. "We decided to flush mount the auto cover track onto the cedar deck," explains Horwood. Luckily, we worked with the deck guy and figured out a way to put a notch in the deck, so the track is truly flush with the deck, creating a really nice, clean look." In this case, the deck builder then also built a bench at the end of the spa for storing all the cleaning supplies and chemicals, providing a tidy answer to a perplexing problem.

 

Construction sequence on a spa with an automatic cover by Modish Pools. Note the construction efforts to conceal the cover, and the clean, smart result.Construction sequence on a spa with an automatic cover by Modish Pools. Note the construction efforts to conceal the cover, and the clean, smart result.

 

PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS

Determining what to put over the cover housing box is really a mix of balancing aesthetics vs functionality. This is where the options come in. "It's very important to set expectations both for the practical functionality and demands of that box cover in relationship to the aesthetics and use of the space around the spa that the customer might want," says Shadoan.

Just as with the auto cover for a pool, there is a standard 'lid' that comes from the manufacturer to cover the mechanism box for the auto cover. Typically this lid is made of aluminum and designed for easy removal to service the auto cover mechanism and fabric. However, it is not designed to bear weight, so the client cannot walk, stand or sit on this lid.

"Especially with spas, we find that consumers want to be able to use all the space around their spa," says Harms. "They usually want a lime stone, precast concrete or poured concrete lid over that auto cover box because they want to be able to walk around the spa and because it looks more aesthetically pleasing."

In order to accommodate the spa owner's desires, installers need to use a heavy-duty bracket that will support the weight of a stone lid. But that still doesn't mean the client can walk on that lid the way they can walk on the other three sides of the spa. "We take the time to explain to the client that the stone cannot be mortared in and should not be walked on, as it can shift and move. It is just gravity that is holding that lid in place."

Shadoan agrees and says that auto cover installers should set the expectation that the stone will need to be lifted for regular maintenance of the mechanism. "Cover service technicians have to be able to lift that heavy stone to maintain the mechanism and the cover β€” and that the lid isn't something you can walk on and that's it. So it isn't like the rest of the deck around the spa or pool."

It is also important to plan enough space for a service technician to be able to perform the necessary maintenance needed on the auto cover. "As with any auto cover, access to the cover mechanism is critical, and enough space needs to be established in advance," says Shadoan. Not only do installers need to consider the access by a service professional, but they should also consider how the spa owner is going to approach the spa. "I always take the time to consider how to walk up to and around the spa," says Horwood. "In some instances, we might even move a path to ensure users won't sit or walk on the lid cover of the mechanism box."

NATURAL PROGRESSION

Although there have been options for automation in spa covers for some time, it's surprising that it's taken this long for the "pool style" of automatic cover to catch on. But it's a natural fit, due to the convenience and benefits.

It's not for every client, of course, but for those with an existing pool cover or those who want a new one, it makes sense to see if they would like to match the pool cover with a spa cover. A "yes" on that add-on can boost the project's profit margin nicely.


This article first appeared in the February 2021 issue of AQUA Magazine β€” the top resource for retailers, builders and service pros in the pool and spa industry. Subscriptions to the print magazine are free to all industry professionals. Click here to subscribe.

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