Hudson Valley Home 2011: Spas

For less than you might think, you can enjoy spa-worthy relaxation at home with a custom designed shower or hot tub



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spa tub and saunaUnder the sea: A local home features a fanciful mural along with a spa tub and sauna

Photograph by Michael Polito

No home spa would be complete, though, without a steam bath. Turn your existing shower stall into a sauna by adding a steam generator. Installed in a remote location (such as a closet, cabinet, or basement), the steam produced by the generator is piped into the shower stall. There’s growing evidence about the health benefits of steam baths. According to a 2001 article in the American Journal of Medicine, saunas can lower blood pressure and help some patients with chronic congestive heart failure. Steam also provides relief for people suffering from asthma, chronic bronchitis, and arthritis. It’s also good for general health; one study found that a hearty steam sauna raises the cardio load to the level of a brisk walk.

The modern shower sauna doesn’t have to end at steam therapy. The Mr. Steam brand generator, for example, includes an optional aromatherapy system that infuses scented oils into the vapor; varieties include eucalyptus, lavender, evergreen, mint and a “tropical combination” intended to clear the sinuses. Need more from your sauna? Mr. Steam can also be upgraded with ChromaSteam, which is a system of mood lighting. Add waterproof speakers to enhance the aural mood. A basic steam shower unit costs about $1,500 for roughly a 150-cubic-foot enclosure, Lowry says. Figure on spending another $500 to $1,000 per add-on, such as aromatherapy, depending upon the size of the shower stall.

Towel warmers let the feeling of luxury continue after the shower or steam bath is finished. “Basically, it’s like having a towel straight out of the dryer every time you shower,” Lowry says. Freestanding warmers, which plug into wall outlets, are under $200. Wall-mounted warmers run about $600 and include a timer that switches them on for clockwork shower users.

For an entirely different water milieu at home, hop into a backyard hot tub. Locally, homeowners have been doing just that for two primary reasons: health benefits and family together-time. “Some buyers have issues with arthritis, joint pain, circulation. This gives them relief from aches and pains,” says Gregg Galati at Galati Pools & Spas in Newburgh. “We’re seeing a lot of baby boomers that are still very active in their lifestyle but are starting to feel some aches and pains coming along.”

And, apparently, a family that soaks together, stays together. “It sounds kind of cheesy,” says Kevin Olheiser, a salesman with Rainbow Pools & Spa in Fishkill, “but it’s like one of the manufacturers says: it’s the new dinner table. People are finding that they’re able to keep their kids around a little more by jumping into the spa together.”

steam showerThis steam shower includes fittings from ThermaSol

Photograph courtesy of Jaclo

Hot tub manufacturers point out that the Arthritis Foundation recommends hot tub use for relief of the symptoms of that affliction. The benefits of heated water include muscle relaxation, decreased pain and stiffness, and greater ease in performing exercises because of the buoyancy.

Athletes have long found relief for aching muscles in a long hot-water soak, but modern hot tubs get more aggressive. “Hydrotherapy uses different jets to target different muscles,” Olheiser says. Many wannabe tub owners come in looking for a “ton of jets,” he says. “I think they’ve been conditioned to think that way. I usually ask, ‘What’s more important to you: the number of jets, or the way they make you feel?’ ” The Hot Springs brand boasts the Moto-Massage feature: two powerful swiveling water jets. It’s installed behind one of the reclining “lounge” seats and sweeps streams of water from the low back to the neck. A knob lets you control the force of the stream and the speed of the arc. “That’s by far the most popular jet,” Olheiser says. “It’s kind of the deal closer.”

New hot tubs range in price from about $3,500 to $14,000, but Galati says average buyers usually end up spending about $5,500 (not including installation and electrical work). Costs vary because of size (Hot Springs’ Grandee model, for example, has room for seven people) and the number of jets. Custom exteriors can be plain or extravagant; a faux stone design, for instance, blends the hot tub into a patio. Entertainment options such as a TV and stereo speakers also raise the price.

These days, however, customers are not demanding the high-end bells and whistles. “We’re seeing a back-to-basics trend — hydrotherapy, relaxation,” Galati says. “We try to provide a carefree ownership experience.” Breakthroughs in hot-tub maintenance have made that possible — and relatively affordable. “Depending on the size and circumstances,” says Galati, “spas can cost about $200 per year to maintain.” Salt-water sanitizing systems in new tubs have reduced the amount of chlorine needed and allow water to be changed less often. There’s still maintenance in checking chemical levels, but that only needs to be done about once a month, rather than once a week as in the past, according to Olheiser, who adds that the salt system makes for a better experience all around. “It’s a less harsh odor,” he says. “It also gives the water a silkier, softer feel.”

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