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Tub and Spa Cabinetry.
Care and maintenance of your Spa and hot tub cabinet whether wood or synthetic. A page designed to help people looking for buying advice and care and maintenance instructions.
All wooden cabinets require maintenance. Some are destine to failure from the start. The manufacturers of some spas cut costs of production by using pine cabinets. These cabinets are prone to quickly deteriorating when exposed to the elements. Fortunately this practice is nearly dead in the industry now, but there are still a few "cheap" cabinets out there so be careful.
Another place where costs are often cut is the framing underneath the cabinet. Look for glued and fastened (screws / staples) cabinetry, and look for pressure treated lumber of another water proof substance wherever the cabinet may be exposed to water or wick water up from the earth/foundation.
Cedar cabinets are very popular, and with routine maintenance can be kept looking quite nice.
Redwood cabinets are also very popular, and require less maintenance generally than cedar, but still need attention on a regular basis.
Mahogany cabinets are used by a rare few manufacturers that I know of, and with lots of attention are in my opinion some of the prettiest. But like the others, without attention can deteriorate to a point of "unsalvageability" rather quickly. As a rule they are more labor intensive when treating, when compared to redwood or cedar, due to their propensity toward fading and need of extensive sanding prior to stain application. Also I have found mahogany to be more prone to warping than redwood or cedar.
When treating cedar or redwood cabinets it is best to use an oil based semi-transparent stain, and if the wood has darkened to first use a "deck wash" to remove the tannins that have caused the darkness. A little light sanding is also a good idea prior to the application of the stain.
SPAR varnish is another alternative, I have used it on outdoor mahogany furniture now for a couple of years with very good results, but even with SPAR varnish annual maintenance has been necessary and sanding and staining happens every 2 to 3 years.
A little light sanding and re-coating annually is a good idea with the SPAR product. The one I am using is a Minwax brand.
Oak cabinets are out there, but be warned that they require a lot of maintenance to the top edge and any other surface that can have spa water slashed on it (which is most of it). Also note, this type of cabinet is very expensive $1000-$2000 extra average, and should only be used in an indoor application.
Polymer / Plastic cabinets have quickly established themselves as a strong presence in spa manufacturing. These plastic cabinets are much lower maintenance than their wooden counterparts, but many can be prone to fading or yellowing from sunlight. Before purchasing one of these, check with your dealer about not only length of warranty but specifically about sun damage and color fastness fading coverage in the warranty.
added 09-15-03 Plastics are taking over the field, and with good cause. The new synthetics can look like wood and really do require very little maintenance. I polled a major manufacturer recently and found that they had no warranty claims over the three years in which they were using a polystyrene based synthetic wood. This includes fading and structural defects. (Product was CPI polystyrene synthetic wood)
In a resent survey of major spa manufacturers the European market is still strong for wooden skirts, but the US is moving toward a greater than 50% synthetic market.
UPDATE 12-12-04 Synthetic cabinets,. new materials are available in spas & hot tubs cabinetry. Amongst them are architectural foam made to look like (in most cases) stone, and stainless steel! How these two will weather is yet to be seen, but a word of caution goes out to those looking at the foam products, they are painted, and as such will require an occasional touch up. My buildings facade is composed of wood, cement and architectural foam, and all need regular maintenance, but the foam does allow for some effects that would be too expensive to make form the materials that they mimic. (In my case Roman Architectural accents - stone columns, etc.) Stainless steel look -a-likes should whether as well as the paints and polymers that make them up, but real stainless should do well (as long as you want Robospa for the rest of your life) As for polymers, the big draw back to them is still whether-ability (meaning sun fade) most do not hold up to 5 year accelerated testing and none that I am aware of are warranted for sun fade.
Over the lip vs. Drop in cabinets.
When shopping for a portable spa / hot tub you will see two types of spa / hot tub cabinet, one where the shell of the spa comes over the top edge of the cabinet (lip-over style) and the other where the shell rests on a rail of wood that sticks out from the lip of the shell. (drop in style)
While as a rule the Drop in style is more expensive to manufacture, when done properly, with a strong sub-frame, the lip-over style can be just as strong. The argument posted for the lip-over style will generally be that spa water does not rest on the rail, found in the drop in style, and therefore is less prone to water rot. While the argument for the drop in style will be that it is protective of the lip of the spa by providing a rail for things to bump into rather than directly into the spa shell.
After having sold and serviced both, my conclusion is that either is equal to the other. The amount of spa water that the lip of a cabinet is exposed to is far less than the abuse that mother nature dishes out to either's sides. If the cabinet is made of a high quality wood either should last equally long. The one thing to check on though when looking at a cabinet, is whether or not it has removable panels that will allow for servicing of the plumbing parts. Some spa / hot tub cabinets, once attached to the shell are not removable. This can pose a major problem if plumbing service is required.
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