A New Era for Whirlpools

A New Era for Whirlpools

A changing bathing market inspires custom-designed hydrotherapy jets, traditional styling and an overall new level of luxury in whirlpools and whirlpool fixtures.

Only a few years ago, a consumer planning a luxurious, upscale master bath had one basic choice - install a whirlpool. However, recent advances in "super shower" technology, as well as the rise in popularity in steam generators, have changed all that.

"Showers have been encroaching on the traditional idea of having a big, luxury bath," believes Greg Rohl, marketing manager for Rohl Corp., in Costa Mesa, CA, who also cites customer desire for water conservation as a factor in the growing market share of showers.

In response, the whirlpool market is going in two separate directions. Standard "builder" models with a lower price point make the whirlpool tub a viable option for a large new market segment. Additionally, exciting new features are making the high-end, luxury whirlpool a must-have all over again.

Hydrotherapy jets
"There's an increased awareness of the therapeutic properties that whirlpools have to offer," says Kirk Homrighouse, marketing director for Aquatic Industries, LLC, in Leander, TX. Increasingly, whirlpools are taking on scientifically formulated hydrotherapy properties. "Initially, you were looking at whirlpool tubs that had little jets that blow water," Homrig-house explains. "[But now] whirl-pool manufacturers have discovered that the type of jets in the tubs [larger, adjustable, swirling jets instead of straight on ones] can make it so that it becomes more than just moving water around a person's body - this actually targets areas. The technology is catching up to the need."

"People are looking for different options," explains Christian Reick-Mitrisin, business unit manager for Aqua Glass Corp., in Adamsville, TN, which is introducing a new collection of whirlpools, available with a basic package plus additions such as a revolving massage jet, tiny foot massage jets, a 1-1/2 HP motor with a six-speed control and a large jet which moves up and down one's lower lumbar region. "The whole thing is based on indulgence, what's really going to relax you after a long day at work," says Reick-Mitrisin.

"Control is the key," adds Phil Weeks, president of Jacuzzi Whirlpool Baths, in Walnut Creek, CA. Instead of the old whirlpool controls, which basically made the water movement stronger or weaker, "now you're getting more 'zones of control.' The front jets could be doing one thing, the back jets another," with elaborate programmable configurations that can be changed with the touch of a tub side control.

"The market is going toward jets which massage your back and neck," concurs Hal Weinstein, v.p./corporate marketing for MAAX, Inc., in Quebec, Canada. He adds that hot air systems are another popular addition, while several manufacturers are in the process of introducing a neck pillow option to provide water massages on that stress-prone area.

Similarly, Jeffrey Valles, president of the Los Angeles, CA-based Phylrich International, notes the popularity of varying jet placements, including "one big jet right behind your back," or smaller jets throughout the tub rather than a few bigger ones. "It's taking whirlpools to a whole new level. It's to the point where they give you a book on how to use the tub," he quips.

In terms of more cosmetic luxury additions, Patrick Coyle, v.p./marketing and sales for Hydro Systems Inc., in Simi Valley, CA, notes the rise of romantic, two-person tubs with "extra frills and design touches, such as fiber optic lights, [which provide] a lighting environment for the master bath. There are two multi-color fiber optic lights in the interior of the tub, [as well as] mini-spots which run around the exterior and top deck. When there is a waterfall - which is also a new trend - a couple of extra lights behind the waterfall fill spout heighten the look. This eliminates the burning candles which will [cause] a smoke-filled room. It gives you that environment without the danger of fire." Coyle also notes the Roman-style tub filler as a popular option.

For the high-end market, several manufacturers are offering built-in TVs and VCRs, while aromatherapy scents are another addition. Jan Jones, marketing manager at MTI Whirlpools, in Sugar Hill, GA, also notes a more practical improvement in the form of a fill flush system that fills the tub through the jets, cleaning the plumbing lines in the process. This prevents the problem of old residue from the lines getting into clean water.

However, Philip Klement, v.p./sales and marketing for the Dallas, TX-based SANIJET Pipeless Whirlpool Baths, voices concern over the current sanitizing standards for whirlpools. He says that manufacturers should pay special attention to the residue and bacteria that are left behind by traditional jets, such as neck jets, and that end-users need to have better control over the hydrotherapeutic benefits whirlpools now provide.

"These things [residue and bacteria] do not always appear on whirlpool baths in a showroom, but they often do appear after being installed in a working bathroom. We [as manufacturers] should strive to advance the technology and safety of whirlpool baths while making them more affordable to the consumer and other end-users," says Klement, whose company will soon be introducing a form of hydrotherapy that "pays special attention to back, neck and feet, and gives the bather control capabilities never before seen."

With further regard to safety concerns, Sue Fletcher, marketing communications manager for the Minneapolis, MN-based Pearl Baths Inc., points out a safety suction option, which ensures that the whirlpool will shut down if an object such as a washcloth is blocking the water return system.

Homrighouse also notes a run dry safe pump, "so if by accident there isn't water present, the motor doesn't fry because someone accidentally turned [the tub] on." Also, rigid PWC piping ensures there's a complete drain down, preventing a collection of old water in the pipes.

Quietness is another important consideration, he adds. "It doesn't do you any good to have a nice whirlpool if it's going 'DWWEEEERERREEEANG',"
he jokes. In addition, recessed jets will make the tub more comfortable, he adds.

"These are some of the features that are going to make a whirlpool last a long time," Homrighouse concludes. "[These are what] customers should look for, that will add value to their house."

Whirlpool Trends at a Glance
  • The whirlpool market is reacting to the advent of "supershowers" and steam, adding new features and enhanced options to remain viable.
  • New configurations of whirlpool jets, for instance in the shoulder and neck area, increase a tub's hydrotherapy value as a stress reliever.
  • Greater levels of luxury are becoming increasingly common in the
    upper end of the market, for instance, the addition of built-in lights,
    TVs and VCRs.
  • Standard issue models at a more economical price point make whirlpools affordable even for the mid to lower end of the market.
  • Whirlpool faucets and fixtures are available in a greater variety of designs, particularly encompassing elaborate Old World looks with cross handles, etc.
  • Though whirlpools are available in a wide variety of colors, including such dramatic statements as forest green, red or black, white and near-white shades still comprise the bulk of the market - and, in fact, with the advent of old-fashioned looks, pure white is selling better than ever.
  • Whirlpools are available in an increasing variety of shapes and sizes, including a retro model that features an old-fashioned, claw-foot tub.
  • Undermount whirlpools with a marble or stone surface are a new ultra-high-end trend.
  • Whirlpools are increasingly available in a ready-to-install combination with a supershower and steam for the ultimate master bath retreat
  • The new era of whirlpools features improved technology such as 3/4" valves for faster tub filling, similarly quick-filling "waterfall" effects, and recessed jets for greater comfort.

Shapes and colors

Traditional look

Not just high end

Whirlpool Baths Continue to Gain Popularity, Dealers Say

Kitchen & Bath Design News.

- Daina Darzin