Home & Design September 09, 2008
Soaking up the Hot Life

They’ve come a long way, baby.

Forget the thing sticking up on the deck. And don’t call them hot tubs or Jacuzzis. Buy one today or have the architect design an outdoor space nestled between trees and waterfalls and you’ve got a spa.

Whether manufactured as a molded unit with bucket seats served by jets at different heights, or constructed specifically for a residence at a place like The Valley Club or Golden Eagle, the spa has become an essential part of the Sun Valley experience.

LEFT You can find the pool-like spa from Aqua Pro Spa and Pool, Inc.
RIGHT Or you can find the contained, more traditional tub from Four Seasons Spa and Pool


“We’re as busy as we’ve ever been,” said Jeff Smith of Aqua Pro Spa and Pool, Inc., in Hailey. With 20 years’ experience and a crew of masons, carpenters, plumbers and landscape architects ready to do a project, Smith has installed custom spas at the cost of entire houses elsewhere. “Spending time in the spa is an integral part of the day for many people,” he says.

Smith says minutes spent in a spa soaking and talking with family members are the only slow times in hectic days for many of his customers.

The trend he calls the “backyard spa” escalated after September 11, 2001, when the nation suddenly stayed at home and fell in love with barbecues, decks and sinking into bubbling water.

Sun Valley, of course, went one better than the average American, setting spa tubs within carved wooden shapes, elaborate stone walkways, landscaped ponds and their own little rooms. And for a refreshing assortment of color: recessed LED lights playing over the water.

“It is becoming a staple in new home construction,” says Smith.

Smith has been taking courses in spa design with the Genesis Three Design Group in California, learning how to work with different soils when building a custom spa in Gunite, a type of concrete.

Much of his work involves custom Gunite pools, with or without spa jets. In manufactured spas, he carries CalSpa, a company started in 1976 at the beginning of the hot tub craze. A molded acrylic spa might sell for $4,000 and a custom spa with handmade tile in the $40,000 range. Along with advances in the technology of pumping systems that keep hot water circulating silently, new spas are approximately 30 percent more energy efficient. Many use the same wattage as a light bulb unless the jets are blasting.

Some spas cost the homeowner only $20 a month in electricity, compared to five times that amount in the 1990s. And they are looking more and more handsome all the time, especially in the hands of creative architects and owners around Sun Valley.

Dennis Spackman, owner of Ketchum Spas, says he’s amazed at some of the projects he works on.

Backyard hot tubs have become luxurious spas surrounded by landscaping, ponds and masonry

“We’re talking extravagant, beautiful, beautiful stuff,” Spackman says. “One project I worked on had $128,000 in tile.”
Another spa was set into a bathroom with a total cost of $275,000 for the room. Jon Nasvik of Cliffhangers, an expert in pouring concrete into shapes, is often called in on such projects.

Todd Johnson, owner of Four Seasons Spa and Pool in Hailey, said his clients insist on a custom look. He installs roughly 50 spas a year, typically hiding them within a landscape plan. >>>


“It’s part of an entire landscape,” Johnson says. “Rather than taking this box and putting it out in the yard, they’ve gone for a natural look.”

Unlike Smith and Spackman, who sometimes build from scratch, Johnson works exclusively with Hot Springs-brand, self-contained spas. But he rarely installs a spa that just sits on the deck like a lump.

“They definitely go all out,” he says.

Ketchum Spas installed this sapphire-like spa.


Although the technology allows for televisions to be built-in, most clients use the spa to escape the noise of the modern world. Unlike the original Jacuzzi tubs invented by the Jacuzzi brothers in California, with a scattering of six or seven jets for hydrotherapy, the latest spa units have 20 to 110 jets, depending on the size of the spa.

“They are able to do a heck of a lot more with them for your comfort,” says Johnson.
In addition, new saline technology and ozone equipment have reduced the amount of chlorine needed. Johnson says enzymes and hydrogen peroxide can be used for people sensitive to chlorine.


Spas are the new hot tubs. As such, they come in all varieties, like the natural/waterfall tub at left by Lloyd Construction, Inc.


Taking the chemical pool completely out of the picture is Whole Water Systems, a partnership between Hailey resident Morgan Brown and a German pool company. Using a wetlands drainage system similar to the natural purification of water that happens in the outdoors, German and Austrian public pools have been able to eliminate the need for chlorine. 

Brown said he hasn’t installed a Whole Water System in the Wood River Valley because of problems circulating water in a climate where freezing is possible at any time, but he’s considered an attached greenhouse for the wetlands drainage part of the system.

“Water is purified through filtration,” Brown explains. “You could make a very attractive solarium for that part.”

LEFT The stunning ground-level pool was crafted by Aqua Pro Spa and Pool
MIDDLE The Four Seasons Spa and Pool unit bubbles beside a natural waterway. Although the
technology allows for televisions to be built-in nearby,
most clients use the spa to escape the noise of the modern world.
RIGHT Aqua Pro of Hailey works with a crew of masons to handle custom projects like the spa and patio above.


Working to reduce electricity use as well as chemicals, Brown has another company, Sun Valley Solar, to heat spas and swimming pools with solar panels and solar collector systems.

In August, he started working with Zenergy on a plan to heat their spa with solar energy rather than the traditional gas source. With natural gas prices soaring along with oil prices, solar makes sense.

Sun Valley’s chilly weather requires antifreeze in tubing running through solar panels to heat exchangers and enough total roof surfaces to gather plenty of sun energy. Although Brown admits the system is more expensive to install, it is cheaper to operate.

“It will probably pay for itself in seven to 15 years, which is reasonable,” Brown says.

Between solar systems, water filtration possibilities, landscape design, energy efficiency, comfort and beauty, the spa has traveled a long way from the first bulky hot tubs and their 50-pound covers that had to be wrestled off. Machines do that work now, and the smart homeowner builds his backyard spa with all the finesse of an artist.

Sue Bailey had the pleasure of writing about hot tubs, now known as spas—an item she never saw until she took a 1973 ski vacation in Sun Valley. As a reporter for the Wood River Journal, she often finds herself soaking away aches from too much time on the computer rather than too many hours on the slopes. She’s been a resident of Elkhorn for the past 18 years, with a spa within walking distance of home.

This article appears in the Fall 2008 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.