Hot Tubs And Safety Concerns

Which state has the most hot tubs or spas? Why, it's California, of course.

But Washington state ranks fourth, with more than 100,000 hot tubs, according to the National Spa and Pool Institute, a trade group.

This is a hot item in new homes and home remodelings.

If you plan to install a spa, be aware of some safety concerns.

Find out whether the drain and/or jet covers and suction fittings comply with voluntary safety standards aimed at preventing hair or body parts from being sucked into the drain or intake.

Several years ago the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported four deaths and 10 other incidents, in which people's hair was sucked into the suction fitting drain of a spa, hot tub or bathtub with water jets, sometimes pulling the person's head under water.

As a result of those problems, most manufacturers redesigned drain and suction intake covers.

Last week a 10-year-old Kirkland girl drowned in an Oregon hotel's bath tub with water jets. The child's hair became entangled in a suction intake.

In 1987, a 7-year-old Thurston County girl nearly drowned when her long hair became entangled in a hot-tub drain cover. An adult was able to cut off the child's hair and rescue her in time.

Safety experts say the combination of the motion caused by the water jets, the suction power of drains, the size of the openings in the drain cover and other factors cause the problem. Many manufacturers now use two drains or valves to spread out the suction force, according to those in the industry.

But not everyone has a new tub, so what do you look for?

Commercial pools and spas are required to have a manual shutoff and an alarm in obvious places. Though homeowners aren't required to comply with those regulations, many of these requirements would be appropriate safety measures for private pools and spas, advises John Fish, a design consultant with Pacific Pools of Kirkland. Fish advises an emergency shutoff in the hot tub.

Look for a spa or hot tub with two drains separated by a minimum of 2 feet, or one drain and a skimming device, Fish says. The suction will be less than tubs with one drain.

Fish also advises homeowners to avoid chain link fences because he believes the diamond spaces between the links can work work like ladders for youngsters' small feet.

In Fiberglas models, the shutoff often is mounted on the lip of the hot tub, said John Schaedler, commercial sales manager for Aqua Quip.

A second drain can be added to the older tubs, he added.

In some cases you'll need a building permit for a hot tub, depending on the structure. In Seattle, call 684-8850, the Department of Construction and Land Use permit information division. There are rules about setbacks from property lines, and there is a requirement that pools be surrounded by a child-proof fence of at least 4 feet.


-- Keep long hair away from the suction fittings or drain covers in spas, hot tubs and jetted bath tubs. Wear a swim cap or pin up long hair.

-- Remind people that spas and hot tubs shouldn't be used for diving or head stands. They're designed for people to sit in.

-- Make users aware of the location of the emergency shutoff button.

-- Don't tub alone. If you insist on doing so, make sure someone knows you're in the tub.

-- Limit your stay, depending on temperature. If the temperature is 104 degrees Fahrenheit, limit yourself to no more than 15 minutes.

-- Keep tub and all its parts in proper repair. If suction covers break, shut down the tub and replace them immediately.


If you'd like a free copy of an alert sheet on drain covers or "Children and Pools: A Safety Checklist," write the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, P.O. Box 21027, Seattle 98111-3027.

To order a copy of "The Sensible Way to Enjoy Your Spa or Hot Tub," send $1.75 to the National Spa and Pool Institute, 2111 Eisenhower Ave., Alexandria, VA 22314.

Shelby Gilje's Troubleshooter column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday in the Scene section of The Times. Do you have a problem? Write to Times Troubleshooter, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. Include copies, not originals, of documents indicating payment, guarantees, contracts and other relevant materials.