Soak in the Latest Tub Technology

Transform your bath into an at-home spa with a hot, new tub.

By Susie Quick

If the kitchen is the heart of the home, the bath is the sanctuary. Today's homeowners are knocking down traditional walls to transform their former low-key bathrooms into soul-soothing retreats outfitted with the latest trappings the home spa industry has to offer. The hardest part is deciding which to choose.

The hallmark of the new "sanctuary" might be an oversized tub overflowing with cleansing waters that invigorate, massage and soak away your troubles. Bath design experts say these innovative tubs are the next "home theater" where, surrounded by music and candles, you're transported to a world of relaxation.

This world includes tubs with gentler, air-powered jets — beyond the 20th-century whirlpool — that work their way up the spine and neck so convincingly they might require a warning label.

"We had a customer who was relaxing in her new tub when the massage action started. It startled her so much she sprang up to see who was massaging her back," says Greg Wood, showroom manager for Keidel Supply Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. Greg has seen a twofold increase in sales of his hydrotherapy tubs just in the last year. "People who switched from a traditional whirlpool bath really do love them."

Not all tubs are equipped with bells and whistles as unplugged versions focus on the simple beauty of soaking. One mimics an ancient Japanese tub; another is honed from an ancient boulder. Here's a rundown of the latest tubs.

Many homeowners are familiar with whirlpools, which typically use powerful water jets to deeply penetrate your shoulders, back, or neck where directed. But new "airbath" systems from a number of manufacturers function differently. In these, air channels deliver a steady flow of warm air bubbles that gently circulate to coax strain and stress from tired muscles, says Greg.

The effect is closer to an effervescent hot spring than the sometimes jarring effect of a jetted whirlpool. Since the air blowers can be located in a space away from the tub, the systems are quieter, as well. Also, he says, homeowners will like the added bonus of a more sanitary system that doesn't require a monthly cleaning.

Kohler has a number of new whirlpool tubs using airbath technology, which combine a variety of hydrotherapy features. One of its newest is the "Sok" tub. The rectangular fiberglass tub is ultra deep and has an overflow rim that allows you to submerge yourself completely. The overflow is captured and returned to the bath. The Sok tub also incorporates effervescent bubbles along with optional "chromatherapy" lighting, a spa treatment with mood-enhancing light fixtures in the basin itself.

Jacuzzi recently launched its "Salon" line of tubs, which combines its signature whirlpool bath with a two-speed motor so you can customize the flow. Framed in teak or exotic Wenge wood, its oversized "Fuzion" whirlpool tub has an elegant modern style that looks like furniture for the bath. A dual system of jets allows you to share the bath with a partner. It comes with optional chromotherapy in a range of more than 250 colors (make sure you install a dimmer switch on your lights so you can enjoy the show).

For some of us, a deep luxurious tub filled with hot water and bath salts is all we need to achieve bliss.

The larger tubs are made in a variety of materials these days, from lightweight acrylic, cast iron, copper and even stone, an organic material discerning homeowners are turning to more and more.

"It's stone therapy," says David Luster of Advent Design International, a company that creates hand-carved, custom-made tubs from a variety of precious stones like Tuscan travertine. "Part of the magic of these baths is the stone we choose is so important. We can't truly predict what it will look like until it's finished but our customers understand this."

Luster says a typical stone tub is about 78 to 80 inches long and 46 inches wide, weighing about 1,200 pounds. Each is made to order requiring about 400 man hours from a master carver. Though not for the average homeowner, this work of art you would likely will to your children as it will last several lifetimes.

It's no surprise today's luxury tubs take center stage for homeowners. It's an indication of the importance of relaxation in our lives, says Pat Henaire, vice president of marketing and sales for MAAX Corporation in Montreal.

"I would say with the crazy life everyone is having today there is a return to the relaxation experience and making time for yourself that people desire," he says. "For some people it could mean a nice backyard with a party area and hot tub, but for others it's a new bathroom suite, a quiet peaceful place where you can have a good time and relax."

Pat sees a trend in the luxury products becoming affordable for the masses, not just wealthy homeowners. "Today you can get a whirlpool tub for less than a thousand dollars," he says. "The future will be about a complete experience in the tub. Everything for less than it was before: the massage system, chromatherapy, aromatherapy, heat therapy and everyone will be able to enjoy it."