With 13 years experience in plumbing and heating at a union shop, Jim Henderson ventured west in early 1976, and found work as the foreman of a crew that installed redwood hot tubs for one of the earliest California hot tub companies. Within two years, a separate company was formed in the backyard of a home in San Anselmo. We opened our first retail store in January 1981 to support the construction arm of our firm. Our need for more space and parking necessitated the move to our current location on Digital Drive in Novato, California.
Long time associate and friend, Jay Hurley, is our store manager. Currently, we occupy over 9,000 sq. ft. of showroom, office, and production space, with 24 models on display. We have at least 4 models in our tryout room that can be wet tested. Our parts and service department is proficient in maintaining the older spas, as well as those units more recently installed. We have on of the most extensive parts and accessories inventories in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The idea of communal bathing for purposes of health and relaxation got a boost in California when World War II veterans stationed in Japan experienced the concept and returned home. Here are some of the general trends we have observed from our 25-year perspective in chronological order. The earliest tubs were recycled wine barrels or small water storage tanks made of redwood and heated by gas, electricity, solar, wood, or heat exchanger. Some of these pioneering systems were elegant in their simplicity, while others were, to borrow from the vernacular, rather “far-out”. A more typical system circa 1976 may have looked like this: a wooden cylindrical tank, approx. 5′ or 6′ in diameter, 3′-5′ deep, holding 300 to 900 gallons, was equipped with 2 to 4 jets, and swimming pool support equipment (pump, filter, heater, timer).
The fiberglass spa migrated north from southern California in the late 1970’s, and offered an option other than the ‘wooden barrel’. The acrylic spa that came next offered a glossy and more durable surface that had an enormous impact on the industry and broadened its appeal to the mainstream. In 1981, a seven-foot octagon acrylic spa, heated via a stainless steel heat exchanger, using solar panels and a domestic hot water heater, was the ‘state of the art’ system and could cost $10,000 installed. Soon other plastics offering high durability and differing textures were introduced to capture market share in this vibrant industry.
Ultimately, spa manufacturers experimented with self-contained support equipment that had been miniaturized. The equipment could now be installed between the wall that held the water & the decorative and protective exterior. Unused spaces that remained could be filled with foam insulation. This development provided several advantages. Most importantly, the spa became easier to install. A crew skilled in plumbing, electrical, and carpentry was no longer required. This portable spa merely needed to be placed. Secondly, economies of scale rendered by factory mass production reduced costs, increased features, and improved quality (although this last issue was often debated until around 1990). No longer was the person desiring a spa at the mercy of the local building department and the caprice of spa installers. Finally, reduced heat loss and increased energy efficiency made the self-contained spa less costly to operate than the older systems that had support equipment remote from the spa.
The price of spas today has declined dramatically on a relative basis. Often the expenditure necessary to install a spa is less that 1% of the value of the home. Our company is fortunate to sell and service the Caldera Spa. Fully insulated, high quality, and pleasing to the senses, Caldera Spas, built in the Pacific Northwest for 20 years, is designed to withstand temperature extremes, salt air, snow, and rain. The strong partnership we have developed over the years allows us to anticipate the next 25-year chapter in the hot water industry with optimism and alacrity.