Review – Barefoot 12-Foot Swim Spa Model SS12, Installation and Use

My wife, Jennifer and I have always wanted a pool, or a hot tub too, or both.

Our swim spa - sitting on display with exercise equipment installed

Our swim spa – sitting on display with exercise equipment installed

But pools are expensive – they are expensive and time-consuming to install and maintain, and it seems like conventional jacuzzis/hot tubs don’t seem to be a lot better.  Both pools and jacuzzis use a lot of chemicals to keep clean, none of which is very good the environment nor for the persons using the water the chemicals are in.  Around here in Northern New York State pools are also only usable for, really, just a certain few months of the year.  Jacuzzis can be used year-round but – well, you can’t do much more than sit in a jacuzzi and relax.

So we have never been very serious about getting either.

Also, I could not swim so while a pool might be nice for me to learn with I wasn’t sure if I would necessarily use it much.  Not to mention I’d need someone to be around to watch me in the initial stages of learning.

That changed last summer (2018) when I managed to, after over fifty years, begin to learn how to swim, hold my breath, not panic, etc; though with my wife watching over me from shore and giving advice once I actually was able to splash around a little.

So in the Fall when a company called SpaBlowout had their spa show at the Watertown, NY Fairgrounds we decided to go check it out, with no particular intention of buying anything.

They had every conceivable kind of jacuzzi/spa there, all made by BarefootSpas – an American company based in Richmond, Virginia.  There were big ones, small ones, tall ones, lower (more conventional sort of) ones, and of course two different sizes of swim spas.  Other sizes were available but they only had two sizes there as they are quite large.

If you’re not familiar with a swim spa it basically is an elongated jacuzzi/hot tub that has regular jacuzzi jets as well as specific ones to provide enough resistance to swim in place against.  They are deeper than a regular jacuzzi also (though this company was selling some regular non-swimming ones which were also deeper, as well as more conventional sorts).  You can also run in them and do some other exercises using some resistive exercise equipment that attaches inside, like rowing or even running.  Frankly for us, these really aren’t that useful but for those with mobility problems or other issues or for those who are recovering from injuries I imagine these would be much more useful.

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Robertson style square screw head used to secure the panels.

One swim spa had water in it and was running so we could get a look at how it worked, and another smaller one was empty.

We originally were going to buy the larger one, but another salesman sold it to another couple right before we made the deal.

After some expected negotiating and standard salesmanship from the company’s people and such we had bought the twelve-foot swim spa that was on display, the empty unused one.  We got a good price I believe, on the display model.  While it never had had water in it – it also had been slightly damaged.  The salesmen – Brandin O. and Scott W. – told us it had happened when they were offloading it and it had gotten hit against something else, cracking one of the side panels.

These side panels are made up of a series of smaller vinyl panels that fit together in a tongue and groove arrangement with a frame on either side of each of these panels, which surround and insulate and protect the inner workings of the swim spa.  Inside the panels is a thick styrofoam insulation with a reflective surface facing the inside.

One of these panels was broken in two spots and they assured me that it could be ‘pounded out’ fairly easily.  I looked at it a bit closer and figured that it would be a bit more than ‘pounding out’ but that it was indeed fixable.

Now I am glad that we did not get the larger unit, after the trouble of getting space and a pad for the twelve-foot one, as well as the increased power the larger one would have needed to have and would have taken.

The one we bought – the Barefoot SS12 is twelve-foot long and seven and a half feet wide (this is the outer size of the whole thing), and four and a half feet deep.  There are four seats inside but obviously, there is room enough for more people than that if they stood up, or maybe were very chummy.  There is also a step-up area right before the seats, the middle part of which is also the seat for rowing.

For swimming of course, there is only going to be one person doing the swimming, though two or three could sit at the opposite end.  More about this later.

There’s tons of jets inside – regular ones as well as the swim jets.  It has two pumps to supply water power to all of these jets and a  huge 4.0 kw heater to heat it when it is in full use, of course subsequently it takes a 50 amp 220-volt circuit to power the whole thing.  Unless you are a professional electrician you want this done right, with the proper GFI and cut-off switch and such.

The Barefoot SS12 swim spa weights in at around 1600 pounds and has a capacity of 1300 gallons of water.  That’s a lot of weight, and that’s a lot of water!

There are also resistance exercise equipment which attaches inside, a highly insulated cover system, and steps – all of which were included in our price along with a year’s worth of chemicals.

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Showing one panel, insulation, and tongue and groove system.

Which brings me to one of the most important things to us, and may be what helped to sell this particular company’s spa series to us –  these are 95% chemical-free and also low maintenance.  The included chemicals need to be added in small amounts only, with most of the purification being done by an ozone water purification system.

This is an FDA approved method that uses ozone, or O3 – a powerful oxidant, to kill or inactivate fungus, organic materials, contaminants, and viruses better than even chlorine.  In the atmosphere the ozone layer is what protects the Earth from ultraviolet radiation from the sun.  Purification by ozone is what is used in the vast majority of the world’s water treatment, I have read.  Ozone consists of oxygen and is a naturally occurring substance so once it has done its job it reverts back to that oxygen.

Inside the tub is a little box called an ozone generator that creates ozone just like the sun does in the upper atmosphere, and uses a diffuser to mix it with bubbles in the water.  Ozone is made of three oxygen atoms, one connected weakly to the others so that when it encounters viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other things it will transfer itself to them and cause them to oxidize, killing them and breaking them down.

There is also a UV light to help kill more biological contaminants.  More about this pesky UV light later.

The salesmen explained that while this process takes care of most contaminants there does have to be a small amount of chemicals to cover the rest, but it is minimal.

Compare this to the overwhelming stink and cloying smell of chlorine in regular hot tubs, home pools, and facility pools.

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Inside the panel where the electrical and pump is.

So why isn’t this method used more in pools and hot tubs?  I can’t answer that question.  But one of the salesmen explained that Barefoot Spa’s created or invented or improved their own method of ozone purification which is used in these hot tubs.  Frankly; shame on other manufacturer’s for sticking with the old methods of purifying water instead of not trying to improve the whole process and use few chemicals.  Maybe more pools and jacuzzi do use this process that I am not aware of.

We were also told that the water only needed to be changed once a year, because of this water purification method.

Along the front and back of the top are controls for the unit, with some air adjustment knobs for each series of jets.  These increase and decrease their power.

The water intakes are not going to suck in anyone, with the large water intake having a large filter inside that occasionally has to be replaced.  We were told it is of a standard filter type.  I have noticed some debris getting stuck to the intakes at the bottom.  One intake is for the number one jets which run at a very low setting to circulate the water (and can be turned to high) and this intake more often has some crap stuck around it occasionally.  This gets stirred up here and there and so we occasionally use a regular cheapo pool skimmer to clean this out, as well as a few bugs and leaves that drop into it (a tree is very nearby).  Minimal additional time involved but something to consider.

The tub shell itself is antimicrobial.  And there are attachment points near the inside top parameter for the exercise equipment.

While not in full use (running the jets full-speed) I don’t imagine the power to run the ozone purification is very high, as the one unit I saw inside had a fairly small diameter wiring going to it from the main power distribution system. What takes the most power when it is not in use is the water heater and secondarily the jets which run on low power.  The jets run automatically to keep both the heat consistent throughout the system, but also to circulate the water and subsequently purifying every gallon over a period of time.  Occasionally the computer onboard adjusts the jets from low to high when it detects that it needs to, so if you buy one don’t be alarmed if you hear the front or back jets come on momentarily at some point.  It doesn’t happen often, just when needed.

The computer monitors the system and uses the above method for not only keeping the temperature regular and the water circulated but also as a secondary method to make sure nothing freezes if it is in use during the Winter.  If the swim spa is not to be used during the Winter the system does need to be drained to avoid any remaining water inside the system from freezing, there is a procedure for doing so in the manual.

With something this size there is going to be a monthly increase in the electrical usage.  The cover itself is very thick, with an extra plastic between the cover and the top of the tub which I imagine helps, and skirted sides that go down over the edge, and as I mentioned above the sides of the swim spa itself have an inner insulation with a silvery facing on the inside.  This helps to keep heat inside and to reflect back heat that is already inside and that being radiated from the tub holding the water.  The company also says that this insulation creates a “greenhouse effect” inside the framework/base of the swim spa to capture the heat from the sun.  The sun’s heat hitting the side of the unit and being captured in this airtight base around and under the tub part makes some sort of sense, I would guess.  The whole thing does seem well-sealed to keep the heat in – whether it is the framework and base itself as well as the heavy cover system.

The covers are a bit heavy but one person of moderate strength can move them quite easily by themselves, it helps to have two though.  They really are heavy-duty and well sewed and manufactured.  For couples who both have weakness or mobility problems or are recovering from an injury these may be too heavy – one person can move them off and on, but two people with physical issues may not.  There is a system that can be bought that moves these on and off using power, so that is an option.

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Framework using scrap lumber and PVC pipes for cover storage.

I have created a framework at one end of the swim spa so that the covers can be moved easily onto it and then back, without lifting them from the ground or moving them elsewhere.  This works great, though I am still tweaking it.

The entire bottom of the swim spa itself is sealed and also insulated, the strongest points seem to be the four corners and most of the weight seems to be around the outside of the whole unit, from what I can tell.  The bottom of the tub itself just barely kisses the insulated bottom when you look inside the access panels.

The whole unit is heavy, with the pumps and the tub part being quite large, the frame itself is made up of real wood, fairly heavy and well-constructed.  Yet rolling it on PVC pipes makes moving it much easier than I would have thought.  Just like the Egyptians did to build the pyramids the spa guys mention – it’s a bit more complicated than that but the principle works well for moving it as long as you have a few extra people and a relatively flat surface.

We were told to buy five four-inch PVC pipes for moving it and to store it on until we had a pad put in.  The PVC pipes worked well but they are one more added expense that you need to calculate for.  The movers were very respectful and joked with me a bit, and got it quickly and efficiently and carefully where we wanted it – in a position right beside where we planned on permanently installing the swim spa.

Unfortunately, the extras were not sent along with the swim spa on the delivery truck and my wife had to contact the company to try to get the stairs, exercise equipment, chemical treatments, etc sent out.  This took some messing around with and back and forths to get the stuff delivered but eventually it all did get to us.

There are no instructions in paper form for the swim spa, but the PDF can be downloaded off the BarefootSpas website.  When we bought the swim spa there was a copy of the electrical instructions included with the receipt, also the boxes of chemical treatments have a copy of the treatment schedule and initial treatment included in paper form.  This is also duplicated in the manual PDF for the swim spa.

Slight damage repaired - but cosmetically visible.

Slight damage repaired – but cosmetically visible.

With our swim spa the first thing I needed to do was to remove the damaged panel and repair it.  The heads of the screws holding it on were not your regular Phillips but a square head screw (Robertson).  I have a fair number of tools and such so once I found the correct bit in my collection it was an easy matter to remove the panel to get a better look at what I needed to do.  If you have a good selection of driver bits you likely have the Robertson square head bit kicking around.  You or your electrician will also need this to access the panel for connecting the electrical to the swim spa inside.  Also, it is recommended that you open the access panel and look inside after the swim spa has been started the first time, to make sure none of the pipes are leaking

Anyway, on to the repair – one of the long panels that make up that particular damaged larger panel was broken in two places, with the insulation under it cracked and missing a few pieces.  These smaller panels fit into each other with a tongue and groove system which had pulled out and away on one side.  Small staples had been used to secure these normally, but the weight of the whole spa hitting something else had disgorged these.  I thought at first that it would be just a matter of pounding the staples back in but they were bent and weakened and it was hard to straighten them.

So I set out to use a pair of needle nose to maneuver them out of the vinyl panels.  Once I did that I could carefully slip the tongue and groove back into their neighboring pieces and snap it all back together quite well.  I found some comparable staples in the huge collection of hardware that my father had given me and I re-secured the panel back into the framework, then reglued the insulation that had been pulled away.  As I mentioned, in some places it had been cracked and pieces had broken off.  These were very small but I wanted to keep the panel as insulated and sealed as possible so I caulked some comparable insulation that I had lying around over some of the cracks and small holes.  The insulation I had was similar in that one side had a silvery reflective side so it worked out quite well.  Not the prettiest but it is on the inside and no one will ever see it.

As you can see in this picture above there is a slight cosmetic damage visible where the two cracks are (ignore the whitish scuffing – that’s just mud and dirt from laying it on the grass) but it is not bad, and we are happy to have some money knocked off because of it.  The important thing was that the damage was just on the surface.  And I wonder if perhaps there may be a vinyl repair kit of some sort that might cover the cracks.  After having the swim spa for a period of time I don’t even notice the little cosmetic damage, especially since the stairs are mostly over this section.

20190815_105724_crThe guys who delivered it were very careful and wanted to make sure it was temporary positioned the best way, they were a fun but very professional group of three guys who carefully maneuvered it off the flatbed truck and onto the PVC pipes.  Unfortunately our stairs and the exercise equipment and year’s worth of chemicals did not come with it, so there was some calls and screwing around to get those sent to us as I mentioned above.

That was fine as we still needed to get the electrical and the base to put it on installed.

At first we considered pouring concrete ourselves, or laying pavers over gravel, or building a ground-level wood or vinyl deck, or buying a plastic/vinyl pad and putting it over gravel.

After a few estimates we found a company to lay the concrete and gravel base for a reasonable price, but that fell through as the company was too busy to come out for a while, and inevitably it got too late in the year and the ground became frozen.  So there we were with the swim spa sitting all Winter – expensive and unusable.

In my opinion, unless you are very experienced it’s probably a good idea to have a professional install the electrical at least, and perhaps the base too.  There’s a lot of potential for overloads and injury or death from an incorrectly installed electrical, and if you are not used to DIY also the chance of sinking and misalignment from a bad base under something so heavy.

The electrical itself requires a 50 amp circuit, with a shutoff near the spa, and a heavy-duty ground fault interrupter system, not to mention underground cables and such.  Have a pro do it if you are having something similar put in.

The best position for us seemed to be right beside our deck.  Our house is built on a bit of a hill so the deck itself is a story above the ground with stairs leading to the yard; so we decided to put the spa right beside the deck a short distance from the stairs.  Underneath the deck would have been best but there wasn’t enough room.

Unfortunately where we wanted it was right on that slight hill, which would have to have a space dug out and leveled.

My nephew did remind us that we would have to go up and down the stairs to get to it, which might create a few problems if the stairs get icy and snow-covered.  But there just were no other options for positioning it that we liked, so we’ll address those problems when we need to – possibly by coming out our front down and around the side of the house instead of going down the deck stairs during the Winter.  We’ll see.

20190719_104629The stair assembly was pretty easy to put together in general.  A plastic mallet is pretty essential but the instructions mentioned lubing the parts with dish soap, which helped a lot.  The stairs seem pretty good, though the handrails near the top are not super-stable – like you wouldn’t want to hang off them or have a good-sized kid do or put a lot of weight against them, but they are fine for hanging onto going up and down the stairs every day.  They also have a towel holder and a couple of drink holders on each side.  The step part is very stable and the whole thing does look really durable.  It’s pretty heavy-duty for plastic and even though I carried it from my garage to the swim spa it was damn heavy, which gives you a bit of an idea of the hardiness of it.  If you have accessibility issues and really need to lean on the handrails or have kids who might you may find yourself considering some aftermarket stairs with sturdier handrails.  Or just attaching heavier duty handrails to the stair system itself.  For us they are just fine.

We also got four boxes of chemical treatments; which consists of spa test strips, spa shock (which helps to control and destroy bacteria), spa bright (which keeps stains and scale off the tub), clear spa (a clarifying agent), and PH Up and PH Down and Alkalinity Up.  The process requires a bit of patience and time when adjusting these, instructions are specific on this if the test strip shows your levels out of whack.  With our’s we have yet to do any adjustments whatsoever.

So fast forward to the Spring; calls to the company that was going to lay the concrete weren’t returned and we started getting estimates from others as well as estimates for the electrical.  Digging out, laying gravel, and pouring concrete are pretty expensive and strangely enough most of the electrical contractors never called back nor got a chance to come out.  Very unprofessional.  With the nearby military base – Fort Drum – sometimes contractors and construction companies have so much work I get the feeling they don’t particularly want to work on smaller jobs.  Of course, this depends on the company and we have many reputable businesses of that sort here, but as we saw some not so much.  And others who may not have the business sense to at least politely directly contact and decline to give an estimate.

Time dragged on and we finally decided to do the base ourselves.  We dug and leveled the ground the swim spa would be on (not an easy task as we are on very clay soil), laid gravel and leveled it (thanks to borrowing a home-made stamper from a neighbor).  Leveling it on even the slight incline was a bit challenging but with a little common sense and a few stakes and a grid of string stretched across the top of the gravel in a mesh pattern we were able to get a good and nearly perfect leveled surface.

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EZPad  – one section

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EZpad connectors

We bought EZPads for the base directly under the swim spa.  EZPads are high-density polyurethane plastic pads that are 48″ x 48″ x 2″ and connect together with connectors which are secured with screws.  EZPads also have a lifetime guarantee.  The whole assembly is rigid after connecting and with our’s we needed quite a number of them connected together.  It is suggested that a couple of people help with turning them over once they are connected together and to help put them into place, but we rigged a system with some tilted scrap wood to turn it over, slid it across, and connected the sections together and then this system helped us to lower it down onto the gravel with just two people.  That way we could do it on our own time and we didn’t have to bother anyone else or gather people together just to turn the thing over.  We were really impressed with how well the EZPads were made and they seemed to fit the bill when it came to what we needed, I felt better about using them rather than something like pavers which would not distribute the weight over the whole surface. (Thanks to EZpad for letting me use a couple of their pics).

Once we had the EZPads in place we just needed to move the swim spa into place.  A bit of a task for sure.  The company we bought it from had recommended that we buy large four-inch water pipes to roll the swim spa across but it had been sitting on them over the whole Winter.  So the pipes had sunk into the earth and it did not feel like it was going to roll as easy as it had when the delivery guys had dropped it off.  In fact, it wasn’t going to roll at all.

We decided we’d get some people together and try to move it, though I was still concerned.  After all, it wasn’t going to roll and it would have to be slid, uphill a bit.

In the meantime we found a very reputable electrical contractor, Mike Doney, thanks to advice from my friend up the road.  Mr. Doney suggested that we just position the swim spa at its final destination and they’d take care of digging out a channel for the buried electrical, and get it all hooked up once we had it in place and filled with water so that the electrical could be tested.

So how many people would it take to move the empty spa into place, I wondered, with the roller pipes sunk into the ground and fighting a slight incline?  Sixteen hundred pounds empty, sliding uphill?  Hmmm.

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Ready for gravel base layer.

Previously when digging out the sod for the base I had had to move the whole swim sap slightly to make room for the digging.  I had remembered that the guys who had unloaded the swim spa had had a specially-made hand truck with a lip that went under the corners and they had told me that that was one of the strongest places to lift it.  Having taken off panels to repair the damaged ones as well as to look at the electrical I knew that the corners and outer edges did indeed look like the strongest places.

So when I had to move the whole thing a few inches I had used a block of wood as a fulcrum and a hardwood four by four as a lever, moving it quite easily and safely a few inches or so, back out of the way.

I got to thinking that I could probably just use this method again, moving it inches at a time, instead of having to ask a bunch of people.  And if someone accidentally pushed on a side panel instead of along the top to move it into place against the force of the downhill I imagined things could get broken.  And also having to slide it across the entrenched rolling pipes instead of rolling it would be a big effort.  How many people would we need?

So I did a careful test and lifted one side with my makeshift fulcrum and lever, put a few temporary blocks in, and moved the pipes around so that they were no longer stuck in place.  Then I did the same for the other side.  Now it would move much easier, though the pipes still weren’t rolling as easily as when the guys delivered it.

With a few simple very, very rough calculations on weight and distribution and power and a little additional trial and error to locate where the fulcrum should go; I moved it a few inches at a time by simply lifting, then hinging or rotating the four-by-four to the side on the piece of wood that I was using as a fulcrum.  I moved it a bit more, then switched to the other, and back again.  Maybe a half hour’s work.

At a few points it did start to pivot the opposite side but I drove a metal fence post digger into the ground a distance from each corner.  And then I cushioned the opposite corner end of the swim spa with layers of scrap wood and cardboard reaching from the post digger to the bottom edge of the swim spa, which stopped this opposite corner from pivoting as I moved the other end inch by inch.

You may say here that it would have been easier and faster to just get a bunch of friends together, and that may have been so; though getting a bunch of people together nowadays when everyone’s life is so busy can be problematic.  And this way no one was pushing on any of the panels along the side that are not load-bearing nor is anyone hurting themselves pushing on it, and I have complete control at every moment as to where I am applying force.

It seemed like a surprisingly short time to slowly slide the swim spa across the top of the plastic pipes, and then move them into place on the other side.  I adjusted it just perfectly on the EZpads once it was in place.

It was then ready for water.

We were recommended water delivery by one of my friends and hired LaMarche Water Delivery.  Before long we had the swim spa filled up with good quality water from the delivery.

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Spa controls (jacuzzi end), air induction knobs, accessory hole.

A quick contact to Mr. Doney and we had an appointment for the electrical hookup, Mr. Doney and his son and another employee quickly got it connected from our sub-box to the outside wall-mounted GFI/breaker and then installed the electrical underground wiring to the part of the swim spa where the electrical is situated inside.

The moment of truth had come and after a few moments after switching the breaker on it started pumping some water, after a bit of a diagnostic and initial purging and such.

After having it sitting there for so long and all of the trouble of trying to get it in my excitement and relief quickly drained away as the GFI tripped in and shut it all down, and water started squirting out of some piping in one corner inside the swim spa – from where we could see it through the opened panel.

Mr. Doney was encouraging and told me that they had seen this happen before and that it just needed to be fixed under the warranty.  The GFI had kicked in and wouldn’t be able to be switched back on until the problem was fixed.  I looked closer and saw that the pipes were connected to something electrical and unidentifiable, so likely the GFI had done its job and detected a current down there being shorted.

The people at the Barefoot Spa company asked me to take a couple of pics of the area that was leaking and they quickly said that it was a common problem that happened in shipping – not due to the damage that had been done initially to the swim spa when it had been unloaded for display before we bought it.  The lady from Barefoot also said that a ‘handy’ person could do the replacement themselves but they could send someone if not.  They also said that they were sending out the part.

To me this could mean anything – from a simple job of a couple of minutes to something that requires a high level of, er, ‘handiness’ and hours of work, lots of tools and parts.

But the part did not arrive before we went on vacation – so we had a swim spa full of untreated water sitting for a week.  There was no way to mix and circulate the small amount of chemical treatment that is included with the swim spa package.

20190815_105020We arrived home after a week of hiking a few mountains and many, many trails in the Adirondacks area and camping at Lake Harris.

Unfortunately we found that the part was not at our place.  After waiting so long and my wife having to bug the company about some of the peripheral inclusions like the steps and such, not to mention how long it had taken to get the whole thing in – we were pretty frustrated at this point.  But another call to the company and the part was (again) assured to be on the way.

Indeed it did get to us quickly and when the part arrived it consisted of a duplicate to the unit I could see in our’s that was leaking.  This seemed to be a piping system runs water in front of a sealed UV bulb inside a metal container, the UV being part of the sterilization system.  The whole thing was secured with a total of four bolts, two units, two hose connectors and a cable with a three-wire connector on the end.  It didn’t LOOK that hard to do but I knew that this can be deceptive.  And there were no instructions.  I imagine this is where the ‘handy’ would come in.  It looked like just replacing everything from the box, which looked pretty straight-forward.

Unscrewing the old unit was hard as I had to reach around by touch to find the screws, but at some point we realized that one of the screws was so hard to twist and it would be too hard contort my hand around to get it out that way.  I would have to open the corner outside panel to get to it.

This turned out to be not a big deal, just a lot of futzing with stubborn screws.  Once it was open I could more easily unscrew the old unit, disconnect the pipes, and access everything really well.

At that point I realized there were no replacement pipe clamps and the ones already on it were non-reusable.  I had lots of spare pipe clamps so this would not be a problem.

I also realized that the electrical connection was a bit different – the wire would not reach.  Upon closer inspection I saw that when the swim spa itself had been assembled it looked like originally the cable had been the same but they had spliced the wire longer so that it could reach into the sealed control section, with the spliced parts heat-shrink-sealed against moisture.

Fortunately, I come from an electronic background and had a soldering iron, crimps, and heat shrink tubing available.

After taking out the old unit I could hear and see the broken glass through a ripped open metal cover section in the unit.  It did look like it had gotten slammed by something and the bulb had gotten broken, as well as the protective shield.

Putting everything back was no problem, with the unit and it’s little transformer box back into place, pipes attached and clamped I cut the old unit’s electrical wiring off at the first splice, spliced the new one in, soldering and heat-shrinking the tubes over each wire, covering the whole thing with a larger heat-shrink tube over the whole thing so that it looked exactly like the original wiring.

A quick re-check of the pipe clamps and the electrical and we were ready to turn on the master breaker and then the outside GFI breaker.  After a few moments it started up, running through it’s diagnostic and start-up sequence.

Who-hoo, after so much time it was working!  After a quick re-review of the instructions for starting it we set the temp, we tried thee jets – everything seemed to be working.  We started putting the panels back on.

It took from the late day to the mid-day of the next day for it to heat to the temperature we set it at – about 90-95 degrees with a fairly high humidity and temperature outside.  Yea, we did try it when it was still 75 degrees, which felt quite cool but it was damn fun to give the jets a try after having the thing sitting around so long.

Once it got up to temperature it was much more fun!  Wow, it worked great and was nice to FINALLY have it running and usable.

It did take a little experimenting to figure out how the jet controls worked, what controlled what, the knobs that you turn to increase how much air is added to each set of jets and which controlled what, and that you could turn the outside of the actual individual jets themselves right or left to increase or decrease that particular jet or even turn it off.  You can’t do this with the decorative jets that shoot water in an arch over the spa though, these are fixed, but everything else is adjustable – both in overall strength and in how much air is injected.

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The swim spa at night.

We turned the temp down to 90 then back to 95.  The lower temp (relatively) is good when we are getting in after doing some exercise and relaxing – warm enough but not too cool.  As the weather cools a bit we will likely turn it up a bit more.

The lights are amazing, as you can see in the pic.  They illuminate the entire underwater via LEDs along the edge and one larger light at the jacuzzi end (depending on which color you select this light sometimes is in multi-colors), as well as lights behind the swim jets and around the two adjustment knobs on either side back near the jacuzzi jets.

Pressing the light button turns these lights on and off and each time they are toggled back on they come on with a different color, also if you turn them on and off you will eventually find that there is one that cycles through the entire color range on its own.  There’s enough light to see your way to get in and out safely and plenty to see what you are doing in the swim spa itself.  Purely decorative arches of water can be turned on, off, or varied too in strength and these are even are illuminated from the light of LEDs in the jets that power them.  It is very impressive at night, especially with these lights.

It did take me a bit to realize that on the jacuzzi jet end with the seats there are more jets on one side than the other, so not only can you control the strength of the jets for the jacuzzi end but you can control the left one differently than the right, and one side has a few more jets for more strength.  The seat on one side is slightly lower too and the middle seat is much higher.  The seatbacks on either side seem to be able to be taken off (carefully), perhaps to be cleaned or if they ever need to be replaced.

Some people may not like that there are only three seats on one end, but it is a swim spa and not so much a big party ‘everyone in’ sort of unit.  The swim end does have what could be a seat, which is really a step and there are no jets directly on that location.  But you can sit there too, or just float or stand around the edges or interior.

Sitting in the seats and using it as a regular jacuzzi is a bit strange, I am not sure whether it is because there is a large amount of volume in it versus a regular jacuzzi or because of the design or the jets or what – but we both find ourselves floating up out of the seats.

This is kind of annoying and requires us to position ourselves just right.  I am not sure of the physics of this, or whether it affects other people in the same way.  But nevertheless the jacuzzi jets are very comfortable, and each can be angled in any direction the user pleases.

As a person who just learned to swim last year; having the swim spa has dramatically helped me be more comfortable and learn to move around a little better than trying to learn via our trips to the beach, as well as work on holding my breath and such in a comfortable, safe environment.  It’s actually big enough for a (very early) beginner to ‘swim’ from one end to another and back – without the jets on; just swimming.  I mean – only for a beginner does going ten feet or less in one direction seem like a big deal, but it does to those of us just learning.

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Jennifer swimming with just the tether

Jennifer has readily learned to swim against the jets in a short time, initially with the help of the bungie system that comes with the swim spa (you can use the tether without the swim jets on).  Eventually, she was able to swim for extended periods of time against the jets without the straps to hold her in place, though still with the jets on low and angled outward a bit.  It takes a while to build up strength and get used to swimming against them in place.  I can even swim against them for, well, a few seconds here and there.

While the twelve-foot model is a pretty good size and people can sit at the opposite end while another is swimming – it can be close if the person swimming gets a bit too far back from the jets.  Also you don’t want to get too far back from the jets in general as there are the seats and the raised step sections that you don’t want to hit your feet on.  That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of leeway when swimming, it is just something to keep in mind.  See above pic.

Unfortunately a few of the individual panels that make up a larger panel on one side have slipped down a bit.  This is not where it was damaged but I suppose it is possible that the interlocking panels on that side were in some way warped or something.  These panels have slipped down so that the foam underneath along the top of about four of the sub-panels (that make up a larger panel) is exposed.  I added a screw to the center one with the idea that it would hold the others in that sub-panel up but it did not.  It doesn’t affect anything that I can tell, except cosmetically, and I was able to fix this issue with a small piece of wood tucked up under the panel at the bottom.

Now I know that I mentioned that this swim spa is pretty much chemical-free and it is mostly – but it does require a few, and in small quantities on a regular basis (I set up a Google Calendar recurring reminder).  I don’t mind this as I only smelled a faint chemical smell when I first put in the Spa Shock and it quick dissipated over the next days, never to return as far as I can tell.  I highly recommend you do keep to the schedule that the instructions give you – it may be a bit annoying for something that is supposed to be mostly chemical-free and low-maintenance but they are just small amounts to regularly add to keep everything running well, and very minimal.

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Me, trying to swim a bit.

We also had a wasp nest built inside the top edge, quickly solved by opening the access panel and spraying wasp spray on the nest.  But there seems to be a seam that is slightly open under the edge of the tub part where it meets the side panels.  Ventilation perhaps?

So outside of a few issues; some stemming from this being a damaged unit as well as a few other issues that come along with anything like this – we really like the Barefoot 12-foot Swim Spa.

We have both been using it every other day at least, sometimes more often and sometimes both of us while other times just one.

I primarily use it for swim practice, increasing the time I can hold my breath, and getting comfortable in general being underwater and swimming a few strokes.  It’s great for learning or getting better.  While Jennifer uses it for the jacuzzi jets as well as swimming against the main swim jets for longer periods of time.

I’d say our enjoyment of it is very high, despite those earlier drawbacks and problems and our use of it is often.

I believe that it is a great addition to our lives, our home, and our fitness.  It was expensive but seems to be well worth it now.

 

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Marc M

I am a web designer and fitness geek, but I have a heck of a lot of differing interests.  Biking, the Internet, technology, movies, fitness, running and walking and hiking, science fiction, photography, graphics, WordPress, flying and aircrafts, pets and animals, history, and much more.  I like to stay very fit but I don’t mind sitting at my computer for work and play either.  I live in upstate New York (that’s far from New York City) in a rural area, yet close to a small city, with my beautiful awesome wife, a bunch of beloved cats and dogs and chickens in a very old multi-century house.

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