Just when you thought that bathrooms and home spas couldn't get any more luxurious — what with whirlpool tubs, jetted showers, and the like — bathtub manufacturers up the ante by offering tubs that feature whirlpool and air-massage systems in the same package.

“Customers want to create more of that in-house spa retreat, and the industry is trying to meet that demand with a more sophisticated system,” points out Tawnya Quiet, marketing director for Aquatic Whirlpools.

Combining water and air, whirlpool jets target specific areas of the body with varying degrees of pressure. The size and quantity of jets varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, but many offer custom packages that place almost any number of jets anywhere the customer desires.

Homeowners are not as familiar with air-massage (also called airbath) systems. The air-massage concept uses air channels molded into the shell of the tub and small air portholes drilled into the channels in several locations around the tub's bottom or sides that shoot heated air into the bath, creating a bubbling hot-spring effect and delivering a gentle, circulation-stimulating massage to the entire body.

Baths that combine whirlpool and airbath systems in one unit offer twice the hydrotherapy benefits of standard whirlpools or airbaths.
courtesy Maax Baths that combine whirlpool and airbath systems in one unit offer twice the hydrotherapy benefits of standard whirlpools or airbaths.

Both systems together have the effect of relaxing muscles but employ the hydrotherapy equivalents of an invigorating sports massage and a soothing Swedish massage. Some manufacturers' combination whirlpools/air-baths even allow the systems to be used simultaneously.

Combination tubs can meet the different needs and preferences of both men and women. “We find that a lot of men like the deeper massage of the whirlpool, and a lot of women like the lighter massage of the air-bath,” says Russell Adams, vice president for business development for MTI Whirlpools. “They don't have to have two tubs.”

Airbaths have been around since the early '80s, but they took a while to catch on with consumers, according to Virgil Jacuzzi, national sales manager for Jason International. Following suit, combination whirlpool/air-baths have taken a few years to penetrate the market, but demand has increased dramatically in the past few years, according to Dino Pacifici, vice president for Americh Corp.

Whirlpool and airbath combination tubs become a key element of the total home retreat, adds Phil Weeks, vice president of sales and marketing for Clarke Products.

Doubling up these systems into one tub makes the internal plumbing a bit more complicated but doesn't make installation any more difficult for the contractor who is already familiar with installing regular whirlpools, manufacturers say. As is the case with standard whirlpools and airbaths, manufacturers say a home's hot water source should be upgraded to a larger capacity than the standard 50- or 60-gallon tank. Combination whirlpool/airbaths may also require extra electrical power.