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Dear Jim: It would feel great to jump into a hydromassage spa on my deck after work and when entertaining guests. Does it use much electricity to keep one warm? -- Bob S.

Dear Bob: Warm bubbling hydromassage spas are becoming more popular in homes. By far, the majority of them are located outdoors on a deck or patio. Depending on the climate, spas are typically used about 10 months per year, but many people with muscle aches and pains use them year-round.

Portable spa kits are most common for home use because they are so easy to install. These kits come complete with pumps, jets, motors, controls, etc. You may also select among attractive, low-maintenance wood exterior cabinet kits. If you ever move, take the kit apart and install it at your new home.

Once your spa kit is assembled, fill it with a garden hose, plug it in and turn it on. No special plumbing is needed. It is generally emptied only several times a year for cleaning. Ozone water purification kits are often used to minimize chlorine chemicals needed. The water stays crystal clear.

The electricity cost to operate a spa ranges from about $10 to $20 per month. In the winter, just a few minutes in your spa makes you feel warm for hours. This allows you to lower the furnace thermostat a degree or two and still remain comfortable. This can yield an overall annual utility bill savings.

Even though all spas look similar in the showroom, there are great differences in quality and hidden comfort features. Obvious features to look for are cushioned pillow head supports, lumbar supports, a variety of jets, accessible controls and good cabinet material and finish quality.

Select a large model with many seats. The better spa kits have different jet patterns at each seat. One seat may have moto-massage jets that sweep up and down your lower back. Another seat may have cluster jets for your upper back and neck. Look for a foot dome for a vigorous foot massage.

Adjustable jets are a must for comfort. By twisting the jet or a handle, you control the force, direction and motion. Look for a smart jet system to allow you to select among various jet patterns by turning just one handle. An on-off aromatherapy feature can complete your relaxing spa experience.

Electronic controls are important for comfort, safety and efficiency. These can hold the water temperature very constant and control the jet action. An electronic lock, so your children cannot change the settings, adds safety.

There are also new lightweight (50 pounds) soft spas that can easily be rolled to different locations, even indoors. The inner cushioned lining is very comfortable. New sectional models are delivered to your house in six cartons.

Write for (or instantly download -- Update Bulletin 930 -- buyers guide of the nine best spas, capacities, jet types, cabinets, comfort features and warranties. Please include $3 and business-size, self-addressed stamped envelope.

James Dulley, The Buffalo News, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.

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