E. Jess TudorCEO of AirFrame Spa Cover
E. Jess Tudor is the CEO of AirFrame Spa Cover, a new line of spa covers that has been around for just over a year and is affiliated with the Coverplay brand Tudor created.
“It’s a completely different thing for me, and exists separately from the Coverplay name,” says Tudor, a long-time inventor and product engineer with 15 years in the hot tub industry.
What’s your background in the industry?
I have been a design engineer since 1987, when I started my own company, Coverplay. I had developed exercise equipment and other things when the idea of a cover-removal system came to me. I was working part-time with Caldera Spas at the time. So once I developed this product it was in high demand right away because there weren’t many safe cover removal systems that would actually position the cover lower when it was in the stored position. So I had quite some success with it.
I continued to develop products in the industry and patent them, not the least of which was the single-hinge cover, which caused the two foam cores to collapse against one another, creating a more-energy-efficient seal. I subsequently was awarded a patent on the angle of compression for that same closure section, so that it increased the energy efficiency of the cover even with a haphazard closing procedure.
I really got involved in energy efficiency when I began working with Emerging Technologies, which is a division of Pacific Gas & Electric in Northern California. The director there encouraged me to bring some of my energy-efficient products to the marketplace and got me started in the Cal-Poly tests for the APSP in 2008. Subsequently I wrote an ambient test condition for PG&E in 2010, then made a presentation with the California Energy Commission. They were very impressed with the information regarding spa covers and the wide inefficiencies, including the water permeation issue, which transfers heat conductively through the atmosphere because of that waterlogged foam core.
It sounds like at one point you were after convenience, but ended up discovering efficiency as a bonus.
The dual hinge spa cover was created because of the unwieldy weight of the spa cover, and so a hinged version allowed people to more easily use their spas. Shortly thereafter Phil Salley came out with an easy lifter designed to suspend the cover on the end of the spa. But there had to be a hinge or a joint mechanism to allow the bar to be accommodated. So our cover, with the dual hinge, allowed the spa cover to stand in the upright position behind the spa, making it easier to get on and off. It was quite an inventive way to dispatch the cover.
Unfortunately, there was no study done on the hinge or the energy efficiency of the hinge, so over the last 25 years spa heaters have had to work overtime to make up for that inefficient design.
How closely do you work with OEMs when you’re coming out with new products?
The creation of new products isn’t what most people are interested in. They like to cling to the old ways because that’s what they understand. And those old ways seem to be winning out. Innovation and any kind of breakthrough technologies aren’t embraced by anyone until they become a great success.
But I’ve seen in the past, with my relationship with Sundance Spas, that they were one of the first companies that I knew to recognize the advantages of having a better cover-removal system.
For the most part design engineers such as myself have to develop products on our own to bring to the marketplace, and typically we’ll agonize for three, four or five years before they become an industry product, and maybe longer than that before they become an industry standard.
How can dealers sell more covers and lifters?
One of the things that I’ve noticed is that there is a lot of misleading information about how much energy a spa will use in what we call standby use. So, the spa dealer doesn’t have what he needs to talk about in terms of energy efficiency and energy saving products because people have said, ‘Oh, our spa only takes $15 a month to run.’ Well, that’s not even close to true.
But for the dealers, it’s easier to sell a spa if you can talk about how little it costs to run on a monthly basis, but typically a spa costs about $34 a month to run in the state of Oregon, and Oregon has one of the best energy rates at $0.10 per hour; California is at $0.20. But I’ve seen some people rate their spas at energy usage below $12 a month. Look at the fine print and it says that figure assumes your energy use is $0.07 per hour. Well, I don’t know of anywhere where the price is that low. But that’s the kind of advertising that’s happening, so the public isn’t being properly informed. If they were better informed, and knew how much it really costs to run a spa, they’d be more interested in updating to a more-energy-efficient cover.
Spa dealers have enormous databases of sales they’ve made over the last 10, 20 and even 30 years, in some cases. They can go back to those customers and remind them that there are more-energy-efficient covers out there today. That might tend to excite the homeowner who’s dealing with a 200-pound cover. Spas are very expensive to run when their covers are filled with water because the water conducts energy to the atmosphere. Knowing that, they’ll be less likely to want to keep them on the spa for one more year.
Good dealers will tell customers the truth about energy usage, though it’s again sometimes easier to gloss over the truth. In the end, being honest with them and helping them to save money will lead to more loyalty, trust and repeat business.
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Barrett Kilmer, has been on the editorial staff of AQUA magazine since 2000. He has a B.A. in English from the University of Wisconsin - Madison, and currently lives in Madison, Wisc.