Title:
Spa with integrally molded working components and method for making same
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A spa with spa working components integrally molded into a foam spa body. Certain working components, including the water circulation lines, electrical lines, air jet lines and a pump/heater housing are pre-assembled over a female mold. The working components are maintained in spaced relation from the female mold by spacer means. A male mold is placed over the female mold, defining a foam cavity between opposing sides of the female mold and the male mold and fully enclosing the spa components therein. Expandable foam is introduced into the foam cavity, integrally forming the spa body and encasing the enclosed working components. The female and male molds are removed from the spa body, and a flexible liner is installed over inner and outer sides of the wall of the spa body. The pump/heater unit is installed within its housing and attached to the electrical and water lines therein.



Inventors:
Carreau, Dwayne G. (South Lake Tahoe, CA, US)
Kline, Scott A. (Rocklin, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/021064
Publication Date:
06/29/2006
Filing Date:
12/23/2004
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A47K3/00; A47K3/10
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
FETSUGA, ROBERT M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
R. MICHAEL WEST (SACRAMENTO, CA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A spa comprising: a. a water pump; b. spa working components including a water pump inlet line having a first end connected to a water inlet for said pump, and a water pump discharge line having a first end connected to a water discharge for said pump; c. an integrally formed spa body encasing said spa working components, said spa body having a floor with an outer periphery and a peripheral wall extending vertically and upwardly from said outer periphery, said peripheral wall having an inner side and an outer side; d. a waterproof liner coextensive with said floor and an inner side of said peripheral wall, said liner forming a hydraulically impervious seal therein; e. an inlet fitting and an outlet fitting, said inlet and outlet fittings being installed over an inner side of said liner in predetermined locations and being in hydraulic communication, respectively, with a second end of said pump inlet line and a second end of said pump discharge line.

2. A spa as in claim 1 in which said liner is made of a flexible material.

3. A spa as in claim 1 in which said liner is vinyl.

4. A spa as in claim 1 further including a water heater in hydraulic communication either with said pump inlet line or said pump discharge line.

5. A spa as in claim 1 in which said liner is further coextensive with said outer side of said peripheral wall.

6. A spa as in claim 1 in which said peripheral wall is right-circular cylindrical in configuration.

7. A spa as in claim 1 in which said floor includes a lower horizontal section, an intermediate horizontal section, and an upper inclined section.

8. A spa as in claim 7 including an inclined transition section between said lower horizontal section and said intermediate horizontal section.

9. A spa as in claim 7 in which said upper inclined section includes said outlet fitting.

10. A spa as in claim 7 in which said upper inclined section comprises a wedge having a linear forward edge extending across said intermediate horizontal section and an arcuate trailing edge in contingent relation with said inner side of said peripheral wall.

11. A spa as in claim 1 in which said spa working components further include a pump housing, said pump housing having a wall portion intruding inwardly of said peripheral wall and an open portion accessible from said outer side of said peripheral wall.

12. A spa as in claim 1 in which said spa body is formed from an expandable foam which encases said spa working components.

13. A spa as in claim 12 in which said foam is either polyurethane, polystyrene, polyethylene, polypropolyne, or a mixture of polystyrene and polyethylene.

14. A spa as in claim 1, further including means to introduce air into said pump discharge line.

15. A spa as in claim 1, further including at least one electrical light installed over said inner side of said liner, and further including electrical supply lines extending from said electrical light through said spa body to a power source.

16. A spa comprising: a a water pump; b. a water heater; c. spa working components including: a pump inlet line having a first end connected to a water inlet for said pump; a pump discharge line having a first end connected to a water discharge for said pump; and, a pump/heater housing having a wall portion and an open portion, said water pump and said water heater being located within said pump/heater housing; d. an integrally formed spa body made of expandable foam, said spa body encasing at least a portion of each of said spa working components, said spa body having a floor with an outer periphery and a peripheral wall extending vertically and upwardly from said outer periphery, said peripheral wall having an inner side and an outer side; e. a waterproof liner coextensive with said floor and an inner side of said peripheral wall, said liner forming a hydraulically impervious seal therein; f. an inlet fitting and an outlet fitting, said inlet and outlet fittings being installed over an inner side of said liner in predetermined locations and being in hydraulic communication, respectively, with a second end of said pump inlet line and a second end of said pump discharge line.

17. A spa as in claim 16 in which said liner is made of a flexible material.

18. A spa as in claim 16 in which said liner is vinyl.

19. A spa as in claim 16 in which said liner is further coextensive with said outer side of said peripheral wall.

20. A spa as in claim 16 in which said peripheral wall is right-circular cylindrical in configuration.

21. A spa as in claim 16 in which said floor includes a lower horizontal section, an intermediate horizontal section, and an upper inclined section.

22. A spa as in claim 21 including an inclined transition section between said lower horizontal section and said intermediate horizontal section.

23. A spa as in claim 21 in which said upper inclined section includes said outlet fitting.

24. A spa as in claim 21 in which said upper inclined section comprises a wedge having a linear forward edge extending across said intermediate horizontal section and an arcuate trailing edge in contingent relation with said inner side of said peripheral wall.

25. A spa as in claim 16 in which said open portion of said pump/heater housing is accessible from said outer side of said peripheral wall.

26. A spa as in claim 16 in which said spa body is formed from an expandable foam which encases said spa working components.

27. A spa as in claim 26 in which said foam is either polyurethane, polystyrene, polyethylene, polypropolyne, or a mixture of polystyrene and polyethylene.

28. A spa as in claim 16, further including means to introduce air into said pump discharge line.

29. A spa as in claim 16, further including a water and air fixture in said pump discharge line for introducing a selective amount of air into water passing therethrough.

30. A spa as in claim 16, further including at least one electrical light installed over said inner side of said liner, and further including electrical supply lines extending from said electrical light through said spa body to a power source.

31. A method for making an integrally molded spa comprising the steps of: a. providing a female mold; b. preassembling spa working components, including a water pump inlet line having a first end and a second end, and a water pump discharge line having a first end and a second end, and installing them in spaced relation over and in spaced relation from a cavity side of said female mold; c. providing a male mold having a cavity side; d. installing said cavity side of said male mold over said cavity side of said female mold, defining a foam cavity between opposing cavity sides of said female and male molds and fully enclosing said spa working components therein; e. introducing expandable foam into said foam cavity, integrally forming a floor and a peripheral wall of a spa body while encasing said spa working components in foam; and, f. removing said female and male molds from said spa body.

32. A method as in claim 31 further including the step of installing a flexible liner over said floor and an inner side of said peripheral wall, forming a hydraulically impervious seal therein.

33. A method as in claim 32 further including the steps of installing a motor within said spa body, connecting said first end of said pump inlet line to a water inlet of said pump and connecting said first end of said pump discharge line to a water discharge of said pump.

34. A method as in claim 33 further including the steps of installing an inlet fitting and an outlet fitting over an inner side of said liner in predetermined locations, and respectively connecting said second end of said pump inlet line and said second end of said pump discharge line with said inlet fitting and said outlet fitting.

35. A method as in claim 34 further including the step of installing a water heater in hydraulic communication with said pump discharge line.

36. A method as in claim 34 further including the step of installing an air jet fixture having an air inlet line within said pump discharge line.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The invention relates generally to free-standing spas containing a body of hot water, used for therapy and relaxation. More particularly, the invention pertains to an integrally molded spa, in which certain working components of the spa are encased in a foam spa body at the time the spa is manufactured. A waterproof liner is then installed over the inner and outer sidewalls of the spa body to form a waterproof containment system.

2. Description of the Prior Art

Above-ground, free-standing spas, are well known in the prior art. One of the early designs was constructed from a plurality of redwood planks. Some of the planks were arranged in vertical relation and bound together with circumferential metal bands or rods to form the spa wall. Other planks were assembled in horizontal relation to form the spa floor. Known as redwood “hot tubs”, these spas typically included a water circulation and filtration system, and a number of strategically located water jets. Systems were also provided to introduce air bubbles into the flow of the water jets, to enhance the tactile experience of the outputted water. Dedicated water heaters of electrical, gas and solar design, were included to heat the spa water to the desired temperature.

Although molded fiberglass or plastic spas were in use before redwood hot tubs became popular, they were primarily used indoors and integrated with a wood and tile surround and support structure. In that sense, the early molded spas were neither “free-standing” nor portable, as the surround and support structure was integrated with the spa to make the combination a permanent fixture of the bathroom or spa room.

An example of a self-contained spa system in which the spa equipment is installed above ground level and at least a portion of the spa is installed in the ground, is illustrated in U.S. Pat. No. 6,381,768, for an In-Ground Spa System And Method For Installation Of Same. This arrangement, of course, requires ground excavation, and would not be considered portable.

Current spa designs which are more portable, combine the molded fiberglass spa shell with a wooden base or support frame. Wooden slats or siding cover the sides of the base, effectively enclosing the spa shell and the working spa components, such as the motor, heater, plumbing, and electrical lines. Some spa constructions include foam insulation to increase the thermal efficiency of the spa. This foam insulation is typically sprayed over substantially all of the outer wall of spa shell and the pre-assembled plumbing lines and fittings connected to the shell.

Yet other spa constructions employ a plurality of sections of synthetic resins, assembled to form a tub. U.S. Pat. No. 5,799,345, issued to Hansen et al. For a Spa Apparatus With Multiple Sections, is exemplary of this design. Installing a motor and pump within a plenum chamber formed between a tub wall and a container wall is shown in U.S. Pat. No. 5,794,280, for a Spa Apparatus With Het Transferring Hanging Interior Structural Liner. A spa having an interchangeable side skirt is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,685,032, for a Portable Spa With Integral Bottom Pan, Interchangeable Side Skirt, And Interlocking Cover. A self-contained spa system in which the spa equipment is installed above ground level and at least a portion of the spa is installed in the ground is illustrated in U.S. Pat. No. 6,381,768, for an In-Ground Spa System And Method For Installation Of Same.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The spa of the present invention comprises an integrally molded, foam spa body as its major component. The spa body has a floor with a wall extending vertically and upwardly from the outer periphery of the floor. The spa body is preferably right-circular cylindrical in configuration, but it may also be formed in other configurations simply by adapting the principles employed herein to a mold of the desired shape. The spa body is formed through a two-step molding process, using an inner female mold and an outer male mold.

The spa also includes various spa working components, such as water circulation lines, electrical lines, air jet lines and a pump/heater housing. In the first step of the molding process, the working components are pre-assembled and mounted in predetermined locations over, around, and in conjunction with the female mold. Using special spacer means, most of the working components are maintained in spaced relation from a cavity side of the female mold. Several of the working components, such as water and air inlet and outlet fittings, abut the cavity side of the female mold, so they will be readily accessible after the molding process is complete. These water and air fittings are connected to respective lines, which have connection ends entering the pump/heater housing.

After all the working components are secured in place, a cavity side of the male mold is lowered over and secured to the cavity side of the female mold. The male mold thereby encircles and encloses the cavity side of the female mold, defining a foam cavity between opposing cavity sides of the female mold and the male mold. The working spa components also lie within the volume of the foam cavity.

At least one access port is provided in the wall of the male mold. In carrying out the second step of the molding process the access port is opened, allowing the selective introduction of expandable foam into the foam cavity. The foam is typically either heat or chemically activated, expanding within the foam cavity to form an integrally molded spa body which encases the spa working components. After the foam has cured, the male mold is removed from the female mold and the female mold is removed from the formed spa body.

The pump/heater unit is installed within the pump/heater housing and attached to the connection ends of the electrical and water lines extending therein. A spa control box and a timer may also be included in the pump/heater housing, so the spa heater and pump features may be manually controlled by the user or programmed for cyclical operation.

A waterproof liner is installed over the floor and the inner and outer portions of the peripheral wall of the spa body. The liner, which is preferably flexible for economy and ease of assembly, forms a hydraulically impervious seal within the floor and inner portion of the peripheral wall, so it can retain the spa water. The liner also protects the foam spa body from wear and possible damage. Input and output fittings as well as any desired lighting fixtures are installed over the liner in the predetermined locations and connected to water, air or electrical lines extending to or abutting the inner portion of the peripheral wall. Air switches, for control of the pump and the lighting fixture, are also mounted at this time. The air switches are mounted within switch cavities formed when special spacer means supporting the pump/heater housing are withdrawn from the spa body.

The bottom edge of the outer portion of the flexible liner includes a peripheral draw string or other attachment means, to secure the liner underneath the floor of the spa body. A perforated cover in the outer portion of the liner overlies an open side of the pump/heater housing. The perforations provide ventilation for heat generated by the pump. The cover may also be opened, providing for service access to the pump, heater, and control box. A spa cover, preferably made from vinyl material, is detachably secured over the upper edge of the peripheral wall to maintain heat and prevent entry of unwanted debris, when the spa is not in use.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of the spa, showing the spa cover partially removed to reveal the inclined back rest, two of the water jets, and the two air switches, and with a portion of the spa liner being broken away to show the foam spa body;

FIG. 2 is a fragmentary perspective view of the spa in an inverted position with the liner removed, showing the pump/heater within its housing, a portion of the water and air lines, and a spa light encased in the spa body;

FIG. 3 is a perspective view of the spa's water and air plumbing components in pre-assembled condition, located in spaced relation over the female mold shown in broken line, the outer ring of the female mold being deleted for purposes of clarity;

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of the female mold just prior to installation of the male mold, in preparation for step two of the molding process;

FIG. 5 is a fragmentary, detail view of a portion of the female mold, a short pin spacer, and a water line;

FIG. 6 is a fragmentary, detail view of a portion of the female mold, a clip spacer, and a water line;

FIG. 7 is a fragmentary, detail view of a portion of the female mold, a retention magnet, a threaded plug, and a water and air jet fixture;

FIG. 8 is a fragmentary, detail view of a portion of the female mold, a pair of large dual-diameter pin spacers, and a portion of the pump/heater housing;

FIG. 9 is a transverse, cross-sectional view of the female and male molds with the working components mounted over and on the female mold, showing expandable foam being introduced into the spa cavity in the process of forming the spa body;

FIG. 10 is a perspective view of the spa body being separated from the female mold, the spa body and the female mold being rotated to a vertical position for purposes of clarity;

FIG. 11 is a perspective view of the spa body in an inverted position, prior to the installation of the pump/heater into the pump/heater housing;

FIG. 12 is a perspective view of the spa body in an inverted position with the flexible liner partially installed; and,

FIG. 13 is a view as in FIG. 12, but with the draw string passing through loops in the bottom edge of the liner pulled tightly to secure the liner in place over the spa body.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT

Turning now to the drawings, and in particular to FIG. 1, the invention comprises a therapeutic spa 11, having as its major component an integrally molded spa body 12 with its exposed surfaces covered by a waterproof liner 13. Spa body 12 includes floor 14 with a peripheral wall 16 extending vertically and upwardly from the floor's outer periphery. Floor 14 and wall 16 form the basic water containment structure of the spa. In the preferred embodiment disclosed herein, the spa body 12 is right-circular cylindrical in configuration. However the spa body may also be formed into other geometric configurations, such as hexagonal, pentagonal, octagonal, square, or rectangular in plan, by applying the present teachings to produce a spa body of the desired shape.

Floor 14 includes on its inner side a lower horizontal section 17, an intermediate horizontal section 18, and an upper inclined section 19. An inclined transition section 21 is provided between lower horizontal section 17 and intermediate horizontal section 18. (See, FIG. 2). The upper inclined section 19 comprises a wedge in configuration, having a linear forward edge 22 extending across intermediate horizontal section 18 and an arcuate trailing edge 23 in contingent relation with the inner side 24 of peripheral wall 16. In this manner, horizontal section 18 provides a seat and inclined section 19 provides a backrest for the users of the spa.

The spa also includes various spa working components 25 associated with the circulation, heating, and illumination of water contained within the spa. One of the principal features of the spa 11 is that most of these spa working components are at least partially, and in some instances entirely, encased within the integrally molded spa body 12. It is this feature which provides a spa construction that is particularly economical both to manufacture and to operate.

Making reference now to FIGS. 3 and 4, the spa body 12 is formed through a two-step molding process, using an inner female mold 26 and an outer male mold 27. In the first step of the molding process, the spa working components 25 are pre-assembled and mounted in predetermined locations over, around, and in conjunction with the female mold 26. Using specially designed spacer means, most of the working components are maintained in spaced relation from a cavity side 28 of the female mold 26. One of the spa working components 25 includes a water pump inlet line 29 having a first connection end 31 mated to a water inlet 32 of pump 33. Other working components are water pump discharge lines 34 having first connection ends 36 respectively mated to water discharge outlets 37 of pump 33.

To maintain a water line or pipe in spaced relation from the cavity side 28 of the female mold 28, either a pin 38 or a saddle clip 39 may be employed. (See, FIGS. 5 and 6). The size of pin 38 or clip 39 is such that the water line is typically 1″ to 2″ away from the cavity side 28. Other arrangements are employed where a water line inlet or discharge end must penetrate the peripheral wall 16. For example, in FIG. 7 an air mixing venturi fitting 41 is shown. This particular fitting is an “in series” fitting, as it has an incoming and an outgoing water discharge line 34. The fitting also has an incoming air line 42, delivering air into the fitting and introducing air bubbles into the discharged water. The flange 43 of the fitting must be maintained in contingent relation with the cavity side of the mold 26, so that when the mold is removed, there will be ready access to the fitting. For that purpose, a threaded metal plug 44 is installed temporarily into the fitting 41. A magnet 46 is permanently installed on the outer side of mold 26. An aperture 47 in the wall of the mold ensures that the plug 44 will be magnetically attracted by the magnet 46. When the fitting 41 and its associated lines are assembled, the magnetic forces are sufficient to hold these working components stationary in the pre-determined location for the fitting.

Yet another feature of the spa 11 is the utilization of the volume created behind the upper inclined section 19, to house the pump 33, a water heater 48, and a spa control box 49. In effect, the spa's internal backrest creates a useful housing integrating additional spa working components into the spa body 12. Preferably, a separate pump/heater housing 51 is located immediately behind upper inclined section 19. Pump/heater housing has a wall portion 52 intruding inwardly from peripheral wall 16, and an open portion 53 accessible from the outer side of peripheral wall 16. Pump/heater housing 51 may be manufactured from plastic, fiberglass, metal, or foam.

As a spa working component, housing 51 must also be maintained in spaced relation from the female mold 26 during the molding process. For that purpose, a pair of large pins 54 are provided to support and maintain pump/heater housing 51 in its pre-determined location. Housing 51 has its wall portion 52 spaced from one portion of mold 26 and its open portion 53 in contingent relation with another portion of mold 26. (See, FIG. 9).

Pins 54 have upper and lower sections of differing diameters for the second function they perform after the molding step. Pins 54 are permanently attached to mold 26. Thus, when the mold 26 is withdrawn from spa body 12, a pair of passageways 56 are created in the spa body 12. (See, FIGS. 10 and 11). These passageways are sized and configured to house a pair of air switches 57 and their associated electrical lines, which are effective to control operation of the motor 33 and the spa light 55.

Completing the first step of the molding process, the outer male mold 27 is next placed over the female mold 26, mating with a respective circular edge of the female mold, as shown in FIG. 4. It should be noted that a cavity side 58 of male mold 27, includes a plurality of impression blocks 59, strategically located in a relatively thick portion of floor 14. The purpose of blocks 59 is to form voids 61 in the underside of the spa floor, which serve to reduce the amount of foam required to form the spa body without compromising its strength. In addition, a pair of impression ridges 62 are also provided on the cavity side 58 of male mold 27. Impression ridges 62 form channels 63 in the spa body 12 to accommodate electrical wiring extending to one or more spa lights 55.

With the outer male mold 27 installed over the female mold 26, a foam cavity 64 is defined between the opposing cavity sides of the female mold and the male mold. As described above in the first step of the molding process, the working spa components have already been pre-assembled and installed in spaced relation from the female mold. Thus, the working spa components also lie within the volume of the foam cavity 64.

One or more access ports 66 are provided in the wall of the male mold. In carrying out the second step of the molding process, valves (not shown) in the access ports 66 are opened, allowing the selective introduction of foam pellets 67 into the foam cavity 64. After the foam cavity is filled with foam pellets, steam is introduced into the foam cavity and the pellets structurally merge to form the spa body 12. Other methods to introduce and cure the foam well known in the art, may be used as well. For example, a two-stage foam process using pellets and a chemical activator is a well-known equivalent. In either case, after the pellets have been activated to expand and/or merge into a solid within the foam cavity, the integrally molded spa body 12 is formed which encases the spa working components. After the foam has cured, the male mold 27 is removed from the female mold 26, and then the female mold 26 is removed from the formed spa body. (See, FIG. 10).

Next, the remainder of the spa working components are installed. The pump 33 including the heater 48, are installed through the open portion 53 into the pump/heater housing 51. Water inlet 32 and water discharge outlets 37 are attached to the first connection ends of the water inlet line and the water discharge lines. The pump and heater have a power line with a connector which is plugged into the spa control box 49. The spa control box may include a timer (not shown) so the spa heater and pump features may be programmed for cyclical operation. Air switches 57 are installed in respective passageways 56. One air switch is connected to power line 69, leading to spa light 55. This line is installed in foam channel 63, previously formed during the molding process as discussed above. This air switch also includes a line with a connector which is plugged into the spa control box 49, for power. Another air switch has a power line 71 with a connector which is also plugged into the spa control box. This switch completes the circuit supplying power to the pump and heater, for manual operation thereof.

A hardening agent may also be applied to the upper edge of the peripheral wall 16, at this time. This agent forms a more rigid protective coating to that portion of the wall which will likely be subjected to greater stresses and wear, over time. However, applying this agent is merely precautionary and optional, as it has been determined that the untreated wall is sufficiently strong and durable for most spa use.

The waterproof liner 13 is then installed over the floor 14 and the inner and outer sides of the peripheral wall 16 of the spa body 12. The liner, which is preferably manufactured from a vinyl material, forms a hydraulically impervious seal within the floor and the inner side of the peripheral wall, so the spa can retain water. The liner also protects the foam spa body from wear and possible damage, and provides and attractive appearance to the spa 11. As shown in FIG. 12, the liner extends down the outer side of the peripheral wall, and terminates at a bottom edge provided with a plurality of flap segments 72. A cord 73 is looped through each of the flap segments, and then pulled tight before the ends are tied into a knot. In this manner, the liner 13 is secured over the spa body 12.

It should also be noted that waterproof liner 13 can be manufactured from different material and can be installed in and over the spa body in a different manner, than that just described. For example, liner 13 could be a pre-manufactured rigid shell, either molded or vacuum formed. In that circumstance, the rigid liner would be dropped into place over the spa body prior to the final installation of the spa's interior fixtures, explained below. Waterproof liner 13 can also be a sprayed-on shell, using material such as polyurethane or an equivalent curable spray material. A sprayed-on shell for the liner 13, would have the advantage of readily customizing the colors and texture of the liner to meet the customer's specific needs.

After the spa is righted, final installation of fixtures within the spa can be completed. The liner 13 is carefully cut in those appropriate places where fixtures must pass through or be mounted over the liner. These fixtures would include the spa light 55, water inlet fixture 74, and water discharge fixture 76. These fixtures are mounted in tight relation over the liner 13, so a secure hydraulic seal is formed. Spa light 55 is connected to its low voltage power line 63, before being mounted over liner 13.

Foraminous covers 77 are zippered to liner 13 over open portions 53 of the pump/heater housing 51, to provide both ventilation for the motor 33 and easy access to other working components for servicing and programming. Lastly, a spa cover 78, preferably made from vinyl material, is detachably secured over the upper edge of the peripheral wall to maintain heat and prevent entry of unwanted debris, when the spa 11 is not in use.