Title:
Panel Systems for Spas
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Panel systems are provided where the panels are constrained relative to a spa, but can be readily removed from the spa to permit replacement of the panels. The panels can be constrained prior to removal, such as using flanges which are attachable relative to the frame of the spa.



Inventors:
Walker, Victor Lee (Murietta, CA, US)
Jolley, Mark W. (Carlsbad, CA, US)
Application Number:
12/035306
Publication Date:
08/27/2009
Filing Date:
02/21/2008
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
29/428
International Classes:
E04H4/14
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
JONAITIS, JUSTIN M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
FITCH EVEN TABIN & FLANNERY, LLP (CHICAGO, IL, US)
Claims:
1. A spa comprising: a vessel for containing water; a frame supporting the vessel; and a skirt extending at least partially around the frame, the skirt including a removable panel constrained from removal by flanges adjacent the panel.

2. The spa of claim 1, wherein the flanges are provided adjacent side edges of the panel.

3. The spa of claim 2, wherein at least one of the flanges adjacent side edges of the panel is removably attached relative to the frame to permit the panel to be removed when the one of the flanges is removed.

4. The spa of claim 1, wherein the flanges are provided adjacent side and bottom edges of the panel.

5. The spa of claim 1, wherein the flanges include a depending flange of the vessel adjacent a top edge of the panel.

6. The spa of claim 1, wherein the flanges are adjacent top and bottom edges of the panel and have a base portion and a constraining portion, the panel having a maximum height between the top and bottom edges less than a maximum height between the base portions of the flanges adjacent the top and bottom edges of the panels.

7. The spa of claim 6, wherein the maximum height between the base portion of the flange adjacent the top edge of the panel and the outer portion of constraining portion of the flange adjacent the bottom edge of the panel is greater than the maximum height of the panel.

8. The spa of claim 1, wherein at least one attachment means is provided for generally securing the panel to the frame.

9. The spa of claim 8, wherein the attachment means constrains movement of the panel relative to the frame in some but not all directions.

10. The spa of claim 8, wherein the attachment means constrains movement of the panel relative to the frame.

11. A removable panel system usable as part of a skirt surrounding a vessel of a spa, the system comprising: a panel having top, bottom and side edges; and flanges positionable adjacent at least a pair of opposite edges of the panel, the flanges each having a constraining portion configured to at least partially constrain the panel from removal.

12. The removable panel system of claim 11, wherein the flanges are positioned with a spacing and the panel has a height such that the panel can be moved toward one of the flanges to clear the constraining portion of the other of the flanges for removal of the panel.

13. The removable panel system of claim 11, wherein a pair of side flanges are positioned adjacent the side edges of the panel and configured to constrain the panel.

14. The removable panel system of claim 11, wherein the flanges are attachable relative to a frame supporting a vessel of a spa.

15. The removable panel system of claim 14, wherein at least one attachment means is provided for generally securing the panel to the frame.

16. A method of removing a panel of a skirt of a spa constrained at least in part at a pair of opposing edge portions thereof, the method comprising: shifting the panel to free one of the edge portions of the panel from constraint while the other of the edge portions of the panel remains constrained; and then shifting the panel to free the other of the edge portions of the panel from constraint to permit removal of the panel.

17. The method of claim 16, wherein the step of shifting the panel to free the other of the edge portions of the panel from constraint includes shifting the panel is a generally opposite direction from the step of shifting the panel to free the one of the edge portions of the panel.

18. The method of claim 16, wherein top and bottom edge portions of the panel are constrained prior to the steps of shifting the panel.

19. The method of claim 18, wherein side edge portions of the panel are constrained prior to the steps of shifting the panel, and further including the step of freeing at least one of the side edges of the panel from constraint prior to the steps of shifting the panel to free the top and bottom edge portions from constraint.

Description:

FIELD

This application relates to panel systems for spas, and in particular panel systems usable with spas having a skirt surrounding a frame supporting a vessel for containing water.

BACKGROUND

Spas, including hot tubs and jetted bath tubs, often are constructed of a vessel or shell for containing water and that is supported in a frame. To provide an attractive appearance and hide pumps, jets and interconnecting piping and the like from view, the frame can include a surrounding decorative skirt. This skirting has been constructed out of different types of wood arranged, for instance, for a wainscoting-type or other tongue-and-groove appearance and attached to the frame.

The appearance of the wood skirt, such as the stain, color or type of wood, could be selected when the spa was originally built. However, changes to the appearance of the skirt were limited. While the skirt could be repainted or sanded and restrained, those options can be time consuming and do not permit convenient changes in the appearance of the skirt, such as to update the skirt to match a new location for the spa or a new decorating scheme of the surrounding environment.

Another disadvantage of wood skirts is the costs and time for manufacturing. To make the wood skirts, the multiple slats of the skirt are often assembled and attached to the frame, and the wood skirt sanded, stained and/or painted. Those steps can be labor-intensive, can require special ventilation during the process, as well as add time needed for the stain or paint to dry after initial application or between coatings when multiple coatings are applied.

Yet another disadvantage of wood skirts is that they can require maintenance and can be difficult to repair if damaged. The maintenance can involve labor-intensive reapplication of stain, sealing or protecting layers to maintain the visual appearance of the wood skirt. Even when maintained, the environment in which the spa is used can degrade the appearance of the skirt, particularly when used outdoors. For instance, the wood skirt can be exposed to water from the spa, water from yard irrigation systems, direct sunlight, and a wide variation of temperature changes, in addition to impacts from lawnmowers and lawn care tools, damage during shipping and the like. Those environmental factors can also make it difficult for a portion of the wood skirt to be replaced or repaired, such as if damaged, as the same stains and paints may not match the existing, weathered appearance. This can necessitate redoing the entire wood skirt to have a wood skirt of a consistent appearance.

Skirts made of synthetic materials have been used, but often mimic wood in appearance and application. That is, synthetic slats—such as those joined in a tongue-and-groove arrangement—can still be labor-intensive to assemble and attach to the frame. The customization options for the synthetic skirts can be limited, and replacing an existing skirt to update an appearance can also be labor-intensive, as such skirts are often screwed directly to the frames and/or adhesively attached to adjacent portions of the skirts or the frame. In order to gain access to the inner workings of the spa disposed behind the skirt, doors were formed in the skirt or portions of the skirt were unscrewed and removed. Both of these are disadvantageous, the former because it can mar the visual appearance of the spa and the latter because it can be time-consuming.

SUMMARY

A panel system is provided that includes a panel that can be readily removed from the spa. The panel is constrained from removal, such as using one or more flanges, but the constraints can be at least partially removed and/or the panel shifted relative to the constraints to permit the panel to be removed when desired. The flanges can be attached relative to a frame supporting a vessel of the spa, and the removable panel can be part of a skirt at least partially extending about the frame.

In order to install or remove a panel, the panel can be shifted away from one of the flanges so that it is no longer constraining the panel, then the panel can be shifted in a different direction away from another of the flanges to permit removal of the panel. The ability to readily remove a panel and substitute a different panel can permit the spa to have its visual appearance changed, to permit replacement of a damaged panel, and can facilitate customized manufacturing of spas in a modular manner.

In one aspect, the panel is generally free to float within its constraints, advantageously permitting the panel to expand and contract without necessarily buckling or otherwise deforming. In another aspect, the floating of the panel can be constrained in one or more directions, such as by using hardware attached between the panel and the frame or skirt.

Panels which may be used as part of the panel system are also provided. The panels can be made of synthetic materials that are able to withstand the environment in which spas are used without significantly degrading, thereby providing for a longer life span of the panels without substantial maintenance being required. The panels can be customized with different visual graphics, whether shapes, images or the like, by removing portions of the panels. The removed portions can expose underlying portions of the panels, such as with different appearance properties, to provide panels that have two or more tones or even see through-windows that can be illuminated.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a spa having a skirt surrounding a frame supporting a vessel for containing water and showing a plurality of removable panels of the skirt;

FIG. 2 is partially exploded perspective view one of the removable panels of the spa of FIG. 1 showing flanges used for constraining the panel;

FIG. 3 is a detailed view of area III of FIG. 2 showing a tab and slot connector mountable between the frame and the removable panel;

FIG. 4 is a section view of the removable panel, frame, vessel and flanges of FIG. 2 taken along line IV-IV and showing an optional lighting device;

FIG. 5 is an exploded perspective view of a multipart panel suitable for use with the spa of FIG. 1 and having an outward layer with a plurality of openings through which the inward layer is visible;

FIG. 6 is a section view of a composite panel suitable for use with the spa of FIG. 1 and having a removed portion in an outward layer to display an underlying inward layer of the panel;

FIG. 7 is a section view of a panel suitable for use with the spa of FIG. 1 and having a removed portion filled in with a different material; and

FIG. 8 is a section view of a composite panel suitable for use with the spa of FIG. 1 and having an outward layer with a decorative profile.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Panels and panel systems are provided that provide improved decorative appearances, are formed of weatherable, low-maintenance materials, reduced time for manufacture and assembly, and/or are readily substituted to change the appearance of the spa. In particular, the panel system can permit reduced time for assembly to the spa, as well as interchangeability to permit the decorative appearance of the spa to be changed. The panel system includes a panel that is part of a skirt of the spa. The panel is typically constrained from removal from the spa, but can readily be removed from its constraints to permit replacement with a different panel, such as to change the appearance of the spa or to replace a damaged panel. The panels, which may or may not be used in conjunction with the panel system, are preferably formed of durable synthetic materials and have a variety of configurations that provide for improved visual appearances and simplified manufacturing.

Turning first to the panel system, a spa 10 incorporating the system is depicted in FIGS. 1-4. The spa 10 includes a vessel or shell 12 for containing water. It is this vessel 12 that a user of the spa can sit in during use of the spa 10. The vessel 12 has a body 16 including a depressed well that is surrounded by a peripheral lip 14. The vessel 12 is supported by a frame 20 that extends around the vessel 12. The frame 20 can include vertical supports 24 extending between peripheral, horizontal supports 22 and the flange 14 of the vessel 12. A skirt 30 is attached to and surrounds the frame 20, both to provide a decorative appearance and to enclose the inner workings of the spa 10, which can include pumps, heaters, piping and the like. Part of the skirt 30 includes a plurality of removable panels 34. The skirt 30 also includes corner panels 32 that are attached to the frame 20. The removable panel 34 is typically constrained relative to the remainder of the skirt 30, but can be readily removed to permit another panel to be substituted or for access to the inner workings of the spa 10.

In the illustrated example, the panels 34 are constrained using several flanges adjacent side edges of the panels 34, as shown in the exploded view of FIG. 2. Included are a pair of flanges 36 adjacent lateral side edges of the panel 34, as well as a bottom flange 38 adjacent the bottom edge of the panel 34. The top edge of the panel 34 is positioned to fit in a recess of the vessel 12 between the lip 14 and the body 16, the lip 14 of which functions as a flange. When assembled, the flanges 14, 36 and 38 constrain all four edges of the panel 34. While the term “flange” is used, any similar constraining structures can be used that restrict outward removal of the panel 34 from the spa 10, such as u-shaped members, brackets or the like. Further, although each flange 36 and 38 is depicted as being formed from a single member, a plurality of different members, such as a plurality of pins, brackets or the like, can also be used to constrain the panel 34. Also, the flanges 36 and 38 can be built into other parts of the spa 10, as opposed to being separate members. For instance, a groove or flange could be formed in portions of the spa adjacent the panel 34, such as the frame 20 or the corner skirt portions 32.

As shown in the section view of FIG. 4, the flanges 36 and 38 can include a base 45 with an upstanding leg 44 and a depending leg 43. The depending leg 43 can be attached to the frame 20 or remainder of the skirt 30. The base 45 can restrict lateral movement of the panel 34, in the case of the flanges 36 adjacent the lateral side edges of the panel 34, or can restrict vertical movement of the panel 34, in the case of the flange 38 adjacent the bottom edge of the panel 34. The upstanding leg 44 of the flanges 36 and 38 can restrict movement of the panel 34 away from the spa 10. The flanges 36 and 38 can be directly attached to the frame 20, or can be attached relative to the frame 20 via intermediate portions of the skirt 30, such as the skirt corner panels 32. In particular, the bottom flange 38 can be attached to the horizontal support 22 of the frame 20, and the side flanges 36 can be attached to either or both of the skirt corner panels 32 and the vertical supports 24 of the frame 20. The flanges 36 and 38 can be attached to the spa 10 using screws or other such fasteners. To this end, preformed screw holes can be disposed in the flanges 36 and 38 to facilitate assembly.

The panel 34 preferably, though not necessarily, is generally free to float within the confines of the flanges 14, 36 and 38. This floating can accommodate expansion and contraction of the panel 34, such as during temperature changes. This can assist in reducing buckling of the panel 34. The panel 34 may be constrained to a greater degree in one direction than another, such as to a greater degree in lateral directions and opposed to vertical directions. Separate from the constraining flanges 36, 38 and lip 14, the panel 34 can also be attached relative to the spa 10. For example, hardware may be attached to the panel 34 that can be joined, hung or secured to hardware attached relative to the spa 10. In the illustrated example, the hardware can include a tab 40 attached to the back of the panel 34 and a bracket 42 attached to the vertical support 24, as illustrated in FIG. 3, or vice versa. The bracket 42 can project outwardly from the vertical support 24 to effectively form a slot between a portion of the bracket 42 and the vertical support 24 that is configured to receive the tab 40. When the tab 40 is inserted in the slot bounded by a portion of the bracket 42 and the vertical support 24, the panel 34 is essentially hung relative to the frame 20. That is, the panel 34 is constricted from side-to-side movement and downward movement (toward the horizontal supports 22 of the frame 20), but is free to move upwardly. Depending upon the particular configuration of the tab 40 and bracket 42, the panel 34 may also be constrained by the hardware from movement outwardly from the spa 10. Other types of hardware can be used, including hardware that restricts movement in all directions.

To assemble the panel 34 to the spa 10, the bottom flange 38 can first be attached to the horizontal supports 22. The panel 34 can then be inserted between the lip 14 of the vessel 12 and the bottom flange 38. The distance between a base portion of the lip and the base 45 of the bottom flange 38, and in particular the distance between the upstanding leg 44 and the recess of the lip 14 is such that the panel 34 can clear the upstanding leg 44 when the upper edge portion is within the lip 14. In one example, the upper edge portion of the panel 34 can be inserted at a slight angle into the recess of the lip 14, which can permit the bottom edge portion of the panel 34 to clear the upstanding leg 44 of the bottom flange 38 as the bottom edge portion of the panel 34 is pivoted to a position past the upstanding leg 44 and toward the spa 10. The panel 34 can then be allowed to move downward so that it is resting on the base 45 of the bottom flange 38, while being constrained from outward movement by both the upstanding leg 44 of the bottom flange 38 and the lip 14 of the vessel 12. If the tab-and-slot fastener is being used, then the tab 40 can also be slid into the slot formed between the bracket 42 and the vertical support 24 to further constrain the panel 34. The side flanges 36 can then optionally be attached to the spa 10 to constrain the adjacent the side edge portions of the panel 34.

In order to remove the panel 34 from the spa 10, one or both side flanges 36, if present, can be removed. If only one of the side flanges 36 is removed, then the panel 34 can be laterally slide away from the other of the side flanges 36. Once unconstrained by the side flanges 36, the panel 34 can be shifted upwardly toward the lip 14 of the vessel 12 to free the bottom edge portion of the panel 34 from constraint by the upstanding leg 44 of the bottom flange 38. Once free, the bottom edge portion of the panel 34 can be pivoted outwardly while the upper edge portion remains in the recess of the lip 14. Next, the outwardly-pivoted panel 34 can be shifted downwardly to free the upper edge portion of the panel 34 from the lip 14 of the vessel 12. In this manner, the panel 34 can be readily removed, and, using the steps described above, replaced with the same or a different panel 34. Although these steps have been described with inserting or shifting the upper edge portion of the panel 34 into the recess of the lip 14 first, the opposite sequence could also be utilized for insertion and removal of the panel 34.

The simplified assembly steps for attaching the panel 34 relative to the spa 10 and the modularity of the panels can promote faster assembly of the spa 10. Further, a plurality of different panels 34 can be stocked, permitting for customization of the spas 10 during manufacture by using different panels to provide different visual appearances of the spas 10. Indeed, the sizes of the panels can be standardized for more than one type of spa 10, further reducing the number of different parts needed to assemble the spa. A reduced number of fasteners can be utilized, as the panels 34 are not attached at an excess number of locations to the spa 10. After assembly of the spa 10, the removable panels 34 permit end-users or installers of the spas 10 to readily substitute panels 34, whether to repair the spa 10 or to change the visual appearance thereof.

The use of the flanges 36 and 38 permits decorative structures to be incorporated into the flanges to enhance the visual appearance and functionality of the spa 10. For example, a series of lights 46, such as LEDs, can be optionally inserted into apertures 46 in the base 45 of the bottom flange 38 or into other flanges. The lights can provide an attractive visual appearance to the spa 10, such as by highlighting the panel 34, and can identify the perimeter of the spa 10.

Turning now to the panels themselves, the panels can be configured to provide for different visual appearances, while also taking into account ease of manufacturing. In one example, the panel 34 can have decorative openings formed therethrough, and a back panel 52 can be attached or positioned adjacent the rearward side of the panel 34, as illustrated in FIG. 5. The back panel 52 can have a different color and/or texture from the panel 34, thereby permitting the different color and/or texture to be visible through the openings 50 in the panel 34 to effectively provide a two-toned panel. In one example, the back panel 52 can be translucent. When lighting is positioned behind the back panel 52, the openings 50 in the panel 34 can be illuminated.

In another example, the panel may be formed to have at least an outer layer 56 and an inner layer 54, such as using coextrusion techniques. The outer and inner layers 56 and 54 may have different appearance properties, such as color, texture, and/or translucency, such that when the inner layer 54 is exposed the panel is two-toned. The inner layer 54 can be exposed by removing a portion of the outer layer 56, essentially creating a window or other opening 58 in the outer layer 56. The outer layer 56 can be partially removed using CNC-machining, for instance, to create geometric shapes or designs, such as those illustrated in FIGS. 1, 2 and 5. Furthermore, the panel can have more than two layers with different appearance properties, permitting three or more appearance properties in a single panel.

In yet another example, the panel may have a single layer or a primary layer 60 that is removed, such as using CNC-machining, to form a recess 62. The recess 62 can be left open, or the recess can be filled in using an epoxy or other filler to provide a different appearance property, as depicted in FIG. 7. In another variation of the panel, the panel can have one or more layers 66, 68 and 70, as depicted in FIG. 8, with the outermost layer 68 being a textured skin that can be formed to resemble rocks or stone, by way of example. The three-dimensional appearance of the graphics formed in the panels, such as when openings are formed in the panel or in an outer layer of the panel, or when different depths of material are removed, can further enhance the decorative aspects of the panels.

The panels described herein can be made of a variety of synthetic materials. Preferably, the materials can withstand the water, chemical and UV environment that spas 10 are often used in, without significant color or other degradation. An example of a suitable material is high density polyethylene (HDPE). The flanges 36 and 38 can also be made of like materials. The panels can be made using extrusion techniques, which can advantageously also form the grooves depicted in the panels of FIGS. 1-3 and 5. The panels could also be made of an extruded or otherwise shaped vinyl substrate, which can be primed and coated with an adhesive, then a skin or film material applied (such as using a wrapping machine, including a wrapping machine from RENOLIT AG). The skin or film can have protective or decorative properties. Panels having different appearance properties can be made using coextrusion techniques. The outer, textured skin 68 can be formed of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), and can be made using thermoforming techniques and then laminated or otherwise attached to the other layer or layers of the panel. While the panels are depicted in the figures as being rectangular, other shapes, such as ovular, circular, or multi-sided, can be used with suitable modifications to the constraining flanges or other constraining elements.

From the foregoing, it will be appreciated that panels and panel systems, and methods of manufacture and use, are disclosed herein that provide for advantages in terms of assembly, maintenance and visual appearance. However, the disclosure is not limited to the aspects and embodiments described hereinabove, or to any particular embodiments. For instance, while described with respect to spas, other types of devices can also be used, such as bath tubs, showers, or other vessels having skirts. Also, while specific types of panels are described herein, other types of panels can be used with the panel systems.





 
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