Once a luxury reserved for the rich and famous, hot tubs are now quite affordable, even regarded by some as an integral part of living a healthy lifestyle and a necessary home improvement. Whether you want to soak nightly to ease your aches and pains, submerge to center yourself or need a fun place to socialize, there's a lot to know about buying your own hot tub. Pronto’s Hot Tub Buying Guide will help you get the most splash for your buck.
Hot tubs and spas are usually installed outside the home, hold a small group of people and remain filled with water after each use. A whirlpool bath is typically installed in a bathroom, holds one or two people and gets drained after each use.
Look for a hot tub shell made with nonporous material and compare shell warranties. A longer warranty equals a better shell. Consider the upkeep and durability of tub enclosures when choosing between wood and plastic. Insulation with a high R-factor makes a hot tub more energy efficient, but beware of “full foam” insulation that raises repair bills.
The number of jets will affect the price of your hot tub. Look for a good jet system that doesn’t rely on an overpowered motor. Too many molded seats can make a hot tub feel crowded. Consider lighting for an outdoor hot tub so you’re not soaking in the dark.
A hot tub cover with locks at all four corners provides the best protection from animals, children and the elements. Thicker, high-poundage foam covers are best in the elements and keep more heat in your hot tub. Look for a cover with a marine-grade vinyl outer cover and a scrim made from water-repellant material.
Spas and hot tubs must be drained and cleaned regularly to stop bacteria from forming and to protect plumbing. Things that you’ll need include a pump, water filter, chemicals and a spa ionizer.
A synthetic material that is molded to form a hot tub’s shell.
A wood or plastic housing that holds a hot tub’s shell, plumbing, heating and electronic components.
A method of insulating a hot tub that uses foam sprayed throughout the interior of the enclosure. Although this produces a high R factor and reduces motor noise, it leads to costly repairs because the foam must be scraped away from parts and replaced.
A device that generates copper, zinc and/or silver ions to kill bacteria and algae.
A standard measurement of the transfer of heat through an insulating material. Higher R-factors equal less heat loss.
The liner on the underside of a hot tub cover. Options range from inexpensive mesh to thermal-reflective, waterproof material that provides insulation and protects the foam core.
The molded base of an acrylic hot tub that holds water and people.
The names spa, whirlpool bath, Jacuzzi and hot tub describe four different products with slightly different functions. Spas and hot tubs are the most closely related. A spa is an acrylic tub with molded seats used outdoors on a patio or deck. A hot tub is an outdoor tub with bench seating made of sturdy wood, like cedar, sometimes with an acrylic liner. Both feature soothing jets, temperature controls and a wide range of optional perks that personalize the experience. These types of hot tubs hold their water just like a swimming pool, and you need to use pool chemicals to keep bacteria from building up.
A whirlpool bath is a tub with jets that provide a soothing water massage. Whirlpool baths require minimal upkeep since the water is drained after each use. Whirlpool baths can be installed in your bathroom, and they’re built for use by one or perhaps two people, as opposed to spas and hot tubs that can hold a small group.
Hot tubs range from about $2,500 to $20,000. Cost is dictated not only by extras, but on the quality of construction. An average quality hot tub will cost between $4,500 and $7,000.
Start by comparing the shells on hot tubs, which hold water and people. Look for nonporous surfaces that don’t give bacteria a place to hide and a quality sealant that resists cracks and blisters. The best hot tub shells have the longest warranties.
For a freestanding hot tub, consider the materials that form the enclosure. Wood is a popular choice, but you’ll need to treat it with water sealant about every two years. Plastic or acrylic enclosures are virtually maintenance free, but some of these may become brittle in extreme cold.
Insulation is a major consideration whether you’re buying an indoor or outdoor unit. Insulation is measured with an R-factor, which measures the resistance to heat loss. Better hot tub insulation will keep your electricity costs at a minimum. Avoid a hot tub that touts “full foam” insulation, which indicates the foam has been blown all over the lines and jets. These hot tubs have a higher R-factor, but they’re also much more expensive to repair, because the foam must first be scraped away from parts, then refilled. Removable insulation with a high R-factor is a better choice.
The number of jets can boost the price of your hot tub. More isn't always better. The quality, type, orientation and plumbing system are more important factors. A hot tub with cheap jets compensates with larger, energy-wasting motors to overcome friction loss. Many people find excessive jets uncomfortable.
Fancy seating arrangements can make your hot tub feel more crowded. Molded lounge style chairs are quite comfy, but check the orientation and power of jets so you’re not thrown from your seat.
Lighting is another important consideration. There are a number of hot tub options that will provide mood and ambiance, but it’s best to start with a safe, subtle level of lighting so you won’t be left sitting in a dark, wet place.
The most popular standard features make your tub easy to maintain, such as cover lifts, chemical storage cabinets and automatic water purifiers. Towel warmers are a good feature for an outdoor hot tub that you’ll use in cold weather. On average, a quality hot tub will last up to 20 years with minimal service and repair.
An outdoor hot tub needs a cover to protect it from the elements, to keep children and animals out and to reduce heat loss. Consider a cover that can be secured with padlocks to deter children and to prevent unauthorized access while you’re away. A hot tub cover with four locks—one at each corner—offers the greatest peace of mind.
Compare the foam thickness of hot tub covers. Thick foam withstands more weight, an important factor for an outdoor unit that will be exposed to elements. Look for an all-season cover with tapered edges for superior drainage and a high load capacity for accumulating snow.
Foam density, measured by pounds per square inch, is important for insulating your hot tub and retaining heat. Lower-poundage foam cells are more open, which results in a hot tub cover with a lower weight capacity and a tendency to get waterlogged. For maximum life, choose a hot tub cover with a top surface made of marine-grade vinyl treated with UV and mildew inhibitors.
Scrim inside the cover protects the foam core from moisture. The cheapest option is mesh, but a better choice is a cover with a reflective, water-repellent scrim that helps to keep water warm, saving on energy costs. In variable climates, consider a solar or thermal cover that reduces condensation which can eat away at the scrim over time. Finally, invest in a spa cover cap, which is a tarp that protects your cover during the winter months.
Maintaining clean water is essential to prevent bacteria from forming and to extend a hot tub’s life. Expect to spend 15 minutes a week to clean filters and maintain water chemistry and one hour every three or four months to drain and refill a hot tub. In addition to a pump and filter, you’ll need bromine, chlorine and mineral sanitizers supplemented by UV sterilization and an ion generator (or spa ionizer).
If only chlorine is used to treat your spa water, you will need an algaecide. You will need to occasionally “shock” your tub water to remove that stubborn “ring around the tub” using either potassium monopersulfate (nonchlorine shock) or a large dose of granulated chlorine.
Tubs will come with maintenance instructions, and each one has its own recipe for success. In general, the key to the chemistry of hot tub water maintenance is keeping the pH, total alkalinity and calcium hardness within acceptable margins. Be diligent, as a poor chemical balance can corrode your hot tub’s plumbing, resulting in a costly repair bill.