Owning a spa is like having a personal hot spring right in your backyard. Hot tubs are perfect for relaxing and soothing those sore muscles and joints.
Once you decide to invest in your own tub, choosing the right one can be a big task. We created this guide to help you make an informed, confident purchase.
Size and Space
The size, seating and electric needs are the biggest factors in narrowing down the perfect hot tub. Consider these first.
Before shopping, choose the best spot for the spa. Most hot tubs will be placed outdoors on a patio, porch or deck. Whatever spot you pick, make sure you measure before deciding on a hot tub size.
For more info on setup and choosing a site location, see our Spa Setup page.
Hot Tub Seating
Plan on inviting guests or relatives over? Make room for a larger tub with more seats. You won't want to take turns in your new hot tub.
Will you be using the hot tub alone or with just two people at a time? If space is limited, a 2-3 person spa will be perfect. With a little more room, an extra seat or two is nice for stretching out.
Reclined seating lets you lay back, fully submerged in spa water. Loungers usually have more jets for a full-body massage. The best spas are deep enough to prevent you from floating out of the lounger.
A lounge takes the equivalent space of up two standard seats. Tubs for families or friends that need more seats could skip the lounger for an extra spot.
Hot tubs that need to be moved in the future should use a 120V Plug-and-Play connection. These fit a standard 120 volt outlet. Many spas have convertible voltage if you want to hard wire the tub in the future.
240V hard wired spas heat faster and stay hot longer than Plug and Play tubs. Qualified electricians must wire 240V systems. This also means installing a spa GFCI disconnect panel for safety.
Acrylic is the most common spa shell material, but roto-cast polymer, vinyl and wood are also options. The spa shell not only determines the look of the hot tub, but also its cost, insulation, and strength.
Considering a wooden hot tub? Read more about wood tubs before you take the plunge.
Acrylic is beautiful, durable, and versatile. Molds form it into contoured shapes for comfortable, form-fitting seating in a range of sizes. Supported by a frame, a wood or synthetic cabinet surrounds the spa. The equipment is completely contained within the surround.
Acrylic hot tub prices vary from a few grand to over $15,000, but high prices don’t mean high value. Skip the dealer, buy online, or carefully select a used spa and get more tub for less money, without skimping on quality.
Resin Unicast Hot Tubs
Built to last, molded resin spas are built with the shell and cabinet as one piece. This creates a strong, durable spa with an eye catching, easy care finish. Resin spas share some features of acrylic, like loungers and lighting packages, with fewer jets and a lower price.
Not all resin hot tubs are created equally. Some spa brands cut corners by heating the spa with the pump, rather than a dedicated heater. Spas with this setup do not heat as fast as spas with an integrated heater control system. Their temperature is difficult to regulate in very hot or cold weather.
Vinyl Soft Tubs & Blow-Up Spas
The vinyl hot tub is a low cost option with very few features. There are two types of vinyl spa: the cheap inflatable and the more expensive soft-sided spa.
Inflatable hot tubs are a short-term option for those looking to have a hot tub for one to two seasons. With just bubbles and no real massage action, don’t expect much more than a blow-up kiddy pool.
Soft-sided vinyl hot tubs are true portable spas. The shell and cabinet is replaced with vinyl and foam over a frame. These small hot tubs have no real seating other than the floor itself. Jetting is minimal, and the feature set is meager.
Equipment, Features and Options
With a size and material type in mind, learn more about the details. Get more of what you want out of a spa - without wasting money on sales ploys and marketing hype.
Vigorous jets that mix water and air give the best massage. Don’t fall for high jet counts and hokey massage packs that are hard or costly to replace.
Adding too many jets leads to decreased pressure. Adding larger, energy wasting motors is the only way to solve this pressure loss. Spa designs like this are not efficient, and can cost up to $100 in extra energy per month.
Spa pumps provide flow to the jets. More horsepower and more pumps don't always mean a better massage or a better hot tub. A spa with outrageous total horsepower ratings or too many pumps (we’ve seen spas with 6!) will consume enormous amounts of energy.
The ideal spa will have a good jet to horsepower ratio for ideal efficiency and jet strength.
Spa covers are not an option, they are a necessity. Heat rises, and a quality cover will conserve energy and save money on power bills. Locking straps protect the hot tub from dirt, weather and unwanted visitors. Dealers should always include a cover. Do not let them misrepresent it as a free bonus or special sale.
Read about Spa Cover Care to get the most out of your new hot tub cover.
Stereo, Lighting and Water Features
You don't need color lighting systems, water features or audio in a spa. Still, these options can make your soak better and be a fun addition to a hot tub party. If you are thinking of adding these options, shop around before you pay thousands extra!
Spa dealers charge huge amounts – in the thousands - on top of already high prices for added options. Some companies offer optional Bluetooth audio, interior and exterior color LEDs and lighted water features.
Also called bubblers, these motors push air into the water through ports in the spa, creating champagne like bubbles. Although some enjoy this feeling, we do not recommend air blowers. Blowers pump cold air into the water, lowering the water temp and wasting energy. They can also be quite loud.
The best spas have jets that mix air and water without the need for a separate blower motor. These spa designs draw waste heat from the equipment bay, further saving energy dollars.
Filtration is an important part of keeping your water crystal clear. Well-kept, clean filters remove large particles from the water. This protects parts from damage, and improves water clarity. Filters should be replaced yearly for best results.
New hot tubs should include filters with advanced blue filter media. This blue media prevents bacteria and other microbe growth on the filter. Microbe resistant filters have more effective filtration, less odor, and are easier to clean. Our Clarathon Antimicrobial filters are the perfect replacement filter for any spa.
One or two filters, depending on the spa size and number of pumps, are sufficient. Some spas use 3, 4 or even 5 filters! In addition, some use complicated or multi-part filters that are only available from the original spa manufacturer. Remember, this adds to the long-term cost of the hot tub.
Dealers charge a huge markup for extra or special filters. You may spend many hundreds of dollars yearly on filtration alone. No matter where you buy your spa, get up to 50% off retail by buying premium hot tub filters online.
Full-foam spas fill the entire cabinet with spray foam insulation. This makes future repairs more difficult and wastes heat created by the pumps.
Roto-molded spas need some foam to support the structure. For acrylic spas, insulated cabinets with air space that captures heat from the pump motor is a better choice.
Most of a hot tub's heat loss is through the top, not the sides, since heat rises. Like our homes, we insulate the floor, walls and the attic, to create a warm pocket inside.
The most energy efficient hot tubs have reflective backed foam insulation. Reflective foam acts like a mirror to bounce radiant heat back into the spa.
Spas with insulated bases prevent the cold ground from soaking up the heat in the cabinet. This extra protection can cut annual heating costs up to 20%. As an added benefit, an insulated base will keep moisture and vermin out of the hot tub cabinet.
Warranty and Support
Almost all new spas have warranties, but sometimes that's not enough if the service doesn't back it up. Warranty service is tough if the dealer is not willing or able to help arrange it. If the dealer goes out of business, you may not receive warranty service at all.
A big box store that doesn't specialize in hot tubs won't be able to assist you with expert support. Once the warranty is expired, you are on your own.
Since 1997, Spa Depot has been selling spa supplies and giving expert Customer and Tech support, even long after a sale. We go out of our way to provide the best customer service with no commissioned sales. Our employees take great pride in helping our customers.
Price vs. Cost
Now that you have an idea about what size, features and options you'd like, let’s talk about pricing.
Price is how much you pay for the tub itself. The true cost includes more: site prep, accessories, chemicals, and most important, power bills and repair costs. Subpar insulation, thin spa covers, cheap parts, and poor quality add to the lifetime cost of your spa.
This doesn’t mean you have to pay more up front to get a lower lifetime cost. Spa stores sell so few hot tubs, they really have to soak their customers on the ones they do sell. Typically, they mark them up thousands above their actual costs. They have little choice but to charge high prices because of their low volume and high overhead.
Like buying a car, a hot tub is a big purchase. Few have the cash on hand to buy outright. Review your lending options before increasing an existing credit card balance or borrowing against your home.
Very few dealers offer in-house financing for spas anymore. A few may still give you the option of an installment plan. Installment plans require money down upfront. The loan is high risk for the dealer, so they tack on costs to the upfront price of their spas.
Many hot tub brands and spa dealers now offer financing in the form of home improvement credit cards. These high interest cards limit card use to certain stores. They often have higher limits to complete big projects, depending on credit.
Even if you don’t opt for a special credit card, you likely have at least one card in your wallet. Using variable or high interest credit cards for a spa can be risky, costing much more down the road. The credit card company may offer low monthly payments to lure you. Their goal is to keep you in debt for as long as possible, making more profit over time on interest.
When you think about how much money you need for the hot tub, don’t forget to add in extra costs. Include hiring an electrician, pouring a concrete pad, and backyard landscaping or decking in the cost. Even if your credit limit can cover these costs, racking up large bills leaves little wiggle room for an emergency.
Home Equity Loans and Lines of Credit
Home equity seems like a good way to finance both a spa and a new deck or other large project. Home equity loans provide one lump sum. Lines of credit provide a credit limit similar to a credit card. Both use your home as collateral for the loans.
Banks are less likely to grant loans for a spa since it isn't a nailed-down addition to the house. Some people with good credit scores have better luck with small credit unions. Beware: when the house is collateral, failure to repay could result in home foreclosure.
Where to buy
The company you buy from is just as important as the tub you buy. Avoid common tricks when shopping at traditional spa dealers, big box stores and online hot tub sellers. Always buy from a reputable and hot tub literate source.
Dealer prices are more often than not sky high, and can be misleading. Often “Sale” and “Close-out” signs seem like bargains, but are actually the everyday prices with a flashy sign.
Wet-testing is another dealer tactic to close the deal. Dealers may have only one spa of an entire line filled with water; usually it's the largest and most expensive.
Soaking in the middle of the public showroom floor in your bathing suit is not ideal for most people. The effort a wet test takes is usually enough to push shoppers over the edge into a more expensive spa. Consider also that perhaps dozens of strangers and their kids previously bathed in the same water you'll be soaking in.
If you do a wet test, do yourself a favor: resist the pressure to sign on the dotted line. Allow yourself a 48-hour cooling off period. You will likely not regret giving yourself a little extra time to think it over.
Big Box Stores
Wholesale retailers don't know anything about the spas they sell. They have low cost deals that save you money, but can’t provide any service before or after the sale. Without spa function, chemical use, and warranty support, you are on your own.
The outrageous pricing and used-car sales tricks are what bring hot tub shoppers online and away from spa dealers. But not all online sellers are alike! Anyone can start a website, but not everyone has the experience and expertise of a well seasoned customer care and tech staff.
The Final Decision
Once you've decided where and how to aquire your spa, SpaDepot.com is here for any questions that come up along the way. From filters to foam, pumps to pH, SpaDepot.com is your trusted resource for all things hot tub related!