Hot tubs are big ticket items, and pre-owned can be a good way to get your toes wet for cheap. Looking for a tub for your vacation home? Want to try a spa but aren’t sure if you want to invest long-term? Are you handy and looking for project? We’ll help you choose the right place to buy and issues to watch out for.
Where to Buy
Chances are, there is a used hot tub for sale near you, somewhere between like-new and beyond repair. Whether you shop at a dealer or online classifieds, you should know what to expect before you buy.
Many spa dealers take older spas as trade-ins. They clean them up and sell them for a profit, much like buying a used car from a lot.
Spa dealers often fix cosmetic and equipment issues, maybe even including a warranty for those repairs. They often replace the cover, filters and deep clean the tub when they receive it, so you don’t have to.
With the parts and labor the dealer adds, they charge way more than if you did the work yourself. Add profit and commission mark-up, and the price is equal to or higher than a brand new hot tub.
Sale by Owner
Shopping for used spas in online classified ads is much cheaper than a dealer.
You can often find nice hot tubs for sale locally from moving owners, forced to sell their spa. Since they don’t come with a warranty, problems if something suddenly fails are your burden. Do a complete check and see about having a service tech look over the spa before purchase.
Cheap or free hot tubs are plentiful, although you get what you pay for. You will have to invest a lot of time and money into a fixer-upper. If too many critical parts are bad, you will have to pay a service tech for the labor. You might spend the same or more than a fully functional (or even new!) spa.
What to Look For
When buying a used spa from an unknown seller, viewing the tub before purchase is vital. Be sure that the spa is on and full of water for at least 24 hours before you arrive. Ask to see the owner's manual, repair and maintenance record. Act as if you were purchasing a used car or second-hand RV. Keep a lookout for possible issues.
Equipment Area & Controls
With the spa running, ask the owner to show you how to operate the topside control pad. Switch through the various functions, checking if the high and low jet pump speeds, heater, light, etc. work.
Check the various other functions. The air valve should provide ample air injection to the jets. Open the valve fully, backing off slowly until closed. If air is still injected when fully closed, the valve is defective. Check diverter valves, if so equipped.
Listen for a rapid clicking sound coming from the control system. This could indicate circuit board problems, which can be very costly to repair. A burned-out spa light is a minor issue. Have the bulb replaced to verify that the problem is the bulb, and not the light control circuit.
Listen to the pump when the spa is running. You should hear a strong and steady low-pitched hum from the motor. If you hear grinding, whining or just about anything else, you likely need a new pump.
Keep an eye out for dripping and puddles while in the equipment area. A cracked union, filter lock ring or other obvious leak are simple repairs. If you cannot see the source of the leak, look for dark or discolored foam. Leaks from mystery locations in fully foamed spas are difficult to fix. Take a hard pass.
Ask the owner about how the hot tub has been used. Has it been stored empty for long periods of time? Stored over long, cold winters? Kept full of water without power? Even after draining, up to 6 gallons of water can remain in the pipes, pump and heater. This water can freeze and expand, cracking the plumbing. An unheated spa full of water can cause similar issues.
Read more about Leaks and How to Fix Them.
Carefully inspect the spa shell for issues, looking for large cracks, blisters, or other issues. Badly broken acrylic cannot be repaired, so tubs with large fissures should be avoided. Fill small cracks or cosmetic defects with Plast-Aid, which can be colored to match the acrylic for a seamless patch.
Sanding, finishing and a couple coats of paint will do wonders for a faded, ugly cabinet. You can repair one or two broken slats or panels with wood or synthetic paneling without much trouble. Entirely replacing a damaged cabinet, on the other hand, will be costly.
Framework & Insulation
The cabinet’s cosmetic appearance is not as important as the condition of the framework that supports the spa. Remove the panels and inspect the frame for rot and warping, especially if the tub was placed on bare soil. The frame needs enough strength to support not only the shell, but also 2000lbs or more of water and occupants.
Keep an eye out of signs of rodent or insect activity, such as droppings. Vermin are attracted to the warmth in the cabinet. They can wreak havoc damaging plumbing, nesting in the foam, and gnawing at the wood frame.
How Much Should it Cost?
Even if you get a used spa for a great price, there will be more costs after the initial purchase. Here’s a rundown of the possible extra expenses.
Power Connection – You’ll need an electrician to wire the spa at your home, including a GFCI Disconnect. You also may have to pay an electrician to disconnect it from its previous location, depending on the seller. If you are qualified to do electric wiring, you can save $1000+ by doing it yourself.
Read our guide to Wiring a Hot Tub.
- Delivery – Hot tubs are large and usually require a few friends, flat dollies, and a flatbed truck or trailer. It might be worth spending a bit more to hire a moving company to transport the spa easily, without damage.
- Setup – You need a concrete pad, patio or deck with the right load rating. If you don't have that, you’ll need to install a level surface for the spa. Read more about Site Selection and Setup.
- Cover – Spa covers don't last forever, and often need replacement when buying a used hot tub. If the cover is heavy or the vinyl in poor condition, get a new, more energy efficient hot tub cover.
- Filters – Replace all filters in a used spa before use. Dirty filters are not sanitary.
- Repair – The cost of repairs will depend on the condition of the spa and the service technician’s fee. You can save on the service call by doing the work yourself, using the knowledge in our How-to Guides.
- Chemicals – You will need some supplies to get started. Spa chemicals are less effective over time. It’s best to buy new supplies in lieu of taking the seller’s collection of old chemicals.
- Accessories – Although not required for spa operation, steps, a cover lifter, and a handrail make the spa easier to use.
Just like with a car, a new hot tub depreciates significantly the moment you use it for the first time. Sellers that use the original price as a starting point can over-value their spa by hundreds or thousands of dollars.
The tub may still be in good condition, but part of the original price included a warranty. It also included a brand new cover, filters, and often delivery, none of which you will be receiving.
The first owner may have overpaid for the hot tub in the first place. If purchased from a spa dealer, their initial cost included a huge mark-up, which passes on to you.
After You Buy
Once you find a used spa that works for you, there are a few things to do before enjoying it.
Most used hot tubs will need some work before you can fill them up. Even if the hot tub is in good condition, expect to do repair work within the first year of ownership.
More costly repairs might include replacing the Pump or Control System. Performing repair work yourself and buying parts online will save you significantly over marked-up parts and labor from a dealer.
If the spa isn't functioning correctly and you're not sure where to start, visit our How-to Guides for more information.
It is important to deep clean a used hot tub before use. Just scrubbing the spa interior, without full-system decontamination, could result in a rash or infection from microbes lurking in plumbing.
Once the hot tub is decontaminated and filled, keep the water balanced and sanitized to perform properly and stay clean. Start with brand new bottles and store them in a cool, dry place away from sunlight.
New to hot tub water maintenance? Check out our Introduction to Spa Water Chemistry to get started.