Hot Tub Reviews - Buying A New Hot Tub
There are so many reasons to own a hot tub from personal relaxation and soaking to entertaining with friends, injury rehabilitation, sleep aid, pain relief, medical
recommendation - but they are so expensive and hard to maintain right? Wrong! If you are seeking the benefits of hot water therapy, which are many, then you should
realize that the only thing you really need is hot water. A futuristic hot tub that looks like it was teleported to your backyard off the Star Trek Enterprise sounds
great, and it is, but in reality you only need a tub that holds water. Hot water specifically.
If you are not concerned with budget you could always just click a few buttons and order yourself this Dual Lounger Hot Tub with 66 stainless steel jets and twin 6HP booster pumps, a titanium heater and a built in mP3 player audio system and a waterfall. Get yourself a 50 Amp GFI Panel and some wire and you are good to go.
Hot Tub Prices
Total investment for a high end spa including pad placement, electrician and electrical hookup is more than $15,000 assuming for zero landscaping. The sky is the limit if you start insetting your new spa into a cedar deck or custom landscaping it.
For everyone else, buying a hot tub is considered a major purchase and something that warrants serious consideration since it involves upfront cost, possible setup costs, transportation costs, heating and maintaining costs as well as a fair bit of work to learn about water chemistry and spa maintenance.
Unexpected Costs Associated With Buying A Hot Tub
Depending on what kind of hot tub you buy there will be additional costs that you need to be prepared for. A portable hot tub for example can be set up on most flat
and strong surfaces such as grass or a concrete deck (using the supplied liner pad) however an acrylic hot tub will require a permanent hot tub pad to be built from
concrete, paving stones or compacted limestone.
Hot Tub Pad $750 - $2000
There are some models of hot tubs, usually fiberglass hot tubs which are much heavier and much stronger than acrylic spas, that do not require a pad as they have one "built in" to the design. If you are looking at buying anything more than an inflatable, portable hot tub then you are likely going to need a hot tub pad which will cast anywhere from $750 to $2000 depending on the rates of contractors local to you. You can attempt to take this project on yourself however the thickness and size of a hot tub pad requires usually over a meter of concrete - too much to mix yourself efficiently and too little to order from a ready mix supplier without paying penalty fees for a small load. Remember that hot tubs are very heavy once they are full of water, and people, and usually a wood deck will not support a full size spa without being built specifically for this purpose.
Electrical Installation $1500 - $2500
Hot tubs are either wired for 110 volts or 220 volts. 110 volt models are portable hot tubs and can be plugged directly into any standard wall outlet through the GFI provided plug that comes with the spa. 220 volt hot tubs are much larger and more capable and require a permanent electrical connection to be made to your house via a GFI Breaker Panel which will require an electrician to complete. The cost of hiring an electrician to wire your 220 volt hot tub will change depending on the length of the run and the size of the breaker and wire needed. A 40 amp hot tub will cost slightly less than a 50 or 60 amp hot tub service as the wire is thinner. The further your hot tub is away from the electrical panel for your house the longer the wire will need to be which increases the cost of the materials you need by quite a bit. A typical 40-60 amp hot tub electrical installation is going to cost from $1500-$2500 depending on the price of contractors in your area. If you decide to do this work yourself it might end up costing your $400-$750 but be absolutely sure you are qualified to make these connections - heavy current electrical lines, hot tubs and amateur fingers do not go well together.
Location $200 - $750
When a hot tub us shipped to you it usually will have only curb delivery. This means that the hot tub will be on the street in front of your house and it will be up to you to get it into the back yard. Weighing hundreds to even thousands of pounds for some models you will need a plan on how to move the hot tub once it arrives. Many full service spa dealers, like a brick and mortar store, will provide location services when you purchase from them. Otherwise you will need at minimum 4 strong people and 6 is better, which can be either paid help or future hot tub users. Lifting straps, heavy duty dollies and protective pads will help with this process. What you need to be very careful of is overhead clearance. Most hot tubs are 7 to 8 feet square and so you either need to have a very wide access or a very tall access to your ideal location. In the event that you will need a crane for placement this will cost you another $400 - $750.
Initial Chemicals & Supplies $100-$300
You are going to need to need a host of chemicals, treatments, filters etc to go with your hot tub, not to mention any frill item such as aromatherapy scents that you might want to use. Chemical sanitizers like bromine, commonly used in hot tub treatment, are fairly expensive. You will also require oxidizer, alkalinity control, pH control, pipe flush, filter cleaner and at least 1 backup filter. These items when purchased individually as replacements will not be as noticeable - but starting with nothing and needing everything is going to cost you a few hundred dollars.
New hot tub steps $60 - $250
Unless you are planning the classic pole vault entry into your hot tub you are going to need to get yourself a set of spa steps. Usually made out of plastic or wood these 36" wide 2-steps are going to cost you anywhere from $60 - $80 on the low end to $100 - $200 for nicer models. If you want anything fancy like wrap around steps you are looking well over $500. Of course if you are a carpenter then you can build something functional for a fraction of these costs.
Types Of Hot Tubs
There are so many brands, styles and models of hot tub on the market it can be confusing even figuring out what you are looking for - let alone finding it! The first
distinction that you need to determine is whether you are looking for a portable hot tub or a permanent hot tub.
Portable Hot Tubs
A portable hot tub is defined by not needing a permanent (hardwire) electrical connection in order to operate. A portable hot tub will come equipped with a ground fault protected cord end that plugs directly into any standard house receptacle. These can include both inflatable models as well as smaller hard shell hot tubs. Given the electrical limitations portable hot tubs typically have very small booster pump motors and heaters when compared to permanent hot tubs. Also, the heater and pump can not be on at the same time with these models as this would overload the circuit. That is one of the reasons why portable hot tubs tend to have trouble holding temperature during use as compared to permanent hot tubs with much larger electrical supplies.
Permanent Hot Tubs
A permanent hot tub requires a hardwire electrical connection and usually a flat concrete or stone pad for it to sit on. These 220 volt hot tubs range from 30-60 amps and typically will include heaters much larger than that available in an portable hot tub. Additionally the heater as well as the booster pump can both be on at these same time in most of these models. If you are serious about your hot tub time then a permanent hot tub would be suit your needs.
Inflatable Hot Tub Reviews
If you understand the limitations of a inflatable hot tub they can be a very cost effective method to achieve the benefits of hot water therapy. What this type of spa
typically lacks is size, jets, heat retention and longevity. Physically speaking these spas are on the small size with sizes averaging 100 - 300 gallons suitable for
1 to 2 people comfortably or 3 - 4 people who want to get to know each other really well. The jet motors being powered by 110 volts will leave much to be desired if
you are seeking an aggressive deep tissue massage and blower motors (bubblers) do little to provide a massage like feeling.
Heat retention in a spa with a small 110 volt heater will always be a concern. In cold climate areas these spas will have trouble, or simply not be able to retain the water temperature at the normal 104 degree level. Fortunately the vast majority of benefits from hot water therapy have nothing to do with powerful jets or gigantic lounging areas. What a portable hot tub can do is provide a soak in water up to 104 degrees which will dramatically increase circulation and blood flow, improve sleep, speed healing of injuries, provide pain relief and improve overall health. Don't think that you can not afford the benefits of the hot tub lifestyle just because you can not afford a permanent hot tub.
This is an Intex Portable Hot Tub package. This portable spa represents the very entry level into the hot tub market and is affordable enough for almost anyone. This unit is 210 gallons and will seat 1-2 people comfortably but is advertised for up to 4. This hot tub does not have jets as you might picture but instead an air bubbler system. The air bubbler uses a blower motor to fill the spa with bubbles - not pressurized jets of water as seen in more expensive models.
This is the same model and volume of Intex portable spa however this unit includes the Jet & Bubble Massage so in addition to the blower & air bubbler system this spa also has traditional style pressurized water jets, though only 4 of them. This is a far cry from the 100 jets or so many high end permanent spas have, and it should be noted that the power of these modest jets is nothing that will impress you. If you are looking for a traditional style hot tub, complete with jets, that can be plugged directly into the wall and needs very little in terms of setup considerations - this is the one you want.
Similar in quality and style to the Intex spas above this Lay-Z-Spa Palm Springs model of portable hot tub is slightly larger at 254 gallons. This hot tub will have a better chance at seating 4 people than the Intex model listed above. This model has only the air bubbler system and no hydrotherapy jets.
This is a Homax Inflatable Hot Tub that is made for 2 - 4 people and holds 211 gallons. Similar in quality and style to the Intex and Lay-Z-Spa brands but approximately 10% more expensive on average. This brand also offers a 264 Gallon Spa with air bubblers as well as the party size 373 Gallon Spa model.
When looking at an inflatable hot tub you need to realize that you have to take care of them or you will end up putting holes in it. The units with air blower systems are fun but the air blower draws air from the ambient air which means that cold water bubbles are pumped into the water. This has the end effect of feeling cold on the skin as well as decreasing the temperature of the water quickly. The very minimal size heating elements in hot tubs of this class will struggle to maintain water temperature once the lid is open - even without the air blower on. With the air blower on the heater will not be able to hold temperatures indefinitely. Colder ambient air, such as in the winter, will make it very difficult if not impossible to maintain water temperatures. Working within these limitations these spas are the most cost effective way to get yourself into hot water.
As an industry expert I would expect that I would get at least 3 years of use from a hot tub in this class. Anything over 3 would be good and anything over 5 without at least something breaking seems unlikely. If the tub lasted only 2 years I would be disappointed and less than 1 year I would attempt to return it under warranty however shipping costs and company return policies would likely make this a difficult option. The bladder can leak from damage, installation error or manufacturing error. The electronics, pump and heater will be very expensive to replace compared to the total unit value - if available at all. The quality is going to be a gamble with an inflatable spa but for the minimal investment required most people buying a spa for the first time should consider one of these. If you use it until it dies then that would be a good sign that you can safely invest more into your next spa without it becoming a 2000lb garden ornament that never gets used.
Portable Hot Tub Reviews
If you like the idea of a "plug and play hot tub" but are not so keen on the idea of an inflatable spa then there is a class of solid shell portable spas to consider.
Quite a bit more expensive than the inflatable models these solid hot tubs remove the weak link from the chain. While the pump, filter, heater and topside control are
all similar in quality to those found in the inflatable class - the shell is vastly more durable and less likely to develop a leak.
Heat retention in portable hot tubs is still a concern, and ultimately a limitation of the convenience of having a 110 volt plug. While there is not much you can do to improve the thermal efficiency of an inflatable spa, many of these solid shell portable spas can have insulation added to them - either wrapped around or inside the cabinet if possible. Still, it would be expected that these spas will struggle to hold temperature in cold climates and during prolonged use.
This 280 gallon portable hot tub is a Spa-N-A-Box and represents the entry level price point for portable spas with non-inflatable walls. This unit keys wall panels together and has a one piece padded liner that fits inside. The plumbing, pump and heater are all self contained however it has only a single water jet which is meant for circulation and filtration - not as a massage jet. Similar to other low end models this unit has an air blower / bubbler system however using it will reduce the water temperature fairly quickly. While more durable than an inflatable spa, this liner style is still possible to damage.
Another shell style that is above inflatable class but below solid shells it this Foam Wall Portable Spa. The 5" thick foam walls provide a surprising amount of rigidity as well as an increased level of thermal retention over thinner wall style spas. Again, this unit has only the air bubbler system and no high pressure water jets due to the convenient 110 volt power supply. Even with a 1400 peak watt heater (almost double the size of the inflatable class) as well as the thick foam walls this spa might still not effectively operate at temperatures below freezing point but will certainly outperform any of the inflatable spas. Despite the large size of this spa it packs down well and is surprisingly portable.
Similar in style to the Spa-In-A-Box this is the M-SPA Super Tuscany portable spa. At 317 gallons this is one or the larger 110 volt units and similar to others it has only an air bubbler system and no high pressure water jets. The large size and minimal insulation also make this tub less ideal for colder areas or prolonged usage. If you are looking for one of the bigger plug and play hot tubs, need something that is collapsible, and do not plan to use it in cold weather then this is a decent option.
One Piece Portable Hot Tubs
This class of hot tub is the closest to a "traditional" hot tub but still with the convenience (limitation) of 110 volt plug and play versatility. While much less
portable than any of the inflatable or collapsible class spas these are technically still classified as portable spas. An intrepid hot tub enthusiast could put one of
these in the back of a truck and drive it to the cottage or cabin so technically they are portable but certainly better suited to more of a permanent setup in your
The real benefit of these spas is the fact that you do not require a permanent electrical connection. In addition to the cost of the components and labor to install a permanent hot tub sometimes the house service is inadequate for the draw of the spa. If you would require an electrical service upgrade to your home to accommodate a new hot tub, suddenly these 110 volt models start to look pretty appealing. Regardless of how much you spend on a portable hot tub they will all suffer from the same limited heating ability. A well built unit can have superior insulation value but once the lid is open, and especially if there is an air blower drawing ambient air, the temperature will start dropping. If you have the ability to have a 220 volt hot tub this will vastly improve the efficiency and ability of the spa - including massage jets and larger heaters. If 220 volt is simply not an option then the tubs in this class are the best that you can get.
This one piece hot tub is a Strong Spas Rio model and is made from one piece of plastic for uniform strength and integrity. These spas, from a structural perspective, are far superior to any form of inflatable or collapsible spa as it requires no water-proofing layer. The molded plastic shell provides the waterproof finish and it has 11 massage jets however this is a smaller spa at around 225 gallons. Adding a layer of HD foam on the ground, as well as stuffing the cabinet with non-flammable insulation, will help to improve the thermal efficiency of these but in the coldest of weather they will likely not be able to hold temperature.
This oval shaped Plug & Play Spa is also made with one piece construction which puts it high in the durability category. It has 10 water jets and a 245 gallon capacity. Rated for 4 - 5 people this tub is actually comfortable for 1 - 2 people. 4 people would need to be extremely small or extremely friendly to fit in this hot tub. It also includes an LED light and full foam construction in the cabinet for maximum heat retention. This is a very respectable 110 volt portable spa.
From the same brand as the oval spa is this 4 Person Spa With 12 Jets that has all of the same features with a slightly smaller volume of 220 gallons. This portable spa would be idea if you are looking for a 4 person spa and do not care how tight of a fit it is. The four seats maximize the small interior for use by four people. Also included are a decorative waterfall and color change LED light and the full foam interior provides a decent amount of thermal protection.
This 14 jet, 220 Gallon Portable Spa that is very similar in shape and style to the one above, but instead of a molded plastic design it has a more standard looking acrylic finish. This tub will outperform other portable spas due to the 20 amp plug which will require you to have a dedicated 20 amp plug available. This additional 5 amps over typical residential circuits is essentially a 25% performance bonus for pump power and ability to generate heat. This tub is comfortable for 1 -2 people but has optimal seating for if you need to to accommodate 4.
This is another model from Strong spas, the Cyprus Portable Hot Tub which is 300 gallons. Comfortable for 1 - 2 people but rated for up to four people and comes with 14 massage jets. As with all models from this manufacturer the panel can be wired with the standard portable 110 volt, 15 amp connection, however it can also be converted to 220 volt for more efficient operation.
The Strong spas G-2 Portable Spa has 28 massage jets and holds 300 gallons. Able to run on 110 volts or converts to 220 volts this spa has a lounge seat as well as foot jets. Two people fit quite comfortably in this hot tub and four is possible. The six that it is rated up to is wishful thinking to be sure.
This round hard shell hot tub is just over 325 gallons and has 14 water massage jets. It does require a 20amp electrical plug for the 110 volt supply which is higher than a standard house outlet. This means that you will require a slightly more heavy duty wire and plug than normal - but nowhere near the cost associated with a larger permanent hot tub electrical installation. The 20 amp plug allows for slightly more performance from the tub, such that a booster pump and 14 jets are included, but do not expect the world from these - The jet action in this tub is minimally adequate.
At the higher end of the portable hot tub spectrum is this AquaRest Spa with 19 massage jets and a volume of 220 gallons. This is a one piece molded spa similar to the Durasport Strong Spas and has a lounge seat on the interior. This tub is also available in a slightly larger 250 Gallon Model without the lounge seat. For the size and the price of these models you would be better off looking at the some of the others in this class. If this tub is on sale for a price range of $2000 - $2500 then it may be worth considering.
This is a Premiere Portable Spa and if you are limited to a 110 volt power supply then this is one of the better options available to you. At 265 gallons it is accommodating for 2 people easily or 3 people fairly comfortably. As with all in this class it is small for 4 but can get the job done. This tub includes 29 jets including foot massage jets and two neck massage jets above the waterline.
Permanent 220 Volt Hot Tub Reviews
Once a hot tub requires a hardwire 220 volt electrical connection it is no longer considered to be portable. While there is a significant cost increase in running a
40, 50 or 60 amp electrical service to a hot tub there is also no comparison between 110 volt and 220 volt hot tub performance. A portable hot tub might have a heater
in the 1kW range while many 220 volt spas will have heaters 4kW and higher. This means the tub can easily hold heat with the lid open and jets running for long
periods of time so for any kind of party spa a 220 volt unit is the way to go.
In the world of permanent hot tubs there are many recognizable brand names and retail outlets to shop from. What you will very quickly learn is that buying a brand name, new hot tub is exactly like buying a new car. You will have to speak directly to a sales person, in a hot tub brick and mortar dealership, so they can put all of their sales moves on you. Premiere class hot tubs will have MSRP and floor prices FAR higher than the actual price that they will sell for, and part of the game is to negotiate, haggle, walk away, make a final offer and then finally buy a hot tub. Honestly, it is an exhausting process that most people walk away from with a bad taste in their mouth.
If you want a brand name hot tub there are no shortage of suppliers available with upwards of 100 major and minor brands available, but you will not be able to buy these online. If you have a reputable dealer in your area you should go in and meet with them to discuss pricing and options for a custom built spa - but if there are no dealers in your area then buying one online might be your best option.
This is a permanent 220 volt Entry Level Hot Tub that for all intents and purposes is a regular hot tub. At 300 gallons and with 51 jets this is a smaller full size spa but the heater and jets perform well due to the 50 amp electrical service this spa requires. This spa has many of the features of much more expensive units for a fairly low cost comparatively. It is very likely the quality of the components that you are sacrificing but for the right person this will be a good entry level permanent hot tub.
Strong spas also makes a permanent 220 volt 6 Person Spa that holds 310 gallons and has 33 massage jets. It also has a water fall and 12 LED color change lights and requires a 50 amp electrical service to power the 4kW heater and 4 peak horsepower booster pump. The advantage of this model of hot tub is the extreme durability of the cabinet (and shell) due to the molded plastic design.
At 400 gallons this 7 Person Spa is actually more comfortable for 4 or less people but capable when it's time to party. This tub has a color change lens LED light and requires a permanent 40 amp electrical connection - which has plenty of power for foot jets, shoulders & neck jets and even a large back massage jet. While minimal on frills this tub has all the functionality of a higher end spa for a more reasonable price tag. It even comes with a small ozone generation system for supplemental cleaning of the water.
If you are looking to order a high end hot tub online then this 6 Person Hot Tub with 60 LED massage jets and 20 air blower jets is worth considering. At 400 gallons it is very capable for 4 or even more people and the dual 5HP pumps provide plenty of flow for the jets. This tub requires a 50 amp electrical connection to operate the large booster pumps and 4kW heater and performs as well as almost any other brand name spa on the market. This spa also comes with an ozonator, lighted steps, a waterfall and two water fountains.
Now you can see a little better how the hot tub market is structured and some examples of price points that you will encounter depending on the class of spa you are shopping for. For an entry level spa purchasing online is certain to save you money but as the price of the tub increases so does the chance that you may be able to find a better deal local to your area from a brick and mortar store.
Are You A New Hot Tub Owner?
If you own a hot tub then there is some essential information that you must know to make sure that yourself, and any bathers in your tub, are protected at all times -
and this includes brand new hot tubs!
When you get a new hot tub you would probably assume that it is clean and ready to go right? Nope. Almost all hot tubs large and small are water tested prior to shipping out of the factory. This results in some water being trapped in the lines during transport as well as any time spent sitting in stock on on display somewhere. Flushing the pipes on any hot tub, new or used, is extremely important and a step that I would never skip. Ignorance is bliss but follicular dermatitis is itchy!
Before using your hot tub for the first time you should clean it by filling with water and raising to operating temperature. Without the filter installed, add a pipe flush or line flush product to the water and let circulate with the jets turned on. This will clean and remove the biofilm growing on the inside of the plumbing lines so you can have a nice, clean, new hot tub.
You will also need to learn about hot tub chemistry, and in specific the importance of sanitizing the water, which is covered here in the Hot Tub Essentials section.