After a long day at work, there’s nothing better than relaxing to a soothing hot bath. Or is there? The best hot tub and spa kicks things up a notch.
Not only do you get to enjoy sitting back and relaxing in warm water, you also get a soothing hydro massage.
In this article, we explain everything you’ve ever wanted to know about owning your own bath tub. We look in depth into the different types to help you choose what’s right for you.
The Top Choices: Our Hot Tub & Spa Picks to Consider
- Coleman Lay Z Spa Inflatable Hot Tub
- Hudson Bay Spas 4 Person 14 Jet Spa
- American Spas AM-630LS 5-Person 30-Jet Lounger Spa
- Hudson Bay 6 Person 19 Jet Spa
- Hudson Bay 3 Person 14 Jet Spa
Find more options: See the available hot tubs on Amazon.com.
What is a Hot Tub?
A hot tub is a self-contained unit that’s filled with heated water. These tubs are used primarily for hydrotherapy, soaking and relaxation. They often come with built-in hydro jets that allow you to get a massage. For this reason they’re often referred to as spas or Jacuzzis.
In contrast to bath tubs, hot tubs are often used outdoors. Though some are installed indoors. Also, they allow for more than one person to sit in the tub at once. Because of the amount of water they use and the time it takes to fill them, water is often left in hot tubs as opposed to draining them after each use.
To keep water hygienic, they use filtration and treatment systems similar to that of swimming pools. This keeps the water safe and clean for long periods of time.
Hot tubs vary in size. They can be a few times bigger than your bath tub. Or, about the size of a small pool.
Types of Hot Tubs
As with most products, hot tubs come in many varieties. Below we explain the main types of hot tubs you’ll find.
1. Portable, Hard-Sided Hot Tubs
These are self-contained units. This means that the tub has everything within itself to operate. These types of hot tubs sit above ground. And, their walls are made of hard material. Thus, their name.
While heavy, they can be moved. This is in contrast to in-ground hot tubs below which are built into the concrete and connected to pipes.
When it comes to portable hot tubs, there’s often a lot of confusion. This is mainly because of inflatable hot tubs and spas. As such, we’ve separated those into another category below.
Portable hot tubs are popular because they require little installation. Plus, once they’re plugged into a power source, you’re on your way.
Their hard surface can be made from different materials including acrylic or fiberglass. We discuss hot tub materials and construction in detail below.
Compared to their inflatable counterparts, they are heavier, more durable. They also have molded seating and achieve higher temperatures. As you’d expect, they cost more.
Portable hard-sided hot tubs typically run from $600 to $1,000 for the more affordable units. And, up to $7,000 for the higher end models.
2. In-Ground Hot Tubs and Spas
Like the units above, in-ground hot tubs and spas also come with hard walls. But, unlike their portable counterparts, these are professionally installed into the ground. This makes them look more like miniature swimming pools where the water is at floor level. As such, you won’t be able to move them once their put in place.
Because they are installed into the ground, you’ll need professionals to set them up. In-ground hot tub spas require electrical connections and plumbing work to be done.
Additionally, you’ll see them made of different materials. These include concrete, granite, tile and stainless steel.
These types of hot tubs are very costly. Plus, you need to pay additional for installation. Their main advantage is you can customize them to your liking. You’ll see a lot of custom hot tubs and spas at higher price ranges.
Because they don’t use the standard 110 volt electrical outlet, they’re able to draw more power. This does mean higher electricity bills. But, it also means shorter heat up time and the ability to reach higher water temperature.
In-ground tubs also come with the most features. Depending on your budget, you can add all the extras you want. This can range from additional water jets to stereo or lights.
You’ll find inground hot tubs for 4 to 16 people. The lower cost range starts at around $5,000 while the higher end models between $15,000 and $20,000. Of course, when it comes to custom hot tubs spas, price can go up even more.
3. Inflatable Hot Tubs
Technically, these fall under portable hot tubs. But, we’ve decided to put them in their own category. Unlike the portable hard-sided hot tub spas, these come with soft walls.
The reason their sides are soft is because they’re inflatable. As such, the surface is supported by pressurize air.
Inflatable hot tubs are the cheapest and most convenient of the three. The can cost anywhere from $200 to $800 depending on the size and features included.
These types are often made with vinyl lining and come with a pump to inflate them. Because of their construction, you don’t get molded seating.
Inflatable hot tubs are popular because they’re inexpensive and easy to install. They can also be deflated and stored away to free up floor space when needed. Of the three types, they’re the lightest and most portable.
Hot Tub Materials
Above, we touched a bit on the kinds of materials that can be used for hot tubs.
As mentioned, depending on whether you get an inflatable, portable hard-sided or in-ground tub, the materials can differ.
Here’s a comparison of the popular materials used for hot tubs spas today.
This is what you’ll find in inflatable hot tubs. They’re affordable and lightweight. Yet, they’re sturdy and resist puncturing. The material allows you to pump air into them to inflate then deflate later for storage. Plus, their light weight makes them portable.
These are the most common material you’ll see in entry level hard-sided hot tubs. They cost more than vinyl. But, they’re relatively affordable compared to other materials like concrete, wood or stainless steel.
Acrylic hot tubs are lightweight yet durable. They also offer good insulation and are easy to repair.
Tubs made with acrylic are nice to look at because they have that high end glossy finish. Plus, they don’t discolor over time.
You can find these in different sizes, shapes and costs. You can expect them to last anywhere between 10 to 20 years depending on quality and how well you take care of them.
Fiberglass is used in portable as well as in ground tubs. They’re lightweight and easy to repair. Like acrylic, they provide good insulation. They’re shell also makes it easy to drain and refill the tub.
Fiberglass hot tubs are more expensive than acrylic because of the material. While they do have some similar qualities, these tubs are slightly heavier and can discolor. You will also need to wax and buff them a few times a year to keep them looking nice.
Fiberglass is generally durable. They last between 15 and 20 years. But can crack if you abuse them. As with their acrylic counterparts, fiberglass hot tubs are available in different colors, shapes and sizes.
These are found in in-ground hot tubs. They’re very expensive and require a good amount of construction. As such, you can design and shape them any way you want to. You can also built them to the specification you want, where you want.
As you can expect, they’re extremely heavy, and not flexible. The latter property means you can’t drain or refill them too quickly. Otherwise, you may cause the concrete to crack.
Concrete hot tubs do require more maintenance. And, they don’t provide too good insulation. The firm feel of the concrete also makes resting against them less comfortable.
Concrete when constructed properly should last between 15 and 20 years.
You’ll find stainless steel hot tubs in hospitals, spas and other high end facilities. These work well for indoor inground hot tubs because they have high-end institutional look to them. Also, they can be manufactured and shipped in sections for installation.
Stainless steel hot tubs are very durable. They can last a lifetime. So, there’s no need to replace them. The surface is also safe for patients to use. This is why rehab facilities and hospitals use them.
Their main drawback is that they’re very expensive. They cost double that of acrylic and fiberglass, putting them around the same price level as concrete hot tubs.
How Do Hot Tubs Work?
Whether you have an in-ground hot tub or a portable one, they work the same. The only difference is that the components are smaller in portable units. And, they’re packed in a different manner.
In-Ground Hot Tub Spas
Here’s how in-ground hot tubs work.
1. The hot tub spa is made from acrylic, fiberglass, tile or other materials.
2. Water is drawn from the home’s main line by a pump. This pulls the water into the tub’s filter (blue colored line). The filter ensures that all unwanted particles are taken out. This leaves you with clean water.
3. After water is filtered, it goes into the heater.
4. The heated filtered water is what goes into the hot tub (red lines). They go through the jets which help maintain water temperature and circulation.
5. Air bubbles are blown into the hot tub via holes at the bottom (yellow line). Depending on what model you have, the air blower is often a separate system.
Portable Hot Tub Spas
Portable hot tubs are very similar in terms of concept. But, instead of having the components outside the tub, they’re all packed in underneath the structure.
This is how portable hot tubs work.
1. They do not require a dedicated water supply. Instead you fill the tub with water.
2. From there the unit’s filtration system works in conjunction with the pump to circulate the water and filter its contents.
3. Filtered water is then pumped into the heater to get it up to the desired temperature.
4. Similar to above, heated water is delivered to the tub via the jets. Many hot tubs will let you adjust the position as well as choose the number of jets.
5. The jets work by mixing air with water. Often you’ll be able to adjust air controls using the control panel or a knob. The air-water mixture produces a pressurized flow. Adjusting the flow up or down lets you get a more gentle or vigorous massage.
Hot Tub vs. Spa vs. Jacuzzi vs. Whirlpool: What’s the Difference?
You’ve probably heard the words hot tub, spa, Jacuzzi and whirlpool used interchangeably. That can make things confusing. So, to clarify all these terms we’re explain their similarities and differences.
- Hot tubs: As mentioned, hot tubs are units that contain heated water. They come with hydro jets that help maintain hot water at a soothing temperature. They can be inflatable or hard-walled. And you can get them portable or built into your home.
- Spa: The term spa means the same thing as hot tub. It has its origin from the Belgian town of Spa. In general, spas are used to describe water-filled tubs that are heated and jetted. As such, they’re identical to hot tubs.
- Jacuzzi: Unlike the two above which refer to general terms, Jacuzzi is actually a brand that makes whirlpool bath tubs and spas. Because of its popularity back in the day, people have gotten used to referring to hot tubs with water jets are Jacuzzis.
- Whirlpool: This term is used to mean a hot tub that has hydrotherapy jets. The word whirlpool refers to that water’s circular action when the hot tub is running. In the 1960s, all hot tubs were essentially whirlpoools. Back then, these tubs were all built in-ground and only available to the wealthy. Over time, hot tubs have surpassed these basic features to be more. Whirlpool is an older, possibly more outdated term. But, you do still hear people use it to refer to hot tubs and spas. Though not as much as back in the day.
So, while confusing, they all mean the same thing. There are some slight differences. But, in conversation, there’s no problem using them interchangeably.
Pros & Cons of Hot Tubs
- Hydrotherapy. You get to relax. Better yet, hot water improves blood circulation and relieves muscle soreness. Hot
- You can spend time to enjoy with friends. Hot tubs work well for social purposes. They can fit 4 to 16 people depending on the size you have.
- Cheaper than swimming pools. This includes both initial cost and ongoing maintenance.
- They come in different styles and sizes. You can choose based on your budget and preference.
- They can be expensive. Inflatable hot tubs are the cheapest option. They run between $200 and $800. Portable hard-sided units cost more around $700 to $2,000 on average. In-ground hot tubs and spas can reach $10,000 to $15,000.
- Maintenance. Like swimming pools they do require maintenance. This includes all the working components as well as cleaning filters, adding chlorine or monitoring pH levels.
- You’ll also have to drain and clean it every so often before refilling.
- They take up space in the yard.
Choosing a Hot Tub: Buying guide
In this section, we look at the different things to consider when buying a hot tub.
1. Choose the Type of Hot Tub
Depending on your budget, preference and size of your yard, the first thing to consider is what kind of hot tub you want.
This can be an in-ground, above ground, permanent or inflatable hot tub. We discussed the different features as well as the pros and cons of each above.
2. Size & Shape
Hot tubs come in all shapes and sizes. You’ll be able to pick from sizes that fit 4 people all the way up to 16 people. Most residential hot tubs max out at 8 people.
These tubs also come in a variety of shapes. Most are square or circular. But you’ll also find triangular, hexagonal, oval and others. Shape often determines how the seats are arranged. And for some shapes, increase or decrease the space inside the tub.
Finally there’s the depth of the seats. Some models accommodate smaller adults or children. Depth level also lets you choose how high the walls of the tub are. If you’re a taller individual, you may want one that goes up higher.
This will depend a lot on the type of hot tub you get.
Inflatable hot tubs are less durable. They’re make of vinyl material. Heavier, sturdier material like stainless steel, acrylic and wood will last a lot longer.
Additionally, hard sided tubs are better at keeping heat in. They also prevent leaks from happening.
4. Number of Jets, Heater Type, Voltage
The number of jets determines how much bubble and massage you get from the water flow. Often, more jets mean a more relaxing feel. But, do keep in mind that it also increases cost and maintenance.
Besides the number of jets, you’ll also want to decide on what kind of water jets to get. Some models will let you adjust settings as well as the position of the jets.
In connection to the jets, you have pumps. Pumps power the jets. The more jets you have, the more pumps you need. The more powerful the jets, the higher capacity pumps they’ll require.
To keep water hot, your tub uses heaters. Most residential hot tubs run on 120 or 230 volts. You’ll find heaters that use 2, 3 or 4 kilowatt sizes. These do a good job depending on the size of your tub.
- It’s worth noting that most home hot tubs run on 110 to 120 volts. These are the plug and play hot tubs. They’re easy to install and operate.
- More powerful units that draw 220 to 240 volts often require professional installation. These are the higher end models that need extra electrical and piping put in.
5. Filtration and Treatment Systems
Filters are an important part of a hot tub’s operation. They remove dirt particles as well as hair to keep the water clean. In addition, they allow it to circulate so it doesn’t get stale.
In addition to filtration, hot tub and spas need their water to be treated. You’ll be using chemical sanitizers like chlorine or bromine to eliminate germs and bacteria from the water.
Depending on the model and style you get, you may opt for salt water generators to make a salt water hot tub. Or, use hard water filters as well.
6. Safety Covers
These may look like an accessory. But, they’re very important. They keep kids away from the tub. Thus preventing any accidents.
In addition, covering your hot tub in between uses help it retain heat. It also keeps dirt, leaves, animals and other debris from getting into the water.
Often, safety covers will come with some type of lock or clip to keep them in place.
7. Colors & Design
These are more for aesthetic purposes. Nevertheless, choosing a good color and design that fits your home’s exterior is key. It improves the look and feel of your home.
8. Extra Accessories
If you have the budget for it, you can go with extra features like stereo and LED lighting. These are some of the perks you can add to your hot tub.
Best Hot Tub Reviews
- Coleman Lay Z Spa Inflatable Hot Tub
- Hudson Bay Spas 4 Person 14 Jet Spa
- American Spas AM-630LS 5-Person 30-Jet Lounger Spa
- Hudson Bay 6 Person 19 Jet Spa
- Hudson Bay 3 Person 14 Jet Spa
This is our pick if you’re looking for a hot tub that’s affordable, doesn’t take up a lot of space and is convenient. It is an inflatable model, which means you can deflate and store when you need to use the space other things.
This Lay Z Spa is designed to fit 4 to 6 people. It costs substantially less compared to the fixed hot tubs. As such, making it appealing to a lot of people.
As a compromise though, you aren’t going to get the same strong jets as you would a regular hot tub. It also doesn’t come with the extra features.
We like that it is made with sturdy construction. This lets you lay back and relax without the walls giving way. The cushioned floor also makes it comfortable to sit on.
For convenience, all controls are easily set via the digital panel to the side of the tub.
The unit is circular in shape. It is 77 inches in diameter. And, its walls go up 28 inches high. It uses around 254 gallons of water to get to 80% of capacity.
As much as being inflatable makes it easier to move the tub, you’ll want to position it in place before filling. Once it’s filled with water, you’re not going to be able to move it as it weighs over 2,700 pounds then.
Overall, this is a convenient, affordable hot tub. It gives you that relaxing hot water jet feel without having to spend thousands of dollars.
If you’re looking for a full-fledge in-ground hot tub, this is a great choice. The unit is substantially bigger in size compared to inflatable hot tubs. But, it also offers you better water circulation.
This unit is a 4 person hot tub. The interior of the tub is molded to 4 seats to the edges of the unit. In all, you get 14 stainless steel jets providing you with a very relaxing soak.
As you’d expect, it is heavy, at around 500 pounds. So, you’ll need help in installing. The good news is it takes around 15 to 20 minutes or so to get it set up.
We like that this hot tub is plug and play. That makes things easy for users. You can start using it once it’s installed and plugged in. The walls come with very good construction and insulation.
You get to control the speed of the jets using a knob. You’ll probably want to start with the low settings first because the high ones are strong.
This 4 person hot tub is 76 inches by 66 inches in size. It goes up 36 inches high. It takes around 195 gallons of water.
For a bit more space, this 5 person hot tub offers additional relaxation as well. The unit comes with solid construction that’s designed for durability. Its fiberglass insulation also prevents leaking and keeps the heat in the tub.
The AM-630LS offers contoured seating. It also includes a full length lounger that gives upper and lower body massage. This is thanks to the 30 massage therapy jets that are installed in the hot tub.
The 30 stainless steel water jets are positioned strategically along the lines of the tub’s interior. This is to ensure they are located around your body’s stress points. As a results, they are able to better soothe your sore and tired spots after a long day.
The device comes with its own built in 5.5 kW heater. This lets it heat the water quickly. In addition, you get a waterfall feature and backlit LED lights.
The entire product is 84 inches by 74 inches in size. Its walls go up 36 inches high. Without water, it weighs 600 pounds. When filled this goes up to over 3,400 pounds.