Above-ground hot tub
Above-ground hot tub

Most versatile hot tub

Made of molded acrylic or thermal plastic, above-ground hot tubs are the most popular type. They come in a wide range of styles, features and prices, starting as low as $2,000. One plus is that these models don't require professional installation as long as you have the proper electrical circuit already in place, though many are only available through specialty retailers.
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Est. $2,000 to $17,000 Estimated Price
Lifesmart 400DX
Lifesmart 400DX

Best-value above-ground hot tub

The Lifesmart 400DX is a full-featured above-ground spa with seating for five, including a lounge position; 17 therapy jets; a waterfall jet and more. Similar versions are sold as the Lifesmart Antigua at Home Depot.com and the Lifesmart Sierra at Wayfair.com and all draw rave reviews across the board from users. The faux-mahogany skirt adds a touch of class, while the locking hard cover adds a touch of convenience and safety. The 400DX is made by the parent company of Hot Springs hot tubs, a well-respected brand sold at specialty retailers, and it meets California energy efficiency standards.

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Lifesmart Rock Solid Luna
Lifesmart Rock Solid Luna

Budget above-ground hot tub

Those on a tight budget don't have to do without the benefits of a full-featured above-ground hot tub, not with options like the Lifesmart Rock Solid Luna available. The Luna features Lifesmart's rugged RockSolid shell, 12 therapy jets, a spa light, cover and more. Capacity is rated for four people, but that might be pushing things. It's very energy efficient and meets standards in all states, including California. User reviews are abundant, and very positive overall.

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Inflatable hot tub
Inflatable hot tub

Cheap hot tub

An inflatable hot tub can be a good option for those who lack the space or funds for a more permanent model. They can be installed virtually anywhere and, unlike other spas, they're truly portable and easy to store in the off-season. While soft-sided hot tubs are the least expensive option, they're also the least durable. Most feature air blowers rather than water jets. Blowers can be surprisingly effective, but they can also be surprisingly noisy.
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Est. $350 to $1,700 Estimated Price
Coleman Lay-Z-Spa
Coleman Lay-Z-Spa

Best value inflatable hot tub

Though it's among the least-expensive inflatable hot tubs you can buy, the Coleman Lay-Z-Spa is a hit with owners. It's easy to set up, and the air blower that substitutes for the water pump in a conventional hot tub can be used to inflate the Lay-Z-Spa. The Coleman is full featured for an inflatable spa as well, including a padded ground cloth, inflatable insulating cover, floater for chemicals and a repair/patch kit should the tub spring a leak. It's rated to hold six people, but things will get very tight with that many. It's also not recommended for use if the air temperature is below 40 degrees.

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Wooden hot tubs
Wooden hot tubs

Best hot tub for a rustic look

The original hot tub was a wooden wine cask, and many owners continue to prefer the simplicity and natural beauty of wooden tubs. A good wood hot tub is very durable and can be assembled on site, making the tub easier to install, even indoors. Wooden hot tubs are also customizable and offer more heating options -- some are even heated using wood fires.
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Est. $4,000 to $9,500 Estimated Price
In-ground hot tub
In-ground hot tub

Upscale hot tub

Although it's the most expensive type, an in-ground hot tub is the ultimate luxury add-on to your home. Made of either poured or air-blown concrete, these tubs require professional installation, which is a lengthy and costly process. Yet they also offer near-infinite flexibility in design, allowing you to choose the size, shape, style and heating fuel.
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Est. $15,000 to $20,000 Estimated Price
See a side-by-side comparison of key features, product specs, and prices.

Finding the perfect hot tub

Just hearing the words "hot tub" can conjure up visions of sheer luxury or good times with close friends. But hot tubs can offer benefits beyond just fun and relaxation. Many people find a nice soak in a bubbling hot tub can help to relieve the stresses of the day. Others find relief from lower back pain or after exercising. There are a few scientific-based studies that back up these anecdotal experiences, although, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), "There is lack of evidences for the mechanism on how hydrotherapy improves these diseases, which is one of the limitations of hydrotherapy, and further studies are required to find the mechanism of hydrotherapy on various diseases."

Still, if it makes you feel good, and there is no reason to avoid hot water -- such as pregnancy or heart disease -- a hot tub can be a very enjoyable way to relax and socialize.

Owning a hot tub has its drawbacks, however, and the most obvious one is cost. Prices range from less than $400 for an inflatable model to upward of $20,000 for a top-of-the-line in-ground spa. Yet the costs of ownership don't end with purchase. Owners must also pay for water, the energy to heat the water, and chemicals to keep the tub clean. Maintenance is another factor: You can't just climb in when you feel like a good soak and ignore your spa the rest of the time, or you'll put yourself at risk for painful or itchy skin reactions. Keeping a hot tub in good condition requires covering it between uses, testing the water frequently and adjusting its chemical content, cleaning the tub and filters, and draining and refilling it every few months. Still, many owners say the delights of soaking in a warm, bubbling tub are worth the hassle.

The first hot tubs -- simply large wooden wine casks filled with hot water -- became popular in California in the 1960s. In 1968, Roy Jacuzzi introduced the Jacuzzi tub, which incorporated jets of hot water to provide a soothing massage. Other manufacturers soon followed suit, designing more sophisticated tubs made of molded fiberglass or plastic. They called their creations "spas" to distinguish them from the old-fashioned wooden hot tub. Today, most retailers and consumers use the terms "hot tub" and "spa" interchangeably. The term "Jacuzzi" is occasionally treated as a general-purpose name for hot tubs, but it's actually a trademarked brand name.

No matter what you call them, hot tubs have come a long way since their inception. A modern hot tub has several parts:

  • The shell or tub surface. It may be made from wood, molded acrylic, fiberglass, thermal plastic, poured concrete or air-blown concrete known as gunite. Inflatable spas are generally made from vinyl.
  • The skirt or cabinet. This is the outer box that encloses an above-ground tub. It may be made from wood or synthetic materials.
  • Insulation. This fills all or part of the space between the shell and the cabinet. The better the insulation, the less energy the tub will use.
  • Seating. Wooden tubs may feature simple bench-style seats, while newer molded tubs offer a variety of contoured seats. Seats may be upright or reclining, and may provide extra head, neck or arm support.
  • Jets. The number and placement of water jets varies widely. Inflatable spas often use air blowers rather than water jets to bubble the water.
  • Heater. Most spa heaters run on electricity, but some are fueled by natural gas or wood.
  • Pump. The pump keeps the water circulating through the jets and filters. Some tubs have two-speed pumps, with the higher speed for jet action and the lower speed for circulation. Others combine a single one-speed pump with a smaller circulation pump.
  • Filter. There are several types of hot tub filters. Cartridge filters are the most common, but larger tubs may use filters of sand or diatomaceous earth. Those filters are more efficient but much harder to clean.
  • Controls. A simple control panel allows users to adjust the water temperature, and turn jets on and off. Fancier hot tubs may include controls for adjusting the pressure of individual jets, activating lights and even playing music.

Experts say the best hot tub is the one that best fits your lifestyle, which is a very personal decision. That may explain why most consumer publications don't test or rate hot tubs. However, a few professional sites and publications, such as Spasearch magazine and the Pool & Patio page at About.com recommend specific brands based on owner feedback, while retail sites like HomeDepot.com and Amazon.com host consumer reviews of some prefabricated and inflatable models. Our editors discuss the major types of hot tubs, along with features, energy use, shopping options, and what you need to know about installation and maintenance to help you zero in on the perfect hot tub for your needs and budget.

Elsewhere in this Report:

Types of Hot Tubs: Whether your budget is over $20,000 or less than $500, there's a hot tub to fill the bill. Here's a look at the four major types.

Hot Tub Features: Features are what can separate a so-so spa from a terrific one. Here are some of the most important ones.

Hot Tubs and Energy Use: Hot tubs can sip energy, or guzzle it. These pointers will help keep you energy costs in check.

Comparing Hot Tub Brands: These are the brands of hot tubs that rise to the top in expert reviews. We also look at hot tub models that leave their owners smiling.

Where to Buy Hot Tubs: You can buy a hot tub from a specialty retailer, a major hardware chain, or from a host of online vendors. We explore the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

Hot Tub Installation and Maintenance: These tips will help you find the perfect spot for your hot tub, and help you keep it in tip-top shape for years of enjoyment.

Buying Guide: Not sure where to even start in your hunt for the perfect spa? These suggestions and questions to ask yourself can help point you toward the right hot tub for you and your budget.

Our Sources: Where can you learn more about hot tubs and spas? These are the experts and user reviews we consulted in naming the top types, brands and models.

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