Molded, above-ground hot tubs offer a wider choice of options than any other type of spa. From size and shape to materials and price, you're certain to find a model to fit your style. These tubs are much easier to install than an in-ground spa, but you do need to prepare the site carefully.
A tub for every budget. Above-ground hot tubs have the widest price range of all spa types. A basic model made of molded plastic called rotomold can cost as little as $2,000, while luxurious models loaded with extras can run more than $15,000. Extra costs may be incurred to prepare a suitable site for installation, but the tub should be easy to install yourself -- no need to bring in a contractor. This kind of tub is also typically very energy-efficient, say the editors of Better Homes and Gardens.
Depends on the material. The most common material for an above-ground hot tub is acrylic backed by fiberglass. In the past, acrylic surfaces were likely to develop bubbles or cracks over time, but modern versions are better. An even more durable option is thermal plastic, which editors at Spasearch magazine call "virtually indestructible." Tubs of stainless steel are also very durable, but cost more. Experts recommend looking carefully at the manufacturer's warranty to ensure it covers all parts of the tub. Surface and structure tend to be covered separately, so look at both. Also keep an eye out for limits and exclusions.
Up and running in hours. An above-ground hot tub must be installed on a strong, level surface like a pad of reinforced concrete. Most need access to a standard 110-volt electrical outlet, though some require a 220-volt circuit, which may require the services of a qualified electrician. However, if you already have the proper circuit installed, you should be able to set up your new tub without having to hire a professional.
Styles range from utilitarian to posh. Above-ground hot tubs come in just about every style imaginable. Some look like bulky plastic blocks, some have elegant wood or faux-wood cabinets, and the fanciest models feature stone-look veneers, colored lighting and even waterfalls. The arrangement of seats and water jets also varies widely. Although above-ground models generally can't be custom-designed the way an in-ground spa can, you're almost certain to find one to fit your style. Because these tubs stand well above ground level, they may become a focal point in your landscape whether you like it or not, so it's worth choosing one whose looks you really like. This type of tub is technically portable, but it's so heavy that you probably won't want to move it once it's in place. However, it can come with you if you move.
Above-ground hot tub reviews
1. Better Homes & Gardens
This article discusses several factors to consider when choosing a hot tub. It compares indoor and outdoor installation, as well as above-ground units editors describe as "portable" and in-ground models. They also outline pros and cons for each type, along with estimated costs.
Review: Planning for a Spa, Editors of Better Homes and Gardens, Not dated
Spasearch magazine bills itself as "your independent hot tub sourcebook." It covers the full range of issues related to hot-tub buying decisions, with sections on shopping, construction, features, maintenance and installation. You can read the latest issue here, or browse through past issues elsewhere on the site. Editors also list recommended hot tub manufacturers and dealers.
Review: Current Issue, Editors of Spasearch magazine, As of March 2015
Three hot tub manufacturers are nominated for About.com's 2013 Readers' Choice award. Company's history, owner satisfaction, styling and features are among the factors considered.
Review: Best Hot Tub Spa 2013: About.com Readers' Choice Awards, Lisa Hallett Taylor, March 27, 2013
4. Better Business Bureau
This buying guide to hot tubs is offered by the Boston area office of the Better Business Bureau. No brands or models are mentioned, but there's lots of helpful information regarding choosing a dealer and other considerations to help you pick the right hot tub and get the maximum satisfaction from it.
Review: Buying a Hot Tub or Spa, Rachel Willard , Apr. 29, 2014
TopTenReviews.com discusses 10 hot tubs from different manufacturers in this report. There's no sign of any hands on testing, but some good information on what to expect from each hot tub is provided.
Review: Hot Tubs Reviews and Comparisons, Editors of TopTenReviews.com, Not Dated
HomeDepot.com sells a wide variety of hot tubs, including more than 100 above-ground models. Most don't get much feedback, but others get dozens of reviews. Those that do well in the eyes of a majority of owners are easy to spot.
Review: Hot Tubs & Spas, Contributors to HomeDepot.com, As of March 2015
While the above-ground hot tubs listed at Wayfair.com, an online retailer, are not reviewed by any of the expert sources we consulted, several receive at least a dozen user reviews – and some get significantly more than that. Reviews tend to be brief, but some go into more detail or describe long-term experiences.
Review: Hot Tubs, Contributors to Wayfair.com, As of March 2015
This retailer sells parts, chemicals and accessories for hot tubs, but not the tubs themselves. A handy buying guide covers such topics as the pros and cons of above-ground versus in-ground spas, energy costs and features. It also includes a checklist to use while shopping.
Review: Planning to Buy a Hot Tub Spa?, Editors of PoolAndSpa.com, Not dated