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. Although they're harder to maintain than inflatable models, above-ground hot tubs are generally energy-efficient.
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. It also needs easy access to a standard 110-volt electrical outlet or a special 220-volt outlet. Once both requirements are met, you should be able to set up your new tub without having to hire a professional.
Above-ground spas also come with a huge range of available features, so you can almost certainly find one to meet your needs. 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.
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.
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. Editors also list recommended hot tub manufacturers and dealers.
Review: Find Your Serenity, Editors of Spasearch, Spring/Summer 2013
This site is run by What's the Best, a series of online guides for consumers contemplating major purchases. In this section, editors compare different types of hot tubs, including "portable" above-ground, soft-sided inflatable and "permanent" in-ground models.
Review: Hot Tub Buying Guide: Types of Hot Tubs, Editors of What's the Best, As of August 2013
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
5. HotTub SpaRatings.com
This site is designed for consumers trying to choose a hot tub. In this section of an expansive buyer's guide, editors compare different types of shell materials, including wood, vinyl, acrylic, thermal plastic and stainless steel. The article also touches on the maintenance needs of each.
Review: Shell Materials, Editors of HotTubSpaRatings.com, Not dated