Standard above-ground acrylic hot tubs are, by far, the most popular type of spa; they are what most people envision when thinking of hot tubs. Like inflatable spas, they are considered portable, but it takes much more effort and equipment to move them. They require a firm, permanent surface, such as a concrete pad, for proper installation. Some above-ground spas also require a 220-volt outlet, in contrast to the basic 110-volt standard outlet used by most inflatable and portable hot tubs.
Standard above-ground spas are constructed with an acrylic or OAS (olefin acrylonitrile-styrene) shell attached to a fiberglass or foam understructure. Acrylic spas are more expensive and have a better luster and aesthetic appearance than OAS shells, but they are more susceptible to bubbling and cracking with exposure to excessive sunlight or extreme temperatures. Above-ground spas also have all spa components built into the spa unit, including the heater and filtration system, which are then surrounded by a wood or synthetic cabinet.
Seating arrangements vary from two-person lounger styles to 10-person models with multiple seating configurations. Options also abound, ranging from massage seats to colored lighting, swim-up refrigerated bars to integrated TV/DVD and/or audio systems, and more. Jets on these spas also vary in number and type, including standard jets, massaging jets, whirlpool jets and even jets built into inflatable pillows.
Despite all the options, the relaxation benefits and the ability to take a standard above-ground spa with you when you move, there is a downside to owning this type of spa. It represents a major initial investment, ranging from $3,000 for a small basic hot tub to over $30,000 for a fully customized spa with all the available amenities. These spas can also be costly on a monthly basis, increasing electric bills by $10 to $50 per month (based on region and spa usage) and requiring regular cleaning and weekly chemical treatments.
Most people buy acrylic hot tubs from a dealer who represents a small number of brands. Dealers will let serious buyers do a "wet test" -- actually get into the floor sample for a trial soak. Experts agree that this is the only real way you'll know if the seating configuration and jet locations suit you. During a wet test, you'll also want to consider noise, along with ease of entry. Ask yourself how easy it is to reach the controls and to adjust jets. Check location of cup holders. Ask the dealer about ongoing maintenance costs and warranty. You're bound to have questions and need the occasional service call down the road. Make sure the dealer is easy to reach and responsive to your questions. Ask for references and check with friends and neighbors for recommendations on dealers.
We found sporadic reviews here and there for many brands and spa models, but almost no spa gets more than one or two reviews -- not nearly enough to draw sweeping conclusions. Representative brands include
Many acrylic spa owners report that their electricity costs are between $20 and $40 more per month than before having a spa. Many of the latest models do use better insulation to help retain heat and minimize energy expense. Some now also recycle wasted heat from their pumps and use more efficient LED lights instead of incandescent lighting. Spas require regular maintenance with chemicals, and most should be drained and refilled about every three months. A few new models use special filter systems that allow for twice-yearly drain and refill cycles.
Amenities are a completely different topic. Marquis Spas claims to be the leader in clean water technology, manufacturing low-maintenance and energy-efficient systems. Barefoot Spas incorporates interchangeable jets and offers computer-controlled cleaning cycles. Dimension One Spas offers a line of incorporated and add-on aquatic fitness tools. Coast Spas and Master Spas both make models with integrated sound and video systems. All of these special extras add to cost, of course.
It should be noted that in May 2007, Coast Spas recalled over 8000 above-ground spas made between January 2002 and October 2004. These spas have a specific type of motor manufactured by Franklin Electric Company. It has been discovered that the motor on these spas can overheat and cause a fire, damaging the spa and its surroundings, as well as posing a risk to spa users. These motors can be retrofitted to correct the overheating problem. For more information on this recall, see the CPSC website.