Not many expert sources compare brands of hot tubs, and still fewer evaluate specific models. Still, we were able to find enough feedback to identify some top choices among hot tubs.
Hot Spring Spas earns a 2016 TradeCertified label from Spasearch magazine, an award based on customer satisfaction surveys and ethical business practices. Spasearch editors also praise Hot Spring Spas for features such as its ACE saltwater sanitizing system and Moto-Massage DX jet, which moves up and down the user's back.
TopTenReviews.com singles out the Hot Spring SX for inclusion on its list of best hot tubs. The SX is a three-person hot tub with 17 water jets and a Moto-Massage -- a single, moving jet that runs water up and down your back. It's fairly compact, too, at just six feet by six feet, leading TopTenReviews.com to say "The [Hot Spring] SX outdoor hot tub is a great home addition for a family or a single individual who doesn't have a lot of backyard space but wants the luxury of a hot tub." Finding user reviews is a challenge as this hot tub is only sold through specialty retailers and installers, but about 78 are posted at the company web site, where it earns a 4.6-star rating. We normally take reviews at manufacturer web sites with a grain -- or shaker -- of salt, but here they are managed by a third party, BazaarVoice, which manages the reviews at a host of well-respected manufacturer and retail sites, such as Lowes.com, to help assure readers that they are authentic.
Cal Spas is another top maker of hot tubs. It earns the TradeCertified label from Spasearch magazine, which focuses its latest coverage on the company's Fountain of Youth hot tub. Though we've not vetted the science behind it, the company claims that the hot tub's MicroSilk hydrotherapy technology "rejuvenates your body and skin, making you look younger and feel better." Meanwhile, the Cal Spas Platinum series of hot tubs makes the cut at TopTenReviews.com. The editors there say that the "Platinum hot tub can fit a lot of people, and it has plenty of jets to give your body the relaxation and rejuvenation your muscles seek after a long and tiring day." It has seating for up to six in upright seating, plus there's a lounge seat for one person to lay back and stretch out in the spa.
The one question we can't address about the above mentioned hot tubs is how good a value they are, or even how much they cost. All -- as is the case with most hot-tub brands mentioned by expert reviews -- are sold exclusively through specialty retailers who are prohibited from disclosing their pricing online. You have to contact those dealers directly to discuss pricing, options, installation, etc. All of these manufacturers have dealer locators and often offer online quote forms at their site.
That said, we did find a number of hot tubs available from retailers such as HomeDepot.com, Amazon.com, Wayfair.com and elsewhere. These spas are ignored by most hot tub experts, and some recommend against them, but many receive enough positive user feedback to indicate that they are very good performers, especially in light of their price relative to models sold through specialty retailers.
Chief among those are hot tubs sold under the Lifesmart brand. Lifesmart spas aren't named at TopTenReviews.com or Spasearch. However Lifesmart spas are made by Watkins Manufacturing, which is also the maker Hot Springs hot tubs -- a brand that's very well regarded -- and users generally rate Lifesmart hot tubs highly at retail sites.
For example, we saw terrific feedback for the Lifesmart 400DX (Est. $3,200) hot tub. It features 110-volt plug in and start operation, with 17 "therapy" water jets plus a waterfall jet. It meets the California energy standards, so it's highly efficient. Features and extras are limited, but a 2-inch thick locking hard cover is included. No one will mistake the mahogany toned plastic skirt for real wood, but it doesn't draw too many complaints for being unattractive. The company's RockSolid shell is claimed to be tougher than shells of competing hot tubs, and user feedback doesn't indicate any disturbing patterns regarding durability -- though the odd complaint or two isn't unheard of.
Speaking of feedback, it's extensive and exemplary. It's sold under a few different names and model numbers at different retailers, but this five person spa is well liked no matter what name it goes by. At HomeDepot.com, where it's offered as the Lifesmart Antigua, it draws a 4.7-star rating after roughly 60 reviews, with 97 percent saying that they would recommend this spa to a friend. Some express trepidation over making this type of purchase without seeing the hot tub first, but most say they are more than pleased over how things turned out. Some reviews are posted after a year or more of ownership. At Wayfair.com, where this hot tub is sold at the Lifesmart Sierra, nearly 65 owners weigh in and report similar satisfaction -- and it earns a 4.6 star rating. The Lifesmart 400DX earns less feedback at Amazon.com -- although there are more than 20 ratings -- but even better uniform satisfaction; with a 4.8-star rating.
If your budget is smaller, the Lifesmart Rock Solid Luna (Est. $2,500) looks like a terrific choice. This is a compact 4-person tub with sandstone-colored RockSolid shell and surround. It can hold up to four people and features 12 water jets and a spa light with changeable red and blue lens caps for whichever color suits your mood or dŽcor. It comes with a cover and meets California energy standards.
Like the Lifesmart 400DX, the Lifesmart Luna draws terrific feedback. The most we found was at Wayfair.com, where it earns a 4.6-star rating following more than 215 reviews. It scores well at Amazon.com, too, where it earns a 4.3-star rating following more than 70 reviews. However, many of the complaints we saw there were due to shipping issues, not the tub's performance.
Overall, owners say that the Lifesmart Luna works well and is easy to set up and use. Some report performance is still going strong after a year or more. There are some negatives noted even among fans, however. One is that while the Luna is rated to hold up to four people, things can get a little tight with that many. The spa can also struggle to maintain heat in very cold conditions. Most say that these are minor tradeoffs in exchange for the value, energy savings and general performance they receive.
Some consider most above-ground hot tubs, such as the models listed above, to be portable, but they are large, heavy units that most won't want to move around very often once they are set up -- and you'd have to drain them to do so. Inflatable hot tubs are truly portable, and are relatively inexpensive, however they have some significant downsides -- most of which seem to bother hot tub aficionados and experts more than they bother owners, or at least those owners who understood what they were getting.
A case in point is the Coleman Lay-Z-Spa (Est. $400). It has all of the downsides of most inflatable hot tubs as outlined in our discussion of Types of Hot Tubs, including the use of air blowers instead of water jets, less durable construction, and an aesthetic that screams kiddie pool more than it does spa.
Most owners, however, don't seem to care. It earns a 4.3 star rating at Walmart.com following about 325 reviews, with 89 percent saying that they would recommend this Coleman inflatable hot tub to a friend. At Amazon.com, it earns an even better 4.5-star rating following more than 440 user reviews.
At least part of the high owner satisfaction we noted is due to the Lay-Z-Spa's relative value as it's one of the least expensive hot tubs you can buy, but the positives cited don't stop there. Owners like the easy set up and low maintenance. Some note that it takes some time for the water to warm up completely. Once warm the Coleman does a surprisingly good job of maintaining its temperature, most say, though things cool off when the air blower is going. Keep in mind that this hot tub is not designed for use at air temperatures below 40 degrees -- something that disappoints some users. Several say that they are surprised at how effective the air bubbles are at providing a satisfying water massage. There are no interior seats, and while Coleman hot tub is rated to hold up to six people, reviewers say that two to four is more realistic. Among the included accessories are an inflatable hot tub cover, a padded ground cloth and a floater to hold pool chemicals for water sanitation. The Lay-Z-Spa is covered by a one-year warranty.
For those that want something a little more substantial than an inflatable hot tub but that's still both truly portable and relatively inexpensive, the Comfort Line Products Spa-N-A-Box Portable Spa (Est. $1,000) might be a consideration. At Amazon.com it earns a 4-star rating in nearly 95 reviews, however, the reviews of the Spa-N-A-Box are intermixed with another Comfort Line hot tub, the inflatable Spa-2-Go (Est. $850).
The Spa-N-A-Box is easy to set up. You assemble a frame from fake (very obviously so, most say) wood panels, lay in a vinyl lining, hook up the pump, fill with water and voila. The company estimates set up time as 30 minutes or less, with no tools required, and reports indicate that set up is indeed easy. Unlike the Coleman inflatable hot tub above, several users report good performance even in cold temperatures.
There are downsides, however. Just like inflatable hot tubs, water circulation is via an air blower rather than water jets -- and the blower is loud. There are also no dedicated seating positions. The tub is rated for five, but you'd better all be very good friends to fit that many. The biggest issue is durability. Though many say they've used the spa for multiple seasons, there are a significant number who say that the pump/heater failed after a single season or less. Still, when considering reviews posted on multiple sites, it appears that users are generally satisfied with overall performance and, especially, value.