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Where to put your new hot tub, and how to keep it clean

Before you buy a new hot tub, you need a place to put it. Most portable and above-ground tubs can be installed indoors or outdoors, but they take up a lot of space. On the plus side, keeping a hot tub indoors means you can use it in any kind of weather, and you won't have to worry about damage from wind or sun. Whether your installation site is indoors or outdoors, it must meet a few basic requirements:

  • Accessibility. Your hot tub must fit into the space you choose and be able to pass through any gates, doors or hallways along the way. This isn't a problem with an inflatable spa, but if you buy a rigid tub, take careful measurements to make sure it can fit. Once it's in place, you'll need enough room around the hot tub for entering and exiting safely, and performing any cleaning, routine maintenance or repairs. If your spa is outdoors, you'll want to install it in a place where debris from trees, bushes and other sources isn't likely to fall into the water.
  • A strong, level surface. A hot tub filled with water is very heavy, and it must sit on a foundation strong enough to support its weight. Experts say the best support is a pad of reinforced concrete, but you can also use a base of patio blocks or a ready-made plastic spa pad. No matter what you use, it's important to make sure the surface is level. If you want your hot tub on a deck, consult a contractor to ensure your deck is structurally strong enough to handle the weight. You may need to add reinforcement.
  • Electrical requirements. Your hot tub must be within reach of an outlet; you can't use an extension cord. A standard outlet will work if your tub uses 110 volts of electricity, but a 220-volt spa will require a special outlet. The location of the switch is also important: It should be visible from the spa, but at least 5 feet away.
  • Ventilation. Hot tubs create a great deal of heat and moisture. If you plan to install one indoors, the room must be vented to prevent the growth of mold and mildew, and to keep walls and floorboards from rotting. Ask a contractor whether the ventilation in your room is adequate. A floor drain is also a good idea, since water is bound to splash or spill out of the spa, and even a small leak can leave a great deal of water on the floor.

Once your hot tub is installed, it requires regular care to keep it clean and running smoothly. Spas should be covered when not in use to keep debris out of the water, conserve heat and reduce evaporation. A skimmer is handy for scooping out stray debris, and you should brush the sides and bottom of the tub weekly to clear away dirt and prevent algae growth. About once every three months, drain the water from the hot tub and clean its entire surface.

A 600-gallon hot tub with just five people in it will accumulate body oils from dirt at the same rate as a standard swimming pool with 250 people in it. The filter is the first line of defense in keeping the water clean and most will last one to two years, but they must be cleaned on a regular schedule. The instructions included with your hot tub should explain how to do this.

The filter can't do the job on its own, however; you'll also need to use a chemical treatment to kill bacteria and keep the water at the proper pH level between 7.4 and 7.6. If the pH is too high or too low, it can irritate skin and eyes or damage plumbing. You must also monitor the level of calcium in the water, which can leave scaly deposits on the equipment. Experts recommend testing your spa water at least once a week. The simplest method is to use a test strip that will show results within seconds.

Chlorine is still the most popular chemical treatment for hot tubs, but some sanitizing systems use other chemicals such as bromine or natural minerals and enzymes. One newer form of water treatment is a saltwater system, which uses salt and a diamond electrode to create a chemical reaction in the water that helps cleanse it. Many newer hot tubs include an ozone generator or "ozonator" that produces ozone in the water. This won't eliminate the need for chemical treatment, but it can greatly reduce the amount of chemicals required.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Hot Tubs: We evaluate and compare the four basic types of hot tubs: above-ground, inflatable, wooden and in-ground.

Types of Hot Tubs: We examine the different types of hot tubs: above-ground molded tubs, portable tubs, traditional wood tubs and in-ground tubs.

Hot Tub Features: We explore the many hot tub features available, including jets, seating, lighting and other extras.

Hot Tubs and Energy Use: We discuss how much it costs to operate a hot tub and what features will help reduce that cost, including insulation, covers and more efficient pumps.

Comparing Hot Tub Brands: Which hot tub brands do professionals and users like best? names the top three highest-rated hot tub brands.

Where to Buy Hot Tubs: We explain the pros and cons of shopping for a hot tub from a local dealer, a big-box store, the Internet, a home show and factory direct.

Buying Guide: We discuss the most important features for any hot tub, and how to choose the right model for you.

Our Sources: Links to the expert and user reviews we used to select the top hot tubs, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.

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