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 or in a sheltered location outside, such as a covered patio, means that 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:
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 for safety reasons and to 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; just as with a swimming pool, 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 your skin and eyes or damage the tub's 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. However, as discussed in our report on Air Purifiers, ozone is a dangerous gas and its use is controversial -- and probably to be avoided if your hot tub is in an enclosed space.
Elsewhere in this Report:
Best Reviewed Hot Tubs: Looking for the perfect hot tub? These are the types and models that experts and users tell us are the top choices.
Types of Hot Tubs: Whether your budget is over $20,000 or less than $500, there's a hot tub to fill the bill. Here's a look at the four major types.
Hot Tub Features: Features are what can separate a so-so spa from a terrific one. Here are some of the most important ones.
Hot Tubs and Energy Use: Hot tubs can sip energy, or guzzle it. These pointers will help keep you energy costs in check.
Comparing Hot Tub Brands: These are the brands of hot tubs that rise to the top in expert reviews. We also look at hot tub models that leave their owners smiling.
Where to Buy Hot Tubs: You can buy a hot tub from a specialty retailer, a major hardware chain, or from a host of online vendors. We explore the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.
Buying Guide: Not sure where to even start in your hunt for the perfect spa? These suggestions and questions to ask yourself can help point you toward the right hot tub for you and your budget.
Our Sources: Where can you learn more about hot tubs and spas? These are the experts and user reviews we consulted in naming the top types, brands and models.