According to the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals, more then five million American households count themselves as hot-tub owners. Therefore, it may surprise you (as it did us) that there are no credible comparison reviews of these big-ticket items. Consumer Reports, for example, has some information on whirlpool bathtubs, but no guidance for hot tubs or spas. As a result, the best sources of information on hot tubs are found in consumer reviews and general information sites, such as the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals (APSP), Pool & Spa Living magazine and HotTubLiving.com.
Because of the lack of reviews on specific manufacturers and/or hot tub models, this article examines the major types of hot tubs and identifies the features, elements, pros and cons of each type, as well as some basic information on what to look for when selecting a hot tub or spa. Specific models will be mentioned as appropriate, but in our findings none of these models have been tested against any others, so their comparative value is undetermined.
The terms "hot tub" and "spa" are used interchangeably by most retailers and consumers. Technically speaking, a hot tub is a wooden soaking tub with bench seating, with minimal or no jets. Spas, on the other hand, are made from various synthetic materials and incorporate blowers, jets, lighting, various seating configurations and other optional technologies. In reality, however, the terms are used interchangeably. "Jacuzzi" has become another general-use term, though Jacuzzi is actually a trademarked brand name.
Hot tubs were first popularized in the 1960s in California's wine country. These hot tubs were really no more than modified wine barrels used for soaking. To this day, California and the West Coast in general remain the strongholds for hot tub ownership, but hot tubs have come a long way since those first soaking barrels. In 1968, Roy Jacuzzi invented the Jacuzzi tub with jets that propelled water to produce a hydrotherapeutic sensation. From Roy Jacuzzi's invention were born what we know as modern hot tubs.
There are four basic types of hot tubs: inflatable/plastic spas, standard above-ground acrylic spas, wooden hot tubs and in-ground spas. Each option has different features and benefits. Above-ground acrylic hot tubs are the big sellers, but wooden tubs are making a comeback, and inflatable/portable hot tubs might be an option if you're on a budget and have modest expectations.