What the best hot tub has:
- Adjustable jets. The more options you have for adjusting the direction and strength of water jets, the better your hot tub will fit your personal needs.
- Low heat loss. Consider how well the hot tub holds its heat both during use and in standby mode.
- An energy-efficient heater. Make sure the heater transfers most of the heat it produces to the water.
- Full-foam insulation. Compared to basic or layered insulation, full foam is the best at slowing heat loss, supporting the tub and soundproofing.
- A secure cover. The best covers have tight, well-sealed hinges to prevent heat loss and multiple secure tie-downs to hold them in place.
- Durable construction. Soft-sided vinyl or inflatable tubs are the least durable, while materials like stainless steel, thermal plastic and thick wood are extremely sturdy.
- Simple maintenance. Features such as a cartridge filter can reduce the amount of time and chemicals needed to maintain your hot tub.
- Good warranty coverage. Find out not only how long the warranty is but where you can get support and repairs if you need them.
- Nice looks. Most hot tubs are permanent fixtures that take up a lot of space, so it's worth choosing one that's easy on the eyes.
Know before you go
Is a hot tub safe for you? A temperature range of 100 degrees to 102 degrees Fahrenheit is considered ideal for most hot tub users, while other prefer to crank it up to 104 -- the maximum recommended temperature. However, it's important for pregnant women and people with heart conditions or other medical issues to check with their doctor before using a hot tub. Also, if you are buying a hot tub to treat muscle, joint or other pain symptoms, be sure to ask your physician or physical therapist if hydrotherapy is an appropriate treatment.
How will it be used? If you'll use the hot tub on a daily basis, pay close attention to how much energy it needs to run; if it will sit idle for weeks on end, focus on its standby power use. If you plan to use the spa for hydrotherapy, make sure it has the right kind of jets and features like whirlpool action to treat your particular health condition. If you intend to exercise in the tub, consider one with built-in fitness equipment or look into swim spas.
Where will you put the tub? If it's outdoors, you need a tub that holds its heat well, especially if you live in a cool climate. If it's indoors, make sure the room is well ventilated. In either case, measure doors and hallways to make sure the tub can be carried to the desired space. You must also prepare a surface that can support the tub, and check the location and voltage of your outlets.
How many people will use it? Your tub should be the right size for the number of people who will use it frequently. Is it just for you and your significant other to relax in at the end of a long day, or do you plan to hold hot tub parties? We know from our own experience that hot tubs tend to become a family gathering place/center of the party, so plan accordingly.
Which features are must-haves? Today's hot tubs are sold with a huge variety of features, but most people can't afford them all. Set some priorities.
How tall are you? Molded spa seats are usually designed for people of average height and weight. If you're short, you may have to sit on the edge of the seat or bob up and down to keep your head above water. If you're tall, you may need to slouch to keep your shoulders submerged. Experts agree that testing the tub in person -- ideally while it's full of water -- is the best way to make sure the seats fit you comfortably and the jets are positioned where you need them.
What's your budget? If you're limited to spending $1,000 or so, you might have to settle for an inflatable hot tub, which is the least expensive model but is also the least durable. With a bigger budget, you could upgrade to an above-ground spa. In-ground tubs are the most expensive, but adding one could improve your home's value -- but see the caveat that follows.
Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it
Adding a hot tub to your property may increase the value of your home, but it's not a sure bet. As a New England chapter of the Better Business Bureau explains, if adding a hot tub increases the sale price of your home above others in your neighborhood, it could make your house harder to sell. The BBB advises talking to a real estate professional about your plans before moving forward. If it turns out that the hot tub is a sound investment, you may be able to finance it through your bank.
Buying tactics and strategies
Choose your dealer wisely. Contact your local Better Business Bureau to make sure there are no complaints about the company. Consider looking for a dealer who's TradeCertified via program run by the publisher of Spasearch magazine. These dealers have been in business for at least two years and have a proven record for customer service.
If possible, do a "wet test." That means getting into the tub to try out the feel of the seats and water jets. Experts agree that hot tub comfort is very personal, and this is the best way to find a spa that suits your needs.
Better yet, try several models. Locate several dealers and try out multiple hot tubs before you make your final decision. Get price quotes, too.
It doesn't hurt to negotiate. At some dealerships, all prices are firm; others allow negotiation. The only way to find out is to ask. Dealers usually don't have much room to haggle on price, but you may be able to get some accessories thrown in for free. If you are buying online or from a big-box hardware store, haggling probably won't get you very far, however.
Get the details in writing. When you buy, make sure your contract includes all the details about the hot tub's construction, installation dates, payment schedule and warranty coverage. It should also specify your responsibilities in the event of unexpected snags, like hitting a utility line.
What's to come
Several hot tub manufacturers now also offer swim spas, which combine the warmth of a hot tub with the exercise benefits of a swimming pool. Swim spas are much smaller than a full-sized pool at no more than 18 feet long, but generate a steady current that you can swim against rather than doing laps. They can also be used for other activities like rowing or water walking, and additional fitness equipment can be built in. Swim spas come in both above-ground and in-ground versions. Compact models that start at about $15,000 have a simple bench seat at one end for relaxing after a workout. Deluxe models that cost up to $35,000 include a separate therapy area with seating and jets, so they're like a hot tub and swimming pool in one.