Your Ultimate Buying Guide for a Hot Tub or Swim Spa in 2023
You know how to buy a car. You know how to buy a dishwasher, a sofa and book a vacation. But a hot tub? How about a swim spa?
If you’re unsure of what the steps are, we understand. Buying a hot tub or a swim spa is a unique purchase for most people. There is nothing else quite like it.
• In some ways, it is like building a garage (but easier). Your site needs to be set up, and you need to make sure it has access to electrical power.
• In some ways it is like buying an appliance. You can do brand research and learn about the various features on offer, the same way you might with a new dishwasher.
• In some ways it is like buying a car, as most people go to a showroom and pick a model that they like and try it before they commit to buying.
“What do I need to buy a hot tub?” or “How do I get ready to buy a hot tub?” isn’t actually a question we get asked a lot at Hydropool. But what we do get are questions that all lead into it: “Do I need concrete pad?” or “Are more jets better?” We find people are really asking, “how do I buy a hot tub?” and “what do I look for?” much of the time when they speak to our retailers.
We completely get why. We know hot tubs and swim spas aren’t everyday purchases. Chances are your house was built with a space for your car and your washer and dryer. But a hot tub or swim spa needs accommodation and planning, especially if you are going to end up with one you are happy with for the long term.
This article is our best guide to buying a hot tub or a swim spa, so that you have the chance to think through everything you need to before you speak to a salesperson.
Of course, you can go into a retail store and ask all these questions if you want and work with a salesperson from concept to execution. But we wrote this article because we know that not everyone likes to do it that way. We also believe in educating our customers as much as possible at Hydropool. Our desire is to tell you everything you need to know so you can get the right hot tub or swim spa for you, in the way you want to buy it.
How to Buy a Hot Tub or Swim Spa: Your Complete Guide
Phase 1: How Much Does It Cost and Where Does Your Hot Tub or Swim Spa Go?
There is some basic information you should know before buying any hot tub or swim spa.
Here’s a list of questions you first need to answer:
Can I afford it? – At Hydropool, we proudly put our prices on our products (not everyone who sells hot tubs or swim spas does this). You can see ours all over this website. A Hydropool hot tub begins at $10,795. Our entry-level swim spa costs $23,395. There are more costs, such as electrical and what your hot tub or swim spa will sit on. For a complete look at costs, this article is a good place to start. But you will want to have an idea of the money you have to spend before you go into the showroom to buy.
Will it fit? – You need eight feet of height and 40 inches of width for most hot tubs to make it to your backyard. For a swim spa, 90 per cent of the time it is installed with an over-the-house crane. In the off chance you don’t need a crane, you need to have enough space to back the entire trailer into the backyard (even if you think you have space, you won’t want to guess on this: You’re going to want to ask the salesperson if they can make it work).
What power source do you need? – We recommend installing a 220V hardwired line in all cases. For swim spas, you don’t have a choice, as this is your only possibility. For hot tubs, there are some plug-and-play models that can be plugged into a regular outlet, but almost all can be converted to 220V. So you’re not missing any models, and you’re opening your options by going to 220V. Here are other benefits:
• Over the long-term, most 220V hot tubs are cheaper to run daily.
• 220V always gives you the choice of upgrading, should you want a hot tub with more options.
• Lastly, plug-and-play models can generally only run jets or heat at the same time, due to their power restrictions.
For more on whether to choose a plug-in model or hardwired, click here.
Where does it go? Crushed gravel pounded flat, a wooden deck or cement pavers can all be used for hot tubs, along with a poured concrete pad, which is always best. Swim spas need a concrete pad, no matter what. If possible, it makes the most sense to choose a hot tub or a swim spa before doing any work, so you can make sure whatever you put down is the right size. Whether you have something in place already or don’t know what to do, this is a good area to discuss with your retailer. A good one will arrange a site visit in person or through Facetime, so they can assess your space and provide you with options.
Phase 2: What Options and Features are Available on a Hot Tub or Swim Spa in 2023?
Once you’re positive you can afford a hot tub or swim spa and have a place for it that can handle power, the next element is to decide which one you want.
What features you select can drive the price of your hot tub or swim spa dramatically.
But if you have a sense of what you want to use the hot tub or swim spa for, it will help you a great deal when it comes to choosing what options you will need. There are three questions you need to ask yourself in this phase, and we will go through each one.
Question 1: How Many People Will Use the Hot Tub or Swim Spa Most of the Time?
This is a key question. What we see is that many people want too big of a hot tub. If only two people are going to use the hot tub most of the time, it’s like buying a three-storey house to retire in: It might be more than what you want to bother looking after. Our best advice is to buy for who will use it 90 per cent of the time.
All four-person or six-person or any-person hot tubs are not the same size. Many manufacturers will say their hot tub is for four people … but those people would have to be small to feel comfortable or really want to huddle together (if you’re an outdoorsy type, you know that tents are often sold this way too!). Seating patterns and types of seats vary considerably. If you want a four-person tub for four adults or for two adults and two children, it can make a substantial difference in what you end up buying. Know in advance what kind of space you’re looking for, so you won’t be disappointed the first time you invite another couple over and you all end up touching each other’s knees once you all hop in.
All swim spas aren’t made the same either, with the range being from family fun zones to serious training facilities. Some are meant as pool replacements and as places where families can play. Others are meant for serious swimmers, where they can train for triathlons. You may want the best of both worlds and one that allows for both. You may just want the best there is. But it’s good to know what you could have before you go looking as any of these are available.
Question 2: What Are the People Using the Hot Tub or Swim Spa Going to Use It For?
Hot tubs offer a wide variety of features and options. Sometimes this is awesome: Who doesn’t want customization? But sometimes it’s dizzying, like when you’re presented with decision after decision, or you land on a website that shows 40 models of hot tubs and each has a list of 50 features and comes in four different lines. Too much choice doesn’t help.
Here are the major features for you to consider. You may want some of these things or all of these things:
• Massage: Hot tubs and swim spas offer jets that move water all the way up to jets that supply impressive massage capabilities. You might need to be convinced about the powers of massage or you might already be a believer, but massage is a key feature that is available. If you have some areas on your body that need more attention than others or had an injury or surgery, look for massage options that can help you: We can assure you that they exist.
• Outdoor Soaking Experiences: Sometimes you just want to sit outside in a pot of warm water. You can do that. And if that’s all you want, why buy more?
• Places to Party: Built-in ice buckets, cabana tops, sideboards that act as a bar cart, built-in stereos, wild light displays, seating designed to hold as many as possible: All of this can be had in either a swim spa or a hot tub so you can let loose.
• Places to Relax: Aromatherapy. Massage. Soothing light displays and waterfalls. A built-in stereo system, but with the sound turned on low. Opt for seats called loungers instead of bench seating.
• Places for Kids to Play In: Hot tubs and swim spas are great for family time. But then you don’t want all the party options, necessarily, do you?
Ensuring you have a good idea of what you want means you won’t add features you won’t use later.
Swim spas can do all of those things AND:
• be places to swim
• do aquatic workouts
• act as replacements for in-ground pools
Be honest with what you want and need, and you’ll avoid staring at a light display switch you never click … or even worse, the spot where the light switch was meant to go, that you didn’t bother ordering because you couldn’t admit you really did want that multi-color glow from inside the hot tub.
Question 3: What Features Do You Want? A Complete List of the Major Features That Drive Upfront and Ongoing Costs
Some of these elements are obvious and some are more hidden when it comes to buying. Here’s your guide so you can know them all!
Lounger or bench seating: Loungers are seats where you can recline, so you’re not limited to a seat-at-the-table position when you’re in the hot tub. They cost more, but are more relaxing, offer more massage points and for many are the most sought-after seat in the hot tub or swim spa. Generally, the lounger becomes the one you point to your guests and say, “you have to try that spot” or the first place you head after work or a workout. But you don’t need one to have a good hot tub, so it’s one clear choice you can make.
One or two pumps? Two pump systems are more efficient, ultimately costing you less because one pump circles your water and the other operates your jets. Neither is overly tasked in this manner. One-pump systems work harder for the same results and cost more over time but are cheaper to buy upfront. We prefer two pumps, because what we see is that the costs usually even out over time, but there are many good one pump systems available as well. Again, this is a choice for you.
Maintenance & filtration: A great deal of innovation has taken place when it comes to maintenance, which is designed to keep your costs down and so your time is spent in the water instead of cleaning it. The simple guideline is that the more advanced these elements are, the more you will pay up front. Hydropool has the only self-cleaning system you can buy, and it’s offered on our top-of-the-line Signature collection of hot tubs, and both our Aquatic and Executive trims on our swim spas. We are not alone in this pricing approach. You can get higher-end systems that also use salt-water systems and UV cleaning to go along with traditional chlorine or bromine or opt for chlorine and bromine alone.
Massage: The type of jet you have and the placement matters as much as the number. While some manufacturers emphasize their models have a high number of jets, four all pointed at the same spot on your back are often doing the same thing as one could do. But they can cost you more. What jets you want and how many will be a factor in your overall cost. You can get jets to massage any part of your body, including your feet, neck, back, hands and shoulders, all the way down to jets that circulate or splash water but not much else.
Insulation: It will determine how efficient your hot tub or swim spa is with the heat generated from its pumps. Hydropool hot tubs and swim spas trap the heat and use it to warm the water in your tub or spa, which saves you money. But not every system does this. If in doubt, look for a hot tub or swim spa that is CEC (California Energy Commission) certified. That’s the highest standard there is (all of Hydropool hot tubs and swim spas have this level of certification).
Color: Whoever you buy from, there are typically two color choices you may be able to make: The color of the acrylic that you want to sit in, that makes up the shell of the hot tub, and the color of the outside cabinet. What’s in style one year may not be the next. Right now, we find our driftwood cabinet with a white acrylic insert is our most popular color choice, but just a few years ago, darker acrylic colors dominated. Most manufacturers have a variety of options, but neutral colors often dominate: greys, browns, whites and greys.
Availability: Hot tubs and swim spas are sold in a variety of ways. You can buy some online or you can buy from a retailer or you can buy from a special sale, such as a tent sale. We strongly recommend buying from a retailer in your area, so that you can get the ongoing support you need, but you will have options. You will also have some options on what you can buy: like when buying cars, the one sitting on the lot often can be had for less than the one you need to custom order. When you’re ready to talk to the salesperson, don’t be shy about asking what is available and what needs to be ordered. You might not get the exact features you want, but you might be able to save some money by buying what’s ready to ship or sitting on the lot.
Current (for swim spas specifically): The type of current you want – or if you want much of one at all – makes a major difference in what you will want when shopping for a swim spa. It also makes a considerable difference in the price (if you just want a place for your kids to play, you will pay less). More basic swim spas that allow for swimming require a tether to hold you in place. More sophisticated methods to generate currents exist, but they do cost more as a result. For more on swim spas, click here.
Steps, Umbrellas, Aromatherapy, Lights, Waterfalls, Ice Buckets and Built-In Stereos: There are a host of accessories that can come with hot tubs and swim spas. Different brands will offer unique items – for example, one swim spa company makes an in-water treadmill, while Hydropool has a complete assembly of different workout pieces available. Party accessories are plentiful, especially with hot tubs. Again, thinking about what kind of experience you want in your hot tub before you go shopping will help focus this part of your decision.
Phase 3: How to Buy a Hot Tub or Swim Spa in 2023
You likely still have questions about your potential hot tub and swim spa, but that’s okay. In fact, it makes complete sense. Everybody’s situation is unique. There will be something you can’t decide on or figure out on your own. Hot tubs and swim spas are often that kind of purchase.
If you’ve gone through this article so far and thought about what you wanted in each case, you’re ready to start Googling websites or finding a local retailer as your next step.
Most importantly, you should know the number of people who will use the hot tub or swim spa, how you want to use it and have set a budget.
Most retailers or manufacturers will get back to you quickly, if you tell them you are a serious buyer.
A good retailer will then go over what we cover in this article, and answer any outstanding questions you may have, so that you feel confident before you end up buying anything.
Maybe it seems like we have skipped a step: Which brands should you look at? Which store should you walk into? We have a few suggestions here as well:
1. We suggest you research online how long any hot tub company you’re considering has been in business. If you can find a website for a specific retailer in your area, look for how the retailer has been in business as well. Your first choice should be a company that has sold hot tubs or swim spas for a long time. You’re likely going to need support and advice from time to time and the best place to get that is from a retailer with experience.
2. Our advice: Try before you buy. You don’t get to do this with appliances, but you do with cars, so we recommend it. A good retailer will have the hot tub or swim spa you’re considering on display, so you can sit in it. Some will be able to put water in it so that you can try it. Don’t let a few moments of shyness here stop you from trying it: You’d rather be embarrassed in the store than a year later when you realized you bought the wrong one.
3. We understand that brand and reputation research can be tough for a consumer. Most hot tubs and swim spas are not made by brands you have dealt with before. Consumer Reports doesn’t review either hot tubs or swim spas. Without good guidance, often people buy on word of mouth, which includes using Facebook or Reddit groups. These can be hit or miss, with both good and bad advice, we find. With that in mind, we created the following guides to give you a place to start:
• For our look at the top hot tub brands, click here.
• For an explanation of our swim spas, click here.
• Should you buy a hot tub or a swim spa? Good question. Have a look here.
• We will be continually adding stories to our Learning Centre, all designed to answer the questions you have before buying. Check it out here.
Steps to Buying a Hot Tub or Swim Spa in 2023
We know that hot tubs and swim spas are not snap decisions and can take time to think through. We also understand they are complex purchases with many possible options and feature multiple retailers competing for your business. That’s a recipe for potential customer confusion.
We are trying to simplify that process at Hydropool. We are trying to make it clear what people can have as options and what they may be interested in while buying.
We don’t want people to end up with a hot tub or swim spa that doesn’t ultimately meet their needs or find the process so confounding that they move on to something else altogether. We have seen both of those situations happen in our more than 40 years of business. And that’s why we are trying to be transparent here.
We wrote this article so that you could understand the key questions everyone faces when they buy a hot tub or a swim spa. We know that not everyone wants to go through these steps with a salesperson in person, so we identified the core elements and decisions that exist. We hope it helps you on your way to getting the hot tub or swim spa that is perfect for you.
• We have included as many links as we could to help you dive deeper into researching your potential hot tub or swim spa in this article. Feel free to consult our Learning Centre for more articles – it’s possible we have one that answers your question (and if we don’t have it, let us know because we will want to write it).
• Have more questions for a Hydropool retailer? Find the closest one to you here.