The Hot Tub Guru: Free Advice for First-Time Buyers
It's Not Just a Hot Tub: It's a Lifestyle
Buying Your First Hot Tub?
So you are thinking about buying your first hot tub, eh? (Yes, I'm Canadian.) Reading this entire article is your first right move. As they say, knowledge is power.
Well, you are going to love your hot tub. And, speaking from experience, based on years of performing installations and repairs in some of the coldest winters on the planet and with just about every make and model on the market, there are a few things you should look at first before you make that big purchase decision.
I'm not going to get into recommending any particular brand name either because they all have their pros and cons, but most importantly, none of them pay me. Buying a big-ticket item like a hot tub is usually a family decision and will cost you even more money if you don't do your homework first, so I'm going to make a few suggestions about things to look at before you buy, but the rest is up to you.
OK, enough introduction. Let's get to the facts. Here we go.
This information is for reference only. Many factors may have changed by the time you read this article so please, always do your homework first before you spend any money on any big ticket item.
How Much Money Will You Spend?
First, take a serious look at your finances. What is your budget? Decide what you can spend before you start looking and to try to stay within that limit while you shop around.
Don't be hustled by the sales reps.They are working on commission and make their money by jamming you with a ton of extras you won't need; but, with knowledge, you can go into any hot tub retail outlet with confidence, knowing exactly what you are looking for, asking the right questions, and staying within your price range.
Don't be afraid to negotiate. There are huge mark-ups on hot tubs, especially when you start adding extra features, so there's always a little room to negotiate when it comes to your final purchase price. Remember, you don't need them. There are many players in this game that want your money, so if they don't want to negotiate, then go play with someone else. Don't get greedy here and expect an unreasonable deal, but it never hurts to ask.
The cheapest brands. A few years ago, one of the major wholesale discount stores (whose name I won't mention) came out with a nice-looking but poorly made line of hot tubs for around $5,000, and they quickly sold a ton of them. I'm sure most of you reading this have a good idea of the chain of stores I'm talking about. Unfortunately, as soon as the first cold weather hit, water pipes started bursting, pumps started freezing, and shells started cracking. I'm glad I was not involved in that nightmare because I heard an average of 500 tubs a week were being returned to the supplier. Unfortunately, now the buying public thinks they can get a high-quality, new hot tub for under $5,000, which they can't.
If someone is offering you a new hot tub for under $5,000, it is probably a cheap knock-off from China that will cost you more in repairs than what you paid for it, so be very careful of what you are spending your hard-earned money on. As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for.
I do agree that the traditional retail hot tub suppliers have been gouging the public for many years, but they do offer additional security for any installation or warranty work they do for you by buying local. That factor alone might be worth the extra money and peace of mind if you have any problems with your unit later but you are still going to pay from $8,000 to $14,000 for a basic, well-made hot tub, and if you start adding extras like stereos, extra jets, or LCD screens, the cost will increase.
Where Will You Put Your Hot Tub?
Installing Inside: If you install your tub indoors, then your biggest concern is ventilating all of the moisture given off by the tub, and you obviously need proper drainage.
Installing Outside: The closer it is to your home, the lower your installation costs. Those electric wires that run from your home out to your hot tub's electrical panel are expensive, so the closer the better, not to mention the labor involved if you have to dig a trench across or under who knows what to bury electrical cables.
If it's going on the ground, remember that if you live in a colder climate, every spring the ground thaws out and if you have your tub sitting on the ground, once the ground starts to melt next spring, it will shift the weight of the water in your tub, creating major stress, and if the shell cracks, you've got major problems.
You are either going to have to dig a hole at least four feet deep down to get below the frostline and pour a concrete slab that deep or, if it is going on a deck, then make sure the deck can support all that extra weight.
An average six person hot tub full of water will weigh at least 5,000 lbs. without any of your crazy, drunken friends in there splashing around, so see if the area you are thinking about installing your tub on will take the weight. If not, you might have to look at digging some four foot deep holes to pour concrete support columns that come up just above ground level or higher and then sit four inch square, pressure treated wooden posts that will sit right under your deck's floor joists, under the deck, to help support the weight of your tub. Four concrete columns will work fine and you might be able to get away with just two if done properly. Any carpenter or good handyman can do this for you if you're not familiar with the procedure but if it has to be done, do it before your tub goes in.
It would suck to have all your friends over for a hot tub party and the entire tub collapsing on your deck, not to mention live electrical wires coming loose with water splashing everywhere and people stepping in it. Not the kind of buzz they intended on getting at your party. I smell lawsuit if someone gets hurt, or worse, so why take the chance? Do it right the first time.
Don't forget to have your electrician fill in any drilled holes in your home or hot-tub skirting with electrical putty so mice won't get in there and build a nest. Mice love the heat, but they hate that electrical putty.
Before You Buy...
Tip: If you take the skirting covers off the sides of the tub and look inside at the back of the shell itself, notice that it has been sprayed but all around the jet hoses connections, but if the foam has been cut away or tampered with, it means that there was a leak somewhere and somebody was trying to fix it. If there is still water leaking out, then you obviously still have a problem, which is why you...
always buy a tub filled with water.
This is good to know if you are buying new or used. It might have been just a bad seal but now that they know that you know, it makes for a great final-price-negotiating tool and if you are buying from a retail store, make sure that those problems were addressed and written in the warranty in case there are any problems down the road.
Hot Tub Insulation: Do You Need It?
Proper insulation is a major factor in keeping your power bills down. Make sure the entire inner side of the shell is sprayed with foam insulation at least 33 mm thick/2.5 inches (standard). 100 mm is even better. You can check that by unscrewing the skirting panels surrounding your tub's shell.
Another good insulating factor is a thermo blanket (at least 1 inch thick, usually 18 inches wide and 30 inches long, depending on the size of your tub), attached to the back of the skirting panels, inside the unit itself. Most look like a rectangular piece of foam with thick tin foil over it screwed right to the back of your skirting on the inside of your tub. (Another NASA invention filtering its way down to the retail markets.)
This will work to help keep the cold out while reflecting the heat coming off the pumps back into the open space surrounding the inside of your tub, which in turn helps to control the temperature in your tub so your heating system isn't working as hard to keep your water temperature exactly where you like it, which also equates to a lower monthly heating bill.
Simply put, when I come home and jump in and my hot tub is at the exact temperature I set it for, all that insulation I just talked about is working, which is exactly what I want it to do.
What Color Shell, Skirting, and Cover Would You Like?
A lot of people like to match the colors of their hot tub with the color of their home or its surroundings.
Hot Tub Jets: How Many? Water or Air?
Jets? How many jets is a personal choice or based on how many people will be using the tub and which parts of your body you want massaged. As you start getting into 30, 40, 50, 100 or more jets, you will need and want a second, and maybe a third water or air pump, so keep that in mind when pricing out units. You just want to make sure all the jets are working both air and water.
Water or air jets? It's also good to have a combination of jets, water and air. Water are the larger (jacuzzi) jets and air are the smaller, one-inch jets. They work very well together for different effects on a variety of muscle areas. Some areas of your body. like your back for example, may need a deep, penetrating water-jet massage and some areas, like your feet, may enjoy a softer air bubble massage. It's great to have both options.
Tip: Never forget about your feet. It's a mistake a lot of new buyers make at the time of purchase because they want that cool stereo or LCD screen instead, and then are always sorry later for not getting it. Our feet absorb all of our body weight every day and take a lot of punishment, so don't forget to give your poor aching feet a well-deserved massage too (hydro-Reiki, as I call it).
Full body hydrotherapy massage is where it's at, in my opinion.
Another tip: Always make sure you buy stainless-steel jet rings, never plastic (PVC) or whatever they want to call it these days. Plastic wears out quickly, depending on tub usage and cracks, and are a real pain in the butt to change, too.
Do You Need a Hot Tub Cover?
If you live through cold winters, then the thicker the cover, the better. A five-inch-thick cover with four-inch sides will do a lot of work keeping the heat inside the tub, where it belongs.
Most tubs come with a standard three-inch-thick cover, but if you live in cold weather, then spend the extra money for a thicker cover. If your supplier doesn't carry them, then go online and order one.
Let me ask you a question: Have you ever seen a hot tub with the cover on and noticed steam leaking out of the sides like a pressure cooker and thought to yourself, hey that's cool? Well, as a hot tub owner, that's the last thing you want to see because that means serious heat loss which equates to higher power bills. Not good.
Something else about covers is that if there is a foot of new snow on the ground and a foot of new snow on top of my hot tub's cover, I am a happy hot tubber because I know I won't have heat loss going straight through the top of my cover or out the sides.
If there is a snowstorm and there is no snow on your cover, that means another serious loss of heat which once again equates to higher heating bills. Not good. Thick, custom-built covers are where it's at. It's one of your smartest investments.
Tip: In Canada, it is against the law to leave your hot tub cover unlocked if there is no one attending your tub. The reason being is that small children can easily crawl up the steps and fall in the tub, which has unfortunately happened many times, so make sure you lock your cover when not using the tub. Why take the chance for a very inexpensive fix? Most covers come with a small lock and key now as standard equipment so stash the key in a safe, close place.
Cover lifters are fine if you are too lazy to fold the cover in half, slide it off, and lean it up against a wall, but if you are by yourself or have some physical challenges, then definitely buy a cover lifter. Another fairly inexpensive but good investment. The covers do get heavy and awkward at times, especially if you are tired or in some sort of pain. Lifters come in several different designs that are totally automatic or have hydraulic pumps on them for easy maneuvering. I suggest to go to your nearest dealer and check them out for yourself whether you are buying from them or not. Everybody has different needs.
Salt Water Hot Tubs?
There's a lot of excitement about the new salt water tubs. The technology is getting better every day but as I write this, it is not quite there yet.
The problem is that salt water pools are great but as soon as you run salt water through any kind of a heating system, it turns the salt to a sand-like substance. Not good. It's hard on your system and takes a lot of work to maintain, too much work for me, but keep your eye on them because they'll be great as soon as they iron out all the wrinkles and come down in price.
I don't know about you but when I come home after a long, hard day, all I want to do is pour myself a tall, cool drink and jump into a steamy, bubbling hot tub to help melt away the day's stress. If I have to spend a lot of my time maintaining a hot tub, that takes away all the fun for me.
A good substitute to help you get rid of a lot of chemicals is to find a model that has a dual (2) water filtration system. It will cut the chemical usage down by half.
Additional Hot Tub Features: Stereo, LCD, Railings, Etc.
Stereo? A good place to start. I never liked them because they are an extremely expensive addition, and when the jets are on, you can barely hear it anyway. Plus, if anything goes wrong with the stereo itself (and it will, especially in colder climates), it's very expensive to have fixed. I suggest a portable stereo plugged into an outside electrical outlet or a waterproof MP3/4 player that will float around with you in the tub so you can stick on the head phones and enjoy your favorite tunes while chilling out. Most retailers actually give those electronic toys away these days as an incentive for you to buy a tub from them.
LCD screen? Another bad investment; I don't care how cool the sales rep tells you they are. It's a very expensive add-on and after one winter in the cold, it will start having problems. The technology is just not there yet. Save your money. If you want to watch the big game with your buddies, then roll your big screen up to the patio door so you can see it but it's still inside, protected. I don't know if that will work for you but figure something out. Don't waste your money on LCD screens.
Electronic gizmos? Anything that electronically pops up from inside your hot tub, like an LCD screen or stereo speakers, are never a good idea in colder climates or if you live along the coast with exposure to salt water, which is why no one ever offers you more than a one year warranty. They are guaranteed to screw up after your first winter and will be extremely expensive repairs. Don't buy them. Spend that money on more jets because the jets are what it is all about.
The shell surface? Never buy a smooth surface. Always make sure the surface is a little rough. The main reason being is that they get very slippery. Some people like the smooth surface, saying that rough surfaces collect dirt, but I never had any problems like that. If the tub needs a quick wipe down, then do it. You clean your bathtub once in a while, don't you? Tip on on cleaning: Never use harsh chemicals to clean the surface of your tub. Try to stay natural like lemon oil or white vinegar. There are enough harsh chemicals in the water as it is, you don't need any more.
Hand railings? Definitely YES. Again, especially in winter, there is a lot of water pooling and freezing around the tub. Stepping in and out of your tub safely with ice build-up everywhere is a common reason for serious injury, so buy hand railings. Great investment. The more, the better. strategically place them wherever people are going to be walking on slippery surfaces. It would really suck to be putting your family or friends in a position where they have to ask you to pay for medical bills because they slipped and hurt themselves on your deck.
Towel racks? I like them, especially heated ones. It's either that or some kind of a rack to hold your housecoat or whatever you are wearing to and from your tub in winter. All I can say from experience is that it is really nice when it's 20 below to have a warm towel or bathrobe on hand.
Lights? I highly recommend them. There's nothing like a little mood lighting (or chroma-therapy as the experts call it). Most tubs come with standard flood lights, usually on the bottom of the tub, but you can also get the fiberoptic (pin hole) and LED lights with multiple color choices along the top of your tub just along the waterline or behind a waterfall, for example. Color choices at the touch of a button? Designers just keep getting more creative in the features. Very nice touch for all you romantics out there.
Loungers? Love them! Great for a full body, hydrotherapy massage. Just make sure you have enough jets for the full body massage effect, from head to toe and everywhere in between. Even if that holds no appeal to you, think about others who really might appreciate it. Full body water massage! Now that's hot tubbing at its best.
Scents and fragrances? Although I am a big fan of pure, essential oils for aromatherapy and natural health reasons, never put them directly on any plastic or in your tub water unless they are diluted with some kind of a carrier oil. They are so powerful that they will compromise the integrity of the inner structure (shell and connections). Many new tubs today actually come with a scent-diffusing feature.
Head and neck cushions? Yes, but rolled-up towels will work just has good and save you money.
Waterfalls? Kind of cool but extra money. Your decision. I don't mind having at least one in the unit to stick my head under for a head massage. Nice effect.
Ozone system (ozonators)? I personally don't like them. They're very hard on the respiratory system, especially for children or if you have asthma or any other kind of respiratory difficulty, but some people swear by them so do your homework and choose wisely. Tip: If you have one on, don't breath in while you are taking off your cover. Let all the built-up steam dissipate up in the air before you jump in.
Do You Need a Warranty for Your Hot Tub?
Where warranties are concerned, the longer the better, and make sure that your supplier and their manufacturer have been established long enough so you feel comfortable in the thought of them hopefully being around in the future to honor it, should something go wrong with your hot tub a few years down the road.
Tip: Read the warranty in full before you buy and don't be afraid to ask questions and get things clarified in writing if you don't understand. A lot of people listen to what the sales rep tells them and believe everything they say. They may be telling you the truth about everything but why take the chance with this kind of investment? Understand what the warranty covers: The pumps, the jets, the shell, the special features, etc. What is the coverage of each one?
Extended warranties are one big hustle and huge money-maker for any company that offers them, but really take a close look at what it offers if you are thinking about buying one. Read it very carefully. Do not listen to the sales rep. If you do not read it over and you come to find out down the road when you have a problem that even though the sales rep told you it was covered, the warranty does not, then you deserve to be screwed. Don't be stupid. Read everything.
If the extended warranty will cover pumps and other features for an extra 2 to 5 years in addition to what the standard warranty already covers, maybe it's worth the extra few hundred bucks, but how long has this company been in business is always my first question. If they are new, then think it through, but I always feel a lot more comfortable if they are well established, especially when you are spending that kind of money.
Here is an example of what I'm talking about. Let's say that the extended warranty covers everything for five years: Okay, sounds good, I'll buy it! But the salesperson forgot to mention that you would have to drain the tub and might have to bring it into the shop for repairs at your time and expense depending on the problem. If it's just a hose or needs a new pump, no problem, maybe just a house call will work, but what if the shell cracks in the middle of winter? Who covers all those expenses? You're not talking about a vacuum cleaner here. You're talking about unhooking the plumbing, electrical, labor, transportation to and from the shop. One major pain in the ass so I'll say it one more time: Read everything!
Finally: Buying a Used Hot Tub
All I can say is never, never, never buy a used hot tub unless it is full of water and hooked up so you can do a complete inspection. Would you buy a used car without taking it for a test drive? No! so test drive the hot tub out before you buy.
Make sure all the jets and other features are working. Take off the skirting panels and make sure there are no leaks anywhere. It's a major problem if the shell is leaking: It might just need a replacement seal or hose, but who knows until you take a look.
Tip: If the tub looks fairly new and the seller tells you the warranty is still good on it and transferable, they might be misleading you. No hot tub supplier will honor a warranty after a hot tub has been moved to a new location. Who knows what might have happened in transport so if they are telling you this, get the name of the company they bought it from and give them a call to get the facts. They might honor the warranty if they move it and re-install it themselves but be prepared to pay a few thousand dollars for this.
Tip: One good indication of what that used tub is going to cost you to operate is to ask the seller for their last couple of months electrical bills. They are selling it for a reason. Be careful.
Last but by no means least, never let anyone drink anything from a glass container in or around your tub and I don't care what it is. No one needs to be sitting or walking on broken glass and bleeding in your hot tub water. Plastic, cans, whatever, but no glass allowed!
Well, I could go on and on but I think that's enough to get you thinking.
Good luck and may you enjoy many years of happy hot tubbing!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.