There are three main reasons people buy a hot tub: for leisure, health or for fitness.
Leisure spas are great for relaxing at the end of a long day. They may become the centerpiece of a get-together with family and friends, a backyard party or a relaxing weekend.
Health spas focus on relieving pain and tension in your body caused by various ailments. Some medical providers prescribe hydrotherapy as part of your treatment regime.
Hot tubs used for strengthening or exercise purposes are called swim spas. These are long and designed with powerful water streams. You can read our recommendations in our swim spa buying guide. Other fitness hot tubs are smaller and include underwater treadmills that give you impressive resistance while you work out.
This guide covers everything you need to know about leisure and therapeutic hot tub spas, including:
- Popular brands
- Pricing; specifically, the equipment included with your spa and how each piece works
- Important considerations before you buy
- How to find a reputable dealer
Popular Hot Tub Brands
Purchasing a hot tub from a big-box store outlet will limit the features you can choose since these retailers generally sell readymade units rather than individualized, custom spas. A local hot tub dealer is better equipped to help ensure your hot tub meets your specific needs, plus there's the assurance that your spa meets industry standards and was manufactured in a properly regulated facility using quality materials.
Here are some of the top hot tub brands that meet or exceed standards within the hot tub industry:
Bullfrog: With Bullfrog, you can custom design your hot tub, choosing from four different series. Some models accommodate up to 10 people. It also offers its proprietary JetPak system you can add to each model. Each spa comes with computerized controls, and you can remotely control the spa through a mini remote pad or from your smartphone. Extra features include audio systems and spa cabinets in a variety of colors and finishes. Both leisure and therapy spas are available.
Caldera: Caldera has three different spa series available – for leisure, therapy and hydrotherapy – with some models capable of seating eight adults. One unique feature of Caldera Spas is CoolZone, which heats and cools the water and has unique therapeutic advantages. Caldera spas come with extras like wireless entertainment systems and remote monitoring.
Cal Spas: Cal Spas has five different spa series for both above-ground and in-ground installation. The company also offers swim spas. Its 10 jet options, both water and air, let you design a hot tub for leisure or therapy, including all-body hydrotherapy. Extra features include audio packages and spa-side accessories such as bars, privacy screens and spa cabinets.
Dimension One: Dimension One has four different collections designed for luxury, enjoyment, therapeutic benefits and strength conditioning. Some models fit up to seven people, while others comfortably seat two. The hot tubs are constructed to be energy efficient, and several are created with recycled materials. Dimension One features the Vision Sanitizing System, which sanitizes spa water without harsh chemicals.
Hot Spring Spas: Hot Spring features four different series focused mainly on leisure. You can choose from small spas that seat two or large spas that seat seven adults. Its spas feature traditional pumps, or you can choose spas that offer non-chlorine cleaning systems and salt-water systems. You can also choose from a range of accessories.
Jacuzzi: Jacuzzi is a well-known hot tub brand with 25 models from five different collections; some units seat nine adults. Accessories include covers, floating sound systems and advanced water-purification systems. Jacuzzi has a trade-in program that gives you a credit for your old Jacuzzi hot tub that you can use toward a newer model.
Master Spas: Master Spas features six different hot tub series, including swim spas. The largest unit comfortably seats eight people. Master Spas has one of the biggest inventories of spa accessories in the industry, with over 25 different control panels and a variety of hot tub pillows, giving you the ability to design a custom hot tub to meet your needs.
South Seas Spas: South Seas has two series: Standard and Deluxe. There are over 15 different models to choose from, including units that seat up to eight people. Extra features include stereo systems, LED lighting and waterfall features.
Sundance Spas: Sundance Spas has 21 models to choose from, some of which seat as many as eight people. Its models are divided into four different series and feature a variety of jets, covers, lighting and water-purification options. The SunSmart app, available for both Android and iPhone devices, lets you control your Sundance Spa hot tub directly from your smartphone.
ThermoSpas: With ThermoSpas, you design your own hot tub. You start by choosing its size based on how many people you want it to fit, or you can choose from one of three series, including its Fitness Series that features swim spa designs. ThermoSpas have jet-stream options to fit your particular needs, whether you are looking for a therapeutic or a relaxing spa experience. You can add on extra options, such as cabinets, mood lighting and stereo sound systems.
Best Hot Tub: Master Spas
Master Spas has one of the largest inventories of hot tubs. It has the most options for designing a hot tub spa for your home or yard.
With over 25 control panels and dozens of jet packs to choose from, Master Spans helps you create a hot tub, whether it's for relaxation, hydrotherapy or fitness. In addition, you can choose from a range of accessories – lift covers, pillows, LED lighting and speaker systems.
Master Spas has an optional Wi-Fi module that connects the spa with the Wi-Fi in your home.
Pricing: What's Included & How The Various Components Work
Be wary about purchasing a hot tub priced under $5,000. These, typically, are imports made with cheaper materials. Often the hot tub shells crack during the cold winter months, and the repair bill can be as expensive as the purchase price of the spa.
Generally, the price quoted by a hot tub manufacturer includes the shell, or the basic body of the spa, and a vinyl cover. It can also include delivery and setup (assuming you want above-ground installation). Spa equipment and accessories, including jet streams and filtration systems, are extra. Here are a few of the most common parts and accessories, how they work and which ones are optional.
Shell: The shell of the hot tub is the basic body. Shells come in many shapes, colors and sizes. Experts suggest purchasing a shell with a rough surface rather than a smooth one to minimize the risk of slipping in the spa. Typically, a shell's outside panels can be upgraded to include customized spa cabinets. Spa cabinets come in multiple colors and finishes to match the your indoor or backyard decor.
Shells come in a variety of sizes, including:
Best Small Hot Tub: Caldera Spas
Small spas hold two or three people, so they work well for relaxing alone or entertaining a few close friends. A small model is also ideal for therapeutic use.
Caldera Spas has 13 different hot tub models to choose from, including several smaller models. The Aventine is a small hot tub that comes with 14 jets and a unique, compact design that fits nicely into a corner of your yard or home.
Medium-size hot tubs are more for leisure and hold up to six people. This is the standard spa size found in most showrooms. However, with the right jets and other necessary extras, medium units can be used for both entertaining guests and for medical therapies.
Best Large Hot Tub: Bullfrog Spas
Bullfrog Spas has several large hot tub models to choose from. The A8D spa model fits up to six people at a time and can be customized to include five JetPaks of your choice. Other A Series models hold up to eight people. Bullfrog's filtering system runs quietly, so you and your guests won't be distracted or interrupted with noise from a loud motor.
Covers: Hot tubs come with a basic cover, usually made of a lightweight vinyl that either ties down around your hot tub or has elastic that fits over the top of the spa shell. These covers keep debris out of your spa, eliminating the need to scoop out leaves, branches and bugs before each use.
You can invest in a heavier cover to better seal in the heat of the water. Custom fitted covers can ensure your spa is sealed tightly when not in use and minimize heating costs. Some covers are equipped with a lift to make it easier to access the spa. These lifts can be handy, especially if you are by yourself or don't want to wrestle with an unwieldy cover.
Heavier covers are also a good way to keep young, curious children from falling into the spa when there isn't an adult around. Some covers come with locks.
Best Jetted Hot Tub: Sundance Spas
Jets: Jets are the part of the spa that shoot either water or air to create the bubbling water streams. Air jets have several of benefits over water jets: Air jets don't require as much maintenance, they are cheaper because they are less complex, and they generate more force to create a powerful current. However, water jets are better if you're using your spa for medical purposes since they offer the greatest benefits for massage and hydrotherapy.
Sundance Spas has 22 different jet streams, each with a different effect. One jet stream mimics acupuncture techniques while others osculate or pulsate. These are adjustable so they work different pressure points in your back, shoulders or legs, or massage multiple areas providing both relaxing and therapeutic benefits.
The number of jets in a tub vary, from simple packages of eight or 12 jets to packages of 50 jets or more. Some jets remain stationary while others can be repositioned to hit certain parts of your body. With many custom models, you can mix and match jet packs to create stations throughout your spa, allowing for one person to receive therapeutic massage on one part of the body while another person benefits from other therapy jets.
There are many types of jets, some designed for specific medical benefits. Oscillating, pulsating and kneading jet streams provide soothing relief.
For leisure spas, jets around the top perimeter of the tub are usually adequate. If you want to massage your lower back or legs, consider installing jets near the bottom of the spa. As you design your hot tub, dealers can recommend a jet pack that will accomplish what you expect from your hot tub.
Pumps: The engine of your spa, the pump pulls water through the spa's filtration system and circulates it through the heating element and into the hot tub. It also provides the force behind your jet streams.
The two most common pump types are circulation pumps and center discharge pumps. The main difference is how they connect to the water pipe. Center discharge pumps tend to be larger. There aren't any advantages of one pump over the other. The type of pump you need depends on the hot tub you purchase, including the number of jets installed in the spa.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you install a lot of jets in your spa – more than 30 or 40 – you'll need a second or a third pump. The same holds true for the type of jet you purchase. Some jets designed for deep tissue massage may need more water force behind them, thus requiring a second pump.
Some manufacturers suggest using a diverter – valves that split the water into various sections of your spa. This eliminates having to add another pump. It's more cost-effective than purchasing multiple pumps, but it may not provide an overall relaxing experience for everyone using the hot tub. A diverter allows each section to generate the necessary force, but it usually involves turning off one set of jet streams to generate enough power for another set. The dealer will help you determine the best pump for your unit and whether a diverter is an effective choice.
Filtration Systems: The filtration system cleans and purifies spa water, removing even small particles from the water and ensuring that the hot tub is always ready to use. Cleaning systems use chemicals, typically chlorine or bromine, the same that are used for pools.
Most filters have cartridges that need to be replaced at least once a year. The cost of these cartridges is something to keep in mind when choosing a pump and filtration system for your spa.
There are several water-purification systems that can be used in addition to a standard chemical cleaning system. The most common are ionizers. Silver, copper and zinc ionization devices send small amounts of these metals into the water to help eliminate mold, bacteria, viruses and algae. While there won't be a difference in the overall cleanliness of your spa, the biggest benefit to using an ionizer is that it reduces the amount of chemicals needed to filter the water.
Pillows: Spa pillows are optional accessories. They range from small neck supports to full sofa-style designs. Some pillows offer extra support for hydrotherapy sessions. Others simply enhance the relaxing spa experience.
Stereo: Some spas support integrated audio systems so you can play music to relax to or up the wow factor of your next block party. Some styles are installed directly into the spa itself, with underwater speakers and water-resistance receivers. Others are portable, floating systems. Audio systems can include radios, CD players or wireless Bluetooth stereos that stream playlists from your smartphone.
Lighting: Some spas come with basic lighting to help you easily see the control panel. Additional lighting can set a fun or romantic mood or increase the visual appeal of your hot tub. LED lights can outline the perimeter of your spa, or waterproof lights can be installed on the inside of your spa to shine through the water. Keep in mind that extra lights increase the amount of power needed to run the hot tub, and they may increase the water temperature. Ask your dealer about these specifics for the types of lights you're considering.
Other Extras: Other extras include towel racks, waterfalls, and steps and railings. Other options include fragrant oils or beads that you add directly to the spa water, though these should be used with air jet streams since water jets can become clogged with the oil or soapy residue left behind from some types of scents.
Important Considerations Before You Buy
After determining the features you want to include with your spa, there are a few other important points to consider before finalizing your purchase.
Indoor vs. Outdoor
If you plan to house your hot tub inside, make sure the room is well ventilated. Otherwise, moisture will collect and increase the possibility of mold or equipment failure. Plus, the water or surrounding room may get too hot, both of which pose health and safety risks.
Best Indoor Spa: Hot Spring
Hot Spring spas feature 20 different models, including salt-water spas. Most hot tub models are suitable for indoor use. The Find Your Spa tool on the company's website lets you customize your indoor tub with cabinets and shell colors to match the décor in your home or pool house.
For outdoor spas, it is best to place the unit on a level concrete slab. This is especially true in colder climates. Ground that freezes and thaws will move, causing the shell to crack. A concrete slab protects the spa from shifting, but it also insulates the hot tub during cold winter months. If you forgo the concrete slab, experts suggest digging a hole at least four feet deep – below the frost line – to help insulate the tub and reduce the risk of the shell cracking.
Spa decks are a nice feature, but they can be problematic in cooler climates, because the deck captures cold air and retains it. When temperatures dip, the spa uses more power to maintain heat, and the deck can crack. If you build a spa deck, calculate the total weight of the spa when filled with both water and the maximum number of people the spa seats to ensure the deck is strong enough to support everything – and everyone.
Best Outdoor Spa: Jacuzzi
Jacuzzi is a popular name in the hot tub industry, often used synonymously with hot tubs because it is so well known. Jacuzzi has designed its hot tubs to make a stunning addition to your backyard. Jacuzzi hot tub models come in a variety of shapes and sizes so you can determine how intimate or inviting your outdoor spa will be.
Signs of a High-Quality Hot Tub
Sometimes it's difficult to distinguish a well-made hot tub from one that looks like a quality spa but is really a bust. As a good rule of thumb is that if the cost seems too good to be true, it probably is. Here's how to spot a quality spa from subpar ones.
One thing to look for in a quality hot tub is where the components, especially the pumps, were manufactured. Stay away from products that have been imported. Manufacturing is not as closely regulated as it is in the U.S. Plus, often these parts run hotter and use more electricity, both of which will end up costing you more both in terms of maintenance and replacement costs.
Inspect the insulation. Ask the dealer to remove the side panel of the spa. A quality hot tub will use foam insulation that is thick and covers every part of the unit between the outside panel and the shell. Lesser quality spas may have only a few panels with insulation behind them or use thermal wraps (or blanket insulation) that simply wraps around the spa shell. Both of these lower-quality insulations create open areas for heat to escape, making it more expensive to heat your hot tub. (Less-insulated tubs are also prone to cracking.)
High-quality hot tubs typically last a minimum of 10 years; lower-quality units can require extensive repairs or replacement within two to three years.
Warranties on hot tubs vary. With spas that you buy from big-box retailers, a one-year warranty may be standard, and certain conditions may apply that are not included with the warranty.
Custom-made spas or spas that you order directly from a dealer, on the other hand, are typically backed with longer warranties, typically starting at five years and include both parts and labor. Another benefit from working with a local spa dealer is that in the event something breaks, they can service the unit or recommend a service center that can fix the problem.
Quality Hot Tub: ThermoSpas
Made from quality materials, ThermoSpas has an array of shells and cabinets that can be applied to one of the nine models it offers. You can add multiple jet packages, too. Some models feature an impressive 172 jets. ThermoSpas offers a 20-year warranty on the shell with additional warranties offered based on the components you choose.
Hire a Professional
When installing your hot tub, professional help may be needed.
If you purchase a hot tub from a dealer, the delivery and basic setup are usually included in the purchase price. This includes delivering the spa and setting it up. Any additional setup, including plumbing and electrical, requires a certified professional and will cost extra. Attempting to set up the spa yourself can result in damage (which isn't covered by the warranty), not to mention it poses safety risks.
Portable spas don't require a hook up to any plumbing outlets because they can be filled with water from a garden hose. (Plus, if you need to move it to another spot, you don't have to worry about unhooking pipes.) Some models require additional plumbing installation, which should be done by a certified plumber. (Your dealer can recommend plumbers in your area.)
Your hot tub will need a power source. Most require 110V or 220V of electricity. It may be necessary to run extra wiring to your electrical box. This, too, should be done by a certified electrician. Hot tub dealers don't have a certified electrician on staff, but most can recommend professionals in your area.
Another thing to keep in mind if you install your spa outdoors is that any holes that are drilled into your spa's encasement or cabinets for electrical purposes should be professionally puttied to prevent mice from getting in.
Consider, too, the logistics of your backyard, especially how accessible the spot is where you plan to put the hot tub. Measure access points, such as gates, to ensure the spa will fit. If the gate or the space between your house and your neighbor's is too narrow for the spa, it may be necessary to hire a crane to lift your hot tub into the desired place. Your dealer should have a list of contracted crane operators in your area and can factor the cost of this into the overall cost of your spa.
Finding a Reputable Dealer
While you can purchase a hot tub from a big-box store like Costco, the selection will be limited, such as one or two models to choose from.
When you work with a dealer, however, you can custom design a spa that has the features you want, especially if you're purchasing a hot tub for medical needs. Further, you can inspect the hot tub beforehand for any flaws or subpar equipment, plus dealers offer longer and more inclusive warranties.
Another reason to consider buying a spa from a reputable dealer is that dealers of popular spas are regulated by the spa manufacturers to ensure you get quality service and products.
The hot tub companies featured in our guide here have tools on their websites to help you find a dealer in your area. You can also fill out a simple questionnaire on BuyerZone, our sister company. BuyerZone will match you with a reputable dealer near you who will help you build and install a high-quality hot tub.