Swim Spas Review
Why Buy Swim Spas?
A swim spa brings the freedom and enjoyment of open-water swimming right to your home. With standard-sized models that are only 15 feet in length and less than 8 feet wide, they're designed to fit into any backyard, patio or recreational area and can be used indoors or outdoors. They also feature a wide selection of optional molded shells and attractive cabinets that enable you to install them in a custom deck or leave them as a freestanding unit above ground or in-ground.
Used for a variety of purposes, including swimming, exercise, rehabilitation and relaxation, modern swim spas generate a steady water current that creates a set level of directional resistance. This is achieved by pushing or pulling water from the front to the back of the tub.
The Basic Features
Swim spas are powered using one of three types of water flow or current: jet propulsion, rotating paddlewheels and a propeller. Each type provides unique benefits, but depending on your intended use – and whether you're a serious athlete or someone who's just looking for some casual exercise and fun – one type of water flow may work better for you than another. Each type of water flow is covered in detail below in the Swim Current section.
Though each brand offers its own range of types and sizes, you'll usually find spas that fit into one of four categories based on length. Again, depending on your intended use and the number of people you want to accommodate, size influences the functionality of your tub. In fact, one type of swim spa (the 10 to 11-foot length) is actually not designed for swimming at all, but more about that in the Types & Uses section below.
Featuring foam insulation, swim spas are also popular for their cost-effective operation, especially when compared to a full swimming pool or hot tub. In fact, some brands report operational costs as low as $2 a day. And though we delve into detailed pricing info later on, it's worth noting that the cost of a swim spa is often half that of a standard swimming pool. On average, you can expect to pay $8,900 to $23,000 for a swim spa versus $21,000 to $45,000 for a swimming pool (not including the deck).
This Buyer's Guide covers everything you need to know about swim spas, including:
- The types of swim spas and their intended use
- Individual spa components and how they're constructed
- Popular brands
- What you can expect to pay
After you've soaked up the information, don't forget to fill out our free quote request form. It connects you with qualified dealers in your area who can answer any additional questions and help you choose the best model for your situation.
Types & Uses of Swim Spas
Swim spas can be installed in nearly any location (given minimum space requirements) and nearby access to an electrical connection (50 to 60 amps is a common requirement). Spa manufacturers produce different types of spas designed for varying levels of physical activity, hydrotherapy, light exercise, or swimming, but most spas fit into one of four categories based on the length of the pool itself. This length limits certain activities in some situations; therefore, it's important to have a firm understanding of your expectations and needs before settling on a particular pool length to prevent over or underbuying.
- Before You Buy: Take a closer look at some of the standard and optional features available in our article, "Swim Spa Accessories Elevate User Experience & Value."
The Four Categories of Swim Spas
In general, swim spas that fit into three of the four categories can be used for continuous swimming (sometimes referred to as open-water swimming). They offer varying depths to provide comfort, easily accommodate more people if desired, and are built to accept the full range of exercise equipment currently available. These spas measure at least 12 feet long and extend up to 21 feet long.
The only swim spas not designed for swimming are those measuring 10 to 11 feet. These are mainly intended to provide various forms of exercise and are built to accommodate an extensive array of equipment, specifically underwater treadmills, rowing machines, pull bars and resistance bands.
With these uses in mind, here's a rundown on how the four different lengths compare, including primary strengths inherent in each as well as individual features that enhance the experience and extend usability:
10 to 11 Feet
Models falling within this range represent the smallest swim spas available. In fact, they're often "swim spas" in name only as they typically do not allow enough room for swimming. Instead, these models are designed for aquatic therapy. Using the resistance available through water, pools are heated up to 90 degrees to allow for muscle relaxation and the targeting of specific muscle groups.
These types of spas are ideal for those with muscle tears, arthritis, back pain, and a range of additional chronic or short-term pain.
These swim spas offer all the health benefits of exercise, including weight management and strength training, through low-impact movement. Similar to a hot tub, these units also offer hydrotherapy through powerful jets that provide a relaxing massage.
Standard specs for models that fall within this range include:
- Dimensions: Lengths range from 10 to 11 feet; widths from 7 to 8 feet; depths from 4 to 5 feet
- Jet Seat: Designed for hydrotherapy, models typically include six to 12 dedicated jets
- Current: Provides optional resistance but not enough for swimming
- Capacity: Holds 900 to 1,100 gallons of water
12 to 16 Feet
These swim spas are sometimes referred to as trainers or fitness models, and they represent a big step up from the smaller variety. Most notably, swim spas at this level and beyond allow for continuous swimming through a current generated by jet propulsion, rotating paddlewheels or a propeller.
Designed to accommodate any type of exercise, these models are one of the most popular choices among buyers looking for a combination of fitness and fun with their spa. Many models within this range offer hydrotherapy jets, allowing the spa to double as a jacuzzi. Some can be further customized with the addition of optional exercise equipment (an underwater treadmill, rowing machine or similar resistance-based add-ons).
When they're not being used for exercise, swim spas can play host to a range of parties and leisure activities. Encased in any number of high-quality cabinets, they can be upgraded with fountains, specialized lighting and waterproof sound systems.
Standard specs for models that fall within this range include:
- Dimensions: Lengths range from 12 to 15 feet; widths from 7 to 8 feet; depths from 4 to 5 feet
- Jet Seat: Swim spas in this range may include up to two jet seats, each with six to 12 dedicated jets
- Current: Allows for open-water swimming through directional resistance
- Capacity: Holds 1,200 to 2,100 gallons
17 to 18 Feet
Similar to the models available in the 12- to 16-foot range, these swim spas add a little extra length to improve comfort for swimming and exercise. Within this range, you'll also find alternative means of water flow, including paddlewheels and propellers, like those offered through SwimEx or the Michael Phelps Signature Swim Spa.
Designed more for the serious user, these enhanced water propulsion systems reportedly provide a smoother, more consistent current that spans the width of the pool. Also, as the jets are not active when a person is swimming, spas featuring this type of water flow are able to provide a more realistic feel, mimicking that of an actual pool or fixed body of water. Plus, depending on the model selected, these swim spas can be more energy efficient compared to jet-based models.
Though largely intended for swimming and exercise, these pools also offer optional upgrades that facilitate entertainment. They come with sound systems, advanced water management, Wi-Fi and even a built-in underwater camera.
Standard specs for models that fall within this range include:
- Dimensions: Lengths fluctuate from 17 to 18 feet; widths from 7 to 8 feet; depths from 4 to 5 feet
- Jet Seat: Swim spas in this range typically include two jet seats, each with six to 12 dedicated jets and have at least two standard seats/steps that allow for acclimating or cool down
- Current: Provides directional resistance through all three types of water flow, with paddlewheel and propeller varieties designed for a more realistic feel. These spas are capable of moving up to 30,000 gallons per minute
- Capacity: Holds 1,600 to 2,400 gallons
19 to 21 Feet
The final category is often referred to as an Olympic or dual-temperature model. These spas provide the longest length of any other swim spa and usually have a dedicated hydrotherapy pool or hot tub that is separate from the swimming area.
You'll find all of the functionalities designed for swimming and exercise available with any of the smaller models: deluxe LED lighting, body-massage functions and enhanced tiling that delineates a swim lane.
The spa side includes a fully functional hot tub with 30 to 60 individual hydrotherapy jets. They are capable of seating four to six people and come with design enhancements such as sound systems and spillover waterfalls.
In some cases, models within this range may require separate power setups, with 60 amps being almost universally common for the pool and 40 amps common to the spa.
Standard specs for models that fall within this range include:
- Dimensions: Lengths range from 19 to 21 feet; widths from 7 to 8 feet; depths from 4 to 5 feet
- Jet Seat: In the spa section, models may include four to five jet seats, each with four to six dedicated jets
- Current: In the pool, current provides directional resistance through all three types of water flow, with paddlewheel and propeller varieties facilitating swim speeds ranging from 0.6 to 8 mph
- Capacity: Holds 1,800 to 2,400 gallons
It's worth noting that some of the models profiled above are available in both standard and deep versions. The deep version adds anywhere from 9 inches to a foot of depth and is ideal for entertainment purposes and accommodating a number of bathers at one time.
When comparing swim spas, pay attention to the parts and components – the type of filter, the swim current, and the shell, for instance. These factors are going to influence how much money you ultimately spend on your swim spa, how much you and others enjoy it as well as how much time and effort you'll spend maintaining it once you've bought it.
Here are some items to look for:
Purification & Filtration System
Swim spas require a reliable system to filter out contaminants and provide a germ-free environment for bathing, just like in a standard swimming pool or hot tub. Depending on how often you plan to use your spa, the average number of bathers and your level of comfort with the use of chemicals, you'll choose one of the following two filtration systems:
- Filter: These systems use a physical filter that removes germs, body oil and bacteria though a series of media (filtration surfaces), pleats (the amount of media condensed into a single filter) and a band (separating the pleats to ensure consistent exposure to surface area). Two types are available: standard and antimicrobial. Antimicrobial is often preferred as it is reportedly easier to service and clean and less likely to develop an odor. Most filters, regardless of the type, typically last for about a year if the filters are cleaned regularly (about once a month). Some filter cartridges may last two years or more.
- Ultraviolet: Other spas use ultraviolet light to control the formation and spread of bacteria, algae and waterborne pathogens. Ultraviolet purifying systems are a chemical-free way of keeping your spa clean without leaving an odor. Ultraviolet bulbs typically last one year.
Estimated Costs: $28 to $60 per filter; $300 to $1,500 for ultraviolet.
The swim current travels from the front of the spa to the rear, pushing an average of 5,000 to 30,000 gallons of water each minute. This allows you swim at speeds of 0.6 to 8 mph. The type you of current you select can have a substantial impact on the spa's performance, not to mention your performance in it. Here are three types of current generators:
- Jet Propulsion: Sometimes referred to as a pressure-driven system, this type uses several jets, which are built into the head of the spa, to push water toward the swimmer. Select models feature adjustable jets to allow for customized performance.
- Paddlewheel: Capable of creating a smoother rate of water flow that closely resembles an actual pool, the paddle is mounted at the head of the unit and creates a consistent flow by pushing water 3 feet deep and across the entire width of the pool.
- Propeller: Combining the smoothness of the paddlewheel flow with the narrower swim lane common with jet-propulsion models, propeller-style spas are suited for more advanced swimmers and athletes. Unlike the above two models, a propeller-driven water flow system pulls water through the pool rather than pushing it at the swimmer.
It's worth noting that each type of current generator mentioned above includes a motor capable of outputs ranging from 4 to 7 hp.
Shells range anywhere from 12 to 24 feet in length and can be installed a number of different ways: in ground below decking or paved surfaces or above ground. More elaborate designs allow you to place support systems, such as the pump, heater, and filtration system, outside the spa frame, opening up an almost limitless range of installation possibilities.
Average Cost: $1,800 to $5,000.
The opposite of a shell, cabinets are designed to dress up the exterior of the swim spa while adding a finished look to the unit. Most manufacturers offer anywhere from three to six different styles, including those that mimic the look of layered stone or natural wood. Quality models feature a reinforced structure constructed from treated lumber to reliably support the weight of the spa while resisting mold, mildew and rot. Built-in air vents help keep the motor cool.
Average Cost: $1,000 to $2,000.
- Buying Tip: Look for cabinets with access panels that are conveniently located to allow for easy service and maintenance.
Swim spa covers keep the elements out to preserve the spa's filter and trap heat to reduce heating costs. Covers come in standard sizes and are often fully framed, which if your spa is outside, allows them to with withstand the build-up of snow or rainwater. Many covers consist of a roll-away design, which can be folded in either direction, exposing only part of the spa. These types of covers can be especially useful with dual-temperature models.
The heater is usually installed in close proximity to the spa itself, not to mention decking or other structures. For this reason, many heaters feature advanced levels of heat dissipation; some even providing cool-to-the-touch exteriors.
Though some models are powered by propane or natural gas, newer designs feature an electronic, direct-spark ignition that does not rely on a pilot light – another safety feature. These units are growing in popularity as they also tend to produce lower emissions.
Average Cost:$900 to $1,500.
Brands of Swim Spas
Every manufacturer is different. Some offer a wide selection of swim spas in a variety of lengths and depths while others specialize in a particular type or application. Below are 10 of the industry's leading brands with a quick synopsis of their selling points. For a more detailed look at each spa, follow the hyperlink embedded in each brand name:
- ThermoSpas: This manufacturer combines the functionalities of a whirlpool spa, swimming pool and gym. It offers three specialized models. Focused mainly around exercise, its jet-stream tubs are designed to accommodate a range of equipment, including rowing machines and grab bars.
- Endless Pools: In business since 1988, Endless Pools has sold more than 20,000 pools to buyers in more than 100 countries. It offers swim spas with the propeller-style setup. The company has in-house professionals, including architects and engineers, that can provide additional assistance with design and installation.
- Cal Spas: Holding 28 trademarks and 48 design patents, Cal Spas has been in business for more than 30 years. Its jet-powered fitness tubs are engineered for resistance training and can be customized to target specific muscle groups.
- Michael Phelps Signature Swim Spas: A subset of Master Spas, this brand was produced with input from the gold medalist himself and his coach Bob Bowman. These spas feature the propeller water-flow design that creates a wide, deep current.
- H2X Swim Spas: Another subset of Master Spas, H2X models offer a jet-driven water current. In addition, its tubs are insulated with Icynene insulation, which, according to the company, allows its spas to be used throughout the year in any climate.
- Dynasty Spas: During the manufacturing process, Dynasty Spas' jet-powered tubs undergo a 140-point quality control inspection. Plus, these spas feature maintenance-free skirting and a sculptured extended spa lip, which according to the company, helps minimize maintenance and keeps the surrounding decking and areas looking clean and new.
- Dimension One Spas: Featuring models that provide a large swim lane, Dimension One Spas provide extra room for relaxed flexibility. Resistance bands and bars are included with certain models, allowing its jet-driven tubs to be used for a variety of strength-training applications.
- Hydropool: With three unique varieties of jet-driven swim spas available, Hydropool dates back to 1970. It also provides a range of shells and cabinets to conceal or dress up the tub in any environment. The company's website has an extensive range of actual installations pictured – great for brainstorming design ideas of your own.
- SwimEx: Of the vendors profiled on our buying guide, SwimEx is the only one to offer a spa using paddlewheel water propulsion. It offers just one home model, but it varies by depth to accommodate different uses and can be installed practically anywhere.
- Arctic Spas: This swim spa company's jet-powered models are engineered for installation in regions with extreme temperatures – particularly snow and ice, hence the name. It features a unique insulation setup that retains heat and makes them highly cost effective. According to the company, they cost less than $2 per day to operate.
What You Can Expect to Spend to Buy and Install a Swim Spa
As mentioned in the introduction, a swim spa can cost less than half that of a standard swimming pool. But the length, type and installation you select have a definite impact on the price tag.
Keep the following items in mind when comparing models and dealers:
Prices for the spa itself tend to range between $8,900 and $23,000, with a median cost of about $15,000. Broken down even further, you can expect to pay $8,900 to $12,000 for models in the 10- to 16-foot range, $12,000 to $19,000 for those in the 17- to 18-foot range, and $17,000 to $40,000 for dual-temperature models up to 21 feet. These prices are simply estimates. Most swim spa manufacturers provide individualized quotes based on your specific needs.
When installing your swim spa, most units typically require a concrete pad and a standard power supply. Assuming complete installation is required, expect to pay $1,500 to $2,000 for an above-ground setup and $2,000 to $4,500 for in-ground installation. This covers costs to prepare the pad and the services of an electrician. Swim spas also require either forklift placement, costing around $200, or installation by crane, which can cost up to $1,200.
Some manufacturers, Arctic Spas in particular, boast what may seem like extremely low operating costs – just a couple dollars a day. Due to the size of the pool, this is pretty standard. Depending on your locale and the average year-round temperature, most swim spas cost $2 to $3 per day or $80 to $100 per month to operate. This is in contrast to a full-sized swimming pool that can run $8 per day and $250 per month.
An additional allowance of $10 per month should be factored in for swim spa supplies and maintenance.
Find a Dealer in Your Area
Swim spas combine the functionalities of an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a hot tub, delivering fitness and relaxation at a fraction of the cost. They can be easy to work into a floor plan and can be installed in practically any location: indoors or outdoors, above ground or in-ground. Plus, with low operating costs and built-in energy efficiency, home swim spas are far more affordable and sustainable than their full-sized pool counterparts, serving up the best of both worlds.
To find a dealer in your area familiar with your specific swimming spa needs, fill out the questionnaire at the top of the page, or visit our sister site, BuyerZone, to be connected with reputable dealers in your area.