Do Hot Tubs Need Plumbing? (No, with a Couple of Exceptions)

Jennifer Rhodes

By Jennifer Rhodes · Updated

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When considering adding a hot tub to your backyard or another outdoor space, you need to make sure everything's hooked up and ready to go before installation day.

In this article, we'll be discussing the plumbing requirements of different hot tubs—from the basic acrylic models, to more unique installations.

So whether you're planning to do the work yourself or just curious to know how much to budget, this post will provide you with the information you need to understand different hot tubs and their plumbing needs.

How do most hot tubs operate without plumbing?

Most hot tubs operate without plumbing by using a hot tub circulation system. This system incorporates a pump and filter that clean, circulate and filter the water in the hot tub. However, they do require you to test the water and add chemicals as needed (every few days on average), and to change the water every 3-6 months to stay hygienic.

The pump circulates the water while the filter traps any particulates or contaminants that are present. The water is then recirculated back into the hot tub to ensure everything stays clean. This system creates a closed loop that is self-sustaining.

Note: Even if you're buying a self-contained spa, you will still need a water source nearby to fill it. If you don't have an outdoor spigot, you will likely need a plumber to install one.

Hot tubs also feature an integrated heater to keep the water at a comfortable temperature. Using these systems, hot tubs are able to provide a clean and enjoyable experience without the need for plumbing.

What type of hot tubs need plumbing?

Hot tubs that require plumbing typically include those that are built into the ground, or those that do not have the space to integrate a dedicated pump and filtration system.

Some plumbing is necessary for these types of hot tubs because the water still needs to be circulated in order to keep it clean and maintain the temperature.

Regardless of the design—whether integrated or external—all hot tubs need some form of plumbing to operate properly.

In-ground hot tubs

In-ground hot tub

In-ground hot tubs are a permanent addition to a home, installed directly into the ground or a patio. These hot tubs have a concrete, stone, or tile foundation, and can be customized in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit the needs of homeowners.

These hot tubs need professional installation, as they require extensive plumbing and wiring, as well as landscaping work to prepare and shape the ground before being built. It's much more like installing a pool.

In-ground spas are an expensive and complex choice compared to just buying a unit from a store. But with their sophisticated appearance and customizability, in-ground hot tubs offer owners many unique benefits compared to the all-in-one versions.

Wooden hot tubs

Wood hot tub

Wood hot tubs are another popular choice. They offer a unique, rustic aesthetic and can be a great addition to any backyard.

These tubs are constructed like a wooden barrel, and so unlike an acrylic or rotomolded spa (which have for pipes inside the cabinet), their plumbing must be housed externally. That said, you still likely don't need a plumber to install them; just a place to house the 'plumbing' system next to the spa.

Wooden tubs can be heated with a wood-burning stove, or with an electric or gas heater. They can require a bit more maintenance than other types of hot tubs, as many owners choose to treat the outside with a special protective varnish.

However, they can absolutely add an attractive and authentic charm to any outdoor oasis. If you're interested in a wood tub, I wrote a full guide on them here.

The bottom line

So, unless you're going for a more unusual hot tub, you can rest assured that the vast majority of spas you can buy from major brands come as self-contained units—and therefore will not need any plumbing work to install.

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