Choosing a quality spa can be a challenge. How do you pick the right one? What type of features should it have? Does it matter where you buy it?
With so many different brands and models to choose from, how do you tell genuine quality apart from overpriced junk?
In this article, you'll learn what to look for when buying a hot tub and how to evaluate different brands—plus a few things you definitely want to avoid.
1. Select the right brand of hot tub
The brand of a hot tub matters because some companies make great hot tubs, and some make... not-so-great hot tubs. How do you know which is which? Here are some key things to look for in a brand when shopping for a hot tub:
- They spend their money on the construction of their spas, which often means less-than-fancy marketing and branding
- They often sell through more modest outlets, not high-end retail locations or expensive fairs or road shows (but not big box stores—more on that later)
- Their manufacturing still takes place in North America (many large brands have moved operations to Mexico for cheaper labor costs, which can affect quality)
Some of the most reliable hot tub brands on the market include: Artesian, Master Spas, Bullfrog, PDC Spas, Beachcomber, and Nordic.
2. Know how to spot quality equipment
It is important to know how to identify good hot tub parts, because sometimes looks can be deceiving—it's possible to make a very fancy looking spa that isn't actually made with high-quality parts.
You want equipment that is made by a reliable company that will not break easily. You also want non-proprietary parts so you can buy replacements easily when things do go wrong—and they should be available for a reasonable price.
The problem with proprietary parts is that you are locked into a specific brand, so they will cost you more than an equally good (or better) generic part. But you will have no other choice but to pay up if you want your spa fixed.
Common proprietary components to look out for are:
- controls (especially the digital control panel and/or motherboard)
- temperature sensors
Some popular brands who use proprietary components are:
- Hot Spring
- Coast Spas
- Endless Pools
It's not always bad to purchase a hot tub that uses proprietary parts (some of these brands still make good spas) but just know you likely won't be able to go to just any hot tub retailer or service center when something needs replacing.
3. Choose sturdy, reliable construction
The best hot tub brands use durable materials. Your spa needs to withstand the weather, the climate, the changing temperatures of the seasons, and be able to support continued use over a long period of time.
One way to identify solid hot tub construction is to look for a hand-rolled shell with a vinyl ester resin core. This is because the shell needs to be strong enough to support its own weight.
Some other things to look out for are removable sides for easy access for repairs—you don't want to have to break your spa just in order to fix a leak.
4. Ask about the insulation
In terms of insulation, a quality hot tub should have non-hardening full-foam insulation. This is the best type of insulation because it's reliable, has high R-value, and can be repaired easily.
Another thing to check is if the brand uses open-celled foam because this makes leak detection much simpler. You just have to feel the foam to find any wet spots that are caused by leaks inside the tub, then you remove enough foam to access the source of the leak so you can repair it, and then simply re-foam the area.
Your most important consideration though is making sure your hot tub doesn't leak in the first place. And that comes down to the quality of the plumbing.
5. Understand good plumbing and filtration
Efficient plumbing is key to a quality hot tub. It can be the difference between an enjoyable soaking experience with few to no problems, and a frustrating time of unreliable jets and/or frequent leaks.
The main thing to check with your desired brand is that they glue and clamp the plumbing lines. This is important because it ensures that your jets will be solid and secure, have high flow rates, and be low-maintenance thanks to fewer leaks.
These might seem like trivial details, but they really can make or break your experience. Over time, cheap plumbing will cost far more in repairs, so it's worth not cutting corners here.
6. Look at jet count & therapy options
Well-made spas have well-designed jet patterns that maximize your comfort while providing a therapeutic massage.
How many jets you get will vary by model, but it's important to know that more jets is not always better.
Look for high flow rather than simply the highest number of jets.
Cheap spas are often made to sound good by touting a high number of jets, but because they are poorly designed and built, you end up with not much water pressure (or worse, tiny jets of water which just feel annoying, itchy, or even painful).
On the other hand, quality spas have fewer but larger, more expensive jets designed to produce a high flow rate. This makes for a better quality massage.
Good shell-to-jet interfaces and glued/clamped plumbing are key factors in quality hot tubs, so check these carefully when you're doing your research.
7. Don't forget about the cover
Hot tub covers are made of a foam core inside a (usually) vinyl cover. Vinyl is the best choice because it's UV resistant and will hold up better against harsh weather. That said, it's important to protect your hot tub cover so that it won't deteriorate over time.
Cheap covers are often a waste of money, but the mid-price options are usually enough to get you the best quality cover that your budget will allow.
Look for a hot tub cover that has solid construction with good seams to reduce leakage. However, be aware that pretty much all covers leak a little anyway, and eventually become waterlogged which makes them heavy and more difficult to remove and replace.
The Cover Guy Deluxe is a good option when you're looking for a replacement hot tub cover.
8. Buy from the right place
If you want the best quality, make sure you buy from a place that specializes in hot tubs. It's usually best to purchase from your local spa retailer or supplier if you can, so you have hands-on support in case of any issues.
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In general, you should avoid buying hot tubs from big box stores like Costco or Home Depot. These retailers tend to offer no-name brands and not the highest quality. They also don't specialize in hot tubs so they won't be able to give you much information about them either. You may be able to get a cheap price at these types of stores, but that is about all you will be able to get there!
Be wary of prices too good to be true because they usually indicate a lower level of support (often none) after the purchase.
9. Look for a comprehensive warranty
In terms of reliability, the warranty is an important indicator of how long a product should last.
Manufacturers that offer longer and more comprehensive warranties are usually the ones producing superior hot tubs.
Warranty lengths vary depending on the manufacturer and model, but also the specific parts of the spa (think shell structure, shell surface, spa structure, plumbing, equipment etc.). For example, the shell structure might be covered for 10 years, while the plumbing is only guaranteed for a year.
As a general rule, a quality hot tub should have at least 2-3 years' worth of protection for parts, with 5-10 years for the shell/spa structure, although some offer lifetime warranties.
10. Make sure you'll have adequate support after purchase
Post-purchase support is definitely something to ask about. What does delivery and installation look like? Is there any help available for setup? Does the retailer service the hot tubs they sell? Is this included in the cost or do you have to pay extra?
Especially if you're a first-time spa owner, make sure you will have someone who can help you if you have any problems or questions about your new spa. Online manuals can be helpful, but sometimes it's just easier to call up someone and ask them directly instead of trying to diagnose an issue on your own.
In case it wasn't obvious, your chances of getting good support are much higher when choosing an established brand that wants your business for the long term (rather than just while they're selling you a spa).