Hot Tub or Plunge Pool: Which Is Better for Your Backyard?
By Jennifer Rhodes · Updated
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A plunge pool is a small body of water (a bit like a mini swimming pool) filled with cold water, designed for lounging or cooling down. A hot tub is a self-contained heated tub, excellent for relaxing sore muscles.
Plunge pools and hot tubs can both be wonderful additions to a backyard. Plunge pools are great for warmer climates because they help you cool off on those hot days. Hot tubs on the other hand offer more therapeutic benefits like massage jets, which make them perfect for those looking for relief from stress or chronic pain.
Both come with their own set of pros and cons that we'll explore in this post. Let's get started!
Is a plunge pool the same as a hot tub?
First things first: a plunge pool is not the same as a hot tub, although it has some similarities. For example:
- Both can be heated (though not to the same temperature)
- But can have jets (but more common in hot tubs)
- Similar size (plunge pools are often deeper though)
- Both are great for socializing and relaxation
The features of plunge pools and hot tubs are probably the biggest factor that will determine whether you should opt for one or the other.
The main difference between a plunge pool and a hot tub is the water temperature. Hot tubs are heated to a temperature of around 100-104 degrees, which makes them perfect for relaxing sore muscles.
Plunge pools are filled with cold water and therefore have a more refreshing effect on the body.
Perhaps, the depths of the plunge pool or hot tub make all the difference. A plunge pool usually measures 4-8 feet deep (it's customizable especially when these are built into the ground), whereas a hot tub is typically only around 2-3 feet deep (although there are exceptions, see wooden hot tubs).
Hot tubs are only really designed for sitting down. In larger plunge pools, although they're not designed for real swimming, you can move around a little more to get some exercise.
Modern hot tubs come with a lot of bells and whistles, including massage jet systems, water fall features, lights, and more. The plunge pool usually doesn't have anything special to it other than the look of it as a water feature in your backyard, and possibly a waterfall for visual appeal.
However, unlike most hot tubs, plunge pools are customizable, which means you can design them to fit your backyard perfectly. You can add heated features and jets like you would find in a hot tub, but don't expect massage therapy from a plunge pool—most plunge pools are just a cold body of water without jets.
The custom possibilities of a plunge pool are endless. You can opt for a long and shallow pool for laying down and relaxing, or a short deep pool comfortable for submerging, or maybe even a little swimming (in the largest ones).
Because plunge pools can be more easily customized for the shape of your yard, you may prefer this option if you have an awkward space to work with.
With hot tubs, although they can be built in-ground, you usually buy them as a full integrated unit. You do get to choose things like cabinet and shell color, but you won't have the same options to work with when it comes to personalizing the overall design and fitting it in your backyard.
Don't be limited to opting for a plunge pool or hot tub strictly outside either. Is there a space in your home for an indoor hot tub or plunge pool? If so, your options with either are endless.
Plunge pools are cheaper to maintain because they require less energy than a hot tub. Hot tubs have less water in them but usually cost more to run due to the heating requirements.
There are more than just maintenance costs and tools to consider when owning a plunge pool or hot tub though; there are labor and upfront expenses to install them.
With hot tubs, you have two upfront costs: the cost of the spa itself, and installation. Hot tubs generally cost from around $4,000 to $20,000 for the very high end models. Hot tub movers typically charge $300-800 to place your new hot tub, depending on the complexity of the installation. You may also require the help of an electrician if you need to install a 240V outlet to power the hot tub.
Depending on the type of plunge pool you want, prices can vary quite a bit. On average, a plunge pool costs approximately $20,000 to build. However, the other costs included with the plunge pool could go up to $50,000 once you factor in labor plus filters, heaters, and other extras.
You have a few different material choices when it comes to plunge pools.
You will need a landscaper and an excavator for a concrete plunge pool, which can average about $20,000 to $35,000. This price includes labor and materials. Keep in mind that you will need to add extra costs for an acid wash every five to seven years with a concrete pool—the cost for pool re-plastering in case of leaks or damage averages $6,500.
Vinyl pools don't last as long as concrete; however, vinyl suits more design ideas as it can easily take any shape. On average, vinyl will last up to 12 years. A vinyl unit costs $10,000 to $25,000, which includes materials and labor. In case of damage, vinyl can cost up to $3,500 to repair.
Anywhere between $10,000 to $22,000 includes the cost of labor and materials for an in-ground fiberglass plunge. While this may be the cheapest plunge pool option, there are still annual prices and damage control.
Of course, every company that sells plunge pools has different prices depending on the type of pool you're looking for. Make sure you shop around and always get multiple quotes for the area you live before going ahead with the work.
Not all plunge pools are in-ground. Plunge is one example of a company who offers freestanding cold plunge tubs. These are plug-and-play pools sized for a single person, with integrated filtration and cooling to give you cool temperatures consistently.
Starting at under $5,000, these are one of the most economical options for getting your own personal plunge pool at home.
Should you get a hot tub or plunge pool?
Both plunge pools and hot tubs are great additions to a backyard, but they do have some notable differences. The right choice for you will, in most cases, come down to one thing: what you want to get out of the experience.
Hot tubs are great if you're looking for something that can provide massage therapy and heat throughout the colder seasons as well. Plunge pools can be more easily customized for the shape of your yard, and provide an excellent escape from the summer heat—but may be less usable in freezing temperatures.
Whether you are social or more solitary, either a hot tub or plunge pool will be great for using alone or with others.
Can I use a hot tub as a plunge pool?
Yes, you can use a hot tub as a plunge pool. The main difference between a plunge pool and a hot tub is the water temperature. So, you can use a hot tub like a plunge pool simply by turning the heater off. Bear in mind that most hot tubs do not have active cooling capabilities though; the coolest temperature you'll be able to achieve is the ambient temperature.
If you like the idea of both but don't have that much space, getting a hot tub is probably your best option. Instead of adding jets, lights, seats, etc. to a plunge pool, a hot tub comes equipped with everything already. Turning your hot tub into a plunge pool ensures relaxation, cooling off on hot days (as well as warming up during cool nights), and hydrotherapy for sore muscles too.