A Complete Guide to Wooden Hot Tubs: Types, Costs, Pros & Cons
By Jennifer Rhodes · Updated
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"Hot tub" by Andrei! is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Hot tub technology has certainly come a long way in the last few decades. Now, you have sophisticated heating systems. You have more advanced construction materials. You even have fancy features like hydrotherapy jets, lights, and waterfalls.
But for many, the addition of all this technology has resulted in hot tubs looking just a bit too modern. While newer hot tubs might have more features, some people aren't fans of their aesthetic.
If you're looking for a hot tub that has more of a traditional flair, then you'll be pleased to know that there are still many options for wooden hot tubs available today.
While wooden tubs won't be brimming with the same features as their modern counterparts, you'll fall in love with their 'back to basics' approach and old-world charm instead.
In this article, we'll tell you everything you need to know about wooden hot tubs. This includes a primer on the different heating systems available, as well which type of wood to look for when choosing a wooden hot tub.
- How do wooden hot tubs work?
- How much does a wooden hot tub cost?
- How long do wooden hot tubs last?
- What wood is best for a wooden hot tub?
- How do you waterproof a wooden hot tub?
- How do you keep a wooden hot tub clean?
- Are wooden hot tubs insulated?
- Can you build your own heated wooden hot tub?
- The pros of wooden hot tubs
- The cons of wooden hot tubs
- The best places to buy wooden hot tubs
- So, are wooden hot tubs any good?
How do wooden hot tubs work?
Wooden hot tubs are large barrel-shaped tubs, filled with water, and connected to a heating system. The main difference between wooden hot tubs of the past and the modern versions is that you now have more heating options available to you.
Electric heating is probably the most common method for keeping wooden hot tubs warm nowadays.
You will need a 240V circuit installed at home, which can then be used to power the electric heater in the tub. With this option, you have a lot of control over the temperature of the water via a control panel near the tub.
Some wooden hot tubs use gas/propane heaters. This is one of the better options to use in colder climates due to natural gas and propane being more cost-effective.
In this case, a gas line needs to be run to the tub instead. When the gas heater is turned on, a small fire ignites in the heater. As the water passes over the heating element, it is heated. This is similar to how an electric heater works; it just uses a different fuel source.
If you want the most traditional heating method, then wood-fired is the way to go.
With a wood-fired hot tub, you have a log-burning stove attached to the side of the tub. It can be either external or internal (separated from bathers by a wooden fence). The water in the tub then absorbs the heat from the stove—either directly (if internal), or by flowing out of the tub, past the stove, and back in (if external).
You control the temperature of a wood-fired hot tub by the number of logs you add to the stove. This makes temperature regulation somewhat unreliable compared to other heating methods. You have to keep an eye on the water temperature with a floating thermometer to make sure it doesn't overheat, and get out to add more wood if it gets too cold.
How do you cool down a wood-fired hot tub?
It is pretty simple to cool a wood-fired tub: just reduce the size of the fire by using the chimney damper. This lets you limit how much oxygen can reach the flames.
When you are done with the tub, you can either let the fire burn out on its own, block the stove's air intake, or douse the burning flames.
How much does a wooden hot tub cost?
Wooden hot tubs start from as little as $3,000 for a simple wood-fired model. They go all the way up to around $10,000 once you add gas or electric heating, or other options like lights or jets.
While wooden hot tubs will never be comparable in price to inflatable spas, they can work out cheaper than rotomolded or acrylic hot tubs of a similar size.
How long do wooden hot tubs last?
Wooden hot tubs can last for 20 years or longer. That's said, it's unlikely that a wooden hot tub will last for more than 30 years. This is especially true if it is not well maintained, or is left outside in the elements.
Wood is a tough material, but being constantly exposed to water and heat does take its toll. No matter how much you try to protect your wooden hot tub, the wood will eventually rot. However, 20 years of use from a hot tub is still a very long time (not to mention longer than most acrylic spas!).
What wood is best for a wooden hot tub?
While most woods used in the construction of wooden hot tubs are both beautiful and functional, there are some that perform, or look, a little bit better than others.
Western red cedar
The most popular type of wood for hot tubs is western red cedar. Look for tubs constructed from clear, all heart, vertical grain, with staves at least 1.75" thick. This will result in a more durable finish, reducing the chance that your wooden hot tub is going to succumb to warping.
Western red cedar is going to be the most affordable choice when it comes to picking a wooden hot tub.
If you want to maintain the original cedar color, you should stain your wood hot tub's exterior (and repeat once a year or so). Otherwise, it will eventually fade to grey. Be extra careful around the top edges though, as you should never stain the inside of the tub.
Alaskan yellow cedar
When it comes to cedarwood, Alaskan yellow cedar is probably the toughest and most durable that money can buy. It's also well known for being able to keep wood rot at bay. This means that you are going to end up with a hot tub that will last decades.
Cedar is often used for outdoor and wet environments like hot tubs because of its high tannin content. Tannins are natural compounds that prevent bacterial and fungus (rot).
If that wasn't enough, Alaskan yellow cedar also has a beautiful pale yellow finish, and a rather unique look to it. It is rare for there to be knots in Alaskan yellow cedar. The grain is incredibly straight too. It almost appears as if it is processed wood, albeit still with a lovely natural flair.
There is a reason why boats used to be made out of teak: it is an incredibly durable material, even when it comes into regular contact with water. This is due to the high oil content, which can help a teak hot tub be restored to its natural look, even from a weathered state.
As the most expensive option, teak is a luxury choice for those looking for the very best in quality.
How do you waterproof a wooden hot tub?
When assembled properly, wooden hot tubs are naturally waterproof. When they are new, you can expect them to leak a little for the first few days. The wood needs some time to swell. But once it does, there will be a tight seal between the staves, and your tub will be watertight.
If you're seeing leaks in an older tub, it could be because:
- the tub was not properly assembled, or the base has shifted underneath it
- you are adding too much chlorine or bromine
- the tub is old enough that dry rot has set in
How do you keep a wooden hot tub clean?
Every time you drain the hot tub, you should give the inside a good rinse with a hose. If necessary, you can also scrub the sides with a soft brush or cloth and a mild bleach/water solution.
Do wooden hot tubs need chemicals?
Many people with wood-fired hot tubs choose to drain their tub after 2-3 uses. They then clean the tub and refill it for the next use. While this method isn't the best for saving water, it does mean you can generally get away with not adding any chemicals.
If you want to run a wooden hot tub more like a regular spa and leave it filled for up to 3 months at a time, you can use chlorine or bromine as a sanitizer.
However, traditional spa chemicals can be tough on wood. If you'd rather avoid them, mineral sanitizers can be a gentler alternative. These work by using metal ions (usually copper, silver or zinc) to destroy bacteria and algae, without damaging the wood. Some gas and electric heated tubs can have electronic ionizers built in.
How often should you change the water in a wooden hot tub?
If you have a wood-fired tub and are using it without chemicals, you'll need to change the water after every 2 or 3 uses.
But if you have a more modern gas or electric heater and filtration system, you can use chemicals to sanitize the water in between soaks. This way, you only need to drain and refill the tub every 3 months or so (depending on usage).
Are wooden hot tubs insulated?
One of the downsides of wooden hot tubs is that they are not insulated like an acrylic spa. This means that they can lose heat quickly, which can increase energy costs and make it harder to maintain your desired water temperature.
To improve the insulation of a cedar hot tub, you can find some manufacturers who offer a molded liner (usually made of fiberglass) with their wooden tubs. This liner acts as a barrier between the water and the wood, preventing the water from ever actually coming into contact with the wood. This can help to reduce heat loss and make the hot tub more energy efficient, as the dry wood has better insulating properties.
Additionally, some manufacturers add insulation in the space between the fiberglass shell and the wood. This can further improve the hot tub's energy efficiency by trapping heat inside and reducing the amount that is lost to the surrounding air.
It's worth noting that while a fiberglass shell and insulation can improve the energy efficiency of a cedar hot tub, a lot of heat can also be lost through the cover—so a thick, high-quality thermal cover is also key.
Can you build your own heated wooden hot tub?
You can build your own DIY heated wooden hot tub. However, it is a project that will require a good amount of skill to do properly from scratch. If you do have the skills and a decent set of tools/access to materials, then building your own hot tub can also save you a lot amount of money, like this under-$1000 example.
Building your own hot tub will require serious woodworking, connecting a stove, and minor plumbing skills. Get it wrong, and you could be left with a frustrating leaky tub. It certainly isn't a project for the faint of heart. However, there is a real sense of joy relaxing in a wooden hot tub of your own creation.
A better option for most people is to buy a wooden hot tub DIY kit. These are self-assembly, but come with all the pieces ready to go. It's the manufacturer's responsibility to make sure everything is included and properly cut to size.
Check out some of the kits sold by our recommended retailers at the end of this article.
The pros of wooden hot tubs
There are many reasons why people still choose rustic wooden hot tubs.
The very first hot tubs ever designed were wooden hot tubs. Therefore, if you want a hot tub with a somewhat more traditional vibe to it, then wooden hot tubs are nigh on unbeatable. They will fit perfectly into just about any decor too.
Wooden hot tubs have a timeless quality to them. With acrylic spas, they usually need to be replaced in a few years—at least if you want the latest styles, technology or features, because the only way to get them is to upgrade.
On the other hand, wooden hot tubs don't change all that much. In fact, some would argue that they actually look better after they've had a few years to weather in.
Up to 30% cheaper
Wooden hot tubs can be a lot more affordable than acrylic, or even rotomolded spas in some cases. Especially if you go with a DIY kit, you can have a great quality wooden tub for less than a budget rotomold.
Variety of custom sizes/depths
When it comes to wooden hot tubs, you have a huge number of choices out there. This means that you will be able to get the size and depth that is right for you. For example, if you are looking for a smaller hot tub option, then you have that available with ofuro soaking tubs.
Wooden hot tubs can work well for larger groups too. Due to their barrier-free bench seating, wooden tubs can fit more people for the size: a 5' wooden hot tub can fit the same number of people as a 7' typical acrylic spa.
You can also choose depths from 3' to 6', with even more custom sizes available—great news for taller bathers.
Pleasing natural aroma
The natural oils in cedar release a beautiful aroma when warmed by the steamy water. This is something other types of spa just can't provide. In our opinion, the earthy wood scent is a huge part of the experience of relaxing in a wooden hot tub; the natural aromatherapy can help you relax just as much as soaking away in the warm water.
The cons of wooden hot tubs
Of course, while most owners love their wooden hot tubs, there are a few downsides to consider as well.
Wooden hot tubs tend to be worse at retaining their heat than their more modern counterparts. There's no bulky insulation like the kind you find in acrylic spas.
However, you can help to offset this by choosing a tub with extra thick wood or even a fiberglass shell, and investing in a modern insulated cover.
Because wooden hot tubs have poorer insulation, your heating system will need to be working overdrive to ensure that the water stays at a comfortable temperature—especially if you run the tub throughout snowy winters.
Not to mention the fact that if you empty the tub frequently, you're using a lot of water, and then using more energy to heat it every time you refill it.
This can also mean higher running costs.
Lack of features
Wooden hot tubs tend to have fewer features available than a modern spa. For example, you won't find waterfalls or integrated sound systems.
However, even wooden hot tub technology does move on—lights, jets and app controls are now available for many gas or electric wooden tubs (as optional extras).
Do wooden hot tubs bubble?
Wood-fired hot tubs will not bubble, and are used purely as soaking tubs for relaxation. However, you can add jets to electric or gas-heated wooden hot tubs now as an option if you do want them.
Jets can help to soothe aching muscles by providing a little hydrotherapy pressure, in addition to the benefits of soaking in warm water.
Limited upright seating position
Most wooden hot tubs are circular in design, with a simple bench instead of ergonomic seating. This means that it can be rather uncomfortable to sit the same upright position for too long.
If you're not a fan of this upright position, consider a tub with a fiberglass liner instead. This gives you the best of both: the beautiful aesthetics of a cedar tub, with the comfortable seating of a more modern spa.
The best places to buy wooden hot tubs
Here are some of our favorite retailers of wooden tubs.
Roberts Hot Tubs
Since 1976, Roberts Hot Tubs have been complementing some of the most beautiful homes, estates and resorts of the world with finely crafted traditional wooden hot tubs and wooden baths, including Japanese ofuro. Western red cedar tubs are their most popular models, but they also offer Alaskan yellow cedar and teak. Their hot tubs are available in an almost unlimited number of different shapes and sizes.
Snorkel Hot Tubs
Originally known for the Snorkel® Stove, Snorkel now offer Western red cedar hot tubs with either traditional wood-fired or conventional gas and electric heating systems. All their wood is hand-selected for quality. This means that when you end up with a wooden hot tub from Snorkel, you can expect the best in precision and craftsmanship.
Check out our other post on the best cedar hot tubs, which has more information on both of these brands, plus several more.
So, are wooden hot tubs any good?
If you want a natural yet durable hot tub that's a throwback to simpler times, you can't go wrong with a wooden tub.
While they function a little differently than the acrylic options out there, a good wooden hot tub can provide you with decades of peaceful relaxation.
No matter whether you choose a modern or traditional heating system, wooden tubs let you soak in warm water with a beautiful, natural aromatherapy experience you just can't get anywhere else.