Spa or hot tub? In-ground or portable? This guide will help you maneuver through these tough decisions.

Updated: April 21, 2017
This in-ground spa blends with its surroundings.

Whether you are planning a backdoor retreat or an indoor getaway, you'll need to consider a variety of issues before you purchase and install a home spa or hot tub.

Although less involved than planning for a pool, installing a spa or hot tub isn't a task to be taken lightly.

Key issues you'll need to think about include:

  • Should I get a spa or hot tub?

  • Do I want a portable or in-ground unit?
  • Will it be indoors or outside?
  • What level of disruption will the installation entail?
  • What zoning restrictions will I face?
  • How will my insurance be affected?
  • How can I keep my family and guests safe?
  • The general distinction between a hot tub and a spa is construction. Hot tubs, first popularized in California, are made of wood. Spas come in a rainbow of shapes and sizes. Most portable spas are made of acrylic while most in-ground varieties are concrete.

    Portable spas average between $2,000 and $12,000, depending on size and features. In-ground spas average between $15,000 and $20,000. It is often more cost-effective to build them in conjunction with an in-ground pool.

    Aside from costs, the advantages and disadvantages of portable and in-ground spas vary.



    Portable units can be installed and running within a few hours.
    • These all-in-one units come equipped with the spa, support equipment, and skirting that hides the equipment.
    • Easy to install. They can be operational in a matter of hours.
    • Suitable for small yards.
    • You can take it with you if you move -- unless you have built it into a deck or patio.
    • Typically very energy efficient.
    • They often have more jets than their in-ground counterparts.
    • Because of the standard shapes and sizes, purchasing accessories like covers is easy and economical.


    • Difficult to disguise, many portable spas become an unwanted focal point of a landscape, sticking out above the surface.

  • You are limited to the size and shapes offered by manufacturers.
  • In-ground


    An in-ground spa can add a dramatic effect to your yard.
    • You can customize their shape and size.
    • They can easily be integrated into a deck or patio.
    • Teamed with a pool or other features they can turn your yard into a dramatic landscape.


    • They are more costly because, essentially, you are building a miniature pool with water jets.
    • They must be built by a professional.
    • The more features, such as additional jets, increase the cost because of the construction and additional fittings involved.

    Indoor spas are typically made of formed acrylic. Outdoor spas come in a variety of materials, including:

    • Acrylic. Acrylic spas come in preformed designs although manufacturers offer a large variety of shapes and sizes to suit your needs.
    • Concrete. Easy to customize to your site.
    • Tile. Tile often adds a nice decorative touch to a spa. Tile spas are labor intensive and tend to cost more.
    • Gunite. As for a swimming pool, the site is excavated, forms are put in place, and the gunite product is applied.

    Indoor Spas


    • Perfect climate all of the time.
    • Complete privacy.
    • You can't get more accessible than a spa in your own home, so you may use the spa regularly.


    • The extreme weight of the spa may require additional support.
    • This amount of water will create a humid environment, so proper ventilation of the room is key.
    • Dehumidifying equipment can be noisy.
    • Where is the spa located? Will wet spa users have to scurry through your living room to reach a changing room?
    • Is the spa room itself waterproof?
    • A permanent indoor spa will most likely require construction modifications to your home.

    Outdoor Spas


    • Outdoor spas can become an integral part of the landscape like a pool. The experience is enhanced by being surrounded by nature.


    • Poor weather conditions may keep you from being able to use the spa when you want.
    • Spas must be covered when not in use to keep debris from settling into them.

    Indoor Permanent

    A permanent indoor spa is a major construction commitment.
    • Structural modifications will be necessary to build a permanent indoor spa in your home.
    • Operational equipment is typically separated from the spa to reduce noise.
    • Must be built by a professional.
    • Building a permanent spa indoors often involves designing an entire space or environment for the spa.
    • Construction time varies by the complexity of the project but can often run several weeks.

    Outdoor Permanent

    A permanent outdoor spa can be enjoyed yearround in a temperate climate.
    • Professional installation is required.
    • Plumbing and electrical lines must be run to the spa and operational equipment must be installed.
    • Excavation is required.
    • Construction can take as little as 2 to 3 weeks or as long as 10 to12 weeks depending on the complexity of the project.
    • If it is built with a pool, it takes longer.

    Indoor Portable

    • Access into your home. Can you get the spa where you want?
    • Portable spas can hold as much as 100 to 500 gallons of water and can easily weigh several hundred pounds. Proper support is critical.
    • Most can be set up in a day.

    Outdoor Portable

    • The simplest of them all. They require a level, solid surface and access to a power supply.
    • An outdoor portable spa can be set up in a day.

    In-ground spas typically receive similar zoning considerations as pools. Be sure you and your contractor have the most up-to-date zoning and building restrictions. Most local communities have detailed guidelines covering such issues as fencing and enclosures, set-backs to property lines and proximity to utility lines. Other issues may also be covered.

    Insurance coverage for spas is part of homeowners' insurance. Some insurance companies raise premiums for owning a spa and others do not. Speak with your insurance agent prior to purchasing or building your spa.

    Every homeowner should make sure their spa and pool guests know how to use the equipment safely.

    Safety is a number one concern for pool and spa owners. Proper enclosures and supervision are a must at all times to ensure the safety of children, pets, and wildlife that may wander near the pool. Specialty safety products are available on the market. You may also ask the National Spa and Pool Institute for a copy of their safety guidelines.



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