Essential Tips for Planning a Home Spa or Hot Tub

Home spa or hot tub? In-ground or portable? This guide will help you maneuver through these tough decisions before you purchase and install a spa or hot tub.

Whether you're planning a backdoor retreat or an indoor getaway, you'll need to consider a few issues before purchasing and installing 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 consider before building your home spa 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?
small back yard with rectangular pool and hot tub

What's the Difference Between a Hot Tub and a Spa?

You might have noticed that "spa" and "hot tub" are often used interchangeably. This overlap in classification can be confusing. The distinction comes down to how they're installed and constructed.

The term "spa" is often used to describe an in-ground spa, a heated body of water built into the ground (like an in-ground pool) and used for relaxation and hydrotherapy. In residential settings, in-ground spas are often attached to an in-ground pool and are similar to what you might see at a hotel or gym. The term "hot tub" is typically used to refer to an above-ground portable spa. A hot tub or portable spa also is used for hydrotherapy, but it's a completely self-contained unit. All hot tub components, including its plumbing and electrical system, are built inside the hot tub cabinet.

How Much Does an Outdoor Spa Cost?

The overall cost of buying and installing a hot tub or spa will depend on its location, type, size, and materials. According to HomeAdvisor, above-ground hot tubs average between $2,000 and $35,000 before installation, depending on the material. A $20,000 to $35,000 model typically seats 5 or more people and may include a sound system, a built-in bar, top-of-the-line insulation, and several massage jets.

In-ground spas cost between $15,000 and $20,000 on average. It's often more cost-effective to build in-ground spas simultaneously with an in-ground pool. Aside from costs, the advantages and disadvantages of portable and in-ground spas vary.

raised hot tub with pergola and curtains
Kritsada Panichgul

Pros and Cons of Portable Spas (Hot Tubs)

Portable spas, otherwise known as hot tubs, can be inflatable or hard-sided. They're considered portable because they can be installed anywhere and have the versatility to be drained and moved elsewhere. Hot tubs are designed to fit in many settings, whether you use your portable spa on your patio, yard, or indoors.

Here are some pros and cons to buying and installing a hot tub:

Advantages of Hot Tubs

  • All-in-one unit 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 it built 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.

Disadvantages of Hot Tubs

  • Difficult to disguise. Many portable spas become an unwanted focal point of a landscape, sticking out above the surface.
  • You're limited to the size and shapes offered by manufacturers.
geometric white stone back yard with hot tub
Erica George Dines

What Is an In-Ground Spa?

An in-ground spa can be custom-built to fit your specific design and size requirements. Its structure is built into the ground as a stand-alone spa or integrated into an in-ground concrete pool. They can permanently enhance the appearance of your outdoor space when designed to blend with your yard or landscape. Keep in mind that the spa's equipment is not built-in and can be bulky and noisy. In addition, each time you use an in-ground spa, you'll need to preheat the water. A portable spa's continuous heat system keeps the water hot all the time.

Advantages of an In-Ground Spa

  • You can customize their shape and size.
  • Easily integrated into a deck or patio.
  • Teamed with a pool or other features, they can turn your yard into a dramatic landscape.

Disadvantages of an In-Ground Spa

  • They're more costly. Essentially, you're building a small pool with water jets.
  • Must be built by a professional
  • Features, such as extra jets, increase the cost because of the construction and additional fittings.

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

  • Acrylic: Acrylic spas come in preformed designs, though manufacturers offer various shapes and sizes to suit your needs.
  • Concrete: These in-ground spas are 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: For this material, the site is excavated, forms are put in place, and the gunite product is applied.
low hot tub in japanese garden-style yard
Jamie Hadley

Pros and Cons of Outdoor Hot Tubs

It's easier to install and deliver a hot tub in your backyard than in your home. A level concrete pad or a reinforced deck are the most common surfaces where hot tubs are installed. Installing a foundation and making the required outdoor electrical connections is much simpler than moving a wall in your home. Thus, the overall installation cost should be lower than an indoor hot tub. Also, if a hot tub is installed outdoors, there's no need to worry about proper ventilation.

Advantages of an Outdoor Hot Tub

  • Outdoor hot tubs can become an integral part of the landscape, like a pool. The experience is enhanced by being surrounded by nature.
  • The cost is often less than installing a hot tub indoors.

Disadvantages of an Outdoor Hot Tub

  • Poor weather conditions might keep you from being able to use the hot tub when you want.
  • Hot tubs must be covered when not in use to keep debris from settling into them.
ranch home backyard with hot tub and lap pool
Bob Stefko

Tips for Installing a Hot Tub Outdoors

When installing a hot tub outdoors, make sure it's not placed within 10 feet of overhead power lines. Adequate space must be available around the hot tub to allow access to the equipment panel. Placing the hot tub on a solid foundation that supports the tub's weight, water, and occupants is critical. Many installation teams will deliver, fill, and wire the hot tub for you.

A hot tub is the simplest type of spa to install. It requires a level, solid surface and access to a power supply. A portable outdoor 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, setbacks to property lines, and proximity to utility lines.

indoor spa area with hot tub
Jason Donnelly

Is It OK to Put a Hot Tub Indoors?

The big difference between an indoor hot tub and an outdoor hot tub is its location. An indoor hot tub is located indoors in the privacy of your own home. With this setup, you're just a few steps away from enjoying its relaxing features with the added convenience of not having to worry about weather conditions. Ensure your home is constructed with water-resistant building materials and proper ventilation to prevent hot tub condensation damage to your walls, ceiling, and floor. In addition, the flooring material near an indoor hot tub should have good drainage and traction when it's wet such as non-slip, matte-finish tiles.

Advantages of an Indoor Hot Tub

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

Disadvantages of an Indoor Hot Tub

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

Tips for Installing an Indoor Portable Spa

Look for models that are appropriate for indoor use to avoid drainage damage from the hot tub. Consider installing a drain in the floor to help you drain your spa to clean or move it. Most portable spas don't require external plumbing. However, you'll need access to water to fill up your hot tub. Protect the room from moisture by installing a vapor barrier to protect the wall studs from dry rot.

Plan for installation access into your home; you'll need clearance to get the spa to its permanent location. Portable spas hold 100 to 500 gallons of water and can easily weigh several hundred pounds when filled. Proper support is critical. Most indoor hot tubs can be set up in a day.

Indoor Spa Rooms

If you're looking to create a space in your home that will help relieve aches and pains, reduce stress and depression, and even boost your mood, an indoor spa room might be the answer. It could even help to sell your home in the future. These days, indoor spa designs can include cave-like walls, rocky perimeters, and starlight detail in the ceiling. Also, when designing a new hot tub room, allow for the installation of cabinets and shelving to accommodate towels and chemicals.

Because it often involves designing an entire space or environment for the spa, structural modifications will likely be necessary to build a permanent indoor spa in your home. Indoor spa rooms must be built by a professional, and operational equipment is typically separated from the spa to reduce noise. Construction time varies by the project's complexity but can often run several weeks.

stone patio with pool and hot tub and large umbrella
Bob Stefko

Outdoor Permanent Spas

Permanent outdoor in-ground spas are constructed on-site using a customized design plan and the same construction materials and techniques as a swimming pool. You get to choose the amount and placement of hydrotherapy jets and finishing materials like tile and exterior stone that decorates the spa's walls. Additional embellishments like fountains, wall sconces, mosaic flourishes, and color-changing LED lighting are design possibilities.

Professional installation is required for permanent outdoor spaces. Plumbing and electrical lines must be run to the spa, and operational equipment must be installed. Excavation is also needed. Construction can take as little as 2 to 3 weeks or as long as 10 to 12 weeks, depending on the project's complexity. However, if it is built with a pool, you can expect your outdoor permanent spa construction to take longer.

Can Hot Tubs Be Covered By Insurance?

Coverage for portable and in-ground spas is part of some homeowners' insurance plans. Some insurance companies raise premiums for owning a spa, and others do not. Usually, homeowner's insurance doesn't protect against physical damage to a hot tub unless your policy has been specially written to include this coverage. Speak with your insurance agent before purchasing or building your spa.

formal stone rectangular hot tub and pool
Emily Followill

Hot Tub Safety Guidelines

Every homeowner should make sure their spa and pool guests know how to use the equipment safely. Safety is a top concern for pool and spa owners. Proper enclosures and supervision are a must to ensure the safety of children, pets, and wildlife that might wander near the hot tub or spa. Completely surround your spa with four-sided isolation fencing with a self-closing and self-latching gate that's out of a child's reach. According to the American Red Cross, a four-sided isolation fence (separating the pool area from the house and yard) reduces a child's risk of drowning by 83% compared to three-sided property-line fencing. Install a secondary barrier, such as lockable spa covers and locks that are out of a child's reach on all doors and windows with direct access to the pool or spa area. Specialty safety products are available on the market.

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