The Truth about Hot Tub PricesThe Truth About Hot Tub PricesEverything you need to know about hot tub pricing Everything you need to know about hot tub pricingWhen it comes to the topic of hot tub prices, shoppers are often confused and overwhelmed by the abundance of options and lack of transparency from hot tub retailers and manufacturers. It’s a bit of the Wild West when it comes to how hot tub dealers, online retailers, and manufacturers price their products and bundle their services. In this thorough article below, I’m going to give you a look behind the curtain as to what goes into pricing a hot tub.Hot Tub Price Factor #1: Quality of Build of MaterialsThe largest factor in determining the price of a hot tub is the cost and quality of the materials used to build the spa. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for when it comes to the amount of money spent on your hot tub purchase. Here are the 4 most important construction components that typically determine the price of a hot tub.The ShellThe shell is probably the most crucial part of a hot tub. It is what holds the water and supports the weight of the hot tubbers. The shell is meticulously designed and molded to comfortably fit the bodies of the bathers. The majority of hot tub shells on the market consist of two types of materials: Acrylic and HDPE (high-density polyethylene). Hot tub shells molded from acrylic are typically more expensive and “flashier”, while HDPE shells are a more budget-friendly option. Since the shell is typically the largest cost of manufacturing a hot tub, HDPE (high-density polyethylene) hot tubs are typically cheaper than acrylic molded hot tubs. It is worth noting that both of these shell materials if molded and supported properly can provide 15-20 years of use without any major issues. FrameThe frame of the hot tub is a close 2nd to the shell when it comes to the importance of materials used to build a hot tub. The frame is the structure that supports the shell and all the weight of the water in the hot tub. A failure in the frame will ultimately result in cracking or warping of the hot tub shell rendering the hot tub unrepairable. Manufacturers have landed on 4 material types to construct hot tub frame systems:WoodABS or PlasticSteelAluminumLet’s look at the pros and cons of each of these hot tub frame materials.Wood Frame Hot TubsPros: Wood is the most common material used in hot tub frame systems throughout the industry. Wood provides a strong and sturdy support structure to carry the load of the shell, water weight, and, bather load. Wood is readily available and relativity inexpensive in comparison to the other alternative hot tub frame materials.Cons: While it is strong and sturdy, wood does not thrive in moisture or wet environments. Wood will rot and decay when exposed to water and moisture for extended periods. Another big downside to using wood for a hot tub frame is the potential for damage due to insects like termites or carpenter ants. Since hot tubs typically reside in an outdoor backyard environment, they are an easy target for these wood-destroying insects. If you opt for a wood frame hot tub, be sure it has a full ABS bottom pan to help protect from these insects and other rodents.ABS or PlasticPros: ABS or plastic hot tub frames are typically found in high-end luxury hot tubs from premium manufacturers like Bullfrog Spas and Hot Springs Spas. The benefits of an ABS frame are strength and durability. ABS frames can reside in a damp environment for years without any deterioration to the structural integrity of the spa. ABS is also not prone to damage from insects like termites or carpenter ants. ABS hot tub frames typically have a lifetime warranty.Cons: ABS or plastic hot tub frames come with a few cons. The primary issue with ABS hot tub frames is that they are typically more expensive than wood or steel hot tub frames. If the hot tub is not on a perfectly even foundation, ABS frames may be prone to flexing and twisting causing problems with the structural integrity of the spa.Steel FramesPros: Steel hot tub frames are known for their strength and rigidity. They are often manufactured with precision allowing for a perfect fit of the cabinet materials and other components.Cons: Steel hot tub frames have one major con. They are not conducive to an environment of moisture or wetness. If the hot tub develops a leak that is not immediately fixed, it can result in corrosion and rusting of the steel frame causing major structural integrity issues. Many steel frame hot tubs in the 10-15 year range have heavily rusted frames due to moisture from rain, snow, sprinklers, plumbing leaks, and condensation sweating inside the spa. If the rust becomes bad enough, the frame will literally start disintegrating.Aluminum FramesPros: Aluminum hot tub frames offer many of the same benefits as steel hot tub frames with the major advantage being that aluminum will not rust and corrode. They are strong and durable. Cabinet panels typically fit with precision. Aluminum hot tub frames typically have a lifetime warranty.Cons: The biggest downside of aluminum hot tub frames is the cost. Aluminum is an expensive metal resulting in high manufacturing costs when using it to make the spa frame. Aside from being expensive, there are no other known disadvantages of aluminum frames on hot tubs.InsulationThe third major component that determines the manufacturing cost of the hot tub is the insulation. There are several types of insulation used by hot tub manufacturers to retain the heat in the water and improve the energy efficiency of operating the spa. The most important factor is making sure the hot tub has sufficient insulation for the climate in which you live. The hot tub insulation method and material will be more important if you live in a cold climate like Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Canada. The best and most expensive insulation method is an Icynene Open Celled full foam application. This foam insulation is sprayed on the back side of the spa shell filling the open cavity between the shell and the cabinet. The 2nd best method of hot tub insulation is a perimeter-based insulation system. With this insulation method, insulation foam board panels are situated just behind the spa cabinet panels allowing the heat of the spa pumps to be recycled and used to heat the open area between the shell and the cabinet.The majority of inexpensive hot tubs are constructed with little to no insulation at all. There are two major downfalls to this approach. The first issue with having no insulation in your hot tub is that the spa will constantly run the pump and heater in cold temperatures to help it maintain the set water temperature. This will result in high energy consumption and a large electric bill. The second issue with having no insulation in your hot tub is that by running the pump and heater constantly to maintain temperature, these components will wear out faster, thus requiring replacement and additional cost to keep your hot tub operating. As you can see from the points above, it’s important to have some form of insulation in your hot tub.Electrical ComponentsThe fourth and final part of the materials used to build a hot tub are the actual electrical components. The electrical components of a hot tub include the circuit board, control panel, pumps, heater, ozonator, sensors, and more. When deciding on a hot tub with adequate electrical components there are a few key things to keep in mind.In the hot tub and swim spa industry there are two major manufacturers of electrical components: Balboa and Gecko. Both of these companies offer high-quality hot tub control systems ranging in price and complexity. The majority of reputable hot tub manufacturers use either Balboa or Gecko control systems in their spas. It is worth noting that just because a hot tub has Balboa or Gecko components does not mean that it is a well-built spa. With that being said, there are cheaper electrical component manufacturers on the market that can be utilized to keep the manufacturing cost of the hot tub lower. Based on our experience at Southern Leisure Spas & Patio, these electrical hot tub components are not as durable or reliable in a long-term outdoor environment. The money that can be saved by opting for a spa with lower-quality electrical components will likely be spent later on replacing circuit boards, control panels, pumps, and heaters.Hot Tub Price Factor #2: Where the purchase is madeThe second factor in determining the price of a hot tub is where the hot tub is purchased from. When purchasing a hot tub, there are a few options available to consumers. Let’s take a look at these options and break down the pros and cons of each.Option #1: Big-Box Online RetailersOne of the most popular options for purchasing a hot tub due to price point is online big-box retailers. Some of these nationwide retailers include Costco, Home Depot, Lowes, Sam’s Club, and Wayfair. Hot tubs sold by online retailers typically fall between $4,000 and $8,000 and include curbside delivery to your house. Spas sold by big-box online retailers are typically manufactured by some of the well-known hot tub manufacturers with some modifications to meet big-box retailers' price demands. Below are the construction components typically modified by hot tub manufacturers to meet the lower price points requested by big-box retailers.2”x2” untreated wood frameLittle to no insulationOnly glue, no clamps on plumbingNo ABS panSmaller output jetsSmaller frame and lower horsepower pumps1 small filter instead of 2These are the most common areas where big-box hot tub manufacturers substitute lesser-quality building components to cut the manufacturing cost of the hot tub. For these reasons listed above, big-box online retailers are typically the cheapest option when it comes to purchasing a hot tub.Option #2: Manufacturer-DirectAnother purchase option available for some brands of hot tubs is manufacturer-direct. A small number of hot tub manufacturers offer a consumer direct distribution model that allows the customer to purchase their spa directly from the manufacturer. This method typically allows the hot tub to be sold at a lower price due to cutting out the “middleman”. With this sales method, the customer is typically responsible for delivery and installation. There is typically no local warranty support offered with a manufacturer-direct sales model. The manufacturer will ship any parts needed to the customer and it is up to the customer to either perform the repair work themselves or find an independent technician to perform the repair.The manufacturer-direct sales model is typically avoided by top hot tub manufacturers due to the logistical challenges it presents and the difficulty of providing an acceptable customer experience. Hot tubs are outdoor appliances containing water, hooked up to high-voltage electrical, that run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Regardless of what hot tub you purchase, there will be service or repairs needed at some point during the lifespan of the spa. Due to this fact, most of the industry-leading hot tub manufacturers opt for a distribution method that ensures adequate customer support for their products. The manufacturer-direct hot tub sales model tends to be in line with big-box online retailers regarding price. Expect to pay somewhere in the range of $5,000 to $10,000. Entry-level hot tubs can be purchased relatively cheaply using the manufacturer-direct method. But be warned! Necessities like steps, chemicals, and cover lift are normally not included, and the installation and warranty repairs will fall on you the customer!Option #3: Offsite Events and RoadshowsA hot tub purchase option that has grown in popularity over the past 10 years is the offsite event and roadshow model. With this type of hot tub distribution method, spa manufacturers partner with hot tub dealers that set up in convention centers, arenas, parking lots, fairs, and other rentable public areas to sell as many hot tubs as possible in a 3 to 5 day window. The events are typically called by the following names.Hot Tub & Swim Spa BlowoutHot Tub ExpoHot Tub Liquidation EventNational Hot Tub ExpoThe reality of these events is that they are costly to coordinate and promote. The average 3-day “Hot Tub & Swim Spa Blowout” roadshow event has an advertising budget of over $30,000. While these events are typically hosted by dealers with high-quality hot tub brands, (Master Spas, Artesian Spas, etc.), the spas must be sold at a premium due to the amount of money spent on venue rental, advertising, sales commission, and other related expenses. These types of events typically do not yield a lower price on hot tubs than you will find in a showroom. There is normally only one manufacturer represented at these types of events, even though they are often promoted as multiple brands. Only 1 or 2 units will be filled with water and running. “Wet testing” or “test soaking” in the spas is not an option at these events, requiring consumers to commit to the purchase before “test driving”. Service and warranty support can be hit or miss with these types of events. It all depends on the local dealer hosting the event. Expect to spend anywhere from $7,000 - $20,000 on your purchase at a hot tub blowout or hot tub expo event. If you decide to go this purchasing route, make sure the dealer selling you the spa has a reputable in-house service and warranty department and that their spas are built with high-quality materials and components mentioned above in hot tub price factor #1.Option #4: Local Hot Tub DealersThe fourth and probably most popular option for where hot tubs are purchased is a local hot tub dealer. Most cities and larger towns typically have retail stores or warehouse facilities that act as local dealers for the top hot tub manufacturers in the industry. Most hot tub dealers will have a showroom with the most popular hot tubs and swim spa models on display, filled and heated for shoppers to witness in action and even “wet test” or test-drive if they please. The price range of a spa at a local hot tub dealer can vary anywhere from $3,000 up to $30,000. Prominent hot tub dealers will have hot tub options starting with very small and basic models, all the way up to large, elaborate luxury hot tub models with all the bells and whistles. When purchasing a hot tub from a local dealer, a shopper will typically spend more money than when purchasing through the other methods mentioned above. It is worth noting that hot tub dealers typically “package price” the most popular options, accessories, and necessary services to ensure the absolute best hot tub shopping experience. Below is an example of what hot tub package pricing looks like.Hot Tub Package Pricing BreakdownItemRetail CostHot Tub (base model)$9,500Ozonator (water sanitizer)$350Cover Lifter$230Steps$140Start-Up Chemicals$160Backyard Delivery$600Accessory Installation$200Total Cost$11,180Package Hot Tub Price$10,495As you can see from the pricing table above, most hot tub dealers will package all the necessary items and services to offer substantial savings over a la carte pricing. Although we would consider them essential to a positive hot tub ownership experience, the $1,680 of additional items and services mentioned above are typically not included in the hot tub purchase from big-box online retailers or manufacturer-direct sales channels. When factoring in pricing a local dealer against an online retailer or manufacturer-direct, it is important to allow for a $1,500 - $2,000 allowance for these additional items and services.Another reason hot tub dealers are typically the more expensive option is because most dealers have an in-house service and warranty department to handle issues that may arise after the hot tub has been installed. The cost of technicians, service trucks/vans, tools, diagnostic equipment, local parts warehousing, and administrative salaries make the after-sale service and warranty support a significant cost factor in dealer hot tub pricing. As mentioned earlier in this article, Hot tubs are outdoor appliances containing water, hooked up to high-voltage electrical, that run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Regardless of what hot tub you purchase, there will be service or repairs needed at some point during the lifespan of the spa. Most reputable hot tub dealers understand that it is their responsibility to ensure that the customer has adequate access to service and replacement parts for the lifespan of their hot tub.Hot Tub Pricing in a NutshellIn conclusion, hot tub pricing is complicated. There is a reason you see such a range in prices from different sales channels. The two main factors in price variability are the materials used to build the hot tub and where the hot tub is purchased. The first factor is pretty simple. Opting for a hot tub with higher quality materials will yield a higher price. The second factor is not quite as simple. Where you decide to purchase your spa will have a substantial impact on the price that you pay. It will also have a substantial impact on your overall hot tub ownership experience. Hot tubs purchased online or manufacturer-direct will typically be the cheapest option. These hot tubs also tend to be built with lower quality materials and have little-to-no warranty or service support. If you like to gamble, this purchase method might be the one for you! You may save thousands of dollars on the front end, but keep your fingers crossed that nothing breaks or needs serviced during your hot tub ownership. Remember, a hot tub purchase is typically a 15 to 20-year investment if planned properly. Purchasing your hot tub from a local dealer, on the other hand, will probably be the most expensive option. This is because the best hot tub manufacturers in the industry only sell their products through an authorized dealer network. The industry-leading hot tub manufacturers know that adequate service and support are key elements to a positive hot tub ownership experience. The top spa manufacturers are typically very selective with their dealer partners to ensure that the customer receives top-notch service after the sale, allowing them to enjoy their hot tub purchase for years to come. If you are looking for the absolute best quality hot tub and the service to support it for its entire lifespan, then make sure you visit the local hot tub dealers in your area to see what they offer.