The Ultimate Hot Tub Buyer’s Guide
Why should I buy a hot tub?
There are many benefits to a spa from Southern Leisure Spas & Patio. Some of our clients buy a hot tub for just one, but most find their spa is very relaxing, helps them enjoy restful sleep, is a comfortable place to reconnect with their spouse and/or kids, is great for relieving stress, and offers wonderful therapy for sore & aching muscles.
Hot tubs are beneficial for those suffering from a number of chronic conditions including arthritis and diabetes, and may be prescribed for treatment. We also have a number of clients whose doctors have prescribed our Microsilk spas for treatment of various skin conditions, including psoriasis.
What is hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy is essentially the use of water for pain relief and treatment of illnesses. Hot Tubs or Spas are particularly well suited for hydrotherapy due to both the warm / hot water and massage from jets. It’s important to note that though all hot tubs will deliver hot water, jet design and placement in order to promote maximum pain relief and wellness is also very important. There are plenty of cheap spas that market inflated HP ratings and high jet counts but are poorly designed to provide the benefits you desire for massage. All 3 of the brands we carry at Southern Leisure Spas & Patio (Bullfrog Spas, Marquis Spas, and Nordic Hot Tubs) are well suited to provide great massage. In fact, due to their unique & patented Jet Paks®, Bullfrog Spas offers a greater variety of massage options than any other hot tub manufacturer.
What is a portable hot tub?
A portable hot tub is a self-contained hot tub with massage jets. Unlike some old hot tubs, there is no plumbing connection. You will fill your hot tub with a garden hose and by using sanitizers, generally replace your water every 3 – 4 months. The only connection to your hot tub will be electrical power.
What is the difference between a “spa” and a “hot tub”?
These days there really is no difference, and in fact, since an Internet Search for “spas” will generally return “Day Spas”, the industry is increasingly going back to the term “hot tub”.
Is it true that hot tub sales are tax-free?
Many of our clients at Southern Leisure Spas & Patio do purchase their hot tubs tax-free. However this is not automatic. Texas State Sales Tax Law does allow for the sales tax exempt purchase of “medically prescribed” appliances. Further, the law specifically references hot tubs and spas. Our sales staff can provide more information on the sales tax exemption process.
Where can I find honest information on Spa Brands?
We would certainly suggest that you spend some time on our website as our primary purpose in developing our site was to help our clients purchase the best hot tubs within their budgets.
We’d suggest visiting the 2 most popular sites for spa owners to write about their experiences with their spas.
We have also found the following website helpful at weeding out some of the larger, less reputable spa brands. It is not so good at weeding out the smaller, disreputable brands however.
How should I select my specific spa model?
This comes down to 6 issues.
- Decide what your budget is.
- Understand where you want to put it and how much space you have. It would be a good idea to have measured this space before you begin shopping. It will likely save you time.
- Understand how you intend to use your hot tub, primarily to understand how large a hot tub you need and how important massage & therapy is for you.
- You may or may not already know if you want a lounge, but at some point you’ll need to decide. There are even spas with 2 loungesif you really like this idea.
- Sit in your hot tub to ensure you fit well and are comfortable.
- WET TEST several hot tubs before deciding.
This is another advantage of Southern Leisure Spas, where we have some of the largest showrooms in Texas. We simply have more hot tubs for you to consider.
Buying on the Internet – What to know
Though this may seem that buying from an Internet supplier is a good idea, there are some things to know.
None of the top brands sell their hot tubs on the internet.
- Though 2 do manufacture lower quality hot tubs for the Internet and sell under other brand names
- No Internet Company provides an Equipment / Plumbing warranty longer than 2 years.
- Top brands offer a 5-Year Warranty on Equipment & Plumbing.
- Most make their warranties also a bit hard to find. This might be why.
- No Internet Company provides an Equipment / Plumbing warranty longer than 2 years.
- They deliver to your driveway, not your backyard, unless you want to pay extra.
- And the Internet Company is NOT the carrier making the delivery! It’s a 3rd party trying to make money on what little the Internet Company is paying them.
No Local Dealer Support
- You call an 800 #
If you are Dissatisfied your only recourse is to return the hot tub, if they let you.
- And you pay for this. The Internet Company is not picking it up for you.
Road Shows & Home Shows – What to know
We have a very dim view of both Road Shows & Home Shows. Here is why.
High Pressure Sales
- You have to buy TODAY to receive their discounts – And there is ALWAYS a Discount!
- Discounts are usually based on MSRP to make it appear that you are receiving some huge discount.
- Frankly they can’t have true huge discounts. They spend a ton on advertising and the event location. The math just does not add up for any real discounts at all!
- Road Shows usually advertise as some sort of Spa Expo or Hot Tub & Swim Spa Blow-Out and suggest that they have many brands at the show. They will not. They will have one brand – theirs!
- At one time true Home Shows at least did have many dealers attending. You could shop multiple brands by simply walking a few feet. However in recent years both the Austin and San Antonio Home Shows use “Official Partnership Agreements” (this is their term) preventing many dealers from attending. Effectively they now limit competition to just their chosen dealers & brands.
- That fellow that tells you he is a “Factory Rep” is – for that weekend. Next weekend he/she will be a factory rep for another brand in another city.
- And that sales person knows this. Once they sell you a hot tub, they will never see you again – a lot of less than truthful things get said to sell that hot tub. This is quite unlike a reputable dealer that wants to build a long-term relationship with you.
More About Road Shows
Should I wet test a spa?
Absolutely, Yes! Whether you are spending $5,000 or $15,000, it’s a lot of money. You would not buy a car without a test drive. We strongly recommend a wet test! Bring your swim clothes, give us a call, and come on down!
We have between 4-6 models to test in our showrooms. We want you to buy the best for you and a wet test is the best way to do this!
By the way, you can’t wet test hot tubs from Home Shows and Road Shows. It’s another reason to not buy at these events.
What should I spend on a hot tub?
That depends on a number of factors. We carry hot tubs from $4,995 to $19,995. There is basically a hot tub for everyone and whether it’s one of these or somewhere in between we are happy to help you purchase what is best for you.
There is 1 point we would stress. There are plenty of cheap hot tubs. However, quality is always less expensive in the long run. Buying the best in your price range, though perhaps a bit more expensive at first, WILL RESULT IN A LOWER COST OVER TIME and you being much happier in future years.
HOT TUB CONSTRUCTION
What are circulation pumps? Are they important in a hot tub?
In order to maintain clean water, your spa will operate in circulation mode at least part of the day. Some spas will use the low speed on the primary pump running 2 – 8 hours a day. Other spas will use a much smaller, separate circulation pump running 8 – 24 hours a day. Both processes provide adequate filtration, however the continuous operation of the circulation pump often results in it being the first piece of equipment to fail on a hot tub.
What are Diverter Valves & “Therapy Zones”?
Here is a very good reason to wet test a spa you are considering. Unless it is an inexpensive spa with few jets you will likely discover that all the jets cannot be used all of the time! With many brands, in fact most all, the spa you were just told can seat 6, can only provide massage to 2 – 4 of them at one time. Virtually all spa manufacturers use Diverter Valves so that they can claim high jet counts. They can provide good pressure to some of the jets with this Diverter Valve but, as the name suggests, they are diverting water pressure from one set of jets to another! Bullfrog Spas is THE MAJOR EXCEPTION! Their unique plumbing is just far more efficient than that in any other hot tub, hence they use NO DIVERTER VALVES!
So what is a Therapy Zone? Well some of the more creative marketing people realized that “Diverter Valve” sounded too much like what it actually does and that doesn’t sell well. These folks came up with the new name, “Therapy Zone”. Sounds so much better, doesn’t it? It’s a sophisticated Diverter Valve – and you still cannot use all of the jets all of time, hence not everyone in your hot tub gets massage!
What is a “Captain’s Chair”?
A Captain’s Chair is basically a vertical lounge. It gives you the benefit of a lounge (largely jets on your legs and feet) without floating. Marquis Spas has some of the most therapeutic Captain’s chairs in the hot tub industry.
What is a 48-Frame versus a 56-Frame motor?
48-Frame motors are basically pool motors, not designed for the rigors of hot tubs with their high-pressure massage jets. Never-the-less, several of the best known hot tub manufacturers continue to use 48-Frame motors, as do discount brands.
Specifically “Frame” refers to the diameter of the armature in the motor. Although 2 motors may have the same horsepower rating, a 56-Frame motor will be 40% larger. It will also run cooler and last longer. However they cost more, hence many spa companies use the cheaper 48-Frame motors knowing they will last just about as long as their warranties. Motors run around $450 – $550, add in labor and these manufacturers & their dealers have locked in additional profits at your expense. To make matters worse, we have found dealers telling customers their spa brands use 56-Frame motors, when they’re not.
- Bullfrog and Marquis Spas (with the exception of their entry Celebrity Spas line) use 56-Frame motors exclusively.
- The largest manufacturer of hot tubs (And they advertise that they are the largest) uses 48-Frame motors even in their most expensive spas.
- The easiest way to tell the difference between a 48 Frame & 56 Frame motor is to measure the outside diameter of the motor. A 48 Frame motor is approx. 5 1/2 inches, while a 56 Frame motor is about 6 1/2 inches.
What hot tub manufacturers use proprietary equipment?
Though not an exhaustive list, these manufacturers use their own proprietary equipment.
- Hot Spring®
- DIMENSION ONE®
They will suggest their equipment is better but:
- The top hot tub equipment manufacturers actually make more equipment, hence likely invest more in their Research & Development
- Even they have recalls
- Replacement parts will cost more because of their exclusivity
What should I know about warranties?
First, warranties are important. They are a legally binding agreement between you as a buyer and the manufacturer of your hot tub.
Second, to be concise, there is a mountain of hype in the hot tub business. Some true, some only partially true, and quite a bit that has no truth. One reason for our answers above is to help you find spa dealers & manufacturers that are truthful.
Third, despite the hype, what a manufacturer really believes about their product is stated in their warranty. If their warranty does not match their hype, our advice would be to stay away.
Fourth, quite a few manufacturers are reluctant to make their warranties readily available; however the top manufacturers are not. If you find even the slightest reluctance to provide you with a warranty, we would again advise seeking a different company. By the way, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that warranties be made available before your purchase.
FTC Warranty Requirements
Hot tub warranties basically have 5 components.
Shell structure covers only 1 thing. It says that the shell will not leak. It does not cover leaks in the plumbing or even leaks through the shell around jet housings. Essentially this only says that the shell will not crack sufficiently to cause a leak. As you can see, you can have a pretty badly damaged shell and still not be covered by the “shell structure” warranty. This is the reason even some poorly made spas can have fairly lengthy shell structure warranties.
A shell surface warranty provides protection should your spa shell fade, delaminate, blister, have surface cracks, etc. With very few exceptions, it will always be considerable shorter than the shell structure warranty. Unfortunately some spa companies claim to have a shell surface warranty and then turn around and exclude some of the very issues that are shell surface issues.
We have studied many spa warranties and to our knowledge only 5 spa companies have a spa structure warranty. The reason: Most spa companies continue to make their spa frames from wood!
Note: Some spa companies claim to have a “Structure Warranty” to give you the impression that they are covering the structure of the entire spa. However the fine print reveals that their structure warranty covers only the shell.
This covers exactly what it says. It says that your plumbing will not leak. Though a few companies exclude couplings at the pump and control pack, most do not. If you eliminate all the spa companies with various exclusions and prorated warranties, no spa company, other than Bullfrog Spas, has a plumbing warranty that exceeds 5 years.
This will cover your control pack, pump, top-side controls, ozonator, etc. It will not cover items like, stereos, lighting, TV’s, etc. though these will likely have a much shorter warranty, typically only 1 year.
Note: It is common for mid-tier and low quality spa manufactures to try to escape their equipment warranties by telling you that you damaged your equipment by not maintaining your water chemistry properly. We will advise purchasing your hot tub only from the best companies in the industry.
Many warranties seem long & complex. How can I compare them?
We have made this easy for you. We have the warranties for all the major spa companies and many of the smaller ones. It took us many hours, but we condensed this information into an easy-to-read chart.
Hot Tub Warranty Summary
Why are some hot tub warranties prorated?
The top hot tub companies do not prorate their warranties. However most all mid-tier and low-quality manufacturers do prorate. They are trying to make their warranties appear better than they really are. To us, this is a form of deception. Hence, we will advise to steer clear of any company that prorates any part of their warranty.
SEPARATING FACT FROM FICTION
Huge Discounts – What to know
MSRP (Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price)
MSRP’s are often used in the hot tubs business to make it appear that you are getting a huge discount. The Traveling Hot Tub & Blow Out Road Shows will sometimes use MSRP’s that are literally 5x times the actual cost of the hot tub. You can see that they have plenty of room to offer a massive discount and still make plenty of money on the hot tub sale. However people selling this way will usually be more clever. They will also tell you that you’re getting a huge discount because (pick one or two):
- “We are the factory.”
- “We’re getting a big discount from the factory.”
- “We cut out the overhead.”
- You are also in town for the weekend and then gone.
- “We don’t have to pay rent because we’re a Road Show.”
- Of course they “forget” to mention the $50,000 or more they spent in advertising.
- “Our spas are built the same or better than the Big Guys.”
- They will often use a bogusSpa Comparison Chart to “support” their claim.
High Pressure Sales – BUY NOW
Honestly we have never understood why people fall for high-pressure sales. When we start hearing the “hard close” we turn away and walk away. It’s really is this simple.
- If it is a good deal today, it is a good deal tomorrow!
- Take your time to research your options.
- It’s not like there is only 1 hot tub left to buy. The manufacturer will ALWAYS be happy to make another one for you, despite their claims of “Clearance”, “Only this weekend”, and other nonsense.
What does “Factory Direct” really mean?
In the hot tub industry the term “Factory Direct” is a marketing gimmick to make people believe they are receiving a discount when they are not. Here are the facts.
- All hot tub showrooms are “Factory Direct”! All the hot tub showrooms in Texas buy directly from their manufacturers.
- Companies that sell hot tubs only on the internet as “Factory Direct” sell cheap spas that are not worth even their supposedly discounted prices!
- It is our opinion that, in the portable hot tub business, anyone using the term “Factory Direct” in their advertising to explain low prices is simply being deceptive.
Should I believe Spa Ratings?
In a word, No. No organization that claims to rate spas is independent. They all take advertising money.
The one company that truly is independent, Consumer Reports, has never evaluated hot tubs.
Should I believe Internet Reviews?
Depends – You can trust ours! Every review was written by a legitimate client of ours but there is a growing problem with companies making a business of writing fake reviews.
Why does a company pay another company to write fake reviews?
- They want to make their operation seem better than it is.
- They don’t want to do the real work of improving the experience for their customers.
- They want to try to bury bad reviews.
- They want to improve their Search Engine listing without doing the actual work.
- It’s too darn easy!
We have more reviews on the Internet than anyone. Every review is legitimate so we know what a real review looks like for a hot tub company. Almost always they will:
- Be much longer than just 1 or 2 lines
- Tell a story of their experience
- Name the people they met
- Buying a hot tub is a process that usually takes several hours. You know the name of your salesperson and often others.
By the way, several times a year we get phone calls from companies offering to write fake reviews. Sadly, the Search Engines* are doing little to ensure the legitimacy of reviews written on their sites.
What is Microban®?
Microban® is basically a pesticide. Some “inventive” folks figured out a way to add it to plastics back in the 1990’s. Now you will find a # of spa manufacturers noting that they use Microban® acrylic in their spa shells. Via one means or another they will try to convince you that this kills bacteria. There is only 1 small problem. Microban®, in acrylic, has been proven to have absolutely no value. It does not kill a thing when embedded in acrylic!
Update: Lucite, one of the 2 major manufacturers of acrylic used in the hot tub industry, has stopped selling Microban® Acrylic.
What does “Appliance Grade” mean?
Several companies making rather poor hot tubs have taken to calling their spas, “Appliance Grade”. To us it means, “Stay Away”. None of the best spa manufacturers use this term. This is nothing more than another bit of marketing hype by some of the worst players in our industry.
What are the city building code requirements for a hot tub?
Though this will vary a bit by city, basically these 3 things are required:
- Your spa must be protected by a GFCI.
- You must have a Disconnect Box visible from your spa and at least 5′ away.
- Not needed with 120V spas (see below)
- Your spa must not be within 10′ of the vertical drop from any power line.
Note: Most electricians will satisfy the 1st two requirements with a “Spa Panel”. This is a box where the GFCI is the cutoff. They run around $ 80 – $120 at Home Improvement Stores.
What kind of foundation do I need for my hot tub?
We will suggest a “firm, flat, and relatively level” foundation. This may be concrete, pavers, or crushed granite. You can also put your hot tub on a deck. In this case, you want your deck to support a minimum of 150lbs. / sq. ft.
What are the electrical requirements for my hot tub?
Most hot tubs (of all brands) require a 240V*, 50 Amp, Dedicated service. Some of the largest hot tubs (with more than 2 pumps) will require 60 Amps. Some of the smallest will operate on a 120V, 20 Amp, Dedicated line. In fact, most 120V are “Convertible”; They can operate on either 120V or 240V (Note that this does require removing a jumper wire and changing the DIP switch settings).
It is important that copper wire be used, not aluminum!
240V installations have 4 wires (2 Hot lines [Black & Red], a Neutral [White], and a Ground [either Green or bare copper]).
Spa Voltage Check
Finally, though 8 Gauge wire can be used in some 240V installations, we will always suggest 6 Gauge copper wire. 6 Gauge is substantially larger than 8 Gauge and will help your motors last longer by reducing any voltage drop.
* Note that 220V, 230V, and 240V are all the same thing, as are 110V, 115V, and 120V.
What should my electrician charge to run power to my hot tub?
Generally speaking you should plan on paying $800 – $1,200 for the installation of a dedicated, 240V, 50Amp service.
What is a GFCI?
A GFCI is a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. They are also called GFI’s. They are designed to protect you. In fact you have GFCI’s in your home (although they are 120V) in your kitchen and bathroom (anywhere there is power and water).
Can I put a spa in-ground?
You certainly can. Bullfrog Spas manufactures the spa vault specifically for this purpose. The spa vault is a steel enclosure that allows the self-contained Bullfrog spa to be submerged into the ground while still providing access to the equipment compartment.
When submerging a portable spa in-ground, it is extremely important to consider equipment access and drainage of rainwater in the vault. We definitely recommend consulting a professional when considering this installation method.
What should I know about Hot Tub Sanitation?
Let’s keep this simple! Sanitation is about killing bacteria, viruses, and spores that may be in your spa water. If a product does not specifically say it “Sanitizes” it is not a sanitizer.
What is the best way to sanitize my spa water?
The EPA approves only 3 chemicals for sanitation in swimming pools & hot tubs; Bromine, Chlorine, and a chemical with a much longer name but abbreviated PHMB. To be in compliance with federal regulations at least 1 of these must be used for sanitation.
We are all familiar with chlorine as it is by far the most common method used to sanitize swimming pools and hot tubs. Chlorine can be used in a multitude of ways to sanitize hot tub water: chlorine tablets in a floater, granular chlorine, liquid chlorine, or chlorine salt generator systems. There are various types of chlorine available for use as a sanitizer in your hot tubs.
In recent years, king technology has developed a ground-breaking chlorine variant called “Smart Chlor”. This unique type of chlorine self regulates to keep active chlorine levels in the water between 1ppm and 3ppm. This technological advancement in hot tub water chemistry has made hot tub water care significantly easier for the average consumer. Our staff jokes that it is like auto-pilot for hot tub water maintenance.
Bromine has been used in the hot tub industry for decades as an effective sanitizer. Both chlorine & bromine are chemically known as halogens. Halogens have a unique ability to both sanitize (kill bacteria, viruses, etc.) and oxidize. Bromine is simply a heavier atom, and will remain stable in water at higher temperatures.
Bromine can be introduced to your hot tub with any of 3 methods: a Floater (Feeder) with Bromine (Brom) tabs, combining a Bromine Salt with an Oxidizer, or a bromine salt generator system.
PHMB is polyhexamethylene biguanide, hence this method of sanitation is often called “Biguanide”. Biguanide is an effective sanitizer. It was developed for the medical industry several decades ago. However it has a very significant downside. Biguanide is incompatible with all other chemicals you might use for your hot tub, even ozone. Hence the oxider for biguanide is hyrdrogen peroxide, not shock or ozone.
You must be very careful and attentive if you use Biguanide in your hot tub. Bigiuanide is known to cause problems with filters if you are not very careful to not introduce anything incompatible with biguanide to your spa.
This is technically a “non-chlorine based shock”. Shock is an oxidizer used to remove (or oxidize) waste matter in your hot tub. Dead skin cells, dead bacteria and viruses, body oils, etc. are all waste that needs to be removed from your water to keep it clean and pure.
What is an ozonator?
An ozonator introduces ozone gas into your spa water in order to oxidize accumulated waste material. In a hot tub, ozone is not a sanitizer, but it will reduce your sanitizer requirements.
Some companies oversell their own proprietary ozonators saying they have chemical-free systems. This is simply not true. As noted above, the EPA approves only 3 chemicals for sanitation in swimming pools & hot tubs; Bromine, Chlorine, and PHMB. To be in compliance with federal regulations at least 1 of these must be used for sanitation.
What are “Alternative” Sanitation Methods?
There are many “Alternative Sanitizers” on the market. We’ve tested quite a few. They are largely marketing hype. They will all say (usually in small print somewhere hard to find) that you may need to use bromine or chlorine with their product.
They usually try to sell you on the idea that chlorine & bromine are bad for you. In a sense they are right. Both are highly corrosive. That is why they work! That is why they kill bacteria & viruses. But, unless you are allergic, in the proper concentrations for a hot tub (generally 3 – 5 ppm for Bromine) they are harmless to you while deadly for bacteria and viruses – exactly what you want!
Here is the thing. If chlorine & bromine are bad for you, why will they suggest that you may still need to use them with their products? Because they have to “dance around” federal advertising laws. And one more thing – Many of these products are quite expensive, meaning highly profitable for the companies selling it. This one will cost around $750 a year, yet it is really only about making your water feel soft. We can do that with the @ease system at no additional cost!
Alternative sanitizers always have a “story”. Below are a few.
These methods are generally based on either silver or copper ions and as with all good marketing stories there is a bit of truth to their story. It seems that our Pioneer forefathers would toss a silver coin (back when they were silver) in their water as they traveled across the plains to keep their water fresh – and it worked! Just a few problems here though. The biggest problem is they were not bathing in the water! Silver ions are known to have some ability to kill bacteria, but hardly enough to take care of your hot tub. By the way, copper ions have virtually no ability to kill bacteria but they are effective against algae. If you have algae in your hot tub, you better call us now! That is a pool problem, not a hot tub problem.
A number of hot tub companies have recently jumped on this bandwagon but once again they will say that you may still need some chlorine or bromine (read the fine print). And once again it works – sort of! Ultraviolet light will kill bacteria and viruses if the light concentration is strong enough. But that light is shining through a clear tube that carries water moving quite fast. Within weeks after you have your hot tub, that tube is no longer all that clear. You need to clean it to keep your Ultraviolet Light System working. We don’t even know how to do this, so your odds aren’t very good.
You’ll hear all kinds of stories here about seaweed, moss, etc. Thing is you will never, ever find anyone to tell you what enzymes are in their product or how they actually work. We’ve tried some and when they did not work, we were told we were not using their product correctly. Bet you will be told the same thing should you wish to try these.
What do you recommend regarding hot tubs and small children?
There are 2 safety issues to consider as a hot tub generally has 2 – 3 feet of water and it is, of course, at least warm.
- All spa covers from quality hot tub companies meet the 2003 Safety Performance Requirements of the ASTM F1346 – 91 Standards. This means the cover has at least 4 clips to secure the cover in position and these clips can be locked to prevent access. (Even in the unlocked position the clips will secure your cover in mild to moderate winds.)
- In 1987, both the Consumer Products Safety Commissionand Underwriters Laboratories (UL) wrote recommendations that consumer hot tubs not be allowed to be programmed to exceed 104o. However even this temperature is too hot for small children. When your small kids are in your hot tubs with you, you should keep the temperature below 100o.