How to buy a hot tub

Posted by Nick Clamp in Buying on 4th June 2021

If, like most of us, you’ve never bought a hot tub before, the process can be a little daunting at first. All that talk of pumps, jets and hydrotherapy are as exciting as they are unfamiliar at this early stage. Fear not, our team of experts here at WhatSpa? are at hand to walk you through the process and make choosing a hot tub as easy as possible.

But before you head out brandishing your credit card or cheque book, here’s our expert guide which details what to look for in a hot tub. We have broken down our buying tips into three simple steps, each of which will become milestones on your route to choosing the best hot tub to suit your needs.

Step 1 – Do your homework

Congratulations! You have already started doing your homework by the very fact that you are reading this hot tub buying guide. Welcome to the discerning hot tub buyers’ club!

Take some time to research which brands are currently available in your local area before you go any further.

We thoroughly recommend that you purchase your hot tub via a specialist local retailer, rather than taking your chances buying over the Internet or on online auction sites.

We have seen an endless onslaught of horror stories from unsuspecting UK hot tub buyers that have taken the risk of buying online from websites that claim comparable quality to established brands at rock bottom prices. Most of these products are grey import copies of established brands from factories in developing countries with few quality controls. Read our Net Dangers feature from page 64 in the latest issue of WhatSpa? magazine for more in-depth analysis of this worrying trend.

Photo © Wellis

Local specialist retailers, by contrast, have to put their own name and bricks and mortar reputation behind the brands and products that they sell. It is in their vested interests to offer good quality, reliable hot tubs that stand the test of time and delight their clientele. They will service a manageable geographical area so they can respond quickly and cost-effectively to service call-outs, both within your warranty period and thereafter.

After your hot tub is installed your retailer will be a local source of spa water care products and will be on hand to offer invaluable tips and advice every time you pop in.

Finding the right hot tub with WhatSpa?

Finding the ideal hot tub for you can be difficult, fortunately our magazine includes the best hot tubs available with the latest WhatSpa? Best Buy models. Take a look at the WhatSpa? homepage for a preview of this.

Once you have read our Spa Masterclass on page 40 of the latest issue of WhatSpa? magazine, it is time to dip your toe in the water and start visiting your local specialist showrooms to see for yourself what they have to offer. Check out our Retail Directory Supplement that comes poly wrapped with WhatSpa? and visit the Find a hot tub retailer area on our website to get an up to date list of companies in your area. Also look out for your VIP Vouchers that are enclosed within your copy of WhatSpa? magazine for great offers from your local WhatSpa? Approved showrooms.

After you have pored over our jargon-busting Spa Masterclass magazine feature, start visiting showrooms armed with your new-found hot tub expertise. Talk to sales staff and get a feel for the models and features on offer in each different price bracket.

“If you want to reap the benefits of lower stress levels, improved sleep and better physical and mental health, a quality hot tub is definitely for you.”

Photo © Aquavia Spa

Buying a hot tub main specifications & considerations

The main considerations at the outset in terms of hot tub specifications are:

  1. Hot tub size
  2. Seating style (lounge seat or all-seater)
  3. Water depth and seating depth variety
  4. How it feels (the hydrotherapy massage delivered by the hot tub jets)
  5. Number of seats – how many people will be using the hot tub at the same time on a regular basis?
  6. Number of jets
  7. Number of pumps
  8. Filtration system
  9. Add-on including lighting, audio systems, app integration and warranty details

Obviously, the fourth point (which is the most important of them all by the way) can only be evaluated by trying a hot tub before you buy, by conducting what is called a ‘wet test’ or ‘test soak’ – more on that later.

Photo © Coast Spas

Hot tub size:

When deciding on your ideal hot tub dimensions, make sure you check the water capacity of the hot tub in comparison to the number of seats. Some models claim to be 5 or 6 seaters (or more) but when you check the water capacity, they have nowhere near enough water for this number of bathers. A good rule of thumb is to choose a hot tub with 225-250 litres per bather seat. So a 6-seater hot tub would have between 1,350 litres and 1,500 litres of water capacity.

Seating style:

The one decision that every hot tub buyer will have to make is whether to purchase a spa equipped with a ‘Lounge Seat’ or to opt for an ‘All-Seater’ interior seating layout.

Lounge Seat Spa

A ‘lounge seat’ or ‘lounger ‘is an elongated moulded seat that is shallower than a standard upright seat but where the bather is more reclined with their legs in a level or slightly elevated position. It is effectively the underwater equivalent of a garden lounger, or a bit like the seating position in one of the new breed of sofas or living room chairs that offers the ability to recline back so that the footrest rises up and you are lying almost horizontally.

If the spa has a lounge seat, check that it conforms to your body without the feeling of floating out of the seat. A well-designed lounge seat that suits your height and build can counteract this. This can only be checked by wet testing and by consulting with a specialist retailer.

All-Seater Spa

Put simply, an ‘all-seater’ layout is a catch-all label for hot tubs that don’t have a lounge seat. In reality, well-designed all-seater spas have a good variety of seating shapes and depths to accommodate the needs of different bathers.

Some all-seater layouts are fairly open and ‘barrier-free’ so that bathers can easily move from one seat to another, and some are more contoured for additional support with seats that include moulded arm rests in what are sometimes termed ‘Captain’s chairs’.

Photo © Aquavia Spa

Water depth and seating variety:

This is particularly important if you have bathers of different heights such as families with small children or couples that are very different heights and builds.

The normal waterline of the hot tub will be just above the uppermost jets (your dealer will advise on this). Based on this waterline, are the seat depths suitable for the heights of your regular bathers?

Also check how easy it is to move from seat to seat and that there is a good variety of seating depths, not just for different heights of bathers, but also so that you can swap places with other bathers to vary your massage experience or to move from a deeper to a shallower seat if you get too hot or cold whilst in the tub. Wet testing will help you to check that pillows are positioned in the right place for your height and build.

Finally check how easy and safe it is to enter and exit the spa. Is there a defined flat step area as you get in and out of the spa, or grab handles for a sure-footed exit after a glass of your favourite tipple in the tub?

Photo © Aquavia Spa

How it feels:

The most vital piece of the jigsaw is how the hot tub feels to you and the others in your family that will be using the hot tub regularly. Take a look at all the benefits of a hot tub to remind yourself of the range of wellness features you should be looking for. The only way to check this is via a ‘wet test’ or ‘test soak’, conducted in private at a specialist hot tub showroom.

Don’t get bogged down by the technical specification like the number of pumps and jets, as what really matters is how they convert water flow into a massaging jet action and whether you like the feel of it or not – end of conversation!

A wet test is an actual trial of the hot tub in the showroom where you take your bathing costumes along and ‘try before you buy’. All professional retailers will have private wet test facilities and changing rooms. 

The objective is to pick at least three or four of your favourite models to shortlist for a wet test – the most vital stage when looking to buy a hot tub. If you can, try to arrange those all-important wet tests one after the other on the same day so that the experience of the previous spas is still fresh in your mind when trying those afterwards. Insist, if possible, on trying the actual models that you are most interested in rather than other models in the range… they all feel different! Allow at least two hours in each showroom to give you adequate time to try as many spas as possible. Then prepare yourself for the most fun-filled shopping experience of your life!

Photo © Caldera Spas

Step 2 – Get wet testing

The best way to conduct a wet test is to get the showroom staff to show you how everything works whilst you are in the spa… they know all the nuances of their spas better than you do. This is no time to be bashful; once you are comfortably in the water, call the showroom staff over to demonstrate the features and controls. Once they have thoroughly demonstrated all the functionality of the spa, get them to leave you to it so you can play around with all of the jets and controls to your hearts content.

Try as many spas as you can in each showroom…you may be surprised to find that the spa that you expected to like best is not the one that you prefer after wet testing. Remember the first decision you will have to make is whether to choose a ‘Lounge-seater’ or ‘All-seater’ model. The merits of each are explained from page 60 in the latest issue of WhatSpa? magazine.

Photo © AllSwim

How to choose the best hot tub for you

Bear in mind that when you wet test, there will probably be fewer people in the hot tub than the maximum capacity. When most people are looking for advice on how to buy a hot tub, they don’t consider the wet test.

Also consider these key questions:

  • How would it feel if you had your friends and family in with you?
  • Would it be roomy enough in the footwell with more pairs of legs and feet as well as having enough seats?
  • Where would the waterline rise to if more people were in? How comfortable are the seats?
  • Are the jets providing good quality massage and how adjustable are they for both power and massage type? See our dedicated guide to hot tub jets for more information.
  • Is the depth of the spa suitable for your needs given the height and build of the main bathers? 

Remember that you will want a variety of different seating depths so that bathers can swap to a shallower or deeper seat if they feel too hot or too cold respectively. Are the seats too large or too small and are they supporting you comfortably. Ensure that you do not float out of any of the seats, particularly the lounge seat/s if the spa model has them.

If the showroom has the facility to turn the lights down or off, get them to do so as this will enable you to assess the lighting system on the spa. If the model is equipped with an audio system, ask to hear the stereo system. Take along your smartphone so that you can stream your favourite tunes from your music streaming app of choice, so that you can compare the same track in different stereo systems.

Remember that the wet test is all about feel and comfort. Which spas felt best when you tried them? After all, this is the main reason why you are buying one (besides turning the neighbours green with envy!).

As you are discussing models and wet testing your preferred brands, be aware of the product knowledge and communication skills of the showroom staff. When buying a hot it is vital that you also choose a retailer that you trust, not just pre-sale, but to ensure that they will support you for the entire lifespan of the spa which can be many years in the future. Always ask searching questions about warranty support and service plans to ensure that post-installation support is available.

When you have tried all of the spas on your wet test list and chosen a preferred brand, model and retailer it is the big one…decision time! Before you throw open your cheque book or melt the plastic here are some top tips to getting a great deal.

Step 3 – Close the deal

Don’t leave your purchase until the last minute. Remember that many of the most well-established manufacturers are in North America, Canada and mainland Europe, so hot tubs can take up to eight weeks to arrive if the exact model that you want is not in stock in the UK. Start shopping at least a couple of months before you want delivery so that you don’t narrow your options to stock spas.

You will be typically required to pay a 25-30 per cent deposit when you place your order and the remaining balance is usually payable either on or a few days before delivery. It is crucial that you always pay any up-front costs (at least £100) by credit card or via a consumer finance company as this affords you the protection of your credit card supplier or finance company if anything goes wrong between the point of order and delivery day.

For extra peace of mind look for WhatSpa? Approved retailers and other industry affiliations such as BISHTA (British & Irish Spa & Hot Tub Association) membership. If a retailer is going to the trouble of meeting the requirements to comply with these standards this is a good sign that they are professional retailers and intend to stick around in the future.

Getting the right deal

The best deal will not come your way without some hard bargaining so here are some of our top tips to getting the right deal once you have decided on your spa model.

The best deal will be a combination of paying the best price available and also negotiating free or discounted extras wherever possible. Before you commit to the sale think about the additional accessories that are essential to creating a practical spa environment such as steps, cover lifters, delivery, installation and commissioning, spare filters, extra supplies of water care products etc. These are all bargaining points when negotiating the deal. Try to get as many of them included in the deal as possible. If they are not included you will probably end up buying them at a later date and paying full RRP, so now is the best time to get a package deal.

Good retailers may already include such extras at their own cost… bear this in mind before trying to beat them down even further on price. It is important that they stay in business to serve you and your warranty!

On the subject of warranties, ask for a written copy of the warranty certificate before you buy and make sure that you read the small print. Some suppliers may offer extended warranties at a premium so again use this as a bargaining point before you commit to buy. Make sure that the spa warranty covers both parts and labour and ask the retailer if warranty calls are completely free or if you will have to pay a call-out or labour charge.

Professional spa dealerships will also offer service packages to ensure that your spa stays in tiptop condition. Again this is often an ‘extra’ that you will pay for later so now is a great time to get some servicing thrown in for free. 

Payment options 

If you are paying by cash, cheque or debit card this is cheaper for the dealer than low rate or interest free finance, which they will probably have to subsidise, despite historically low Bank of England base rates.

Credit card transactions typically cost the dealer up to two per cent of the balance in fees, so if you are paying by BACS transfer or debit card you are in a good position to negotiate. Interest free credit can cost the dealer between five and fifteen per cent of the balance (depending upon the loan term) so again, if you have cash on the hip this is a great bargaining chip.

If you are not using hot tub finance to pay for your new hot tub, we would always recommend paying at least £100 of the deposit or balance by credit card for the extra protection that this offers.

Often the best deals are to be had on ex-display models and previous year models. Retailers will have to move their showroom floor spas on at least once a year (typically between Christmas and April) to make way for newer models. The warranty should still start from when you take delivery (confirm this before you buy!) and ex-display spas are often still like new by the time that you take delivery. Expect to pay at least 10-15 per cent less than new model prices for ex-display models that are under 12 months old.

Check the small print

Once you have provisionally secured the deal that you want, ask for a complimentary bottle of bubbly and a rubber duck thrown in for good measure and get your spa on order. Always read the contract terms on order forms before you sign and ensure that you will get delivery in a timeframe that you are happy with.

Professional retailers should issue you with a printed pre-delivery guide (also see our preparing for a hot tub installation guide), which includes things like base preparation and electrical requirements for your particular model, and they should also arrange a mutually convenient time for a physical site visit, so they can survey your garden terrain for obstacles and plan your delivery. If a dealer suggests that they can use Google Maps for their site survey rather than visiting in person, head for the hills immediately before handing over your deposit!

Questions to ask when buying a hot tub

Q. What warranty cover is included free with the hot tub? For how long, what parts are covered and are labour and call out charges covered free as well?

Q. Are you a WhatSpa? Approved retailer and are the brands that you sell also WhatSpa? Approved?

Q. Can I look inside the cabinet to check how well the hot tub is insulated?

Q. Does the hot tub come equipped with an ozonator, UV system or built-in sanitiser or mineral system to help with water management?

Q. What accessories are included with the hot tub, do you include things like cover lifters, steps, spare filters and water care products?

Q. How much will it cost to run this hot tub model?

Q. Is delivery, installation and commissioning included in the price?

Q. How will you train me in how to take care of the water of my new hot tub?

Q. What deposit do I pay and when is the final balance due?

Q. Will you conduct a site survey before delivery day to ensure that the hot tub can get into my property and will you advise me about electrical supplies and base preparation?

About the author

Nick Clamp

I am the Editor-in-Chief at WhatSpa? Media Group and my job is to keep you informed about the very latest hot tubs on the UK market... the best job in the world! When I'm not being deluged with press releases and hot tub brochures I enjoy keeping fit and participating in endurance events including triathlons and distance running.

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