Hot Tub Buyer’s Guide

Welcome to Robertson Billiards and Spa’s total hot tub buyer’s guide! If you’re a beginner looking to purchase a hot tub in the Sarasota, Clearwater hot tub, or Tampa hot tub market (or hot tub anywhere in central Florida), you’ve come across the right blog. In this guide, we’re going to take to you through all the important factors to consider when purchasing a hot tub, provide expert buying tips, and help you make an informed decision to find the perfect hot tub for your needs. Let’s jump into the hot tub world!

Determine your needs!

The first question you should ask yourself when shopping for a hot tub is why am I getting a hot tub? Some good questions to ponder are: Do I want a hot tub for relaxation and/or stress relief? Do I have specific health issues I’m seeking relief from through hot tub therapy? Do I imagine using the hot tub as a social centerpiece for my friends and family or will I be using the hot tub as a quiet retreat for myself? Do I need this hot tub to complement my outdoor décor? How important is it that the hot tub look exactly right in my backyard? These questions are the first things you need to think about when finding the correct spa size, layout, and color combinations, and building a budget for a new hot tub. Users with specific pain-related issues are going to need to make sure the hot tub is powerful enough and the jets are positioned correctly to give them the relief and hot tub therapy they are looking for. Compare that to the party hot tub where you may just need seats, light-pressure water follow, some bubbles, and hot water.


What is involved in owning and positioning a hot tub?

The next questions you should ask yourself are about the space and requirements of hot tub ownership. What are the electrical requirements for a hot tub and the potential added costs? What are my space restrictions? What kind of space do the important hot tub accessories like steps, and a spa cover lift assists add? Are there any major physical obstructions between where a delivery truck can park and where the final position of the hot tub will be? Do I have a realistic understanding of the maintenance required to keep the spa looking and running well? These are very important questions when selecting the right hot tub.

Foundation Requirements For a Hot Tub.

A normal 7ft x7ft hot tub full of water with 4 people in it will weigh over 5,000 lbs. It’s important to consider what you’re going to be putting the hot tub on. The ideal foundation is going to be flat, sturdy, and dry most of the time. A hot tub can be put on concrete, tile, pavers, crushed hot tub stone, reinforced wood decking, or anything flat that can handle filled the weight. The hot tub cannot go onto dirt, grass, or an uneven surface. The surface doesn’t have to be perfectly level, but it has to be flat. A good example of this is your back patio right outside of your back door. Code Enforcement in Tampa, Sarasota, Clearwater, St Pete, Brandon, or anywhere is going to require patios to be sloped so that water runs away from the house, therefore back patios are never level but they are almost always smooth and flat. The base of the hot tub has to make total contact with the ground for the supports to properly engage and hold up the hot tub shell correctly. Anything more uneven than well-laid pavers is not going to work. If the spa wobbles like an uneven table at a bar, you CANNOT just push a brick under one corner to stop it from shaking. Doing that will result in shell cracks that will not be covered under a warranty. Hot tubs can also not be leveled out to compensate for the drainage slope. They will need to lay directly on the existing flat surface as is without any shimming or wedging to level out.



Putting An Above-Ground Hot Tub in the Ground

A lot of people consider putting an above-ground hot tub “in the ground” this is never a practical consideration for a stand-alone hot tub. The recess will be a water trap that will destroy the components inside the tub. Even if you can get the recess to drain, If a simple 40-dollar temperature sensor goes out an easy repair will turn into a huge problem because you’ll have to remove the spa from the ground to get to the equipment bay. High-end concrete vaults can be constructed to house the hot tub but adequate drainage systems and a submersible pump are best to guarantee it will not hold water. Even in that case, the hot tub will have to be drained and lifted out of the ground to even do minor repair work to the equipment.



110v “Plug & Play” Vs 220v “Hard Wired” Hot Tub

When shopping for hot tubs you’ll see the terms plug and play or 220v thrown around quite a bit. Determining which hot tub is right for you is going to depend on balancing your specific needs with your overall budget.


All things being equal, the hard-wired 220v spas are better by every metric except upfront cost. Generally the 220v hot tubs are going to be a little more expensive on the price of the hot tub and will require a 220v line to be run specifically for the spa. This can easily add $1500 or more to the cost of getting the spa up and running. This cost can be recovered over the life of the spa in energy savings in most cases. Compare that to little or no upfront costs in getting a 110v hot tub powered up, in most cases.


A 110v hot tub is best for single users, in smaller hot tubs, in warmer climates like here in Tampa Bay. Fewer jets means more power from the weaker motor. Less water means your hot tub won’t take as long to heat. A 110v hot tub or swim spa can be a good option in larger tubs if you’ll have to redo your entire home electrical supply to accommodate a 220v hot tub. The 110v hot tubs also work very well in rental properties where high-performance therapy and efficiency aren’t as important as having a nice picture and being able to advertise a hot tub in your lovely Tampa Bay short-term rental home.


Electrical Requirements

Electrical requirements are one of the most important and overlooked factors in hot tub ownership. Keeping it simple there are two basic ways hot tubs are powered. The first is usually advertised as a “plug and play” hot tub, meaning they use a regular 110v plug just like what you have on the back of your TV. The other way is high voltage hard-wired. This is usually called a “220v” hot tub. There are some 15 amp 120v plug-in versions of hot tubs that offer more features than the standard 110v. This option requires a special outlet to receive the plug. It is a very easy conversion if you want a few extra features above the 110 version of your plug-in hot tub.


Electrical Requirements for Plug & Play Hot Tubs

The term Plug and play hot tub can be a bit of an ambiguous description. There are also a lot more variables involved in a plug-in spa vs the 220v hot tubs. Plug-and-play hot tubs require quite a bit of power compared to pretty much anything else you will be plugging into a normal wall outlet. You’ll have to be aware of how much power (measured in total amperage capacity on the loop) your plug can provide and how many other things are drawing power from the line powering the outlet. For example, most back patios are run on a single 15amp power supply circuit from your main breaker box. That circuit will typically provide power to the entire back patio, not just the hot tub. If you have a TV, sound system, fridge, and lighting you’ve likely maxed out the circuit or are close to overloading it. If you try to plug in a “plug and play” spa to that circuit you’re likely going to overload it and cause the breakers to trip as soon as the hot tub powers up. Another thing to look for is, all plug-and-play hot tubs come with a built-in safety switch called a GFCI. A lot of outdoor wall outlets have GFCI built into them…… REMEMBER you cannot plug a GFCI equipped plug into an outlet with GFCI installed on it. You can tell if an outlet is GFCI equipped if you can see any buttons or switch on the outlet. Non-GFCI outlets are going to just have a 3-prong outlet with no switches or buttons. The more knowledgeable you are about your home’s specific power supplies, the less likely you are to be surprised by an expensive electrician visit. We can help you with over-the-phone advice, in the store with your images, or provide you with on-site support from one of our on-call technicians. Having pictures of your outlets at the time of purchase or in advance is important to eliminate any confusion or missteps day of delivery. Check out the outlet picture, that is the perfect outlet for any plug-and-play spa, as long as there is enough amperage backing it up.

Electrical Requirements For 220v Hot Tub

For the 220v spa, you’ll have to have a high-voltage circuit run to a separate power supply box. You cannot piggyback power from your swimming pool or AC electrical circuit. A new run will have to be done by an electrician. At the time of this post in July 2023 in Tampa in Central Florida, having a new circuit installed starts at about $1600 to 2300. It can go significantly higher depending on the length of the power run, how much space is available in your main breaker box, interior attic run vs exterior trench run, or other factors.


Having a licensed electrician or qualified individual come out to check your specific power requirements is really important if you are not 100% sure about your home electrical system. We have electricians we work with every day and can help you with getting a fair price quote prior to any final purchase. Robertson’s Hot Tubs can help save you some money vs just calling the first electrician you find on Google if you do not already have a good electrical professional in your contact list.


Researching Hot Tub Brands & Dealers

Here at Robertson Hot Tubs informed customers are our favorites. The biggest issue when researching hot tub brands is getting confused by huge amounts of information, and different companies using gimmicks to differentiate themselves from the competition. There are so many gimmicks on hot tubs it can be difficult to figure out what is important and what isn’t. In this section, we will not name the names of different manufacturers, but give you our experienced opinion on what makes a good hot tub, and it’s not always a price. Even inexpensive hot tubs are not cheap, to have a good experience with spa ownership and get a good return on investment you should get a hot tub that can remain operational for a minimum of 15 years, ideally 20. Very few brands are capable of producing a spa that can hold up for that long.


The Shell

The heart of the hot tub is the shell. The shell is the colored interior of the hot tub that everything attaches to. Hot Tub parts can be replaced, and pipes and fittings can be repaired, but if your shell blisters near a jet, or fractures, the spa is ruined. There are a lot of different materials shells are made of. Some that seem “cheap” are actually very durable. Shells that look premium can be really flimsy. There are two metrics you can use to see through the fog. The first metric seems obvious, but it’s usually overlooked. The shell structure warranty is the single best metric to get an idea of the quality of the shell of the spa. The best hot tub shell warranties are 10 years. If you properly balance the acidity of the water in a spa with a 10-year shell warranty it’s not uncommon for them to last 20 years or more. Going under 10 years the manufacturer is aware of one or several issues with either the materials or support structure of the spa that is causing their shells to fail prematurely. Even high-end tubs can use inferior shells or supports. Higher-end spas tend to want to jam bells and whistles into the hot tub. If the tub you’re looking at has gimmicks like jets that move up and down your back, removable control panels, multi-stage filtration, UV sterilizers, or very intricate cabinets be careful. These upgrades will often come at the expense of a quality shell. If you jam all these gimmicks into a tub with a premium shell, it will become more expensive than already very pricey hot tubs.


Another test is just standing in the hot tub. If you can feel the shell flex under your feet when you step in dry, you can count on the entire shell expanding and contracting every time the spa is drained and filled. That pressure and expansion will cause the spa to fracture very quickly. Spas like this usually have serious structural issues very shortly after you get out of your shell warranty.



The Structure

The structural supports of the spa work in conjunction with the shell to support the filled weight of the spa. There are a lot of different materials used to support a hot tub. There are a lot of different structural support materials these days. You have to be careful when looking at the support material because some materials may seem better than others at first glance but are not. The majority of spas including the all of spas we carry use wood as their main support system. Wood is the best material to support the weight of a hot tub for a lot of reasons.


The 3 main benefits of wood in a hot tub are its structural integrity, its durability, and how easy it is to repair and reinforce. Even in a worst-case scenario many years after you’re out of warranty, wood can easily be repaired or reinforced. No other material used in hot tub supports besides wood offers that flexibility down the road, or the same amount of strength and resilience from day one.


Some manufacturers use metal to support their hot tubs. On the surface, metal may seem like the best option, and in some environments, it may be. But for Tampa Bay Hot Tubs or any hot tub near a large body of salt water, it is absolutely not a good option. No hot tub manufacturers use stainless steel to support their tubs. The cost and added weight make it totally impractical. In a salty, damp environment, a metal support system will turn into a rust bomb over the life of the spa. This will cause issues structurally, hurt the life of components, and cause issues with removing panels quickly.


Another common hot tub structural material is high-density plastic. These can seem like a good option as well, but the devil is in the details. No spa with plastic supports will ever have a maxed-out shell warranty. The structural integrity of plastic is dependent on the ambient temperature the higher the temp the less strength it has. The inside of a hot tub is generally pretty hot even up north, hot tubs down here in Sarasota get and stay quite hot all year. The structural integrity of plastic also degrades quickly under heavy weight over time. Any uneven distribution of weight in the shell will allow the weight of the water to push the shell around quite a bit, this stretching results in cracking which will eventually lead to irreparable shell damage over time. A good example of this is Caldera Spas Vs Hot Springs Hot Tubs. Both of these hot tubs are made by the same company in the same facilities and have similar price points. Caldera Spas shell warranty is almost 50% longer than Hot Springs. That discrepancy comes directly from the plastic hot tub supports hot springs use. There is also the issue of them not being able to be repaired. If you get an issue with wood, it can always quickly and easily be repaired.


The number of jets is typically the first thing people think about when they are shopping for a hot tub. It can be counterintuitive but just having a lot of jets isn’t always a good idea. The more jets you put on a tub lowers the power each jet can put out. A lot of jets are also going to mean a lot of redundancy from seat to seat, meaning you’ll have one seat doing basically the same thing as another and wasting power. Caldera Spas uses a jet layout method called rotation therapy. Each jet is strategically positioned to not overlap with a jet on the other seats. So you spend a couple of minutes in each seat, doing this guarantees a full body massage on even a 3-person spa. It also maximizes power output. A well-laid out 40 jet spa with a 2.5hp motor is going to perform much better and operate with less noise than a hot tub with 60 jets and a 3hp motor. If the jets are positioned correctly, you won’t even give up any area of your body being worked by the hot tub.


The Cabinet

Traditionally hot tub cabinets are made out of wood. Recently most hot tub companies have moved away from wood as a cabinet material. In humid environments, thin wood paneling isn’t a good material for a finished hot tub cabinet. Unlike thick structural support beams inside a spa, a thin wide panel made of multiple pieces of wood screwed together will quickly deteriorate. This is a real issue in places like Tampa Bay Florida. All the spas we sell are made out of unibody composites. The composite material can not break down like thin sheets of wood will when directly exposed to the elements. They also can be dyed to more attractive colors, that will stay looking good for years and years. It’s important to check how the panels are connected to the frame of the hot tub. Thin stainless-steel screws are very common. Thin composite panels combined with deck screws are a recipe for cracks and problems in connecting with the structure over time. A thick composite panel bolted to the frame and supported by clips is the best way to attach cabinets to a frame of a hot tub.



The Equipment

The actual equipment the hot tub uses to operate can be the most confusing part of the whole process. The parts that run a hot tub are actually pretty simple when looked at correctly. The guts of a hot tub are as simple as a control pad, that connects to a computer, that operates the pump(s) and the heater. Much like the shell the operational parts and labor warranty is your best guide for telling if the spa is using good parts. A tub with a 90-day parts and labor, with a 1-year parts warranty is a very bad sign. The best spas offer a 5 years parts and labor warranty.


Low-quality parts tend to fail quickly in a hot tub due to it being a hot, wet, and pressurized system. Hot Tub companies that use cheaper parts, will be in a constant race to the bottom, meaning they will frequently switch Spa parts suppliers. You can get in a situation where if a single motor fails, you may have to buy a whole new hot tub system because you may not be able to get compatible parts from the manufacturer. The best hot tub companies do parts guarantees just like auto manufacturers are required to do. Companies like Caldera Spas, offer a 20-year OEM parts guarantee. That means you’ll always only need to buy a single part and never have to worry about replacing the whole system if something like a thermometer for 15 dollars goes out.


Regular Maintenance

Understanding the Maintenance schedule for a hot tub is important to have an idea before you start. It may be a good idea to read our water care guide to get a full understanding of what that looks like. There are tons of different water sterilization and clarification systems available. Generally, tubs require Maintenance about 10 minutes of Maintenance 1 time a week. Sometimes it’s every other week depending on how you use the spa. The spa also has to be drained and filled twice a year or once a year on salt water hot tubs


I hope you find this hot tub buyer guide helpful. If you have any questions please give us a call or fill out the contact us form and we will reach out to you!


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