I’m going to list a bunch of specific tips and considerations here, but my basic advice is that you’d probably enjoy a hot tub. It’s an investment, but I’d easily choose it over upgrading my car or remodeling my kitchen or whatever else.
There are studies about daily hot tubbing or saunaing being good for your cardiovascular system, but basically it’s just really nice to be in hot water without any fuss. Jets are a bonus, but I would be out there every day even without them.
Choosing a tub
Salt system vs. traditional chlorine + ozone:
If you can swing it (i.e. you have enough oversight of your tub usage that you don’t need to disinfect like you would a public pool) get a salt water system. It’s not nearly as salty as the ocean (at ocean level of salt, I’ve always been careful not to shave my legs so that the water won’t irritate my skin), it’s more like sweat levels of salt.
- You can easily manage it yourself and don’t need to have the chemicals adjusted. (It’s more expensive to buy the salt system cartridges than regular pool chemicals, but I’d rather pay a premium for supplies than pay for someone to come over and service my tub all the time).
- The salt is facilitating the production of chlorine, but it’s not nearly as chemically of an experience (you don’t get a waft of chemicals burning your eyes by turning on the jets).
- You don’t have to rinse off afterwards — as far as I can tell, you won’t smell like chlorine, your skin won’t dry out, and while I do rinse my suit out, I kinda think I don’t need to.
- I guess because it’s closer to your own body’s salt levels, you don’t really get pruny even if you soak for a long time.
- Your skin doesn’t really dry out—which is nice on its own, but also means you don’t have to moisturize afterwards (and then feel bad about taking a second dip and washing your lotion back into the water). I’ve had moments of thinking it dried out my toenails, but that was just a very fine dusting of salt 🙃.
- You only have to drain your tub and start over every 6 months instead of every 3 months.
Caldera seems to be the brand of salt water tubs that also cares about quality massage jets (the same manufacturer makes Hot Springs but they’re geared more towards entertaining). If you later decide you want to Airbnb your house or for some other reason you decide you’d prefer a traditional chlorine tub, they can easily modify it to convert it to ozone + chemicals.
Apparently everyone raves about the volcano jet in the middle of the Caldera tubs. That wasn’t a selling point for me, but it turns out to be great. I use it on my IT bands and glutes which would be pretty hard to do with the jets on the walls of the tub.
If I were getting a traditional chlorine tub, I’d probably get a Bullfrog with the diverse set of interchangeable jet packs. But I’d probably want to try them out before choosing.
Make sure to get a tub with a small, dedicated, always-on pump for filtering the water. Otherwise, the jets will turn on periodically to flush the chlorine around, and (especially if you follow my advice by putting your tub as close to your house as possible), the noise might be annoying.
Make sure there’s enough power/pumps to handle everything you’ll want to do at the same time. I think the most important thing to check is whether the tub can be heating the water at the same time that the jets are on, but you may also want to ensure that the jets at various stations can be on simultaneously at the intensity you like.
- Tubs are tested at the factory and then stored with water in the piping—use a biofilm remover (specifically Ahh-Some) to get rid of any buildup before you set up for the first time and before you drain your tub every 6 months.
- If you have a salt tub, keep in mind that drips/splashes will leave a faint white salty residue. So maybe choose a light-colored exterior cabinet and don’t get a black set of steps or black slate pavers.
- Be careful with electronics. Salt is corrosive, so I wouldn’t test your waterproof ratings. They’ll probably continue to be splashproof, I just wouldn’t take a bunch of underwater photos without a case. If you do give your electronics a dunking, power them off and then rinse them with freshwater before leaving to dry.
- Get a lounge seat.
- If you’re likely to use the tub by yourself, consider orienting the installation of your lid so that you can flip it open and enjoy a soak (e.g. with the control panel and your favorite seat exposed) without needing to push the lid all the way off the tub. With lifters these days, it’s easy for one person to pull and push the lid, but there’s something nice about having a one-person sized hot tub experience and I think it also helps with heat retention, especially if you have the jets on.
- If you live in a place with seasons, try to get the tub as close to an entryway as possible. I know there are people all over the world who like to get out of the sauna and take a cold plunge or rub shaved ice all over their bodies for Vitality! or whatever, but if you’re like me, if it’s blowing snow and you’re wet and you need to take more than a handful of steps to get inside where it’s warm, you might just never get out of the tub (or worse, you might not decide to get in in the first place!)
- This is a pretty good online forum for troubleshooting.
In budgeting, keep a few extras in mind:
- You’ll need somewhere to place it that can handle the weight and keep it level. This might mean installing pavers (which might quickly become twice the dimensions of your tub if you’re upgrading your yard anyway and want a buffer for the steps or maybe a couple chairs) ($2k? $4k?). If you want it on your deck, you may need to reinforce the deck to be able to structurally handle the filled weight. I’ve heard of people putting their tub in the garage, which might be the cheapest way to go, but that might be nice in the winter and kinda lame in the summer.
- You’ll need an electrician to wire enough power to where you need it and also install an emergency shutoff (which comes with the Caldera tubs at least). ($1k? $1.5k?)
- Your power bill will go up.
- For the life of your tub, you’ll need to restart your system with water softeners and special salt and a little chlorine every 6 months, and you’ll need to replace the little cells that power the salt system every 2-4 months.
- You may need to replace the lid of the hot tub every few years.
(If your physician prescribes hydrotherapy, you might be able to get a medical tax break for partial cost—the part that is necessary for you being able to get in a jetted tub, assuming it’s at least 10% of your annual income)