Hut tub filter.
May 13, 2013 9:01 AM   Subscribe

If you own/ed a hot tub (or close with someone who has), what do you wish that you'd known or done differently before hand?

Lady nobeagle and I are considering getting an outdoor hot tub / spa. We live in Central Ontario and would plan to use it year long. No, we don't have mustaches, but we read that (and note a lack of update from mathowie).

Things you should know - we have a large, unheated, in-ground swimming pool (that we use during the summer (I don't mind the pool chemistry / maintenance)). The hot tub would be used primarily by us, very occasionally by our kids, and very occasionally with our friends. We don't plan to move again within our adult lifetimes. We're in our late thirties.

Lady nobeagle has muscle and joint problems that she'd like to soothe away with a good, hot soak. Because of space issues combined with 3 boys, a soaker tub is not an option until they've all moved out in 10-15 years. We'd like to incorporate this into one of or both of our morning/evening routines.

We have our eye on a lovely 6-seater hot tub at a somewhat reasonable price (2012 floor model). We would be planning to have an electrician in to hook up the spa for 220volt service. When we bought the house we upgraded from 100Amp to 200Amp service; our connection can handle a tub.

Having never owned a hot tub / spa before, we have questions before we throw down the cash.

Are the jets what makes the purchase, or is the large body of warm water sufficient? (The price difference between those with a lot of jets and those with only a few is fairly substantial.)

What size did you go with, and was it the right size? Going for a smaller (2-3 person) spa seems to limit the number of jets, along with limits availability to the cheaper brands, but saves surprisingly little compared to other tubs by the same company.

Do you have a covering structure (a gazebo, for example) or have you been okay without one (just sitting on a pad in the yard)? As we're in Canada, there will of course be a thermal cover (with a lifter arm) on it when it's not in use.

The two locations we're considering are 1) cutting out a section of our (covered deck) and creating a pad on the ground, but that would end up taking up over half of the usable space of the deck, while being very close to the rear patio door. 2) would be 10-15 feet further away, and would be uncovered. As the Kitchen window would look out over this area, it would stay without a covering structure. We would need to shovel a path for 2) in the winter. Would option 1) be too much of a pain if we need servicing? How far is too far from the door to prevent a psychological barrier towards using it in the winter.

After the initial novelty wore off, did you end up not using yours, and why do you think so? (And, if so, how long did it take for that novelty to wear off?)

Are there any must-have accessories / options? We'll be getting a lifter-arm for the cover, and if we go with a cheaper model without an ozone generator, we'll be ensuring it can have one added.
posted by nobeagle to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Jets are really important, and a 6 seater fits 6, but is really only comfortable at a max of 4. We're in Canada and my parents have one sitting just on the ground (right outside the kitchen window), which isn't a problem in the winter at all. The walk in the winter is actually rather nice, but it abuts the deck which makes it convnient to get to.

Servicing would be a huge issue in the middle of the deck, don't do that. It is still used. It has to be turned off in the summer as it overheats.
posted by jeather at 9:19 AM on May 13, 2013

I can't answer all of your questions, since I have a wood-fired hot tub made from a stock tank and a Chofu (so no jets) but here are my personal experiences about the other things:

-make sure you have a space to keep towels/robes/bottles of water/glasses of wine within reach and (in the case of the towels/robes) dry. We put up hooks for clothes and a shelf for beverages and use them A LOT.

-our hot tub is pretty far from our house (maybe 100 feet?) and we use it pretty frequently, even though we've had it for years, even though wood-fired is a commitment (you have to tend the fire for a few hours to heat it); we would probably use it almost every day if we didn't have to work to heat it.

-we do have a covering structure, we live in Oregon and it rains a lot. It's very nice to sit in the hot tub and listen to the rain overhead, without feeling it.

-that said, it's actually very nice to be out in the elements before/during/after a soak. Yes, it may be darn cold in the winter, but it makes the hot tub feel MUCH NICER for having walked, naked, 100 feet in 35-degree weather. And coming back, your core temp is up so the cold just feels refreshing.

-regarding jets: I sit in the jetted hot tub at my gym almost every day, and they are nice, but the hotness of the water is the main thing. We like ours slightly hotter than commercially available tubs get (110F as opposed to 105 or so) -- so temp control would, in my opinion, be of more importance than jets.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:20 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

After the initial novelty wore off, did you end up not using yours, and why do you think so?

We moved in during the winter. My memory is a little fuzzy but I think that spring/summer/fall we got it set up and used it, and a couple times that first winter, and not much ever again after that. For a few years we maintained it more or less, but they take (a lot of) electricity whether you're using them or not, and they leak more and more over time...

I just don't recommend having one. The enjoyment isn't worth the trouble and expense.
posted by fritley at 9:38 AM on May 13, 2013

The right number of jets is the number of jets you want.

We had a hot tub in our last house, and miss it sorely. Our current house has a jetted tub which is nice but not really the same thing. The hot tub got a lot more use at our last place than the jetted tub does now. Having the water hot all the time, allowing for a spur of the moment soak is a big factor in that.

Number of jets is really a personal preference thing. I much prefer the soak in hot water factor to the jets. Mr. ambrosia loves the jets. I loved to be able to sit out under the stars, and contemplate, in the silence. Jets are not silent. That being said, even I would still get at least a few jets, to keep the option open.

Seconding the places for towels/robes and beverages. Some hot tubs have little drink holder spots, but you don't want to risk spilling a glass of wine in there (buzzkill!) so have a shelf or side table handy for that kind of thing.
posted by ambrosia at 9:55 AM on May 13, 2013

I live in Ottawa, and while I have never had a hot tub myself, I have seen many go in at neighbours' and friends' homes, and then get removed one or two years later as the expense of keeping them heated during the cold months hits home. I don't know anyone who still has one. I would totally consider putting in a sauna though . . . .
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:01 AM on May 13, 2013

My parents have one in central- to northern-Minnesota that they use year-round. They wear stocking caps in the winter.
They had one at their last house and installed another when they moved.

Keys for them are having the hot tub a short walk from a door leading inside, about 20 feet. They also put up a windbreak of sorts with tarps stretched across poles set into the ground. It keeps the wind from blowing all the way across the lake and makes for a little warmer area around the hot tub itself.

They initially installed it just because, but they have found that it's really nice for aches and pains and when my mom broke her leg last winter, she loved being able to sit and relax.

It's really lovely to sit out at night and look at the stars.
posted by Coffeemate at 10:32 AM on May 13, 2013

After the initial novelty wore off, did you end up not using yours, and why do you think so? (And, if so, how long did it take for that novelty to wear off?)
My mom had a hot tube which she installed in her (spacious) backyard. To be honest she did end up abandoning it after approximately a year. She bought it to help ease joint pains she was having. I don't think her situation is similar to yours but you may find these data points useful for comparison or food for thought. Her primary reasons for tapering off:

* Upkeep was a bother for her after awhile. She's was a relatively healthy 'early senior' (late fifties at the time) for reference. Also, It's just her in the house.
* Novelty wore off
* The tub was underneath a leafy and sheddy tree which required more effort when it came to upkeep. Not a whole lot, but noticeable - particularly keeping the cover and surrounding areas mostly clear of leaves.
* My mom's personality tends a bit towards getting intensely into a project and then getting bored with it and wandering off towards a different project. So the reasearch, setup, initial use and maintenance fed that craving in the beginning but as her attention turned to other 'projects' the hot tub sort of fell by the wayside.
posted by moxiequz at 10:59 AM on May 13, 2013

Best answer: You'll want a cover for the tub, but one that only covers the tub. Yes, it's a bit of pain to uncover the tub, but it both keeps rain out (tub+rain = constant chemical battle) and keeps evaporation down and some heat in.
Do not cover the place where the tub itself is. There's nothing so cool as sitting back in the tub during a snowfall, watching the snow melt as it gets about 6-10 feet above the tub. Also, when it's not snowing and is a clear night, seeing the stars.
Have an actual path from the tub to the door to the house of stone or wood. You don't want to traipse mud in either direction, and in the winter you want to clear this path so that you're not taking your warm feet out of the tub and walking back through the snow.
Have a place to hang towels/etc near the tub.
If your tub is clothing optional, make sure guests are aware. Yes, this seems obvious, but you'd be surprised.
The number of people quoted is not really how many are comfortable in the tub, even if they're really good friends. Sometimes you want to stick your feet out, etc.
It's nice to have benches or other seating around the tub that isn't the tub. Sometimes you want to cool off but not leave the conversation.
I'm in the a-couple-of-jets-is-enough camp. It seems like after some time in front of a jet you want to move to an unjetted area, or the jets hitting just the wrong spot, etc. I just don't see the point in those contoured layout with 4 jets seats, 'cause those jets are going to only be right for one person for a short period and they take up an awful lot of room.
Build/grow a windbreak around the tub, but not too dense. Some breeze is nice, but a cutting cold wind in Feb sucks.
posted by Runes at 10:59 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

You need to set aside five minutes each week to clean up and adjust chemistry. It needs to be a ritual. In addition, listen to the above advice. But if you set aside that time, you're golden.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:24 AM on May 13, 2013

Have multiple friends with hot tubs (at least one inside in a solarium; the rest out), and none of them would give theirs up for the world. I can't wait to install one.

As with anything that contains water, there is upkeep, but if you stay at it, it is a small routine instead of a cumbersome and gross giant chore.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:43 PM on May 13, 2013

If you have gas service on your property, you might prefer the expense of that to the expense of electricity. Be sure your system has a standby maintenance setting that will keep the water circulating and above freezing when the tub is not in use.
Lady nobeagle might prefer to have an enclosed facility for privacy. You might prefer it also when leaves and bugs and birds drift in, and the snow starts to fill your tub and the fuel struggles to heat it.
posted by Cranberry at 1:56 PM on May 13, 2013

Best answer: I've had mine for 8 years and I love it. It has a regular cover that I think is foam core to retain heat. We have no overhead cover. It has twenty jets most of which are adjustable for both direction and force but four of them are positioned for neck and shoulders. They are adjustable too and can be made to gently pour thus making a really great fountain sound.

We do have periods when we don't use it regularly, but it's easy to maintain so it's always ready for us.

My two regrets are not taking better care of the cover and not getting a quick lesson about filter care early on.

I never used any UV protection on the cover so it's a little faded and rough. Also over the years people have put solo cups and other party/picnic ware on it during parties. It turns out that the plastics reacted together somehow in the sun and now we have a couple of rings and small holes etched into the surface. The tub itself is still like new though even after 8 years of abuse.

The filter isn't a big deal really, but I learned the hard way that if it's not cleaned regularly the pump will detect the pressure change and shut off.

Good luck and have'll love it!
posted by snsranch at 5:18 PM on May 13, 2013

Hot tub owner here, living in the GTA. Mr Meathead and I bought a house that came with a hot tub. I'll tell you, it was an awesome treat the first time we sat in that hot tub, looked up at the sky, and just let the current of the jets take me away. It's awesome! It wasn't something we would buy ourselves, so having it come with our house was really cool! But, not without drawbacks...

Our hot tub was originally located in the back yard 30 feet away from the back door, and there were no stairs to get into it. We had to bring a three-step step ladder every time we wanted in to it. And because it was so far away from the back door, I froze my butt off trying to get out and then run inside (I mean, BRR!). (Not to mention the dirty wet feet you'd get running across the freshly-mowed lawn...but I digress.)

The lesson: The closer to your back door, the better, especially if you plan to use your hot tub in the winter in Central Ontario. Also, make sure you have stairs or an access to easily get in and out of your tub.

Good call getting a hot tub cover with a lifter arm. You will like that. Ours didn't come with one and try lifting a heavy hot tub cover with a bad back...

The past owners ran the tub 24/7/365. We drain it in September to save on the hydro for the winter, and because we were not interested in freezing our butts off getting into the tub and getting out of it in the winter (not my bag).

We have since moved our hot tub to a more accessible spot. Ten steps to the door, and easy access from our deck! Maintenance is no big deal - you have a pool already, there isn't too much more involved with a hot tub either than checking the levels, cleaning your filter, and water changes.

One last thing - having your hot tub covered is a great idea if it's going in a sunny spot. Ours is not covered, but it gets shade for a good part of the day.

Good luck. Enjoy! :)
posted by MeatheadBrokeMyChair at 7:07 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the tips. I'll skip the deck mutilation, and opt for site 2). I'm now longing for some star gazing in warm water while getting sleepy. Fortunately the path from the back door is along the deck, and over some concrete; I'll need to shovel in the winter, but there won't be any grass/mud. I'll definitely strive to take good care of the cover; noting that's not a fun $200-400 purchase to replace.

The site will be mostly shielded from the wind on three sides, as well as reasonably private. The covered deck near where the structure will go will be a perfect place for some hooks and bars for towels and robes. We'll be getting stairs.

We've put down the deposit on the floor model that we were looking at; we're hoping to be able to install by the end of June.

I'll definitely update the ask with anything that we learn after this that we wish we'd have known. I'll still be reading for updates from people late to the game pointing out things they wish they knew to consider ahead of time. We need to get some work done for the site (demolish a shed abutting the house, build the pad for the hot tub, and some other outside work we've contracted which might affect the area needs to be completed so stuff won't be dropped on our new toy), so there's still about a month+ for us to be enlightened.
posted by nobeagle at 9:07 AM on May 16, 2013

Response by poster: Following up, the electrician (2 quotes both the same) cost about $1k when I was estimating $500. Potentially ask ahead, if you're willing to dig a ditch ahead of time, that can save some money if they don't have an apprentice with them.

For the placement, I really wish that I'd considered snow. In part, I temporarily left a giant pile of mud/stones/etc a few feet beside the hot tub. While it made things inconvenient when opening/closing the hot tub because it's on the side of the cover lifter, it's made things down right annoying as I have to shovel there, and a slopping bit of mud and slush isn't fun to stand on.

More on snow; have you ever had a big avalanche of snow fall off of your roof? Well, we had two roof edges pointing at the hot tub; one is that wavy white plastic with little friction for the glaciers of snow to cling to. Fortunately we didn't have an avalanche break through our hot tub cover, but on the other side of our (covered) deck there was a large enough sudden fall, that it certainly seemed a possibility. With future snow falls, I'll be using a broom on that side to limit accumulation of snow. Shovelling snow/ice off of the hot tub cover isn't fun the next day when it's frozen solid and clinging to the cover.

In areas of hard water / high alkalinity, seriously spend the time adding acid and testing every 15 minutes until you get things in control on the first day of the refill. To lower the alkalinity, you need to lower the pH and aerate the water (which raises the pH and lowers the alkalinity). Our water starts at about 250ppm and I've found that around 50-60ppm the pH finally stays stable and we don't get scale.

Getting out of the hot tub to make a snow angel is an experience not to miss. For the next 5 minutes or so the water will be the most pleasant burning feeling ever.
posted by nobeagle at 1:15 PM on March 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

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