Should I get a hot tub?
August 10, 2007 5:03 PM   Subscribe

As much as it frightens me, I'm really starting to enjoy hot tubs. Would I really use one at home or am I just enjoying them during vacations?

I hate hot tubs and hot tub guys. You know the types -- creepy dudes with mustaches from the 1970s that love to get people into their hot tubs. All they talk about is crazy sex stories involving jets and being underwater. I don't want to be that guy.

But over the last year or two, I've begun trying them out whenever my hotel has one. I just got back from a week at the beach renting a house and I looked forward to going for a soak at the end of each day. They're really relaxing and a good way to de-stress the day away before bed and the hot tub did help my aching back after a couple hours of bike riding a couple days ago.

So I'm considering whether or not to get one for my home, but the first obvious question is if it's really a useful thing or is it that during the "fog of vacation" I enjoy them for reasons I won't when I have one at home.

My question to everyone (especially those that already have one) is are they really useful and relaxing? Are they worth the (I'm guessing) $5k or so? Do they help sore muscles?
posted by mathowie to Home & Garden (40 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
As a person whose muscles are sore around 23 hours a day, I can vouch that the do help, especially the ones with strong jets. My wealthier acquaintances who have them, swear by them. I don't know how much time you have in a week to lounge in one, but you're Matt freakin' Haughey, deserve a hot tub.

Plus, you know, it'd be nice for meetups. (Everyone thank me later.)
posted by StrikeTheViol at 5:15 PM on August 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Mrs. Plinth used to work designing jets for Softub and spoke very highly of the product line. The smaller models are about $1K USD. From my point of view, it's a nice idea, but in practice youe hot tub ends up being another pet in your life in terms of maintenance. If you're OK with that, go for it.

At some resorts I've been to, there's little better after an active day, but while I'm in the tub, I can't help but be grateful that I don't have to maintain it - it's not my thing, thanks.
posted by plinth at 5:17 PM on August 10, 2007

I had one for a couple years. LOVED IT! It was worth every penny. Great for socializing, too, without any creepiness. It was on my back deck here in Montana, so I especially loved it in the winter. Nice, cold air around your face, while your body is toasty warm. Great for sore muscles.

I have missed it ever since I had to give it up for a move, and would love to have one again. I used it nearly every night before bed, and it was a great way to relax before bed. The day's stress melted away and I fell right to sleep.

Sorry to sound like an ad, but damn.
posted by The Deej at 5:19 PM on August 10, 2007

Hah, I'm doing this exact same calculation right now, especially since Costco has some nice freestanding units for cheap, so I've been asking my hot-tub owning friends for the scoop. Thus far, what I've gathered is:

You do have to maintain them much as you would maintain a swimming pool, but on a much smaller, cheaper, and easier-to-deal-with scale due to the smaller volume of water. You'll still have the buckets of chlorine tablets and water test kits sitting around.

Get a cover. It makes a world of difference in reducing your maintenance by keeping the stuff that needs to stay out, out and keeping the chemicals that should stay in, in. Also safer for mathowieJr.

Get one with an auto-timer: waiting around for the water to heat up tends to kill the motivation to use one. The friends who use theirs the most have it set to be at dipping warmth by the time they arrive from their commute home.

The kind that are combo hot tubs/lap pools (with the positional jet) are not great at either function. OK, but not great.

They are awesome for aching backs, I frequently nip over to my SIL's house to use hers and can vouch for that part. The main reason I'm researching one for my own yard is it's such a bummer to have to drag my sodden, limp body out of her tub and into my car when what I really want to do is just directly crawl into my bed post-tub.

if you get one and suddenly get the urge to grow sideburns, a big mustache, and switch to rosé...well, don't blame me
posted by jamaro at 5:20 PM on August 10, 2007

Oh, and cost-wise: check with your local retailer for a floor model. I think I paid $2800 for one that was normally over $4000. Costco also carries them from time to time.
posted by The Deej at 5:21 PM on August 10, 2007

One thing to think about, depending on where you intend to install it: we had a hot tub in a room that technically connected to the house (we walled in a porch, basically.) After a while, the steam made our wooden doors inside swell, making them sticky to open and close.

Cleaning is another thing- if you're the type who has no problem cleaning a cat box on a regular basis, then you'll probably maintain your hot tub just fine. If you're more lax about things like that, you're going to have to drain it and scour it a lot more often than is strictly convenient.
posted by headspace at 5:23 PM on August 10, 2007

We're trying to move & when we move, our hot tub stays here... They're nice to have access to, especially when you have muscle aches & a bath just isn't deep enough to sink into, but ultimately for us, the maintenance wasn't our thing & really we ended up not using it as often as we thought we would, once the novelty wore off.
posted by susanbeeswax at 5:29 PM on August 10, 2007

Someone once gave me a great bit of advice about swimming pools which probably applies just as well to hot tubs.

"You don't need a pool. What you need is a friend who has a pool. That way you get to use it regularly but without the expense and the maintenance."
posted by essexjan at 5:50 PM on August 10, 2007

"You don't need a pool. What you need is a friend who has a pool. That way you get to use it regularly but without the expense and the maintenance."

Well, a friend who will drive you home in your bathrobe once you are relaxed from the hot tubbing and are ready for bed. Really, a hot tub is nothing like a pool in this regard.

As far as maintenance, my hot tub had an ozone unit installed, and all I did was test the pH level every couple days and add chemicals as needed. I kept the cover on it when not in use, so I didn't have to fish leaves out. I think I only did a complete drain and scrub once or twice a year, and it wasn't even that dirty when I did it.
posted by The Deej at 5:58 PM on August 10, 2007

Do you like saunas? They have the same muscle-relaxing properties as hot tubs, but they require much less maintenance. We love having a sauna and we would never consider a hot tub because of the maintenance issues.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:03 PM on August 10, 2007

Well, hmm. When we remodeled, we chose to install a large one person jetted soaking tub in our master bath, and I am endlessly grateful for that decision. I suffer from back pain, and 30 minutes in the tub cuts the pain by two thirds. It's really, really wonderful when I need it.

We have also thought about an (outdoor) hot tub, but the expense and hassle have kept us from getting one. Thing is, I get 80% of the benefit of a hot tub with my soaking tub, and about zero hassle. Sure, it'd be cool to soak outside, and nice to do it socially (except my wife isn't into baths)... then again, we'd need to dedicate a space to it that now is garden, or patio...

If it's possible that an indoor solution would work for you, my advice is to concentrate chiefly on LENGTH and even more importantly DEPTH. My tub fills to about 20", and it's glorious.
posted by carterk at 6:09 PM on August 10, 2007

We have thought about a hot tub after a recent vacation. But for a different reason. It was unexpectedly rainy and cold (British Columbia) and our almost two year old was bored, bored, bored. So we took a cue from friends of ours who sometimes use their hot tub as a pool for their kids. We turned down the temperature down to 88-90 degrees, put the toddler in her bathing suit, and we all went for a dip. It was her favorite thing ever. She loved it. Now that we are home, we can't get her out of the bathtub.
posted by jeanmari at 6:18 PM on August 10, 2007

I can also highly vouch for a hot tub. When we used to have one, I was in it all the time.

If it's possible that an indoor solution would work for you, my advice is to concentrate chiefly on LENGTH and even more importantly DEPTH. My tub fills to about 20", and it's glorious.

This is really personal preference. Personally, I'd take a smaller one that's deeper and I can really get my whole torso in the body instead of visa versa, though this partly depends on how many people will be using it.
Most importantly, for me, was the jets. Some comes with 2-3 jets/seat while others come with 12 swirling things/seat. You really should test beforehand. When my family was looking in the past, the spa companies had tubs with water you could try out.

I would never go with an indoor hotub. The steam can wreak havoc. Even with a top, that 30 minutes to an hour of nasty chemicals seeping into the house. And not all tops are made equal.

Also, don't pay full price for a hotub. Start listening up for potential deals. A lot of times when someone with a spa moves, the new homeowner doesn't want it forcing one of the parties to get rid of the spa at a cut-rate price.
If you're paying $5k for a spa, it most likely means you're getting the uber-deluxe version. Nothing wrong with that, but you can easily get by for a few thousand or less.

Make sure you check the chemicals constantly, especially at first. If the chemicals get out of whack, getting them back into balance can be a pain.
After a few months of learning you spa's chemical cycles, you can ease up a bit.
posted by jmd82 at 6:27 PM on August 10, 2007

Worth every penny. And they greatly increase the "curb appeal" of your home, if not the actual value, should you want to sell it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:42 PM on August 10, 2007

We used to have one in 2004, but we sold it before a move because we were going to be temporarily in an apartment and it was a bitch to move around. Also around here in Texas, mosquitoes dramatically reduce the fun of the hot tub for 9 months out of the year (we used incense surrounding the tub, but that gets old after awhile). I'd say we used it often, about once every 3 or 4 days. If you can slip into it nude (without the problem of wet swimwear) you'll probably use it even more.

My parents sold theirs last year without telling us and I was a bit bummed out.
posted by rolypolyman at 6:46 PM on August 10, 2007

We have a jacuzzi connected to our pool, and it is worth every cent we paid. My husband is a lot less stressed after a horrendous work week after relaxing in the jacuzzi, and he and I have really enjoyed it as a couple. Sometimes we even let the kids use it, too. ; )

It's also very good for sore muscles from, say, cycling.

Go for it!
posted by misha at 6:51 PM on August 10, 2007

two words: dude soup.
posted by knowles at 6:59 PM on August 10, 2007

Speaking as a [gay] dude with a mustache who grew up in the 70s, I think hot tubs are great and not creepy at all. However, we never used the one at old house which the previous owners installed. The main reason was that they located it in an extremely strange location in the yard, side yard right next to the neighbors, and far from both the doors of the house.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:06 PM on August 10, 2007

You have weird hot tub squick because you are from California. Out here they don't have the same "Ewwww" factor. If you want one, you should get one.
posted by jessamyn at 7:15 PM on August 10, 2007

I have one now.

It sits out in the back yard. I'd say it is worth it.

On cold nights, I like to head out to the hot tub and just silently relax for a while. Then with my body warm, head straight to bed. Its great for insomnia that way and makes for a restful sleep.

I strongly disagree with anyone saying it is a pain to maintain. I am the laziest person in the Universe and I maintain it just fine. The thing is, the more you use it, the more maintenance it needs. But if you use it a lot, then it will be worth it, no?

For mine, I just dump some non-chlorine shock in there. A few tablespoons every couple weeks. In practice, it happens to be anytime I remember. And everything is just fine.

The water is completely replaced every 6 months - year. And you buy a new filter every year or two.

Thats it. I also use it on cold chilly grey days. Take a book and sit in the hot tub outside in the back yard. Totally worth it.
posted by vacapinta at 7:45 PM on August 10, 2007

Also nobody mentioned that there are a variety of methods of hot tub maintenance. It took me a year to figure out which one worked with my not-maintaining-things lifestyle. Feel free to email if you have more questions, Matt.
posted by vacapinta at 7:48 PM on August 10, 2007

I miss my hot tub. I had one in a prior life (pre-departure from house, hot tub and abusive asshole - I'm better off, but...)

I miss my hot tub. I used to be the first one up every morning. I'd grab my cuppa coffee, a towel, and head to the back deck. Lower myself into the nice hot water, and watch the sun come up.

My god, it was sublime.

If I lived closer I'd offer to clean it for you, just to have the ocassional use of it!
posted by Corky at 7:57 PM on August 10, 2007

How private is your potential tub (and pump equipment) area, and how long do you plan to keep your house? I've had the benefit of friends with hot tubs, and they are very nice, but the pleasant experience is drastically reduced when you know that all the neighbors can see you out their upstairs windows and they are going to hear every splash and whirr. Our next door neighbors have one, I can see it from the breakfast nook and laundry room, and the equipment is on the side of their house right outside our kitchen (and not near any of their own windows). It is loud.

There's no guarantee that you'll get any return on the investment if you put a hot tub outside. For some people it's a plus, for others it's another thing to break or leak and do water damage, plus the cost of upkeep or getting rid of it. Buyers with young children may be worried about the potential dangers.

A deep jetted tub in the bathroom is a better investment if you'll be selling in the next few years. If you're staying there a while, though, do what makes you happy and don't worry about the resale.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:23 PM on August 10, 2007

They're fantastic, particularly the ozone ones. The hot tub before bed is a great end to the day, as well as a nice start to the morning.
Maintaining it is very simple, as long as you're good about tossing in a small amount of chemicals as soon as you're done using it, and run it on the clean cycle.
posted by lilithim at 8:39 PM on August 10, 2007

Just be sure to get one of these.
posted by nanojath at 9:54 PM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

don't feel limited by the spas you see in the store, consider designing and constructing your own deep, japanese-style hot bath. don't let your poultry get in it.
posted by bruce at 10:53 PM on August 10, 2007

you live in perfect hot tub climate. let me know when it's installed so i can come visit!
posted by judith at 11:28 PM on August 10, 2007

Just a note- free or extremely cheap hot tubs with motor/pump issues show up on Craigslist relatively often. If you have a friend with a truck, it's very possible to procure a hot tub for yourself for the price of a new motor/pump assembly ($300-500ish) and a case of beer (for the friend with the truck).
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 11:44 PM on August 10, 2007

At a previous house, we had a little house built onto the back of the garage, right next to a door into the garage.
A moisture barrier protected the garage wall. We had an 850 gallon tub installed above ground with a step or two to access the tub. The west wall was solid and the works were outside of it. The south wall was common with the garage and the other two walls had 8' glass sliders.

With locks! You will want to protect your daughter and her friends and future siblings(?), so be sure that you can limit access.

Some of the best advice we got was to specify a gas water heating system since the electric ones can get pretty expensive. Even in Oregon, you have to prevent freezing.
posted by Cranberry at 12:18 AM on August 11, 2007

They're really relaxing and a good way to de-stress the day away before bed ...

What you're describing Matt, is the normal way to end the day for 125,000,000 Japanese people. We don't use those large size 'tubs' you are talking about, just small units for one person to sit and soak, but if you're worried that this would be something you would end up not using, our experience here says that a hot soak for ten minutes or so, makes the perfect end to any day ... good or bad!
posted by woodblock100 at 2:54 AM on August 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

My father has a hot tub along these lines with a TV mounted above it (which sounds gauche as hell but is an undeniably awesome way to watch "Alien vs. Predator," in my experience). I also had access to a friend's tub and one at my old health club. My conclusion is that it's totally worth it, especially if you have frequent backaches or joint problems and since we so often have the cool damp weather I think makes a tub feel best.

The way you avoid being "that guy" is don't be that guy. Feel free to only share your tub with those family and friends that you are already totally comfortable with. If you ever do feel uncomfortable, comedy is always helpful. Don't call it "hot tubbing," call it a shvitz. Mention how good it feels for your rheumatiz. Do the James Brown Celebrity Hot Tub dance. Trust me, sex will be the last thing on anyone's mind after that.

Finally, at the risk of sounding like "that lady" the absolute best thing about having your own hot tub is that you get to be naked in it. The mustache guys are 100% correct on that score. Good luck!
posted by melissa may at 4:47 AM on August 11, 2007

As a former hot tub owner (we had one at a previous house), I want to offer a slight "con" view. Ours sprung a leak, which we fixed, but then it still leaked. So we drained it to better fix the leak. Then we never filled it back up.

Part of that was a drop in income (I went from working full-time to going to grad school and working very part-time). The electricity costs were quite high - I seem to remember around $100 a month in winter (we lived in southeast Michigan) to heat it.

Some of it was also a loss in novelty. After awhile the chlorine air that you breathe as well as the occasional overheating I felt reduced a bit of the fun and novelty. I do still like getting in hot tubs, but it's more of a once-in-a-few-months thing at hotels or in-laws' house. I don't have as stressful a job anymore (I went from being a designer at a very high-stress agency to being a professor - an environment I like better), so I don't have those unwinding needs as badly. It was great after a long commute home in the dead of winter to get in the hot tub.

The electricity cost bothered me most. If I did something like a hot tub at our current house, I'd look into something like woodblock100 suggests and look for a Japanese-style sitting bath. I presume they're more efficient both in terms of water/chemical use and electricity use.

Good luck with whatever you choose!
posted by Slothrop at 5:51 AM on August 11, 2007

we chose to install a large one person jetted soaking tub in our master bath,

seconding this. At the last place we rented, there was a jetted bathtub that could fit two people (and would fill up to your neck). you know what's more awesome than a hot tub? a friggin HOT TUB BUBBLE BATH. my girlfriend filled the thing up every night, and made it known that if we ever bought a house, we'd be putting one in.

the downsides are: probably more expensive, takes 30-40 minutes to fill (but hot tubs take time to heat up, right?), i'm guessing you'd have to install a new water heater (i have no idea how this thing kept putting out hot water for an hour at a stretch).

It might be impossible to put one in your bathroom, but if you can fit it in, highly recommended. And then you're not the hot tub guy -- you're the guy with the badass bathtub.
posted by fishfucker at 8:22 AM on August 11, 2007

In one of the apartments my wife and I lived in in Austin, there was a hot tub there and we were in it constantly. I think it's a great way to relax and de-stress. And when I seriously pulled a muscle in my back, a soak in a really hot hot tub one evening had an almost miraculous effect in getting the pain to go away.

I think, if you can afford a hot tub and really like it, I think it makes sense.

Finally, at the risk of sounding like "that lady" the absolute best thing about having your own hot tub is that you get to be naked in it.

Well, in the Austin YMCA men's locker room, it's standard for men in the hot tub to be naked (I always thought that was a weird scene ...) so you may not have to buy your own to be naked.
posted by jayder at 8:34 AM on August 11, 2007

but hot tubs take time to heat up, right?

Typically in a bigger hot tub, you either keep it at a constant temp or have it on a cycle (Heat up to 103 in the afternoon, and cool down to 98-99 at midnite). In larger spas and depending on your heater, it can take an hour per degree to warm up.
posted by jmd82 at 9:46 AM on August 11, 2007

We installed a hot tub at our last house. Maintenance was much like vacapinta described- when we remembered, not a big deal, never seemed onerous. We positioned it directly outside the master bedroom, which has a door to the outside. Our favorite evening ritual was to climb in with a glass of wine and just unwind, and then immediately crawl into bed. The best sleep aid ever.

We mostly kept the hot tub for ourselves- out of town visitors were welcome, and we spent one New Year's Eve in it, with a couple we are very good friends with, but the creepy hot tub guy thing has never come up.

We're in temporary interim housing now and miss the hot tub immensely. The next place will either come with one or we will have one installed. We're hooked.
posted by ambrosia at 9:58 AM on August 11, 2007

You'll still have the buckets of chlorine tablets and water test kits sitting around.

Get a cover. It makes a world of difference...

Get one with an auto-timer: waiting around for the water to heat up tends to kill the motivation to use one. The friends who use theirs the most have it set to be at dipping warmth by the time they arrive from their commute home.

i just want to say no-no-no, on a few points here. Almost nobody uses chlorine for a hot tub or bromide. There are much better methods now. As I said, just a little shock every week or so...

Also my outdoor tub is at a constant 103-104 degrees. Of course it has a cover. Modern hot tubs (not wood ones) are designed much like a thermos. A tiny heater occasionally turns on should the water temp start dropping.
posted by vacapinta at 11:32 AM on August 11, 2007

Seconding vacapinta. Even 10 years ago, when I had mine, I never dealt with a "warm up" period. It was ready at all times.

Maybe some definition of terms is in order:

To some people a "hot tub" is simply a large tub for soaking, commonly made of wood. It has no jets for pushing water and air around.

What many people call a hot tub, it probably more accurately called a "spa" and is often referred to by the major brand name Jacuzzi. This is molded plastic, with perhaps a wood facade on the exterior. As vacapinta mentioned, the plastic is insulated. Anything like this should be kept at a constant temperature, and won't need much maintenance. Regular pH level checking and adding the right checmicals took me about 5 minutes every other day.

Now, if you have parties every night, with a dozen people in and out of the spa, you will have more maintenance. With just a few people, it's not a big deal, and it's totally worth it.
posted by The Deej at 11:45 AM on August 11, 2007

We got a spa about 3 months ago and absolutely love it. Vacapinta has some great advice and knowledge - the chemical thing is no biggie once you get into a groove with it.

A couple of things I did not see mentioned:

Make sure you have adequate electrical service. The spa will need it's own 50 (maybe 60) amp breaker. So if you have a house with 100 amp service and central a/c and lots of electronics like we do, you'll need to add a couple thousand for that upgrade. Lots of fun to find this out after the tub arrives.

Foundation. Most people put them on a concrete slab, although there are a few other ways to do it. Me and 4 others poured one in an afternoon and it was pretty fun. Not too expensive either, I think it was about 350 in concrete (delivered). Digging out the spot and framing it is a little rough.

There doesn't need to be any weirdness with the clothing. We mainly use ours nekkid, and most of our friends are cool with it too. When family or others come over we just use suits, however I have noticed that detergents and such from suits tend to screw with the water pretty good.

One last note: Sex in a spa (not ours, this one time in Mexico...) is not all that great. Lots of water sloshing all over, and it doesn't act very well as a lubricant. Get warmed up in the spa and then head to the bedroom!
posted by Big_B at 4:03 PM on August 11, 2007

I'm late to the discussion, but I wanted to say as an ex-hot-tub owner, the happiest part of my commute to town is driving past the hot tub supply store, knowing that we'll never need to go in there again.

The first year with the hot tub was lovely, but after a while I began to use the tub less and less. I found myself maintaining it more than I was soaking in it. The electricity costs were high, and repairs to seemingly simple things like a damaged arm for the cover were shocking.

We moved to a new house without a hot tub, selling to a couple who I hope have a longer honeymoon with the tub than we did.
posted by Yogurt at 2:16 PM on August 15, 2007

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