Buying a spa can be a daunting task. There are lots of things to consider like how much to spend, what size spa you need, what brand to buy - and that’s all before getting technical on features and extras.
To help in your decision-making, we've listed below the top 9 features to look for in a spa.
These recommendations are based on a range of factors including design, build, durability and reliability - and of course, our 30 years of selling and servicing many different brands of spas.
1. An automated sanitising system
All spas require water maintenance to keep the spa’s water clean and clear.
As a spa owner, you’ll want to spend your time using and enjoying your spa – not maintaining it. That’s where an automatic sanitising system comes in. It does most of the work for you, so you can just sit back and relax.
There’s a lot of discussion in the spa industry around which is the best automatic sanitising system for spas and swim spas including chlorine, salt water chlorination or ozone and UV systems.
Three very good systems we can recommend are the HotSpring® Freshwater® salt water chlorination system and ‘no-bypass’ filtration, the Jacuzzi® ClearRay® water steriliser with UV-C technology and 4-stage ProClarity® filtration system, and the Vortex 'Purezone' UV/Ozone + 2 stage filtration. Learn more about Ozone vs UV sanitising systems in this article.
Whichever method you choose, there's no doubt having an automated sanitising system will make owning a spa a lot easier and more enjoyable.
A very good automatic sanitising system can easily add $2000 to the price of a spa when compared to the same spa without. We think it’s well worth the money given the amount of effort and time it'll save you over the lifetime of your spa.
You’ll still need to manually add a small amount of chemical sanitiser a week but it’s just a 3-minute job in our experience.
Do: Save yourself the hassle and opt for an automatic sanitising system
Pro tip: Some salespeople might say you don’t need to add sanitiser. You do. It’s an added protection and peace of mind against pathogens that may be present in un-sanitised or poorly sanitised spa water. We recommend using approved chlorine or non-chlorine based spa sanitiser.
2. Good levels of insulation
Most of the cost of running a spa pool is to do with heating the spa’s water.
Whenever the water loses heat the spa’s heater has to replace it. No surprises that the more heat you lose from the water, the more the heater has to run and the more power you use.
To keep running costs down, you’ll want a spa with really good insulation that keeps as much of the heat in your spa as possible. The more effective the insulation, the lower the heating cost.
There are many types of insulation used in spa pools and manufacturers and retailers naturally claim that theirs is the best. This article explains the differences between insulation types in more detail.
The best spas on the market use what’s called ‘full foam’ insulation, where the entire cavity between the spa’s shell and the inside of its surrounding cabinet is filled with foam.
If the spa you’re looking at is not fully foamed, the next best solution is insulation on the shell, cabinet and the base.
Full foam insulation can add $2000 to the retail price of a spa but the savings over time on running cost could be considerably more, making good insulation a great long-term investment.
Do: Think of the long term power savings and spend a bit extra on a well-insulated spa
Pro tip: Look for ‘full-foam’ insulation - this is the most effective.
3. A heavy-duty cover with tapered sides
While you’re looking at insulation, don’t forget one of the biggest factors in keeping the heat inside your spa - the lid!
Heat escapes from spas by convection or evaporation so it’s important to buy a spa with a heavy-duty, well-insulated lid that can stop convection and prevent evaporation.
We’ve found that the covers on most cheaper spas are thin and light with poor sealing properties.
More expensive spas, on the other hand, tend to have thick, high-density, heavy covers that provide a strong seal against evaporation. This is what you should be looking for in any spa you buy.
The best covers include padded seals through the middle fold and around the edges, further preventing heat loss. Ideally, you’ll also want a cover that locks onto your spa. This seals in the heat along with the added safety of keeping the kids out.
While looking at covers, make sure the cover is tapered so water can run off and doesn’t sit in a pool in the centre. A minimum taper of 90mm at the centre down to 60mm at the edges is recommended.
Larger covers can be heavy and difficult to take on and off. We highly recommend giving your back a break and using a cover lifter to do the work for you. As the name suggests, these mechanisms are specifically designed to take covers on and off spas.
Cover lifters also make the cover last longer because it's not being dropped or dragged on the ground. View spa lifters on the Spa Store website.
Do: Make sure your spa has a thick, higher density cover to retain heat and keep running costs down.
Pro tip: Use a cover lifter! Your back will thank you.
4. A jet set designed for hydrotherapy
If massage, muscle relaxation and relief from aches and pains are a priority for you, then you’ll want to pay attention to the jets and overall hydrotherapy experience of the spa.
When it comes to hydrotherapy, jet design and placement is more important than the number of jets.
Manufacturers often inflate the jet count of a spa by using lots of little water jets or air jets. However, simply having the most jets in a hot tub doesn’t necessarily mean it provides the best hydrotherapy.
Some of the best hydrotherapy spas on the market including Jacuzzi®, HotSpring® and Bullfrog® actually have relatively low quantities of jets.
It’s also important to have a variety of jets with different strengths and massage types to suit your therapy needs on the day.
Different massage jets provide different types of massage actions e.g. pulsating, rotating, soothing or kneading. The jets should be strategically positioned to target specific areas of your body e.g. lower back, neck and shoulders, hips and feet.
If you’re looking specifically at deep massage jets, in our view the bigger the jet the better the massage. Anything over 75mm diameter is recommended. That’s because while jets with smaller openings might feel more powerful, larger jets are able to target a greater area of your back at once which is better for massage and muscle relaxation.
This not only ensures that the hydrotherapy penetrates deeper into your muscles, but it also pulls more blood flow into the target area which enhances recovery.
Once again, it’s about quality and placement over quantity. Too many powerful jets can lead to low water pressure and poor jet performance.
Another thing to be aware of are the spinning jets. Make sure they have 'bearingless technology' (i.e. no bearings) to ensure they remain spinning for longer.
While considering hydrotherapy jets, have a look at the impressive set up on Jacuzzi®'s PowerPro™ collection. Learn more about Jacuzzi's hydromassage technology, which in our opinion is one of the best hydrotherapy experiences you'll find.
Do: Look for spas with a range of jet types that are strategically placed to target specific areas of the body. Jet design, position and composition is more important than quantity.
Pro tip: Make sure any spinning jets have bearingless technology.
5. A circulation pump
Ok, so on the face of it, a circulation pump doesn’t sound very exciting. But in reality - this nondescript piece of machinery could make all the difference to your spa ownership experience.
Not every spa has a circulation pump. Some have 2-speed pumps instead. These are noisy, less reliable and use a lot more power than quality circulation pumps.
A spa with a circulation pump would be at least $1000 more than the same spa fitted with a 2-speed pump, but it is well worth the extra money.
Circulation pumps are more energy-efficient, much quieter and cheaper to run, and result in cleaner water than the two-speed pump varieties. This article goes into more detail about spa running costs.
Do: Pay a little extra for a circulation pump. It’ll be quieter and cheaper to run and result in better water quality.
Pro tip: Opt for models where the circulation pump is plumbed in for consistent water care, greater efficiency and water quality.
6. A treated timber or injection-moulded plastic frame
The best options for spa framing are treated timber or injection-moulded plastic.
You may have heard mixed reviews about timber framing for spas. In this area, it’s important to differentiate between treated and untreated timber, as well as the weight and density of the wood.
It’s true that untreated, light timber should not be used for spa frames as it can rot and attract mould and vermin – the last things you want to share a relaxing spa with!
Heavy-duty treated timber, on the other hand, is perfectly suitable for spa framing. It has none of the problems of untreated timber and can last the lifetime of your spa without any issues.
Some of the best spas on the market use treated timber for their spa frames.
For example, Jacuzzi® use timber in all its ranges, while HotSpring® uses timber frames in their Limelight and Hotspot range. Unlike some cheaper spas on the market, these frames are robust and the timber is well treated.
Be warned, many suppliers claim their frames are treated when in fact they are just painted.
Ask to see absolute proof of the timber treatment. You can also ask the retailer to remove the side of the spa so you can see the framing and judge for yourself.
No matter what the marketing hype says, a well-made heavy-duty, treated timber frame is also far superior to the 'stainless steel' frames that are now on the market.
Don’t be fooled by the advertising. These 'stainless steel' frames are usually made from low-quality, thin, light gauge steel and are designed to cut the cost of manufacturing. We’ve seen many rusted steel frames purporting to be ‘stainless steel’ when they clearly aren’t.
Injection-moulded plastic frames are also a very good option for spa framing. In fact, we think injection-moulded frame technology is the best system of framing available.
For example, Vortex®’s Permaframe construction is a timber-free framing system that is impervious to rot, mildew or vermin damage. Produced using recycled, high impact plastic, it is designed to last indefinitely.
Other brands that use injection-moulded plastic framing include HotSpring®, Signature®, Bullfrog®.
One area you will want to pay attention to is the base pan that the spa sits on.
Make sure it has a moulded, upturned base. This stops water getting into the inside of the spa’s cabinet when it rains, damaging pumps and equipment, and protects the timber frame from rot. We recommend a minimum of 50mm upturn on base pans.
Do: Make sure any timber framing is treated timber. Stay away from untreated timber as it can rot and attract mould and vermin.
Pro tip: Ask to see evidence of the timber treatment so you can be sure it is what the retailer says it is.
7. US-made acrylic shell
At the heart of any quality spa is a quality spa shell. After all, while pumps and other equipment can be replaced, the spa’s shell cannot.
Spa shells come in a variety of materials, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Vinyl, rotomoulded-plastic and acrylic are the most common materials used.
Of these three, acrylic is by far the superior material.
High-quality acrylic is durable, energy-efficient, and looks great. It also retains heat really well when insulated with quality materials like high-density foam.
Spas with acrylic shells are more expensive than those with plastic or vinyl shells but they’re better at holding in the heat so the running costs will be lower.
You’ll find that many of the top brands use acrylic shells in their spas including HotSpring®, Jacuzzi® and Vortex Spas®.
Before you buy, there are three very important factors to consider when looking at spas with acrylic shells.
Firstly, they must be US-made. No one outside of the US makes decent quality acrylic sheet used to make spa shells. If it doesn’t state US-made, it isn’t.
Second, you’ll want to check the amount of resin that is applied to the acrylic shell. This is probably the single biggest determiner of spa’s life span. Discuss this with the retailer, but if you are brave enough, try to pick the spa up under the lip. If you can lift it, even an inch, don’t buy it!
Finally, the shell should be oven-cured to ensure correct adhesion between the acrylic and the fibreglass backing. Ask your spa salesperson if the spa they are selling has an oven-cured shell, if they look at you blankly, it probably hasn’t!
Do: Remember that while pumps and other equipment can be replaced - the shell can not. Make sure it's built to last – opt for US-made acrylic.
Pro tip: Make sure the acrylic shell is US-made, ensure it is oven-cured and check the amount of resin used (if it's light enough to easily lift - walk away).
8. A recognised brand of control system (with wireless technology)
If your control system fails – your spa won’t work, so it’s a pretty important piece of machinery and you’ll want to get it right.
Make sure the spa you’re looking at uses a recognised and reliable brand of control system. The big ones are Balboa®, Gecko® and SpaNet®. HotSpring® make their own and these are also very good.
If the supplier is not claiming they use one of the above brands – steer clear! If it’s a no-name brand you'll struggle to find replacement parts and could end up spending a lot of money on a new control system if anything goes wrong.
You’ll also want to check it has the latest wireless technology so you can connect your devices and remotely control the spa settings from wherever you are.
The best systems should allow you to wirelessly connect music and apps, turn the lights on/off, adjust the temperature, turn the jets or the air bubbles on/off, set the operating and cleaning modes and more.
Do: Make sure the spa has a recognised brand of control system
Pro tip: Look for spas with wireless technology so you can use your mobile device to remotely control your spa settings and connect music and apps.
9. Decent warranties and after-sales service
Technically it's not a feature, but we've have added warranties and after-sales service in here as it is a critical area to consider when buying a spa.
A warranty is a written guarantee issued to you by the retailer or manufacturer, promising to repair or replace your spa if anything goes wrong within a set period of time.
As a minimum you should expect:
- Plumbing and heater: 2-5 years warranty
- Pump and equipment: 2-5 years warranty
- Acrylic surface: 5-8 years warranty
- Shell structure: 8-10 years warranty
- Frame: 10+ years warranty
- A 60-day money-back guarantee
Be aware that warranties can vary in the spa industry.
There are too many retailers and manufacturers coming into the market and offering warranties that are longer than they have been in existence.
Many shut down before the end of the warranty period, leaving customers with no support and potentially no access to replacement spare parts. This can render the spa unusable.
The best way to avoid this happening to you is to buy from a retailer with a solid track record like Spa World™ and HotSpring® who have been around for decades.
Another important thing to consider when buying a spa is the level of after-sales service offered by the retailer.
All spas will require consumables and after-sales support over their lifetime. Many retail groups nowadays have an integrated parts and consumables division. The best retailers offer 7-day support via a centralised call centre.
Do: Check the warranties before buying a spa and make sure you buy from a retailer with a solid track record.
Pro tip: If the warranties offered are longer than the company has been in business, steer clear.
The average spa has hundreds of components and manufacturers have options for every one of them.
As a buyer, it can be tricky to work out what features are worth paying attention to, what to avoid and which are just nice-to-haves.
Hopefully, this article has helped give you a good idea of the non-negotiables you should look for in a spa, and why they are important.
To recap, when buying a spa make sure it has these 9 features covered:
- Automated sanitising system
- Good levels of insulation
- A heavy-duty cover with a tapered shell
- A jet set designed for hydrotherapy
- A treated timber or injection-moulded plastic frame
- A recognised brand of control system (with wireless technology)
- Decent warranties and after-sales service
If the spa you’re buying has these features, you can have confidence that you are making a good purchase that should give many years of hassle-free enjoyment.
If you get stuck, simply choose a reputable retailer to guide you through the process. In Australia, we recommend Alpine Spas®, Spa World™, HotSpring® and 4 Seasons®.
For more information, visit the Spa World product pages where you see all of our spas, swim spas and prices.
Our Ultimate Spa Buyers Guide is also a fantastic resource for anyone interested in purchasing a spa or swim spa.