Installing a new hot tub is usually one of the most exciting home improvement projects because of the entertainment and relaxation it can bring to your home. When deciding you want to add a new hot tub to your yard, you will discover there are two main choices in terms of types of hot tubs – portable and in-ground. Portable hot tubs, also known as above ground hot tubs, continue to gain popularity due to their affordable price point, versatility and convenience. Modernize has created this comprehensive guide for understanding everything you need to know about portable hot tubs prior to planning an installation.
What is a Portable Hot Tub?
A portable hot tub is simply a hot tub spa that is above ground, rather than in-ground (or built into the ground or landscaping). For this reason, portable hot tubs and above ground hot tubs are interchangeable in terms of terminology.
There are many reasons why homeowners choose portable hot tubs. Their versatility allows you to place them on virtually any flat surface in your yard – whether it’s on your patio, on a flat concrete surface in your backyard, or elsewhere. Portable hot tubs also come in a variety of materials, designs, levels of energy-efficiency, seating options, and offer a wide selection of features to choose from.
Portable vs. In-Ground Hot Tubs
The main differentiating characteristic between portable hot tubs and in-ground hot tubs is that portable hot tubs can be moved and placed anywhere in a homeowner’s yard. Conversely, in-ground hot tubs are a permanent solution that cannot be moved or relocated. For all intents and purposes, if you invest in a portable hot tub, you would be able to take it with you if you decide to move to another home. You would not get the same benefit with an in-ground hot tub.
Beyond portability, above ground hot tubs have other advantages over in-ground hot tubs. Although they are not as customizable or “natural looking” in terms of blending in with your landscape, they use less energy, are more affordable, and contain more jets. Continue reading for additional advantages of above ground hot tubs.
Benefits of Portable Hot Tubs
More Affordable: One huge benefit of opting for a portable hot tub is that they will be much less expensive to install compared to an in-ground hot tub. While your local hot tub professional will still need to deliver an above ground hot tub to your residence and install it for you, these hot tubs do not require building into the ground. Homeowners can save as much as $5,000 or more when choosing a portable hot tub over an in-ground hot tub.
More Jets: Usually, portable hot tubs feature a larger quantity of jets compared to in-ground hot tubs. They usually have around 30 to 70 hydrotherapy massaging jets, some having as many as 100 or more. Compare this to in-ground hot tubs, which usually have about 5 to 15 jets.
Easy set-up and maintenance: Since they are portable, these hot tubs are much easier to set up and install. The hot tub company will simply deliver the hot tub to your home and handle the electrical requirements necessary for set-up. The entire process usually takes under a day from start to finish. Compare this to building an in-ground hot tub, which can take 3-12 weeks for construction and set-up. Above ground hot tubs require less routine maintenance compared to in-ground spas.
Comfortable seating: A huge advantage of above ground hot tubs is comfort. Most portable hot tub models have molded, built-in interior seating. Each seat also typically has its own adjustable jets, creating the most relaxing experience. In-ground hot tubs, on the other hand, normally have bench-like seats which can be less comfortable.
Disadvantages of Portable Hot Tubs
Appearance: Many homeowners will prefer the natural appearance of an in-ground hot tub compared to a portable hot tub. In-ground hot tubs can be customized to match the design and landscaping of your yard, while above ground hot tubs are less customizable and usually come in prefabricated designs and styles.
Limited shapes: Because they are not as customization friendly, there are less shape options for portable hot tubs. The sky is the limit for in-ground hot tub shapes, and many homeowners choose unique designs such as triangular, hexagonal, and diamond-shaped spas. Portable hot tubs usually come in customary round, square, and rectangular designs.
Limited materials: Like shapes, portable hot tubs usually have less materials for the exterior and interior to choose from. These hot tubs usually use acrylic or vinyl, whereas in-ground hot tubs can be customized with a wide variety of materials.
Types of Portable Hot Tubs
There are two main types of portable hot tubs available – inflatable and hard shell. Hard shell hot tubs are more popular and are made with higher quality.
Inflatable: Inflatable hot tubs are cheap, DIY hot tubs that can be installed on your own. While this type of hot tub is easily portable and a “plug and play” option, it’s important to keep in mind their downsides. Inflatable hot tubs usually have a maximum 5 year lifespan, have shallow water levels, are uninsulated, and do not have built-in seating.
Hard shell: High-quality portable hot tubs come in the form of hard shell hot tubs. Hard shell portable hot tubs can last 20 or more years, have built-in seating and energy-efficient insulation, include massage jets, and have a high weight and water capacity. If you are looking for a portable hot tub that is built to last, hard shell models are your best bet.
When thinking about the materials of your hot tubs, consider both the hot tub’s exterior and interior. Portable hot tubs have an exterior layer called the “shell” or “cabinet,” which is typically made from a synthetic acrylic or fiberglass material, but often appears like real wood. One benefit of this synthetic shell is that it is designed to be weather-resistant, durable, insulated, and easy to clean. Homeowners can usually choose from a variety of colors and textures for this exterior shell – for instance, a mahogany, marble, or cedar finishing.
When it comes to the interior of the hot tub, the most common materials are vinyl, rotomolded plastic, and acrylic – with the most durable and long-lasting material being acrylic. For portable hot tubs, the interior material is usually molded with built-in seating for added comfort.
In terms of insulation, the best portable hot tubs use a layer of multi-density and fibercor foam to keep water hot and energy-efficient. Hot tubs with full or partial foam insulation (as opposed to multi-density) will be less energy-efficient but likely more affordable.
Sizing and Dimensions for Portable Hot Tubs
Compared to in-ground hot tubs, which have customized sizes, portable hot tubs are pre-fabricated and therefore come in set sizes. Homeowners will choose the exact hot tub sizing they want from the manufacturer’s list offerings prior to installation. For this reason, homeowners should measure the area in which they plan to place their hot tub, as well as the seating they want, before choosing a hot tub make and model. For instance, if you plan to install the hot tub on your patio, measure the area and make sure the dimensions will fit comfortably, with extra room around the spa for guests to move around.
Overall, above-ground hot tubs are larger than in-ground hot tubs due to their added height. Many portable hot tubs are also available in larger sizes compared to the typical in-ground hot tub.
Take a look at the common dimensions for portable hot tubs based on the number of seats to better plan for the installation:
Small (2 to 4 seats)
5’4” to 7” Width
29” – 35” Height
Mid-size (4 to 6 seats)
6’6” to 7’9” Width
33” – 39” Height
Large (7 or more seats)
7’7” to 9” Width
36” – 39” Height
Features and Accessories
Selecting add-on features and accessories for your above ground hot tub can truly personalize the experience. Here are several of the most common add-on features and accessories homeowners choose when installing a portable hot tub.
Adjustable massage jets: Most hot tub brands offer massaging jets that can be adjusted and placed in different directions depending on your preferences. If hydrotherapy is a priority for you, look into portable hot tub models with an upwards of 70 or more jets!
LED lights: Many hot tubs come with changing LED lights for a unique, customized experience, especially beneficial when enjoying your hot tub at night.
Steps: Ask your hot tub professional about options for steps. Steps can help your guests easily and safely enter and exit the hot tub.
Built-in audio system: Incorporate a sound system to enjoy music when using your hot tub. Many audio systems are Bluetooth controlled or voice controlled, so you can easily control music while using the hot tub.
Advanced filtration: Portable hot tubs can support advanced water filtration systems, such as ozone and self-regulating water purification.
Molded seating: Choose a hot tub model with built-in molded seats for added comfort and a more relaxing, personalized experience.
Cover: Hot tub covers are important for keeping your spa clean as well as protecting it from the weather. Some companies even offer remote-controlled covers that lift and close at your command!
How Much Does a Portable Hot Tub Cost?
All in all, you can expect portable hot tubs to be more affordable compared to in-ground hot tubs – both in terms of installation and operational costs. But just how much does a portable hot tub cost? Below we provide the average costs to expect for budgeting purposes – for both upfront installation and ongoing operational and maintenance costs.
$3,000 – $5,000
$5,000 – $10,000
$10,000 – $15,000+
To install an above-ground hot tub, the cost mainly depends on the quality, features, and size. Basic portable hot tubs will include the most common and generic spa features and will accordingly be the most affordable – at just $5,000 to $8,000. Mid-range hot tubs will cost slightly more at around $8,000 to $12,000, giving you higher quality features. Lastly, luxury hot tub models will cost the most at about $13,000 and up. However, they will provide the highest quality experience, with features such as ergonomic molded seating, 100+ massage jets, sound systems, and more.
Keep in mind that in addition to quality and features, sizing also plays a role in the installation cost for a portable hot tub. As a rule of thumb, larger hot tubs with an upwards of 10 seats will cost more than a small 4 person hot tub.
Explore our Hot Tub Cost Guide to learn more about pricing. Also be sure to shop around and compare different makes and models to get the most accurate pricing for your budget.
Energy and utility costs
Maintenance and servicing
$20 – $30 monthly
$100 – $150 monthly
Of course, portable hot tubs require electricity and heating to operate. This means that the more you use your hot tub, the more it will likely cost you in the form of monthly energy and utilities. Normally, the size of the heater (in terms of wattage) will impact the cost of energy usage.
Additionally, most hot tubs cost between $100 to $150 monthly to properly clean and maintain. Maintenance needs include chemical treatment, water balancing, filtration, and deep cleaning. Be sure not to neglect routine maintenance, as it could diminish the lifespan of your above-ground hot tub spa.
The good news is that portable hot tubs are usually more energy-efficient and cost less to operate compared to in-ground hot tubs. If you are looking to lower your monthly operational costs, it is worth it to look into energy-efficient models with high-quality insulation and adjustable jet settings that you can control.
When to Choose an Above-Ground vs. In-Ground Hot Tub
When it comes down to it, homeowners who want to install a new hot tub in their yard will have to choose between above-ground and in-ground models. To help guide your decision, we have provided a run-down of circumstances that lend themselves best to above-ground hot tubs vs. in-ground hot tubs.
Above-Ground Hot Tubs
In-Ground Hot Tubs
Existing pool (or planning to install)
Patio or stand-alone placement
Consider that portable hot tubs can be placed closer to the home, which makes them ideal for cold weather when you don’t want to trek through your yard to reach your hot tub. Portable hot tubs are also better for patios, and they can be resold if you decide you no longer wish to own one.
In-ground hot tubs are better for homes with existing pools, or when a homeowner plans to build one. They are also better in creating a “natural look” that blends into your backyard’s landscaping. An in-ground hot tub will boost the value of your home, but keep in mind that you will not be able to resell the spa itself.
Preparing for Installation
Luckily, portable hot tubs are very easy to set up and install. But you should still be prepared for installation day to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible.
Once speaking with a professional and choosing a model, the company will deliver the above ground hot tub spa directly to your home. All you need to do is find a flat, level surface where you want the hot tub to be situated. Sometimes, the professional may suggest pouring a level pad of concrete to support the hot tub if your space is not quite flat enough.
The area should have easy access to a source of electricity, and ideally a water source for filling the tub. Portable hot tubs require either 110V or 220V of electricity to operate. If you go with a 110V model, you will likely be able to simply plug the hot tub into an outdoor outlet and use it immediately. For 220V models, an electrician’s work is often required for installation. Also consider trees and foliage in the area, as you may want to avoid an area that is especially prone to fallen leaves and debris.
To further guide you in your research of the best hot tubs for your home, take a look at our ranked list of the top 10 hot tub brands and our full hot tub buying guide. If you are ready to speak with a professional about installing a portable hot tub at your home, Modernize can help. Our network of hot tub professionals are highly qualified and ready to speak with you about adding a brand new hot tub to your yard.
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