Published: 04/10/2019 By James is a Director of Roy Brooks and a ‘happy tubber’As local estate agents, we regularly receive enquiries from homeowners who are thinking of carrying out loft conversions or rear extensions (or sometimes even basement conversions). Is the cost going to be covered by the increase in value? But what about installing a hot tub? Not as expensive as extending your home, but not cheap either.
Hot tubs are becoming increasingly popular both for relaxation and as a social experience but, as with extensions, will the cost be covered by an increase in property value?
The simple answer is ‘maybe,’ but the first question you should ask yourself is whether you are thinking of this for yourself or for adding value for sale. If it is principally the latter reason, then forget it; even if the cost is covered there won’t be much profit to be made (in the same way that would-be sellers ask us whether to put in a new kitchen prior to sale). The answer is ‘no,’ since just as a new kitchen is down to personal preference, so is a hot tub. Having said that if you are considering selling, and there is an obvious site for a hot-tub, then there is no harm in spending a little effort in producing some 3-D sketches of a re-landscaped garden to show this. It will help with marketing your property.
So, you have decided that yes, you do want a hot tub to use—and for more than the first few novelty months, then the next considerations should be size, type and features. Even location, height, orientation, access and of course the all-important budget which should be constantly referred to!
Naturally you will have done the usual internet research, and hopefully visited showrooms and returned home with glossy brochures so you have a good idea of what you want. But here are some tips from our own experience.
The non-branded suppliers on the internet (some of whom have showrooms albeit not in convenient locations) seem very good value. You can buy a 2m² tub with plenty of jets for about £4k/5k installed, whereas something similar from one of the well-known brands is likely to be about twice this price. When you are in the showrooms the sales person will naturally justify their price by telling you that the more jets there are, the less water pressure per jet, but do you really want to be in a tub where you are going to get peppered like a shotgun. Then of course there is the argument of quality and guarantee which I believe is justifiable (but not for twice the price).
As an engineer I understood the power/pressure argument, but it seemed to me that the cheaper internet tubs generally covered this with up to three reasonably powered pumps, so I was not concerned that individual jets were under-powered. I did however appreciate the shotgun argument and wasn’t sure we wanted to be battered by a gazillion jets in a boiling broth of water. However, in our case aesthetics played a large part; whilst we liked the idea of a hot tub, we didn’t find any of them exactly attractive, so we were keen to make our tub as unobtrusive as possible. This meant choosing a tub that wasn’t dominated by jets and perhaps more importantly had a simple, warm colour with a tactile surface texture. If you are happy with a shiny gloss finish in either bright white or something ersatz that looks like the paint mixer has broken down mid-cycle, then maybe go for the cheaper option. In the long run you probably won’t get back the extra cost of the branded tubs, since most buyers will think a ‘hot tub is a hot tub’ and will only pay extra for it in essence. But since you will be using it yourself you should think about how happy you will be when you are in it or looking at it. Whatever you choose I would recommend having two pumps since a single does limit the jet experience.
As for size, unless you are planning for cosy twosomes, I think the range the range you should consider should be 2m² to 2.2m². Under 2m² does limit the important function of social inclusivity for the family and friends, and above 2.2m² the tub becomes quite dominant, not to mention stretching the budget.
Regards type and features this is down to personal preference. Initially I was sure we needed two loungers but on researching this and chatting to the hot tub suppliers, decided to drop this requirement but definitely have one. In hindsight this was the right decision. Some of the fun in being in a tub is to change seats and try out the different seat depths and jet arrangements, and not everyone likes the lounger (although I certainly do!). Once you have chosen the size and type, this tends to determine what additional features come with the package and different companies will vary. We had no interest in fountains, waterfalls or fancy son et lumière’ features or indeed TVs, and ended up with a single (colour-changing) light which in fact is a little disappointing—a few more lights would have improved the ambience (but cannot be fitted retrospectively). As for being self-cleaning, our tub seems to do this anyway (the dirt particles naturally being circulated and sucked into the strainers and thence the filter), so I can’t see the point.
Location is of course dependent on your garden layout and will often be obvious, at least to you. The one recommendation I have is to keep it close the house. We find the hot tub is most used in the winter, which means the escape route from tub to indoors should be as short as possible! For bigger gardens you may consider locating the tub in a purpose-built cabin, or outdoors but adjacent to a changing-room cabin. If you are considering having the tub indoors, I suggest you try one out first. Our preference was for outdoors where we could see the stars and enjoy the fresh air, the indoor experience with chlorinated air was certainly not to our taste. Furthermore, the hot tub can be a focal point for entertaining, so do consider adding seating nearby. In our case we built a bespoke semi-open retreat (out of matching hardwood timber to the decking around the tub) so friends/family not in the tub are connected to those in it.
For us the height was very important insofar that we wanted it sunk in the ground to be unobtrusive as possible. If it were a swimming pool most people would choose in ground to above ground, budget permitting, so why should a tub be any different? However, some compromise is needed here. If it is fully sunken, then it can be more difficult to get into since you will be stepping down into an inside step which is under water. If the outside level is about the same as the inside step, then this is the best option. Other considerations are the additional cost of earth removal and also drainage; if the ground water level is high then you will need to install a sump pump and float switch which is best avoided. You can check on ground water levels by digging a trial hole and seeing if water accumulates, which should be done in the autumn/winter when the water table is high.
One further consideration which is often overlooked, is the cover lifter. You don’t often see the covers in the brochures or online, since they are not pretty. But a cover lifter (which aids the lifting and storage of the cover whilst the tub is in use), is essential. These are hinged at one end of the tub on the cladding panel just below the main shell and require some depth below the hinge point to allow for rotation of the arm. You can get lifters that allow for a higher outside level, but this means that when raised, the cover is even higher in the air and so even more noticeable and somewhat overbearing whilst you are in the tub.
I think our level was the best compromise. To hide the exposed part of the tub as much as possible we built a plinth comprising two decking planks on end around three sides, so that the sides blended in with the deck. The photo shows the plinth part-completed and the difference with and without the plinth is noticeable. For anyone interested in the technicalities, we wanted to keep the plinth as thin as possible to avoid protruding beyond the shell. We opted to join the planks with stainless flat bars recessed into the planks on the inside with similar brackets bent to shape, to join and form the corners.
On a practical point, the plinth had to be dismantlable to allow access to the front of the tub for occasional maintenance of the pumps, etc. Likewise, the decking in front of the tub was built as a separate lift-out panel. With the planks set transversely, the panel section is indistinguishable from the fixed decking either side.
Orientation is also important, and often overlooked. The tub will usually be close to a wall and you will want the opened cover to be against this, tucked out the way. The hinges for the cover lifter are generally opposite the control panel and the side panels are strengthened here for hinge support—but do check with your supplier that this is the case. Another check is the position of the inside step, which is obviously affected by the orientation, and how that suits your particular access. Finally access. The tubs are usually unloaded on edge, on the top of low-profile dollies, but where height is really tight the installers can transfer the tub onto slip mats so the headroom limit is only say 2cm more than the width of the tub. If you don’t have side access, then you will have to revert to a mobile crane which will add £600–£800 to your budget. We managed to squeeze ours through our side garage, but the installers told us that craneage is not uncommon.