Wood Hot Tubs vs. Acrylic Spas
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Born in the fifties, growing up in northern California in the sixties, I can remember when my parents installed their first hot tub. It was a used oak wine vat that my father got from a winemaker he knew in Napa.
He set it up in the backyard, and filled it with hot water from the kitchen. After the first soak, when we all got out, our skin was stained a burgundy color! Mom was very nervous and put us in the bathtub and scrubbed our skin until it hurt.
Later on, he added a small Jacuzzi® brand pump, and pumped the water through a wood burning heater. A year or two after that he added a small pool filter, so he wouldn't have to change the water so often. He also put in a gravity fed shower with a pull chain. It was a great outdoor shower, because the water was hot, straight from the tub.
This was 1965-ish, so remember there were no spa or hot tub suppliers back then, things were sort of cobbled together. And no, my parents weren't hippies - they would consider themselves more avant garde - what you might call 'early adopters' nowadays.
Wooden Hot Tubs or Acrylic Spas - which is better?
ROUND ONE - APPEARANCE
Both spas and hot tubs have appealing designs, but the natural wood staves of a hot tub, and the round shape has a more zen-like feel. Wrapped in a beautiful wooden deck and steps (which also hides the equipment and helps to retain heat, is the most beautiful approach to hot water soaking. The smell of the redwood or cedar wood gives off a natural aromatherapy
Winner: Hot Tubs
ROUND TWO - COMFORT
Early wooden hot tubs didn't even have benches, you had to stand up! Most hot tubs have simple wooden benches around the edge of the tub at different levels or depths. Hot tub walls are straight, and frankly, not that comfortable. Spas, on the other hand, have buckets seats, molded lounges and head rests.
ROUND THREE - COST
With a wooden spa, you can definitely spend more than for an acrylic spa. Or, you could also build your own, from a kit or from scratch, (or from an old wine vat like my father) and save quite a bit of money. But comparing an assembled wooden hot tub with heater and filter to a modern spa of similar size, hot tubs are more expensive. A DIY wood hot tub, coupled with one of our spa packs is cheaper than most new spas.
Winner: Hot Tubs
ROUND FOUR - FEATURES
Spas pummel hot tubs in this round! Modern spas have cool lighting, controls, waterfalls, audio/video. Hot tubs with a spa pack also have digital controls, and lights can be added to a hot tub, but most hot tubs are decidedly low-tech, and not usually feature rich. With a transistor radio and a nearby stream, you have all you need.
ROUND FIVE - MAINTENANCE
Hot Tubs made of wood understandably require more maintenance than a hard acrylic or rotomold spas. The wood exterior should be stained and sealed every few years (just like a spa cabinet), and the inside should never be treated, only cleaned with a stiff brush and a hose when draining. Filter and chemical maintenance should be the same on both types, although the more equipment you have - the more potential for maintenance exists.
ROUND SIX - SANITATION
Spas and hot tubs are equally sanitary when filtered and treated with spa chemicals, without which, both types would become green and potentially unsafe. However, spas, with their miles of hose and pipe, creates an ideal environment for biofilm, which can grow in poorly treated spas, or spas left empty. Hot tubs typically have very little plumbing for biofilms to form colonies. Although the smooth surfaces used in spas help with a clean surface, wood contains natural antiseptics, especially the rot and insect resistant types of wood used in hot tubs. This helps inhibit algae and bacteria from growing on the surfaces, kind of like Microban.
Winner: Hot Tubs
ROUND SEVEN - EFFICIENCY
Hot tubs made of wood are not as efficient as a well insulated acrylic spa with cabinet, even though both can use insulated hot tub covers. The thickness of the wood matters, and a hot tub can hold heat for hours, but it can never be as efficient as a well insulated spa. A poorly-insulated spa perhaps, but not one that is well insulated. However (always a caveat), if your hot tub is heated with wood, your electrical use will be less than a spa.
ROUND EIGHT - DURABILITY
Even a well maintained wood hot tub will eventually develop wood rot. This can be repaired and stopped, or one can use a vinyl liner made to fit your spa, like a small aboveground pool. Even so, it is unlikely that a wooden hot tub can be continuously used for longer than 30 years. The surfaces of plastic or acrylic spas can scratch, chip or fade, but are generally impervious to structural damage. You could continue to rebuild a spa forever, I suppose - or at least 50 years.
>>> Let's see, that's 5 rounds for Spas, and 3 rounds for Hot Tubs. Some rounds were close, and both fighters gave it their all - but Spas Win!
On the surface, it looks like Acrylic Spas have more benefits than their wooden ancestors. But for people like my father, proud to have once told me that he has "never been in one of those flooded boats" - there is nothing like a wooden hot tub with a wood fired heater, especially for homes that have lots of 'natural' appeal.
Either way you do it ~ enjoy your soak!
Hot Tub Works