Small Hot Tubs Guide (Everything You Need to Know)

Closeup of a small hot tub at a backyard facing the trees.

A lot of people assume that owning a hot tub is out of their reach for various reasons. They worry that they can’t fit one into their budget or that they don’t have space for an outdoor hot tub in their home. Small hot tubs make for practical solutions, allowing anyone to become a hot tub owner and have a master spa experience at home.

Small hot tubs are exceptionally convenient, and there are hot tub model options available. Each has its pros and cons, and it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with them before deciding which is the right type for your home. Here are a few different available options:

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Types of Small Hot Tubs

Inflatable Hot Tubs

Brown inflatable hot tub outdoor on a grass carpet near a brickstone oven and an ironcast railing.

Inflatable tubs are gaining popularity as a portable spa option. They’re the most affordable and convenient type and are available in multiple sizes, including small options with a two to three-person capacity. The higher the capacity, the bigger the hot tub is, so if you’re looking for something small, stick with a two-person option.

If you’ve never seen an inflatable hot tub, you might be surprised by how sophisticated they are. When it comes to the jets, you have two options. Air jets are powered by the same pump that inflates the hot tub itself, while water jets require a separate pump. Inflatable hot tubs with water jets are slightly more expensive, but they tend to give a much better massage and a better overall experience.

Look for something with strong construction. There are a lot of inflatable hot tubs out there that lose shape and are a bit unstable. It’s important to choose one with reinforced sides for added support, and if you’re planning to set it up outside, make sure the material has UV protection so that it doesn’t degrade in the sun.

Finally, decide whether you want lighting in your inflatable hot tub. This isn’t essential, but it does change the look and feel of the tub, adding ambiance if you’re planning to use the hot tub at night. In an inflatable hot tub, waterproof lights are usually installed in the bottom and are operated using either a remote control or an integrated control panel.

Inflatable hot tubs do have some downsides. One is that their insulation is usually lacking, so they lose heat quickly. In some cases, the heater may run almost continuously, increasing operating costs significantly. They also have the shortest lifespan of all small hot tubs and are much easier to damage.

Plug N Play Hot Tubs

Aspire Spa - Sand Plug and Play Hot Tub

Source: Watson’s

Like inflatable hot tubs, plug n play hot tubs are portable, but they are much more reliable and have a more durable construction. One of the biggest differences between this style and an inflatable hot tub is the seating position. Inflatable hot tubs can be a bit awkward because they don’t have stable seating, whereas a plug n play or hard shell portable hot tub has a better internal structure. Each person has a seat and ample legroom.

Plug n play hot tubs last much longer than inflatable hot tubs and are often covered by a decent warranty. A good inflatable hot tub that’s well cared for might last about seven years, but a plug n play could last twenty years or more. They’re constructed using an inner plastic liner with a durable frame, usually made of wood or composite material.

Small plug n play hot tubs usually feature between eight and 10 jets. They also have a higher water capacity relative to their size. This means that a two-person plug n play hot tub is likely to hold more water than a two-person inflatable hot tub. The insulation is better, too, so they maintain the water temperature more efficiently, cutting down on operating costs when compared to an inflatable hot tub.

Because these hot tubs don’t have any permanent wiring or plumbing hookups, they’re entirely portable. You can easily move them around your deck or pack them up and take them with you if you move. That said, they are much heavier than inflatable hot tubs, so consider that when deciding how portable you need your hot tub to be.

Rotomolded Hot Tubs

If you’re not as concerned with portability, a rotomolded hot tub is a great option. They’re not as lightweight as inflatable or plug n play hot tubs, but they are significantly more durable. A lot of people consider them the best value for the money as they’re usually priced around the same as plug n play hot tubs, depending on the size and added features.

Although they’re not quite as easy to move as the previous options, rotomolded hot tubs usually weigh between 200 and 300 pounds. While they are by no means easy to move, it can be done if you have enough people to help you. You can certainly take them with you if you move out to a new house.

Rotomolding is a manufacturing process that uses a mold filled with high-density polyethylene powder. The mold is heated and slowly rotated, making sure all the areas of the mold are filled. The powder liquefies, and the mold cools. The shell is then removed from the mold in one piece. Because there are no seams, the end product is extremely durable.

There are a lot of advantages to this type of small hot tub. Basic models are generally inexpensive. As we said, they’re portable enough to move if needed, something that can be extremely difficult with a traditional hot tub with a cabinet. Rotomolded hot tubs plug into a standard 100V outlet and don’t use a lot of power to operate, though some can also be run on a 220V line for more efficiency.

These hot tubs are one of the most durable options out there, even more durable than a standard hot tub shell. There’s no wooden frame or anything that will rot, and the single-piece design is incredibly strong.

Rotomolded hot tubs aren’t quite as attractive as some other options because they’re made entirely of hard plastic. Their bubble jets are slightly more effective than a plug n play model, but not nearly as good as those in a traditional hot tub. With this type, you typically get between 10 and 30 jets, much more than inflatable or plug n play hot tubs. They take a bit longer to heat than other styles and do not hold their temperature well when the cover is removed, though this problem is not as significant when using a 220V line.

Traditional Hot Tub

Wooden hot tub at an upper deck balcony of a house.

Traditional above-ground hot tubs are also an option, even if you want something small. There are plenty of models available that seat three people. Some brands even have two-person options, though these are not always easy to find. This style isn’t nearly as compact as some of the other options available, but they are much smaller than what you might expect. While they’re not considered portable, the smaller styles aren’t nearly as cumbersome as those that seat, say, six to ten people, meaning that it’s not nearly as difficult to take with you if you move.

Two and three-seater hot tubs come in a variety of shapes, including rectangular, oval, round, and rectangular so you can choose one that fits the space you have available. They usually run on 100V pumps, while larger models use 220V and require special wiring.

There are some benefits to a traditional hot tub. The jets are more powerful and they’re much better at retaining heat. They’re also the most attractive option as you can get them in a variety of finishes and styles. That said, they are the most expensive and might not be the best choice if budget is your main concern.

Setting Up Small Hot Tubs

Hot tubs can be set up inside or outside, but either option requires some setup and preparation.

Outside

If you’re planning to set up your small hot tub outside, make sure you choose a raised, level surface that is strong enough to hold the weight of the hot tub when it’s filled with water. A concrete slab is ideal. It should be about four inches thick with a strong base underneath. You can use bricks, decking, or pavers if a concrete slab isn’t an option. Before you set up a hot tub, especially a traditional one, it’s a good idea to consult with a contractor to make sure your foundation is strong enough to handle it. This is highly recommended if you’re planning to set it up on an existing deck.

If you’re setting the hot tub up in a corner of your yard, it’s a good idea to install a walkway leading from the door to the hot tub. This can be as simple as placing pavers to create a path and helps prevent grass clippings and other debris from getting in the hot tub and clogging up the filter.

Inside

The most important thing about setting up a hot tub indoors is to place it in an area with waterproof flooring and walls. A floor drain is also a good idea, just in case you get a leak. Ventilation is important, too, as too much steam building up in the room can cause mold, mildew, and other damage.

Features to Consider

Here are some other things to think about when choosing a small hot tub so you be sure you choose the best one for your space.

Jets

Hot tub jet underwater with bubbles.

The smaller the hot tub, the fewer jets it will have. That said, you can still get a decent number of jets with a rotomolded or traditional hot tub. Keep in mind that some inflatable hot tubs use air jets which are not nearly as effective as water jets. If you’re considering a hot tub for therapeutic reasons, go for something with water jets. The effects of air jets will not be nearly as effective.

Insulation

The better the insulation, the better the hot tub will hold onto heat, but there’s a little more to it than that. A well-insulated hot tub is considerably more energy-efficient, and the components don’t work as hard to maintain a warm temperature. They don’t experience the same level of wear and tear and have a longer lifespan.

Cabinet Material

If you go with a traditional hot tub, remember that the cabinet is not just for looks. It supports the shell and houses the wiring, heater, and plumbing. Insulated cabinets are better, especially if you live in an area with cold winters. Wood is the most attractive option, but composite materials tend to be more durable.

Extending the Life of Small Hot Tubs

A small round hot tub at a deck with barbecue and patio table set surrounded by pine trees.

No matter what type of small hot tub you choose, there are some things you can do to make sure it lasts as long as possible. Here are some general tips to improve efficiency and extend the life of your small hot tub.

  • Use a properly-fitted cover. Not only does this help prevent heat loss, which puts less strain on the internal components, but it also prevents debris from getting in when you’re not using it.
  • Test the water after every use. There are simple test strips available that allow you to quickly and easily check the pH, alkalinity, bromine, chlorine, and hardness. Keeping the water balanced prevents red eyes and itchy skin from too much chlorine and prevents anything from growing in the water.
  • Turn the jets and lights off overnight and lower the temperature a few degrees when the hot tub is not in use. That way, it isn’t running at full capacity when you’re not using it, but it doesn’t have to work too hard to heat up when you are.
  • Maintain any filters by using a cleaning wand or garden hose to remove any debris. Every few months, rinse and soak the filters thoroughly and replace them every year.
  • You should drain the water every three months or so to thoroughly clean the hot tub. Hot, moist areas are an ideal environment for bacteria growth. Regular cleanings also prevent calcium buildup and algae growth.

FAQs

Now that you know a little more about small hot tubs, you might have some questions. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions.

1. How long do small hot tubs last?

It depends on the material. Inflatable hot tubs usually last between five and 10 years, while plug n play and rotomolded can last for as long as 20 years. Traditional hot tubs have a comparable lifespan, usually lasting a little longer than 20 years. Keep in mind that to get the most life out of any hot tub, you have to perform regular care and maintenance.

2. How much do small hot tubs cost?

Again, this depends on the type of hot tub you choose. Inflatable hot tubs can cost as little as a few hundred dollars, while traditional hot tubs may be $10,000 or more. On average, small hot tubs cost between $2,000 and $5,000.

3. Can I use an inflatable hot tub in the winter?

Most manufacturers do not recommend using an inflatable hot tub in the winter, especially outside. Most include warnings that the hot tub should not be used in temperatures lower than 40 degrees.

4. Are small hot tubs loud?

Generally, small hot tubs are no louder than any other type of hot tub. Inflatable hot tubs are generally the loudest, but all hot tubs get a little louder over the years.

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