Are Inflatable Hot Tubs Worth It?
If you’re thinking about buying a blow up hot tub, or are just curious because they seem like fun. You may have some nagging questions in the back of your mind that need answering. After all an inflatable hot tub is relatively cheap. They can be bought for around $400 and complete with all you need.
That's a cheap hot tub in my book, especially when you consider all the features that are supposedly included. Things like 100+ jets, intelligent water heating and filtration, with some even boasting self-inflation.
If you’re like me then you are always skeptical at first when something appears to be "cheap". Sometimes cheap things don't last, or don't match your expectations. So what about inflatable hot tubs?
Let's take a closer look at these very appealing consumer items. Hopefully by the end of this article you will be better informed and not likely to suffer any disappointment should you choose to buy one.
The major arguments against buying an inflatable spa can be broadly divided into 4 main issues.
An inflatable hot tub is too small
An inflatable hot tub is definitely at the smaller end of the “size” spectrum. When the specifications declare a capacity of 4 people, what that really means is 2 children and 2 adults all sitting close together, or 4 adults all sitting very close together. The average 4-person blow up hot tub that holds around 200-250 gallons is best suited for 2 people, with plenty of room to stretch out and relax. That’s not to say that any more people is out of the question, but more than 2 and you’re likely to find yourself making contact with someone else. For some this closeness may not be a problem.
There are some inflatable spas that claim to be good for 6 people, like the 85 inch Intex Pure Spa. But even for these larger portable spa’s, the capacity is generally overstated. A 6-person spa is probably in reality best for 4 people with some comfort room.
To help get a more accurate idea of how big the average inflatable hot tub is, you should closely consider the dimensions and the fact that what makes an inflatable spa well insulated are the thick walls of trapped air. These walls are on average around 10 inches thick.
What that means is, if the hot tub is say 77 inches in diameter, then the useable area is actually less. As an example the Intex Pure Spa 4-person hot tub is 77 inches in diameter on the outside, but take away those thick air filled walls and you end up with an inner diameter of only 58 inches.
Try to imagine how big that actually is. Get a tape measure out and use it to gauge the size. A better idea is to mark the inner diameter out on the ground. Use a rope or a garden hose to physically map out the size. When you have your circle on the ground, sit in it. Ideally get some others to do the same. You should be able to get a good idea of how many people you personally would feel comfortable with.
This idea may seem a little “wacky”, a bunch of people sitting on the ground in a circle. Just writing this now it does sound kind of funny, but honestly it’s the best way, apart from going to a showroom somewhere and sitting in a real one.
The depth of the hot tub should also be considered. Popular inflatable hot tub brands like Coleman and Intex stand 28 inches high but only allow for around 24 inches of water. That’s 2 feet of water. Again, get out the tape measure and imagine sitting in 24 inches of water.
You can sink down however till the water covers most of your chest. Just don’t expect to be able to sit upright with the water lapping your chin.
Some inflatable hot tubs are deeper. The Grand Rapids and the Rio Grande, two models from the Canadian Spa Company, are slightly deeper at 29 inches.
Inflatable hot tub jets are not very powerful
There is one factor that effects both bubble jet strength and the speed and efficiency of the water heating system. That factor is power.
In order to make blow up hot tubs like this easy to setup and easy to move, a sacrifice has to be made. Power consumption must be limited to what can be drawn from a standard household circuit.
What does this mean in practise? In terms of the strength of the bubbles, it means you wont get a body thumping rush of water like you might in a more expensive “conventional” hot tub.
Most inflatable hot tubs produce bubbles by pumping air through a series of tiny holes Manufacturers will call these holes “jets”.
What ever you call them, when you place enough of them together you do get some power and you will experience a pleasant light massaging effect. Most inflatable spas have somewhere between 100 and 120 bubble jets. That much air does produce some energy. The water fills with air and seems to increase in volume as the bubbles charge towards the surface.
Read any number of verified amazon reviews and you’ll find a number of similar comments, all expressing surprise at the strength of the bubbles. Just don’t expect too much of a deep massage.
If you are expecting much more than a pleasant and relaxing sensation there are still some models of inflatable that offer more powerful hydro jets and some that offer a combination of both hydro and air bubble jets.
The Intex Pure Spa Jet & Bubble Deluxe Portable Hot Tub is an example of a hot tub that sports a combination of 120 bubble jets and 4 high performance massage jets. These massage jets produce a much more powerful stream of water which can be used to soothe needy parts of the body. The massage jets do provide a more restorative feature than the bubble jets alone The jets are located about halfway up the inner wall and are positioned well to give your back a nice massage. Again just don’t expect too much. You won’t get the same experience from a $400 spa as you would a $10,000 one.
Inflatable Hot Tubs are slow to heat and quick to cool
The heating system in most inflatable hot tubs is also limited by the restraints of a 15-amp power supply. They do heat up slowly. At around 2 degrees per hour. That means the average inflatable with a 250-gallon capacity will take approximately 24 hours to reach the recommended 104 degrees F.
There is no way of sugar coating the fact that these babies take time to heat up.
OK, so now we know how long it takes the water to heat, lets analyse this a bit deeper and see what the ramifications of this might be.
The first thing is a lack of spontaneity. If your hot tub water is cold you won’t suddenly and on the spur of the moment be able to decide to have a spa. Planning and time are required.
One popular way to manage this situation is to run the hot tub for a couple of hours every day. This helps maintain a good core temperature, which means if you do spontaneously get the urge to take the plunge you will only have to wait 3 or 4 hours. That’s not too bad, but definitely not spur of the moment.
You could of course do as many people do who use their hot tubs regularly and that’s to run the heating system more regularly. Heating the water for 12+ hours per day would not be uncommon for those that like to use the hot tubs daily.
The average inflatable hot tub with a good cover and some cheap and simple foam insulation underneath will lose approximately 6 degrees over a 12-hour period. You can use this as a guide and make your own calculations as to how many hours heating would be required to satisfy you hot tub needs.
If your thinking about how much its going to cost to keep the water in your spa hot you may like to read this article about Hot Tub Running Costs. One criticism often levelled at inflatable hot tubs is the fact that they do not hold their heat. Lets think about this a bit.
Any hot tub will experience heat loss. The laws of physics affect a cheap hot tub the same as an expensive one. So some amount of heat loss is inevitable.
An inflatable hot tub, to state the obvious, is filled with air and air is actually a very very good insulator. Think about double glazed windows. What makes them effective is a layer of air. We have already noted earlier that inflatable hot tubs have thick side walls, up to 10 inches thick. This actually provides great thermal protection from heat loss on the sides. Couple this fact with some insulation underneath the hot tub and a decent cover and you have a hot tub that is reasonably well protected from heat loss. Not as good as more expensive models but not to shabby either and one that can certainly be managed.
While an inflatable hot tub might offer reasonable thermal protection there is one other aspect common to most that will affect water temperature. The air used to power the bubble jets comes from outside. So if the ambient air temperature outside is 50 degrees F, then you are pumping in 50-degree air and passing it through the water. This will cool the hot tub water down relatively quickly. How quickly depends on the outside temperature but a rough guide would be 20 - 30 minutes of bubbles before the temperature drops to the point where it requires heating.
The Canadian Spa Company range of inflatable hot tubs is one exception to this. These premium quality spas heat the air drawn in from outside before blowing it into the hot tub.
You might well ask why not just turn the water heater on at this point.
Here is where we need to raise another limitation. Yet another impact of running on relatively low power is the fact that for most inflatables you cannot have both the bubble system and the heating system operating at the same time. So when you are enjoying the bubbles and the water starts to get cold your going to have to turn off the bubbles before you can turn on the heater.
As always if you pay a little more you generally get a little more and so there are some more advanced and more expensive blow up hot tubs that allow you to run both the heater and the bubbles simultaneously. Some models of Intex and Canadian Spa hot tubs are examples.
Cheap hot tubs don’t last
It would be fair to say that an inflatable hot tub won’t last as long as built-in one.
Even though the manufacturing techniques are good and the materials high strength. It’s still basically a vinyl object filled with air.
Despite this perhaps harsh claim, inflatable hot tubs are relatively strong. The walls a rigid and are strong enough to sit on.
Punctures are the main thing to avoid.
If you follow some simple rules like no jewellery or glass and regularly maintain the filter and pump systems you should expect up to 5 years of good reliable service from your spa.
After prolonged exposure to the outside elements the vinyl in most inflatables is likely to deteriorate, causing tearing. This is much harder to patch than the pinhole sized puncture that’s most common. A point will be reached when it becomes impossible to patch anymore.
The issue of reliability is a common thread when reading amazon reviews from customers. Things not working or only lasting a few months is what some unhappy customers have experienced.
Lets put that into some perspective. Just about any product can suffer from a momentary lapse in quality control. Even the most expensive of things may break down occasionally.
Despite some unhappy customer feedback. inflatable hot tubs in general all receive fairly high ratings 4-4.5 stars on average. That gives you some indication that many more customers are happy rather than unhappy.
To sum it up
An inflatable hot tub can be lots of fun. Just expect a relaxing body massage rather than a therapeutic penetrating one. Many people find that an inflatable works well to soothe an aching body.
After all the majority of benefits gained from hot water therapy have little to do with how powerful the jets are or how big the area is. Just soaking in hot water can have many health benefits. Like improved circulation and a better nights sleep.