Comparing Hot Tub Brands

Inflatable hot tub
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Inflatable Hot Tub

Hot tubs and spas for every budget

Not many expert sources compare brands of hot tubs, and still fewer evaluate specific models. The one credible review of hot tub brands comes from Spasearch magazine, which publishes an annual list of Trade Certified Brands and Certified Manufacturers, awards that are based on customer satisfaction surveys and ethical business practices. While they don't give any additional information or recommend any specific spas from those manufacturers, the information provided can still be a helpful in choosing a reputable spa manufacturer. Each blurb links to the manufacturer's website, which then guides you to finding a dealer.

The one question we can't address about these types of hot tubs is how good a value they are, or even how much they cost. All -- as is the case with most hot-tub brands mentioned by expert reviews -- are sold exclusively through specialty retailers who are prohibited from disclosing their pricing online. You have to contact those dealers directly to discuss pricing, options, installation, etc. All of these manufacturers have dealer locators and often offer online quote forms at their site.

That said, we did find a number of hot tubs available from retailers such as HomeDepot.com, Amazon.com, Wayfair.com and elsewhere. These spas are ignored by most hot tub experts, and some recommend against them, but many receive enough positive user feedback to indicate that they are very good performers, especially in light of their price relative to models sold through specialty retailers.

Chief among those are hot tubs sold under the Lifesmart brand. Lifesmart spas aren't named at Spasearch. However Lifesmart spas are made by Watkins Manufacturing, which is also the maker of Hot Springs hot tubs -- a brand that's very well regarded -- and users generally rate Lifesmart hot tubs highly at retail sites.

For example, we saw good feedback for the Lifesmart Antigua (Est. $4,600) hot tub, also known as the LS-400-DX. It features 110-volt plug in and start operation, with 17 "therapy" water jets plus a waterfall jet. It meets the California energy standards, so it's highly efficient. Features and extras are limited, but a 2-inch thick locking hard cover is included. No one will mistake the mahogany toned plastic skirt for real wood, but it doesn't draw too many complaints for being unattractive. The company's RockSolid shell is claimed to be tougher than shells of competing hot tubs, and user feedback doesn't indicate any disturbing patterns regarding durability -- though the odd complaint or two isn't unheard of.

When reviewing owner feedback, we find that this five-person spa is well liked. Some express trepidation over making this type of purchase without seeing the hot tub first, but most say they are more than pleased over how things turned out. Some reviews are posted after a year or more of ownership.

If your budget is smaller, the Lifesmart Bermuda (Est. $2,500), also known as the LS-100-DX, looks like a good choice. This is a compact four-person tub with sandstone-colored RockSolid shell and surround. It can hold up to four people and features 12 water jets, a waterfall jet, and a spa light with changeable red and blue lens caps for whichever color suits your mood or décor. It comes with a locking cover and meets California energy standards.

Like the Lifesmart Antigua, the Lifesmart Bermuda draws very good feedback. Overall, owners say that the Lifesmart Luna works well and is easy to set up and use. Some report performance is still going strong after a year or more. There are some negatives noted even among fans, however. One is that while the Bermuda is rated to hold up to four people, things can get a little tight with that many. The spa can also struggle to maintain heat in very cold conditions. Most say that these are minor tradeoffs in exchange for the value, energy savings and general performance they receive.

Portable and inflatable hot tubs

Some consider most above-ground hot tubs, such as the models listed above, to be portable, but they are large, heavy units that most won't want to move around very often once they are set up -- and you'd have to drain them to do so. Inflatable hot tubs are truly portable, and are relatively inexpensive, however they have some significant downsides -- most of which seem to bother hot tub aficionados and experts more than they bother owners, or at least those owners who understood what they were getting.

A case in point is the Coleman Lay-Z-Spa (Est. $350). It has all of the downsides of most inflatable hot tubs as outlined in our discussion of Types of Hot Tubs, including the use of air blowers instead of water jets, less durable construction, and an aesthetic that screams kiddie pool more than it does spa.

Most owners, however, don't seem to care. They love the Lay-Z-Spa's relative value as it's one of the least expensive hot tubs you can buy. Owners also like the easy set up and low maintenance. Some note that it takes some time for the water to warm up completely. Once warm the Coleman does a surprisingly good job of maintaining its temperature, most say, though things cool off when the air blower is going. Keep in mind that this hot tub is not designed for use at air temperatures below 40 degrees -- something that disappoints some users. Several say that they are surprised at how effective the air bubbles are at providing a satisfying water massage. There are no interior seats, and while Coleman hot tub is rated to hold up to six people, reviewers say that two to four is more realistic. Among the included accessories are an inflatable hot tub cover, a padded ground cloth and a floater to hold pool chemicals for water sanitation. The Lay-Z-Spa is covered by a one-year warranty.

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Coleman Lay Z Spa Inflatable Hot Tub
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New: $349.97 $329.00   
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