Everyone loves a bargain, so it’s no surprise that in recent years the hot tub market has been flooded with a vast number of makes, styles and models at surprisingly low prices.

But, as the saying goes, if something looks too good to be true, chances are it is. So, are there any pitfalls to buying cheap hot tubs? 

Well, the first thing to address is what you’d consider cheap. Not everyone works to the same budget. At the extreme ends of the spectrum, some top-of-the-range swim spas could set you back upwards of £40-£50k, while a bottom-priced inflatable hot tub could be as little as £250.

Most quality entry-level hard-shelled tubs will be available at around the £5k mark, but you may see adverts for tubs for as little as £3k or thereabouts. Then there are the wood-fired hot tubs, which not only show you slightly lower prices (often between the £2-£3k mark), but tout reduced energy costs as another reason to buy. 

That’s a lot to digest, so let’s break it down into three categories:

  • Inflatable hot tubs
  • Wood-fired hot tubs
  • Hard-shelled electric hot tubs

Now, let’s look at each of these options in turn to see which is right for you – and how much you should be looking to spend.

Inflatable hot tubs

Price tag: £250-£1,300

If you’re on a very tight budget, then these could be a tempting option, offering a spa experience for just a few hundred pounds at the lowest end of the scale.

We wouldn’t recommend an inflatable tub in most cases for a number of reasons (below), but first let’s look at the pros so you can make up your own mind.

Pros

  • Cheap: these are the absolute cheapest hot tubs money can buy. So, if you have a very, very small budget, then these could be a way to have a hot tub in your life without the upfront spend.
  • Convenient: you can set them up pretty easily yourself, pretty much anywhere that’s flat, stable and not too windy. They come as 13 amp plug and play, so you won’t have to get them wired in, which can also save on the cost of an electrician. 
  • Flexible: you can move them around, store them away, take them with you when you move house, and so on. Because they’re not wired in, and are collapsable, you’re not set on one location.

Cons

  • Comfort: with a hard-shell hot tub you get moulded, ergonomically designed seats and loungers. With an inflatable hot tub, you don’t. In fact, they generally lack any seating at all, making them far less comfortable than a traditional spa. 
  • Performance: you may be tempted by the convenience of the 13 amp plug and play offered by these spas. However, the trade off is these tubs won’t have the required power to offer a hydrotherapy massage. Instead, the jets serve to create bubbles and little more. If it’s powerful jets you require, then an inflatable tub won’t be for you.
  • Longevity: a well-cared for hard shelled hot tub could last you a lifetime. An inflatable tub, on the other hand, is vulnerable to leaks and tears. The costs are also kept low by the cheaper parts, which can be prone to breakdowns. Likewise, the fact that they’re portable opens them up to more risk of damage if they’re not packed away properly, are over inflated or are set up on an unsuitable surface.
  • Efficiency: inflatable hot tubs are not as well insulated as good-quality hard shelled tubs, and can end up losing a lot of heat, leading to higher energy bills that can offset the upfront saving.

Value verdict: while they’re cheaper in the upfront cost, they’re less durable, less energy efficient and not all models can be used year-round, making them less convenient. They don’t provide the benefits of a hard-shelled tub in terms of seating or hydrotherapy either. If you have to replace your inflatable tub every few years, you could actually end up spending more than you would on a hard-shelled variety that has so much more to offer. 

Wood-fired hot tubs

Price tag: £2,500-£6,000

Not only can the initial outlay be slightly cheaper in some cases, but, with the cost of living surge, many people will be eyeing up the chance to have a hot tub that bypasses electricity costs altogether. Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives.

Pros

  • Look and feel: the big draw for many is the rustic, back-to-nature feel of a natural tub, with many saying it makes them feel connected to nature.
  • Efficiency: they use no electricity, and, with the spike in cost of living, this will be appealing to those of us who are keeping an eye on the bills.

Cons

  • Convenience: while a traditional hard-shelled hot tub can be left running at a consistent temperature, a wood-fired hot tub will need to be heated before each use. This means planning ahead by several hours, putting an end to spontaneous use. While an electric tub is operated via a control panel, a wood-fired tub is manual in many ways. For example, you’ll have to light the fire to heat it and use a thermometer to check the temperature.
  • Performance: the vast majority of wood-fired tubs have no jets at all, meaning if you’re shopping for hydrotherapy, they won’t be right for you.
  • Efficiency: while you won’t have to worry about electricity, there are still fuel and water costs to consider. Because you have to drain the tub after every use, and heat it from scratch each time you use it, these can still mount up.
  • Safety and care: when used properly, wood-fired hot tubs are perfectly safe. However, they require quite a bit more care, including draining after each use, manual temperature checking and being careful around some of the parts that can get very hot. For more detail on what’s required, see our article on wood-fired hot tubs.

Value verdict: while you may be able to save a little on the upfront cost versus an electric tub in some cases, in most cases there’s a lot of overlap in price – for a lot fewer features. And, while you’ll save on electricity costs, you’ll use more water and will still need to pay for fuel to heat the tub every time you use it, not to mention what you’ll be sacrificing in terms of convenience. That said, if you’re still considering a wood-fired tub, check out our more in-depth article – Should I buy a wood-fired hot tub?

Hard-shelled electric tubs

Price tag: entry level – £5,000-£8,000; mid-range – £8,000-£13,000; upper-range – £13,000-£20,000+

Before we dig into price, let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of a quality hard-shelled electric tub:

Pros

  • Comfort: many people choose a hot tub for relaxation, meaning the interior needs to be comfortable. Top manufacturers take this seriously, with many enlisting specialists to ensure ergonomic design of their seating and interior, preventing you from sliding off when the jets are on. The shell interiors are also specially moulded, and that, plus the materials used, should provide a far more comfortable experience than that of an inflatable or wooden tub.
  • Innovation/convenience: technology is an ingrained part of electric hot tubs, with constant developments in control panels providing more automated approaches to everything from temperature control to maintenance, making for greater safety and convenience. Not only that, but options for lighting and music make them havens for relaxing and entertaining. As a permanent fixture, your hard-shelled hot tub can also be efficiently kept at a constant temperature, ensuring it’s ready to use at any time.
  • Hydrotherapy/performance: this is one of the most common reasons for buying a hot tub, and if you’re serious about hydrotherapy then you need serious jets. Wood-fired hot tubs don’t usually come with any jets at all, while inflatable tubs do not provide a powerful enough experience for hydrotherapy. A good-quality manufacturer, such as American Whirlpool or Marquis Spa, will have years of experience leading to adjustable, powerful jets and specialist targeted hydrotherapy that’s designed to hit the right spots and provide a quality massage.
  • Look and feel: electric tubs come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes, internal and external colours, materials and designs, meaning there’s something for everyone. Our Afon range, for example, provides beautiful Cedar tubs for those keen on the natural look, while both Marquis and American Whirlpool come in a variety of designs, shapes and colours, with a range of accessories, for a high-end luxury feel. 
  • Efficiency: good-quality hot tubs are either fully foam insulated, or come with innovative solutions to ensuring heating efficiency.
  • Safety, care and ongoing support: quality hard-shelled tubs often come attached to quality high-end manufacturers and long-standing dealers, meaning they should give you training and advice on care, be on-hand for servicing and maintenance, and come with warranties that ensure you have support should something go wrong. 

Cons

  • Upfront cost: a good-quality hard-shelled spa will naturally come with a higher upfront cost than an inflatable or wood-fired tub – but you do get what you pay for in the form of far more components, expertise and specialist materials. 
  • Running cost: of course, hard-shelled tubs use electricity, so if the bills are something you’re keeping an eye on, then this is something to consider before taking the plunge. That said, if you choose a quality tub from a decent manufacturer, then the insulation should help to keep this cost down. Check out our article on the cost of running a hot tub in 2022, for more details on what you should be considering when buying, how much it might cost to run a tub and how to keep costs to a minimum.

With the pros and cons of an electric tub covered, let’s now look at cost – and the pitfalls of buying the cheapest tub you can find.

Permanent, electric-powered hot tubs come in a vast range of prices, with the majority from quality manufacturers starting at around the £5k mark (or just under – our cheapest tubs, for example, from the Afon range start from as little as £4,795).

In recent years, though, the market has been flooded with really cheap tubs – some starting from as little as £3k or even less, or touting entry-level price tags for big multi-seat, multi-jet spas equipped with all the tech. 

While on the surface these may look extremely similar to their pricier counterparts, there are a number of reasons they’re able to charge less – and they may cost you more in the long run. There are a few signs that mean a tub is too good to be true – and areas beyond the look, size and number of jets that you should pay close attention to:

  • Dealer: if your tub of choice is available online, but isn’t attached to a reputable dealer and there’s no showroom to visit, then it will be a risky proposition, leaving you nowhere to turn if something goes wrong. Hot tubs also need careful delivery and installation, so pay attention to what your options are for fitting the tub when you buy, as a simple kerbside delivery won’t cut it.
  • Manufacturer: hot tubs are complex machines with many parts and components that all have to work in harmony, right down to the materials used and the glue that holds them together. New manufacturers aren’t necessarily bad, but with established manufacturers such as American Whirlpool and Marquis Spas, you’re not only buying a hot tub but also a wealth of experience from years in the industry – and all the improvements and innovations that brings.
  • Warranty: if the warranty on your hot tub is only one or two years, then that could be a warning sign. It should also have a manufacture warranty, so you have somewhere to turn if the dealer goes out of business. By contrast, our hot tubs come with a three-to-five-year manufacturer warranty on parts such as pumps and heaters, and a five-to-ten year warranty on the shell. We even have lifetime warranties on our Afon range shell and the American Whirlpool 400+ series steel frame. On top of that, we also go above and beyond most companies by providing an additional one-year warranty on labour across all of our brands.
  • Build quality: cheaper tubs may look the same on the outside, but under the hood they may have been built with less premium parts from low-quality material. Pay close attention to what the base is made from, as this may use cheaper woods or flimsy parts that will be prone to rot and vulnerable to pests.
  • Efficiency: as with the build quality, a cheaper spa may not have been fully foam insulated or use any technology to keep heat in, costing you far more in heating bills, and quickly offsetting any savings on the tub itself.
  • Experience: established manufacturers care a lot about the experience of their tubs, and compete for innovations in efficiency, shell and seating comfort, and hydrotherapy, as well as performance and longevity of control panels (Balboa and Gecko are the two best-known and trusted), heaters, pumps and everything in between. If hydrotherapy is your goal, for example, then pay attention to the jets – not just the number, but whether they’re adjustable, properly powered and where they’re located. A cheap tub, by comparison may not have had a manufacturer invest as much time in seating or shell comfort, for example, jet placement or power, or any other innovations.

Value verdict: if you’re still set on a cheaper tub, then you’ll need to carefully consider what compromises may have been made – and what this might mean. Again, if it looks too good to be true, then chances are it is, so pay close attention to the components, what they’re made from, what’s included and so on to ensure you’re not buying a dud. Buying a hot tub that looks nice, but that’s made from poor-quality parts put together by a non-specialist or inexperienced manufacturer will end up costing you more in the long run. If it looks the same as a tub by a top manufacturer, then there will still be a reason for the difference in price, and that’s usually down to poor quality parts, cheap manufacture, poor moulding and casting, a greater failure rate – and no company behind it to back you up. 

So, should I buy a cheap hot tub?

Well, even if you can afford it, the most expensive hot tub on the market isn’t necessarily the best for your needs. That said, there’s no escaping the fact that cost and value are intrinsically linked in most cases, and, unless you get really lucky, going for the cheapest option will likely cost you more in the long run – whether that’s in repairs, energy costs or even regular replacements. If the upfront price is something you cant compromise on, then keep an eye out for ex-display or seasonal sales on quality tubs from reputable sources, or ask about finance options if you’d prefer to spread the cost.

Our recommendation is to consider what’s the best value you can afford within the budget you’re comfortable with – and to consider the genuine cost of any large purchase, beyond the upfront price tag. When choosing a hot tub, as always, make sure it fulfils your needs, comes from a reputable dealer and manufacturer, is as energy efficient as possible and is under warranty, so you can enjoy it for years to come – and have the right support if anything does go wrong.

Bottom line

A hot tub or swim spa is a pretty permanent fixture, so youll want to get it right first time. Compromising on needs and quality in favour of a small decrease in cost, could leave you stuck with a hot tub that’s not right for you that won’t bring you the enjoyment you were hoping for – or mean you end up buying twice.



For more information or advice on buying a hot tub, or to book a showroom visit, contact us online or give us a call on 01974 241 642. Our friendly team will be happy to help.