Design & DIY

Warming up to the idea of a hot tub? Here’s how to wade through your options

Hot tub

This article was originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

You love him. We love him. Everyone’s got love for that one neighbour with a hot tub. After all, it’s at his place where we inevitably wind up after long, water-logged days in the lake; on chilly fall nights; and, most critically, after hours spent out on the windblown ice, enjoying winter at the cottage. If you’re not lucky enough to have that neighbour, maybe it’s time to be that neighbour.

Being the cottager with a hot tub no longer means being the cottager with a big, ugly acrylic box of chemicals plunked down on top of your deck, buzzing away into the night. Modern hot tubs are quiet, energy-efficient, even elegant. You just have to pick the right model for you.

The first decision: wood-fired or electric? Off-grid cottagers will usually opt for fire power. But even those hooked up to the grid may consider a fire-heated hot tub. “The beauty is in its simplicity,” says Eric Holtz, the founder of Alumi-Tubs. His wood-fired tubs are made from a one-piece aluminum frame, including stove and chimney, skirted with rough-cut cedar planks and banded with stainless steel. They mimic the look of classic wood-barrel hot tubs, but are made with low maintenance in mind: the 100 kg frame fits in the back of a truck and you can roll it into place. You fill the basin with water when you want to use it, and simply drain it at the end of the season. The price tag: $3,795.

“They’re like aluminum boats,” says Holtz. “When you want to use them, they’re there to use. When you don’t want to use them, they can sit.” The water takes about three hours to heat up and you add a bromine puck to keep it clean, though Holtz says that many of his cottage customers prefer to skip the chemicals and simply replace the water when it needs refreshing. (When the seat gets slimy, it’s time to drain, rinse, and replace.) These tubs can sit anywhere on your lot—just be sure to adhere to local fire codes. Holtz says that most provinces will stipulate that your tub’s chimney be two feet higher than any object within a 10-foot radius.

For those on the grid who want something more high-tech, electric-heated hot tubs are the way to go. The Canadian company Immerspa makes a customized fibreglass tub (more durable than acrylic) for $9,995 that can be dug right into the ground to blend in seamlessly with the landscape. A filtration system keeps water clean with chlorine or bromine (a wireless upgrade lets you monitor chemical levels and control the temperature from your phone), and a 4 kW heater keeps the water piping hot for about $50 a month. Owners usually keep these tubs full and turned on all year to prevent damage from the cold—otherwise they must be winterized like in-ground pools. Some models can be left empty over winter if they’re properly sealed.

For those who just want to dip a toe into cottage hot tubbing, choose a simple model that plugs into any standard electrical outlet. Softub makes hot tubs out of polyethylene foam, starting at $3,495. The octagonal box can fit in a pickup truck and roll easily into place. Without water, these tubs weigh only 23 kg, so light that “two people can roll it down to the dock if they feel like a change of scenery,” says Wayne Fraser, an owner of Softub Canada. “And lots of our customers set up their tub at the cottage for the summer, then take it home to the city for the winter.” Cottagers will appreciate the energy efficiency of these models: these tubs warm the water using waste heat from the jet motor, which ends up costing only about $15 each month to power (though they do require at least 24 hours to heat up).

Whether you jump right in with a permanent in-ground spa or test the waters with a cheap-and-cheerful portable tub, your popularity around the lake is about to rise. Better stock the fridge.

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