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Spa vs. Hot Tub: What’s the Difference?



backyard swimming pool with spa

Coke vs. cola, spa vs. hot tub: these are among the many soft lines in the sand that we use to describe similar-yet-distinctive things. And like how “soda” and “pop” can mean both Coke and Pepsi, people use the words “spa,” “hot tub” and “Jacuzzis®” interchangeably.

So what sets them apart? Which word describes what you’re looking for best? Read on to learn the difference between a spa and a hot tub, and which one’s a better fit for your backyard.

The Real Question: Build or Buy?

Both hot tubs and spas are hydrotherapeutic, using heat and water jets to create relaxing, pleasurable experiences. The biggest difference between a spa and a hot tub is in their construction: spas are built on site, whereas hot tubs are bought as prefabricated units.

Spas

swimming pool with spa

These in-ground units are typically built as permanent improvements to existing backyard pools. Since they’re constructed from scratch in your backyard—from excavation, to steel/rebar installation, to pouring the spa surface and applying a finish—the building process of a spa connected to a new pool will typically take several weeks, depending on the timeline for the pool build. With these custom builds, more space is required in a backyard for the in-ground spa, the connected pool and the equipment pad.

Because they’re built specifically for a homeowner, spas give people the freedom and flexibility to customize the design tailored to their preferred aesthetic. From shape and size, to LED lighting, to customized jet placement, overflow edges and other custom design elements, spas can be built to owners’ exact specifications. And, because they’re built in conjunction with a pool, spas use the same equipment pad as an in-ground pool, including the pool heater, pump and filtration systems.

Another differentiator is the intended purpose of a spa. It’s usually built as a complementary feature to further enhance the enjoyment of a residential pool. Swimmers can easily hop from the pool right into a connected spa to warm up and relax after a swim.

Hot tubs

Hot tub

Since these units are prefabricated, all homeowners need to do is buy and install them. One could easily go to a nearby pool supply store, buy a hot tub unit, and have it installed in their backyard that same day. Because of their prefab nature, hot tubs are by definition above-ground and freestanding. All hot tub components are built into the hot tub “cabinet” or housing, including the plumbing and electrical systems. This allows convenience at a lower cost and takes up less space, but does sacrifice durability and customization.

Since hot tubs are independent from pools and can typically be added at less expense than a pool, they are especially popular with homeowners who are not yet ready to invest in building an in-ground pool or who may not have the space for a pool. It isn’t uncommon for a hot tub to be the main feature for backyard entertainment.

But what about Jacuzzis? Allow us to explain.

Wait, then What’s a Jacuzzi®?

Saying “Jacuzzi vs. hot tub” is a bit redundant. Jacuzzi is to a hot tub as Kleenex is to tissue.

Put simply, a Jacuzzi is a brand of hot tub. The Jacuzzi brand first paved the way for the home hydrotherapy market and delivered it to the masses.

Here’s a little history for you: Claudio Jacuzzi adapted his family’s agricultural water pump technology to fit a residential-sized tub to treat his child’s juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The hot water and jet streams soothed his child’s aching joints. From there, he developed it into a product for sale. Given the opportunity to place the Jacuzzi-brand hot tubs as a prize on the 1950s television show Queen for a Day, the hot tub entered the American cultural lexicon as a symbol of comfort and luxury.

Today, there are many other brands of hot tubs, although in conversation people often refer to any hot tub as a “Jacuzzi.”

What Fits You Best?

So, how do you decide between a spa vs. hot tub? It all comes down to your lifestyle. Whether you prefer a permanent spa that complements your in-ground pool or a less expensive, separate above-ground system offering the same hydrotherapy benefits, both options will help enhance your backyard.