Winter Warmth Outdoors: Backyard Hot Tub Features
“Something different happens when you are sitting outside,” said Pat Karlsson Backe, a fitness and Pilates instructor. Her husband, Kevin, brought his hot tub to their marriage three years ago, then they added a small, portable fire pit to celebrate their first Christmas together. Their Franconia back yard, with its slate patio and view of the woods, became their favorite hangout. It’s “good for the soul,” she said. “You have the ability to take in the evening air as nature takes away all the stresses of the workday.”
Whether seeking a focal point for gatherings or for solitary contemplation, here are some things to consider before installing a backyard hot tub or fire pit.
Hot tubs in the Washington DC area
Is your primary goal hydrotherapy for aching muscles, simple relaxation or socializing with friends?
Customers often say they want a hot tub – also called a spa – big enough for a party, said Dave Cintorino, owner of Home Escapes, a spa and patio furniture store in Reston. “Most often it’s one or two people at a time, so get the one you want,” he said.
Kevin Backe purchased his hot tub 20 years ago, when he was in his 30s. It’s a basic no-frills three-seater, which he and Pat, avid runners, use to limber up before exercising and for soothing soaks afterward.
Lise and Steve Lingo use their eight-person spa several times a week in the back yard of their Herndon townhouse, most frequently in winter.
“In the morning it wakes you up, gently,” Lise Lingo said. “In the evening, it puts you to sleep.”
Sprinting from your cozy indoors to the warmth of the water can be a challenge in the winter, so the closer the spa is to your house, the more likely you are to use use it.
“The trade-off may be the view,” said Charlie Hyink, owner of Vienna Hot Tubs and Patio in McLean, “so seek the best compromise.”
The Lingos, for example, installed a ceiling under their deck to protect the area between house and tub from snow and ice. It’s important to make sure you have a non-slip surface to guard against falls.
Acoustics count, too. Will the sound of spa jets, heaters or pumps be bothersome if your unit is near a bedroom window or a nearby house?
Before deciding on a location for your tub, you also should consider whether you need privacy screening so you’re not on display before the neighbors. Also make sure you have enough space around the hot tub to allow easy access for maintenance and repairs.
Contemporary hot tubs come in many shapes and sizes, seat two to eight people and require several hundred gallons of water. While you can get wooden and even inflatable versions, we’ll focus on the aboveground molded-plastic style. Popular sizes can take up to an 8-by-8-foot space.
Always do a “wet test” before purchasing a hot tub; many retailers will arrange for you to bring your bathing suit and towel to the store for the not-so-dry run. That’s the best way to determine if the seats, depth and jet placement fit your body, and whether the well is large enough that entangled feet won’t be a problem. Typical options include multi-level seating, armrests, or lounge seating for stretching out.
Hot-tub covers should be well insulated, tapered for rain run-off and lockable so uninvited visitors – particularly children – can’t access the water. (The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported more than 800 deaths associated with hot tubs since 1990, nearly 90 percent of them children younger than 3.) Lids can be heavy, so consider installing a cover lifter, which will add a couple hundred dollars to your cost.
Molded tubs run from $2,000 to more than $15,000, depending on the size and extra features, such as lighting and fountains.
The services of a licensed electrician will add several hundred dollars to the tab. Hot tubs require 110/120 or 220/240 volt systems, with the higher service needed to run spa pumps and heaters simultaneously in cold weather.
A hot tub full of water can weigh several tons. You’ll need a a substantial platform, concrete slab or reinforced deck to support it.
Heating requires about one hour for every three degrees of water temperature, so the better insulated your unit, the lower the costs to run and the quieter it is. The better the filtration system, the easier the unit is to maintain.
Cintorino estimates that chemicals and heating will run about $500 a year on a high-end model with options such as digital programming, individually controlled jets, mood lighting or water fountains.
Manufacturers recommend that users completely change the water every three or four months, depending on usage, and check the water’s pH weekly. To minimize bacteria, religiously add sanitizing chemicals and clean the filters according to the manufacturer’s directions.