General Information

Why are you buying a hot tub or spa anyway?

You’re looking at hot tubs and spas because the home bathtub just doesn’t do it. The most important reason to buy a hot tub or spa is to be able to soak and socialize in HOT WATER. Salesmen talk about jets, pumps, filters, and heaters instead of depth, leg room, and lovely, glorious hot water bubbling over your shoulders. Most of us get pains in our neck and shoulders. To get water over your shoulders without sitting on the floor, you need a tub over three feet deep. If you don’t have water over your shoulders and on the back of your neck, you’re not hot tubbing. Lack of depth is a serious limitation for many spas. Most spa designs concentrate on fitting through doorways, not on providing comfort and depth for soaking.

What styles are there?

Hot tub, spa, whirlpool, Jacuzzi, jetted bathtub. What do these terms mean? Many people use them interchangeably. In this buyer’s guide, a hot tub is a deep wooden tub and a spa is a shallow, molded acrylic vessel. Both hot tubs and spas share the same hydrotherapy jets, heater, and circulating and filter equipment. They aren’t connected to the city sewer or water supply; you don’t drain out water after each use; you don’t use soap. Hot tubs and spas are installed in public areas, family rooms, decks, and gazebos. They can be used indoors or out.

The terms whirlpool and jetted bathtub mean the same thing. They are deeper than normal bathtubs and have hydrotherapy jets. Most of them don’t have their own heaters, and none of them have a circulating and filter system. A whirlpool or jetted bathtub is usually installed in the bathroom and connected to city sewer and water; you drain the tub when you’re done; you can use soap. You don’t save water or heat, it all goes down the drain. Hot tubbing or “social bathing”, is acceptable to most people, but social bathing in a jetted bathtub would be frowned upon. Jacuzzi is a trade name for a company that manufactures spas and whirlpool bathtubs; it isn’t a special kind of spa. Great Northern® is a trade name for our company. We make hot tubs and spas.

What is a portable spa?

Portable spas have built-in (also called self-contained) equipment. A wooden skirt around the perimeter hides equipment and provides support for the sides. They look like appliances. Like other hot tubs and spas, they have self-circulating systems. Portable spas appeal to people because it seems you can just buy it, plug it in, and go. No electrical hassle, no construction. Watch out! The heaters on these spas have the same power as a hairdryer! Both portable spas and large hairdryers have only 1500 watts of output. Imagine heating 250 gallons of water with a hairdryer!

If you get a portable spa, you still need to build steps and seating around the top. Portable spas don’t have adequate access or top edge seating. You need seating for a place to cool off, for drinks, food, towels, and sandals. The name “portable” is somewhat misleading too. A portable spa weighs 400?800 pounds empty! Really easy to move, right?

Which is more comfortable, hot tub or spa?

Comfort and water depth are related. When you’re in water up to your neck, you’re comfortable. You’ve never been uncomfortable in a pool, because of its depth. The same thing is true in hot tubs or deep spas. If the water is three to four feet deep, you’ll be comfortable. You don’t need to lay down for comfort.

Why do some spas have molded seats and loungers?

Molded seats and loungers have a lot of dazzle and eye appeal. They look so comfortable! Be careful about buying a highly stylized spa with armrests, bucket seats, or other form-fitting shapes. Why? Bodies! We’re tall, we’re short, we’re big, and we’re little. If a bucket seat fits one person, it’s much too small or large for someone else.

Manufacturers naturally want to advertise that their spa has as much seating as possible. Many of them make bucket seats narrow to boost seating capacity. The narrow seats can be uncomfortable for many adults. Beautifully molded loungers look as if they’re really going to support your back and be extra comfortable. Remember, water supports you! Maybe the spa is so shallow you need to lie down to be covered in water. People can float out of loungers too. Your body weighs only four to five pounds in the water. It takes just a pound or two of jet pressure or bubbles to lift you out and float you away.

Some manufacturers try to eliminate float-away problems by making stirrups or recesses for your feet and arms. You wedge your heels in, and you wedge your arms in, and there you are, all wedged in, ready for …comfort? Loungers also take up so much space that they limit the number of people who can use the spa at one time.

What kind of seating should I look for?

The most comfortable and convenient hot tubs and spas have barrier-free seating. If you have a lot of friends, they can slide over and make room. If you buy one of our Rubadub Tubs®, you can have the seats installed at different heights too, they’re adjustable. Parents often want a hot tub or spa with really high seats for little kids. We don’t think extra high seats are a good idea. Children don’t sit still. Babies like to hang on the edge of the tub or sit on a lap. Older children can sit on the highest regular bench. High seats eliminate room for adults who use the tub more often and anyway, kids grow.

Our Advice: Choose multi-level, barrier-free seating.

Where should I put it?

You can have your spa or tub inside or outside. The heater, pump, and filter should be no more than 15-20 feet away from the tub. (You can put the equipment farther away if you have the proper design.) Equipment can also be self-contained under the spa. People with outdoor tubs usually install them close to the garage or house so they can keep the equipment in a heated area. One consideration in choosing a location for the tub or spa is ease of installation. Because spas are molded in one piece, they have some indoor installation limitations. Some spas are designed to go through standard doorways. Maximum spa diameter can’t exceed doorway height and width. Most spa shells are 6 1/2 feet across and approximately 28-29 or 34-35 inches deep. Measure carefully! A standard doorway is 6’8″ high and 30-36″ wide. These are rough-in measurements. Doorways can be 1/2 to 1 inch narrower than the rough-in measurement! It is impossible to get standard size spas up or down stairways. A two-person spa may go through the door, but it will be tight. Don’t find yourself in a situation where you have to tear out a wall or staircase. If you can find a spa that fits into your house, be sure it’s still large enough to give you the leg room and depth you need. Unfortunately, many spas that fit through the doors and around the stairways are no bigger than a two-person bathtub. Remember! Depth is everything. Consider putting the spa outside or buying a Rubadub Tub®.


No matter where you put your spa or tub, you need to make decisions about your tubbing environment. Hot tub and spa manufacturers make the vessel; they don’t provide seating, decks, lighting, plants, or other decorating. Decide how the tub area should look. Discuss your plans with a carpenter if you’re not doing it yourself.

You should have simple decking or seating for comfort, safety, and beauty. Seating should be 12 to 16 inches wide and flush with the spa or tub top so you can cool off, dangle your legs, then slide back in for another good, deep soak. If you’re thinking about a portable spa, you still need to provide a seating area around it. The lip on a portable spa is only 3-5 inches wide; too narrow for safe, comfortable seating.