Buying a swim spa can be confusing and difficult, with multiple features and options to consider and conflicting information from spa retailers and the internet making it even harder for you to make the right decision.
Swim spas are similar to a swimming pool in terms of water maintenance but the lower volume of water and the cover on top of the spa means less chemical use. The cover also means you don’t have to constantly remove leaves and debris from your pool.
While there are a few things to learn, with a little training and ongoing advice from a reputable retailer it will take just a few minutes per week to keep your swim spa clean and ready to use at any time. All you need to do is add water treatment products every week plus clean your filters every week or two.
The cost to keep your water filtered and ready to use is just a few dollars per week. The main cost will occur if you want to heat the water and this cost will depend on the volume of water, how often and how long you use it, the amount of insulation and where you live.
If you are planning to heat your swim spa for some or all of the year the best way to do this is with a heat pump which can heat (and potentially cool) your spa – providing total control over the water temperature for under $10 a week.
With so many benefits it is no wonder why swim spas are so popular.
You can choose between having your swim spa above ground, sitting on its own, surrounded by decking, set into a slope (cut and retain), partly in ground or fully in-ground. The second and third options require building a pit in the ground as the amount of plumbing and fittings under the spa makes installing a swim spa shell directly into the ground a risky choice.
Also, swim spas require a metal frame for support (which does not like being underground) and have the equipment (which requires access) inside the cabinet. This pit in turn require drainage as it will fill up when it rains, making this option possible but relatively expensive.
This is why most people have their swim spa above ground and consider building steps or a deck around it if they want a more landscaped look. Having the swim spa completely above ground is another option that allows you to fence only the steps (as long as the swim spa is over 1200mm high the height of pool fencing).
The two main types of swim spas – “single zone” swim spas with one large swim area, and “dual zone” swim spas – with separate spa and swim areas to allow you to have a different temperature in your spa and pool.
If someone in your family wants to use your swim spa hot on a regular basis, remember that it will be expensive and will take a long time to heat a single zone spa. Then it takes overnight without the cover to cool it down again. If you want both hot and cold water in your spa then a dual zone swim spa is best.
There are numerous length of swim spas on the market with three basic internal layouts. Sizes range from around 4 metres to 6 metres and sometimes longer.
The size of your swim spa should be based on:
The size of the area you have available.
If it is a dual zone or a single zone
The internal layout
If you are going to heat your spa – as the larger the spa the more water you have to heat.
Your budget – larger spas are more expensive.
How tall and how good a swimmer you are also affects the length of the swim area.
The length of your swim spa area should be the height of the tallest swimmer in your household with their arms outstretched plus around a metre so you don’t touch the jets or kick the seats while swimming.
There are three basic internal layouts:
a) Swim area plus steps
b) swim area plus basic bench style spa seating and
c) a combination of spa seats and recliners (usually in a u shape at the end opposite the swim jets).
Having a bench seating area or steps is great for those wanting a simpler swimming pool look and / or maximum swim area but as the spa jets are used to divert water away from the swim jets and control pressure it is best to have some spa jets in your swim spa.
Having specialised massage jets and / or a recliner lounges is best if someone wants to fully relax. Recliners often feature jets along your legs and on your feet as well as on your back to provide a “full body” massage. If you are unsure about what is best for you, sit in some spas – or even better, ask for a “test soak”.
Next you have to decide what you want from your swim spa:
An affordable entry level “plunge pool” – mainly for cooling off in summer. You can still use a “swim pole” (a flexible rod and harness system) to swim on the spot.
A proper swim spa where you swim against a current that is created by multiple pumps and special swim jets. With multiple pumps you also get more and stronger massage jets as you can divert the water from the swim jets to the massage seats when you are not swimming.
Professional swim spa that uses bigger pumps, more power and specialised swim jets to create a smoother type of water flow and the ultimate swim experience. This is best for stronger and better swimmers.
You need to make this decision before you start shopping as it will determine what you will need to spend, the power requirements of the spa you need and the quality of your swim spa experience.
The price you pay will be determined mainly by the level of swim spa you want but is also determined by what level of features and quality you expect and how much customer support you require.
If you are prepared to take a risk on buying through an internet based supplier you may save money in the short term but there are many risks including:
Not being able to see the swim spa to check the quality before you buy
Not being able to test if you can actually swim against the jets
Not knowing the level of equipment and insulation – meaning high running costs
Having a limited warranty which often does not even include labour costs.
The majority of internet based spa suppliers go broke after a short period of time or have a bad history when it comes to supporting their customers and providing spare parts, leaving you to find the parts and someone that can fix your spa.
If you’re considering an online supplier, Google them to see what type of experiences other customers have had and remember that the cost of the swim spa itself will only be part of the overall cost including delivery, concrete base, fencing and certifier and permit fees.
If you want to heat your swim spa at all you need to consider buying a dual zone swim spa so you can use the electric heater(s) to affordably heat just the spa end only and “take the edge off” the temperature in the swim end.
If you plan to heat your swim spa regularly, especially the swim end due to the large amount of water, you need to be able to use a gas or a heat pump as the electric heaters will be very expensive. Gas is an option but is more expensive to buy and run.
The most efficient way to heat a swim spa is with a heat pump which uses air conditioning technology to heat heater for up to 75% less than an electric heater. Your swim spa should be “heat pump ready” and you should try and buy a swim spa with a heat pump compatible controller.
This allow you to run your heat pump from your spa controller (not via a separate touchpad), use both heat pump AND electric heater for extra fast heating and extends the life of the heat pump. It also allows you to use your heat pump to cool the water in summer which is a very valuable benefit.
Even if you don’t add a heat pump when buying your swim spa, make sure this technology and plumbing is in place as an option down the track.
The overall cost to heat your swim spa will also be affected by:
The amount of insulation – the number of layers, the thickness of the layers and how well the base of the spa and the inside of the cabinet panels are insulated.
How big a gap there is between the shell and the cabinet – a large gap allow heat to escape and cold air to enter.
If the controller is a “smart controller” that monitors usage and adapts filtration and heating to minimise costs
If the spa is smart meter ready – if your home has a smart meter you use off-peak power for heating and filtration, saving around 30%.
Look for these features when you are doing your shopping.
The best surface is a concrete slab that will not move. If the base can move then your warranty will be void and the spa could crack due to movement and stress to the shell.
In general, for swim spas the base must be able to support 1000kg per square metre and this requires a level slab that is 50mm (6”) minimum thickness with F72 reinforcing mesh.
You should consult a specialist if you are unsure of your soil type.
Most swim spas need a permit and you will also need a fence (or “safety barrier”). If your spa is above ground however you may be able to limit the fencing to the step area only. Obtaining permits is best handled by an independent certifier but if you’ve got the time and can accept possible delays you can deal directly through your local council.
Basic single zone swim spas come with a 15 amp power cord that can be plugged into to a
15 amp dedicated power point. You can remove the cord and hard wire it with a 15 amp power supply and isolation (on/off) switch if you wish.
Single zone swim spas with 2 or 3 jet pumps require a 32 amp direct wired power supply (and isolation switch) and dual zone and professional swim spas require up to 60 amps (dual zone swim spas will supply two separate power supplies).
If you are planning for a heat pump then you may need a separate power supply. This is not the case if the spa has a “Spa Net” brand controller (fully heat pump compatible). Gas heaters will need a separate 10 amp power supply.
It is the responsibility of the spa owner (or retailer) to use a Registered Electrical Contractor (REC) to install all relevant power requirements for your spa to the relevant codes and standards. Upon completion of the work, your REC is required to supply you with an Electrical Safety Certificate.
Swim spas can be delivered in a number of different ways:
Crane Truck: With varying reach, this method can be used to deliver spas over a fence or straight into position and is safe, easy and relatively cheap.
Large Crane: While more expensive, this option would be required if the spa needs to be delivered long distances such as over your house. Craning your spa into position is easiest but you may need to get a site inspection done if the ground is uneven, the spa needs to be craned more than 20 metres, there are power cables above your home or the crane needs to be set up on a public road or space.
All Terrain Forklift: Useful for deliveries over muddy or difficult terrain when a crane can’t be used.
Trolleys: Spas can be trolleyed into position flat or on their side. If delivered on their side, you’ll need to make sure that the ground quite flat as otherwise it can be dangerous. To work out accessibility, if the spa is delivered vertically, the thinnest part of the delivery route must be no less than the normal “height” of the spa (when flat) plus 5cm and the lowest part of the delivery route must be the normal “width” of the spa (when flat) plus 5cm. If the spa is being delivered flat then the thinnest point of the delivery route must be at least the width of the spa plus 5cm.
By Helicopter: If all else fails, but this is also subject to power lines and trees.
By Hand: This is generally not an option as spas are very heavy and awkward to hold onto.
So you can discuss possible options with your spa retailer, please advise them:
If you have steps?
If so, how many? And are all the steps together or are there multiple sets?
Is using a crane, is the ground uneven and are there powerlines above?
If so, you will need a site inspection.
Are there branches in the way of the delivery path?
If so you may need to trim them back.
Is there a gate the spa has to get past?
If so, what is the height and the width? If it is restrictive, are you able to remove a panel? If so, it would be a good idea to do this before the delivery of your spa to ensure a speedy delivery.
Do I have a clear delivery path?
Are there any obstructions from where the truck will be to where the spa has to go? If so, what are they and remove them or advise what they are before the delivery day.
Remember that if access if limited you may be able to deliver your spa via a park next door or through a neighbour’s property – but you should get written consent first. If you are not sure on the best method for your delivery, ask the retailer who will arrange the delivery and/or crane company to do a pre delivery inspection (and quote).
Many cheap swim spas that are sold online are being imported without the necessary Australian approvals, leaving you with a spa than cannot be legally repaired by any service person (assuming you can get replacement parts). You must insist to see a valid copy of the approval by the retailer or you will end up with a spa that can’t even be used. You should also check that the spa has a metal compliance plate with an approval number on it.
People often shop for swim spas without understanding exactly what is involved and what help they will need to get their spa legally in place and ready to use. You will need to consider if you need help organising.
Tradespeople: You might need an electrician, someone to lay a concrete slab or a landscaper or builder or a fencing company to complete your project. These people will require information including power requirements and drawing that show frame layouts and equipment access points.
Council Requirements: Make sure your supplier can provide advice regarding possible council requirements as well as documents that the council (or your certifier) may need.
Certification: Using a certifier is the best way to get your spa approved so you should ask the retailer if they work with someone that knows the council and the brand of spa to make the whole process go smoothly.
Delivery: Online and budget spa retailers consider delivering your spa to the footpath
in front of your home “arranging delivery” but spas are difficult to move and require specialists to get into site. Others use contractors, but you need to clarify how many people they will supply and if they have the correct Insurance?
Remember that swim spas are mechanical products and like a car you’ll need replacement parts from time to time. And you’ll need advice to look after the water quality.
Most importantly, cheap swim spas are prone to shell failure which will require a potential warranty claim if it needs to be replaced. Budget and direct sales companies talk about saving money by cutting out the middleman but this often means there is no-one to back you up and no money to cover repairs and warranty claims – and this is why these companies fail over and over again.
Different warranties cover different components for different lengths of time. Some pay claims on a pro-rata basis and others have so many limitations they are basically worthless.
Also, legally and in many cases practically it is your retailer who covers your warranty so you need to ask the retailer how long they have been trading under their same name. Not many have been around as long as the warranty they are offering.
Be aware that a 4.8 BHP (brake horse power) pump is exactly the same as a 3 HP pump.
No government body has ever given efficiency ratings to individual spa brands so where star ratings are shown they’re simply being “made up”.
Some manufacturers promote running costs that don’t include heating. Other manufacturers base their claims on incorrect power rates and unrealistic assumptions. And a few brands promote “low amp” filter pumps but as they run 24 hours a day they actually cost you more. If claims are made, ask how they are calculated.
The only things that effects running costs are:
The amount of insulation (how many layers, how thick etc)
If the spa have a sealed base
If the spa uses a low cost filtration pump
If the spa have a Spa Net “smart controller”
The size of the gap between the cabinet panels and spa shell
The size of the heater (the quicker the spa heats the sooner the pump turns off)
If you are able to use a gas heater or heat pump (which offers savings of up to 75%).
Salt can only be used to sanitise water when it is transformed (by a salt chlorinator) into chlorine. If you are using your swim spa cold then this is suitable but if you are wanting to heat it then this form of chlorine does not suit hot water (and you’ll have to add extra chlorine or bromine). Also, the form of chlorine generated by a salt chlorinator can be very corrosive to your heater element.
This form of water treatment is only successful when the water has enough contact time with the UV bulb. The standard UV system with a chrome/ stainless metal tube is only designed for water flow from a tap and will NOT kill germs – especially in a large body of water.
You also need to know that you will have to replace the UV bulb yearly at significant cost. Unless you fit a large, more expensive system like “Ultrazone” unit (that combines U.V. and Ozone to create hydroxyl radicals – the most powerful oxidiser available), then don’t expect any benefits, only maintenance costs.
Once you’ve identified your needs then it’s time to start shopping. Your long term satisfaction will usually depend on how much you spend. Pay a little more and you’ll get a better swimming experience, better components and lower running costs. Your spa will last longer and your total investment will be less in the long term.
Before ordering a spa:
Use the shopping list in this guide and keep focused on spas that suit your needs.
Look for quality, value and long term ownership costs rather than the initial price.
Make sure the spa is comfortable to sit in and is the right size and shape.
Buy from a salesperson that asks questions, understands your need, discusses options, can explain features and can prove how their product is better than their competition
The retailer and brand should have a good reputation and been around long enough to support you for years to come
One of the most important things to consider is after sales support. Do your research as the last thing you want is to spend thousands of dollars on your dream spa to find that the after sales service is poor or non-existent. When shopping, ask:
Does the company have their own service team? If so, what is the process and how long do you have to wait?
What are others saying about the company and the brand. You can check customer reviews via Google, Facebook and other review sites and learn a lot regarding the retailer including how they deal with issues if they arise.
Do you know someone that has previously purchased a spa from the same company? If so it might be a good idea to ask how there interaction with the company has been and how promptly they have been able to fix any issues.
If you are planning to use your swim spa for swimming you need to understand that you can’t actually swim in a large proportion of swim spas on the market! This is due to the types of pumps, swim jets and plumbing used by many brands and the fact that they do not understand the technology involved. This is especially so for internet based spas that are sold on price and know that by the time you try it out it is too late to change your mind.
To be able to swim in a swim spa using the jets alone you need enough water flow and this requires:
At least 3 pumps
Each jet must be powered by its own pump
Have quality swim jets that do not move easily (you can direct the flow where you need it)
Use swim jets that have a large 50mm opening
Positioned to hit your shoulders and torso (jets that are too far apart or too low will not create the required resistance against the body and are a waste of water flow).
Work without having to aerate the jets as this makes swimming less enjoyable
A swim pole is a flexible pole that works in combination with a harness that pulls you back as you swim forwards. This swimming alternative is perfect for aerobic training (you can swim as slow as you want) and for swimmers that find it hard to keep in the main waterflow zone. It also gives less proficient swimmers lift and lets them swim at their own pace.
A handrail can be attached above the swim jets which is useful to help children learning to swim. It also can be used for other swim training and can be used to attach a resistance band for other water based forms of upper body and leg exercises. You can even use it to attach a boogy board and “surf” the swim jets.
Many spas on the market are poorly designed, with uncomfortable seats, recliners that make you float and small foot wells that aren’t big enough for everyone’s feet. In general spas that perfectly suit one customer will be terrible for another due to differences is size and height.
So it is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for as many of the users as possible to sit in the spa before you buy it – and ask to try it out wet if you are unsure.
Check the following:
That the spa suits your required depth
That the swimming area is big enough
That all or most of the seats are comfortable
That the massage jets provide a level of hydro massage you require
If the jets stick in your back or are they positioned on your spine (which is not good)
That the recliners hold you in place – if they are flat then you will float away when water is in the spa
Knowing if you are looking at a quality spa can be tricky if you don’t understand what to look for. Just check:
If the interior of the spa surface is smooth and well designed or if it is rippled or badly designed or moulded?
Do the fittings and headrests fit properly and feel solid?
How neat is it INSIDE the cabinet (insist that they show you this)?
Does it look like care has been taken when making the spa?
The more layers of insulation on the base and sides of a spa and the thicker the insulation on the spa shell the better. A good insulation system will save you thousands of dollars over the life of your spa and also makes the spa quieter.
Insist on seeing the amount of insulation yourself and if possible ask to hear the spa running.
Gaps between the shell and cabinet let hot air out and cold air in, significantly increasing running costs. Feel under the lip of the shell to make sure the gap is small.
While shopping around, use your fingers to gauge the thickness of the shell by feeling underneath the spa lip (where the shell meets the cabinet). The thicker it is, the stronger your spa will be. A thick shell, especially when combined with proper moulding technology (check for a smooth flat top edge) also says a lot about the manufacturer, who is obviously not building the spa based on price alone.
Look for a Spa Net control system as they feature “intuitive technology” that analyses your spa use and adapts to minimise running costs. They also use much larger variable output heaters so your spa heats up quickly and won’t go cold during extended use. If you have a smart meter this control system can heat and filter using off peak power to save up to 50%.
It is important that the frame is protected from the weather and pests and water cannot enter your spa. Make sure your swim spa has a sealed “ABS” plastic base and if possible it should wrap around the frame for extra protection.
Heat pumps are the only efficient way to permanently heat a swim spa. Even if you don’t fit one straight away (maybe you don’t initially plan to heat your swim spa), to cover yourself in case you want to do this later and to make it more affordable – especially if electricity prices rise – choose a swim spa with a control system that is fully heat pump compatible and buy a spa with the pump, connections and plumbing in place to fit this type of heater.
Hard white or soft black plastic on the back of most jet bodies disintegrates with chemical use. Clips that are used to hold many jets in place break easily (every jet costs $30-$60) and they also make the jets hard to remove.
Many jets have bearings which clog up and need regular cleaning. Jets with no bearings, a screw out mechanism and HARD black PVC on the rear of the jet insert are self cleaning and are by far the most reliable and long lasting.
A good swim spa weighs 6-12 tonnes which requires a strong, well made frame. It should support the sides of the shell to stop the spa (bulging) and potentially cracking as well as the spa seats. Insist on seeing the frame and make sure the steel is galvanised (NOT CHROME) and is at least 25mm x 50mm dimensions. The welds look good and are not rusted.
The bigger the filter system the better the water quality and the less chemicals you use. A 4 cartridge system is best.
A better swimming experience (many swim spas you can’t even swim in!), better quality components, more insulation (lower running costs), a more comfortable spa, a quieter spa, easier water maintenance, more features and usually a better level of service and support.
About the delivery – Ask the retailer to do a site inspection to make sure your spa will fit and how it needs to be delivered.
About the retailer – Check the Internet for blogs and feedback.
About the Spa – Ask to try it first and you’ll know exactly what you will be getting.
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