I just closed on a new house in Bozeman, Montana. It’s amazing but I’m exhausted. In order to get the price I wanted for my last house, I had to do some serious upgrades. Tile everything, bathroom remodel, granite counters, fence repairs and landscaping galore. My new house needs almost no work, which was one of the big selling points for me – I want to relax for a few months before I tackle any major home improvement again. So, in order to make my new house the amazing sanctuary of relaxation that I want it to be, I bought a hot tub.
Never having owned a hot tub before, there was a major learning curve that comes along with the purchase. So, how do you buy a used hot tub / spa? First of all, be careful. There are some things that you need to check out before you make the buying decision:
Exterior Enclosure -
Does the paneling look to be in good shape or has it been neglected? I’m a big believer in inferring the state of someone’s home by the way it looks. If there is deferred maintenance on the outside, there is probably differed maintenance on all the things you can’t see. The same is true of cars and, in my case, hot tubs.
Now, open the utility panel of the spa. This is where you’ll find the electrical and plumbing connections for the next part of our inspection.
Open the utility panel, does it look to be in good shape or does it look abused? Clearly there should be no obvious burn marks or evidence of over-heating electronics but beyond that, you should check and see if it’s set up for 220v or 120v operation. Most tubs can be switched back and forth. Unless you live in a warm climate, you’ll want to have a 220v connection, otherwise the hot tub won’t be able to maintain temperature once the cover is off.
While you’re in the utility panel, look closely at the plumbing. Are there cracked lines? One of the easiest ways to damage a hot tub is by leaving it empty in freezing temperatures. Water will freeze, expand and break your pluming lines and connections.
Tub Interior -
Check the hot tub itself for evidence of jets that have been replaced or cracks in the tub. Cracks can be difficult and expensive to repair while jets having been replaced could be evidence of some deeper issue. Use extreme caution (read – walk away!) if you find cracks in the tub itself.
Hot Tub Cover -
You’ll need to take a hard look at the cover of the hot tub you’re thinking about buying. They don’t last forever and this is where a ton of your heat escapes so you really want a cover that’s in great shape. Look for sagging, cracking of the underside and any problems with the seal along the edge of the hot tub. If you see any of these, the cover needs to be replaced. In my case, the cover was pretty weathered. It needed replacing and I really should have looked into the cost of that before committing to buy. Beware, hot tub covers are extremely expensive. I got one with an insulation value of R24 since I live in a climate that’s cold a lot of the year and it cost me about $450. That was a shock to find out after I’d already gotten the tub to my house.
Since there’s not a well established value for used hot tubs, there is a ton of variability in the prices you’ll see. When negotiating the price, check every source you can to find comparable tubs that you can use to your benefit. It’s not uncommon to be able to get the price down by hundreds of dollars just based on finding comparable hot tubs being sold for less. A little hunting on the internet will really pay off here!
So everything looks good on your prospective hot tub / spa. Wait! You’re not home free yet. Make sure you think about the following logistical issues.
Now that you’ve checked the tub out but before you’ve committed to buy it, think about transportation. These things are HEAVY! Mine is not an overly large unit and it weighs about 900 pounds, and yes, that’s with all the water drained. You’re gonna want at least six strong guys to be able to move it and probably a flat bed truck or trailer to transport it. If you can convince the seller to deliver it, great! Be careful that they don’t damage it during the move though or you could be in for a nasty surprise. You can also contract movers for your hot tub but beware, they’re expensive. The quotes I got were between $350 and $500 for a local move. There’s a lot that goes into moving the tub so carefully consider the logistics.
Electricity Needs -
Assuming you can arrange for the hot tub to be transported to your house, you need to think about the electrical demands. You’ll need to buy a subpanel that will serve as a local power disconnect separate from your main fuse box to power the hot tub. This will need to be wired by an electrician to ensure that everything is safe and up to code. When people and water are involved, just don’t take chances with the electricity, please. Mine was a 50 amp GFCI disconnect and it was fairly expensive on its own (several hundred dollars). Electricians are always outrageously priced in my experience so beware of these expenses before you decide to get a hot tub.
When you place the hot tub, you need to be cognizant of the base you’re putting it on. Concrete slabs are best but if you put it on a deck, you should think about some extra reinforcements to bear the weight. These things can weigh several tons once they’re full of water and people – you really don’t want any accidents! No matter what surface the hot tub goes on, make sure it’s level according to the user manual, keeping in mind that some tubs require a slight incline to drain properly. Just look up the manual for the tub online if the seller doesn’t have it.
Testing the Hot Tub -
Once the unit is placed, wired and up to code, you can fill it and test it. You’ll want to get it nice and hot and run the jets to make sure that the heater and pumps are working as they should. Test the lights and any integrated audio features too. It’ll be a lot harder to renegotiate the price with the seller if you don’t find out things are broken until a few months in.
Congratulations! Enjoy the amazing addition to your home. I know I am!