by William Murphy
While it may seem a bit daunting to install a hot tub in your backyard, with a little planning, it’s a pretty simple process.
In this article, we’re going to walk you through each stage of the installation process for a spa or hot tub.
First off, you’ll need to find out about your local building codes and permits, as well as electrical codes.
You’ll want to do this before purchasing the hot tub, because the information you find out will likely influence what hot tub you get (if you haven’t already decided) and where you might put it.
For instance, you may need a building permit. That said, outdoor swimming pools, which includes hot tubs, may not require a permit depending on the size of the hot tub. If it is a 5000+ gallon hot tub, a permit will be required, most likely.
You should find out what the rules are in your area pertaining to building and safety, one way or another, and stick to them, with the first step being aware of what they are.
We will be talking about wiring a little later, but do note that you will need to have some basic knowledge of electrical panels to fully do a DIY install of a hot tub.
The wiring is something that, like the building permits, needs to be handled correctly, so if you’re not the most handy of people, and not good with electrical components, please hire a professional to take care of this aspect.
You should know, at this point, that hot tubs require a specific voltage to run, usually either 110v or 220v, and this depends on a number of factors from the model of the hot tub, to the climate you’re in, to how much you plan on using the hot tub.
It also depends on how long you will stay in it, and how fast you like it to heat up. More volts means more $, because that’s just more power / electricity to run it.
Now that we’ve mentioned a few of the preliminary considerations, let’s move on to choosing the hot tub, which will affect how you install it.
As we discuss in our article on the different hot tub sizes, the two things that determine the size of a hot tub are the number of people who will occupy it, and the material used to make the hot tub. The style of the spa is a third factor, which includes its shape, but it is based on the first two. Manufacturers are thinking about your comfort, and the functionality of the hot tub itself, or at least they should if they’re reputable.
Speaking of manufacturers, in terms of purchasing, you might have an idea what brand you like, or which one has been recommended to you. Popular brands you may know include Jacuzzi, Clearwater, Maax, Arctic, Bullfrog, Marquis, and more.
Whatever you choose, the size of your hot tub will determine its location in your yard. Here is a quick chart showing the typical hot tub sizes that are based on the number of occupants:
Generally, the most common shape you will see for hot tubs is a square, or sometimes a rectangle, and occasionally a circle. These shapes influence the style of the hot tub, and you will no doubt have your preferences for a certain style or material you want it to be made with.
Common materials hot tubs are made with include: vinyl, roto-molded plastic, or acrylic. Hot tubs can also be made from cement, stainless steel, fiberglass, or inflatable PVC, although generally these are seen less often.
The material it is made with will affect the style, and, more practically speaking, the total weight of the hot tub, as well as how the jets are positioned and how they look, not to mention the overall appearance of the interior of the hot tub, and how you fit into the hot tub, ergonomically speaking.
At this point in the process, you’ll need to decide what hot tub to buy, and be ready to have it shipped to your house, but first you’ll want to consider where it’s going to go.
This is assuming you’re buying a pre-made hot tub, as opposed to going the custom built route. If you’re going the custom built route, you have a few more factors to consider, and we’re going to assume you’ll have a professional do that for you.
That scenario will look something like this, with the hot tub literally being built before your eyes….
A custom made hot tub is no doubt going to cost you more, but it gives you more control on a number of things, including materials, shape, size, etc.
The other scenario, which is more the subject of this article, is where the hot tub arrives pre-made and you simply have to decide where it goes, place it in the desired location, do the wiring (as mentioned, all electrical work needs to be done correctly, not guessed at, so consult a pro), and turn it on.
The location you choose for your hot tub is critical, and we think you should decide upon this before someone wheels your new hot tub around your backyard and says “Where do you want it?”
Where ever you decide it should go, the space will need to be large enough for the hot tub itself, but with enough space to perform maintenance in and around it as well.
You also have to consider how and where people will be getting in and out of the hot tub, which will affect where you put it. For instance, if you buy any accessories, like hot tub steps, you’ll want to account for those as well in terms of measuring out the space of the base.
Speaking of the foundation / base, now is the time to mention that what the hot tub is sitting on top of is also a key factor. Will it be elevated, or not? What is important to note is that your hot tub ought to have a base, as opposed to placing it right on the grass.
Once the hot tub fills up with water, and the combined weight of the tub, the water, the people, and gravity itself join forces, having a hot tub sitting on grass / dirt is going to eventually cause major issues, so we recommend against doing that. A pad or base of some kind for your hot tub is a must.
According to doityourself.com, your options for what will serve as the base for your hot tub include:
Again, the base you use will need to be decided before the hot tub arrives, so that when it does arrive, you simply put it where you planned to have it. This decision will be based somewhat on aesthetics, somewhat on practicality, and somewhat on budget, just like the hot tub itself.
The electrical panel and spa controls should be at a distance from the spa. Water should never be close to electricity, naturally, but at the same time, the panel needs to be close enough to have the wiring reach your hot tub so that it can power it. All your wiring should be up to spec, or you risk various hazards, and we will talk more about that shortly.
At the same time, if you consult your local building code experts, they will give you the information you need as to where your hot tub should go, and an electrician can also assist in this part of the install.
As mentioned earlier, hot tubs and spas require 110V or 220V, depending on a number of factors.
The plug and play versions will work with the 110V that is in your home. Some need their own 220V line. That means wiring needs to be installed that’s dedicated to the spa.
Unless you’re a professional, it’s best to hire an electrician to ensure the wiring meets the city codes. It can help to talk to the local building department.
Here’s a video that can give you a better idea of how the wiring of a hot tub works, but, like we said, it’s best to leave this aspect of the process to the pros.
Many delivery companies will bring your extremely heavy delivery directly to the curb but no further. You’ll need to make arrangements to have the spa moved from the truck to its dedicated location.
Consider the path from the curb to the installation point. There could be obstacles that need to be removed. It’s best to do it ahead of time.
In some cases, there’s absolutely no way to get the hot tub into the backyard except to hire a crane to deliver it over the house. It’s not as expensive as you’d think, and there are companies that do it regularly.
This video shows the process from when the hot tub arrives…
If you haven’t paid to have the hot tub put together, then it’s up to you to do it. Every hot tub is going to be slightly different, but generally, there should be simple instructions or a DVD that comes with your spa. Many hot tubs you can find videos for their installation on the company’s website who sold it to you.
Typically, the jets of your average hot tub are already installed in the walls of the tub itself, so you won’t need to install those. Caps and knobs will be included and need to be placed in their proper spots.
The interior and exterior walls of the hot tub won’t need to be constructed unless you’ve purchased a version that needs to be assembled like a spa in a box type model.
Open the air valves and fill the hot tub with water from the outside garden hose. You don’t have to purchase special water. You could also bring water to the hot tub using buckets. That will allow you to get a head start on heating the water, too.
Once the tub is filled, turn the electricity on and allow the spa time to heat the water. Get out the chemicals, test the water, and add the required amount of chemicals needed.
Here’s a cool video of a couple assembling their own hot tub in record time, have a look!
If you purchase a simpler model of hot tub, you’ll have less to worry about when it comes to the installation part leading to spa enjoyment. If you are still yet to buy it, and you are buying locally, you should flat out inquire by phone or in person – “How do I install it? Will it be easy? Can I do it myself?”
There are also inflatable versions that don’t need building permits or electricians. If you want a simpler installation, you can also lower your costs. It’ll depend on your budget and the kind of spa experience you want to have.
Please let us know in the comments below your experience with installing a hot tub, if you’d be so kind as to share it!
About William Murphy
William has worked as a general contractor in the city of Fremont, CA for over three decades. During that time, he's written articles about architecture, construction, and environmental protection for various publications. He is an expert on green building and sustainable design. When he's not writing or working, William enjoys spending time with his wife and two children.