Spa or a hot tub? It's wood vs. fiberglass, and much more

Q. We want to put in a spa or a hot tub. I thought that they were one and the same until we began to shop. What's the difference?

A. Hot tubs are wooden barrels and spas are fiberglass shells covered with acrylic or other plastic materials. However, some hot tubs have acrylic liners and some spas are free-standing with wood skirts. Tubs and spas have other basic differences too — maintenance, durability, operation and overall appearance. Tubs have a rustic and natural appearance; they blend well with decks, gardens, and patios. They are, however, harder to clean and maintain than spas because of the texture of the wood and the angles and corners that are typical in their design.

Spas present more design options than hot tubs and are available in a broad range of colors. Their hard, smooth surfaces make them easier to clean. Support equipment and installations are similar, and both are available as free-standing packages or as separate components that require assembly. In either case, most building departments will require a permit for installation. And be prepared for additional installation expense and maintenance costs.

There are some costs you may not be aware of.

You will need at least one additional 110 volt electrical circuit (maybe 220v). Make sure your present electrical system can handle whatever is required. Also, some communities require a fence around the area, and most will require a lock on all gates. A fence is important: it protects both neighborhood children and you. Your electrical bill can easily jump by $50 per month or more. And you must chemically treat the water regularly.

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