Introduction to Swimming Spas
Swim spas are a miniature version of a full-size lap pool, yet they feature a few major additions. Most notably, they come with a built-in swim current, replicating the feel of continuous, open water swimming. Hydrotherapy jets are also included, providing the functionality of a hot tub.
Popular among home owners and rehabilitations centers alike, a swim spa is the all-in-one economical option for those with limited space. Designed with an extremely small profile, uses range from fitness and entertainment to therapy and recovery. Plus, unlike an in-ground pool, they're portable. This allows you to disconnect them and take them with you if you move. However, it's worth noting that this process typically requires the assistance of a forklift or crane, as well as the services of an electrician, detailed in the section on Pricing.
Swim spa purchase process
Despite their compact size and ease of installation, the purchase process contains a few extra steps in comparison to other large purchases. Among the most important is a test soak. Before settling on a particular dealer or model, visit the showroom and try out the model you're interested in. We'll get into cost details later on. But it's worth noting in advance that the difference between a mid-range model and the top of the line averages between $4,000 and $12,000. By trying out a number of models, even if they cost slightly more than you're willing to spend, you may discover that the extra features more than make up for the difference in price. But the test soak isn't the first step.
After making general inquiries of the dealers you've selected, you can usually expect the following:
- Dealer responds to initial phone call or email inquiry: Dealers will offer brochures on the models you're interested in as well as guidance on installation and estimated costs associated with the installation for your location.
- Swim test:You'll be able to try out the full functionality of any of the models you're interested in. Given the size of the purchase, all major dealers recommend a test soak to ensure the model you're considering meets your needs.
- Firm pricing quotes provided:This quote includes spa cover, cover lifts, accessories, and any package deals or incentives. It should represent the total cost of the unit itself and possibly some elements of installation such as the services of an electrician if the dealer partners with a third-party provider.
- Dealer site visit: Another benefit of choosing a dealer within your local area is that many offer a personal site inspection during which they confirm the available space and provide additional guidance on installation and use.
- Final quote provided: This quote includes all additional costs associated with delivery and installation such as the fee for crane or forklift.
- Down payment: Once you approve the finalized quote and make your initial payment, the swim spa is ordered and delivery is scheduled.
- Delivery and installation: Many dealers provide an all-in-one service depending on the package deal negotiated at the time of sale. This encompasses all elements of delivery and installation, including transportation fees and electrical wiring. Most dealers will be able to provide delivery within 4 to 6 weeks of your order.
Using this guide
This buyer's guide covers everything you'll need to choose the best dealer and swim spa model for your home or fitness center. As you read through, answer the following questions:
- What size do I need? Do I want a model long enough for full swimming or just one big enough for resistance exercise?
- Which brand or brands provide the features that are most appealing to me?
- What should I budget for this purchase, including installation and ongoing maintenance?
- How difficult is a swim spa to maintain?
- What should a swim spa dealer's service level agreement (SLA) contain?
Types & Sizes
Manufacturers typically offer a number of different types. As you move up the scale, swim spas increase in length and depth and also tack on conveniences like water fountains, added seating, and additional hydrotherapy jets. Length is one of the most important features as it dictates the functionality of the pool, not to mention the number of bathers that can use it simultaneously.
Most swim spas fit into one of three categories, broken down by the length of the pool:
- 10 to 11 feet
- 12 to 18 feet
- 19 to 21 feet
Buyers often approach the purchase of a swim spa with one of two intentions: resistance exercise or continuous swimming (also known as "open water" swimming). While models on the larger end of the scale offer both, small models in the 10- to 11-foot range are designed for resistance exercise only. They accommodate the full range of swim spa exercise equipment, including resistance bands, rowing machines, and underwater treadmills.
With these two primary uses in mind, there are a number of features unique to each type that make them better suited to some activities than others, enhancing their usability and the overall experience they provide. Let's take a quick look at each.
10 to 11 feet – Exercise Swim Spas
A 10-foot swim spa is the smallest model you'll find and is technically a swim spa in name only. Though they offer a built-in swim current, the 'exercise' version uses that current to provide resistance for fitness training and aquatic therapy. Often coupled with equipment such a rowing machine, exercise swim spas are typically heated up to 90 degrees, higher than a standard swim spa. This added heat relaxes tired or strained muscles and allows you to focus on specific muscle groups.
While the small models can be used for athletic training, their primary function is to provide low-impact movement to combat pain. This can include arthritis, back pain, and muscle tears. Shown to facilitate healing, the heat and low-impact movements are further aided by a reduction in body weight of up to 90%, taking most of the strain off of sore joints or injured muscles.
12 to 18 feet – Traditional Swim Spas
Commonly known as "fitness models," swim spas in the 12- to 18-foot range are substantially more multifunctional than the 10-foot variety. Traditional swim spas offer an adjustable current generated by jet propulsion, rotating paddle wheels, or a propeller. They also feature 4 to 60 hydrotherapy jets that allow the pool to be used for individual aquatic therapy or as a hot tub, providing fun and relaxation.
Similar to the smaller variety, traditional swim spas accommodate the full range of exercise equipment with underwater treadmills representing one of the more popular accessories. Built for installation indoors or outdoors and above or below ground, most manufacturers offer a selection of high-quality cabinets in a range of colors and appearances that can be easily matched to any existing décor.
- Buying tip: Water flow is a key feature. Greatly affecting cost, the standard method is jet propulsion with jet-based models typically geared toward those looking for general fitness. Swim spas that offer a current generated by paddlewheel or propeller are intended for a more accomplished swimmer, up to and including professional athletes. This design provides a smoother, more realistic feel and more than doubles the cost of the unit.
19 to 21 feet – Dual Temp Swim Spas
Top of the line models are designated by many manufacturers as "Olympic" or "dual temperature" swim spas. Within this range, you'll find the greatest lengths as well as "deep" versions, adding nearly an extra foot to the depth. Other upgrades include a hot tub that's separate from the swimming area. This design allows for dual control, adjustable to the desired temperature for each area.
Features and sizes are often listed separately for the spa and pool. Dual Temp swim spas often feature a hot tub that includes between 30 and 60 hydrotherapy jets and seating for up to six people. In addition to the added depth, pools in this range include improved LED lighting and tiling that marks a swim lane for easily visibility while swimming.
Enhancements aren't limited to functionality alone. You'll also find a selection of fountains and waterfalls that make use of colorful lighting schemes to provide visual entertainment.
- Buying tip: Given the size and power demands of swim spas within this range, some models may necessitate two different types of wiring. Pools often require a 60-amp setup, with the spa requiring a 40-amp connection. This will add extra cost during installation to labor involved with the breaker panel as well as materials including the wire itself, the PVC, and the swim spa panel. Expect to pay around $1,200 to $1,600 or more for installation within 100 feet of your breaker panel.
Swim Spa Brands
Like many manufacturers, swim spa dealers tend to offer a competitive selection while specializing in a unique product or feature. Depending on your needs, some brands may be better suited to you than others. Consider the following industry leaders and their unique offerings.ThemoSpas
ThermoSpas offers three different types of swim spas (all under the Fitness Series brand) and gears their products to those with physical limitations. They have been recognized by a number of industry organizations – most notably the National Arthritis Foundation for the ease-of-use related to their products. This is the result of a number of unique features, chief among them the adjustable seats that allow for easy repositioning and customization to an individual user. The concept of customization is also extended to individual features, allowing a user to purchase only the features and accessories they need, thereby saving on unnecessary expense.Cal Spas
Cal Spas manufactures five unique swim spa types and more than 50 individual tubs under the Ultimate Fitness banner. Models range from 11 to 16 feet and accommodate 6 to 7 people. Cal Spas offers a 6.0 BHP high-performance pump and stainless steel jets as standard features. Most spas are operated by a standard top side electronic control. But models at the higher end of the range feature a touchscreen interface, enhancing control and ease of operation.Dynasty Spas
Dynasty Spas offers three swim spa models, incorporating a number of unique design features. These include an extended spa lip that contains overflow and safeguards the surrounding decking, floor, or cabinet from water damage. Dynasty Swim Spas also feature a reverse pull technology. This enhancement to the hydrotherapy jets increases power while simultaneously reducing splash. Finally, Dynasty conducts a 140-point quality control inspection before shipping each unit – reportedly one of the most all-inclusive quality control checks in the industry.Dimension One
With more than 30 patents, Dimension One swim spas combine quality and environmental sustainability. They're manufactured with recycled components, making them both healthier and cost-effective to operate. Engineered to be energy efficient, they include urethane foam, a unique approach to insulation that reduces energy consumption by up to 85% when compared to a standard in-ground swimming pool. Their environmental responsibility is matched by the structural integrity of their products. Dimension One swim spas are built with a self-contained welded steel frame – a standard of engineering unique within the industry.Endless Pools
Endless Pools produces four swim spa models designed for a range of uses from resistance training and therapy to relaxation and family fun. The unique aspect of Endless Pools is found in their level of customization. Supporting more than 100 architects, engineers and related swim spa professionals, each unit can be tailored to your specifications. Endless Pools is also one of the only manufacturers to offer units with a propeller-driven swim current, resulting in a smoother "open-water" feel. Plus, they're unique in that they offer a dual-propulsion pool. This double lane model accommodates two swimmers simultaneously, each swimming at their own pace through customized speed control.Master Spas
Master Spas swim spas have been recognized as a "Best Buy" by Consumers Digest for the value they provide. Interestingly, they branch out to a number of unique brands, most notably the H2X and Michael Phelps swim spas. Within these brand extensions, Master Spas offers a range of unique design elements and features. For example, H2X models are engineered to be operated in almost any environment through the inclusion of Icynene foam, an environmentally-friendly spray foam common in building construction. This makes them particularly well-suited to colder climates. Michael Phelps Swim Spas were designed with input from the Olympic gold medalist and include Wave Propulsion Technology, a propeller-driven current that creates one of the widest, smoothest currents available.
Swim Spa Pricing
When comparing the cost of a traditional lap pool with a swim spa, the swim spa will almost always be more cost-effective, if not in its upfront price then certainly in its operating costs. But even then, there exists a huge disparity between smaller basic models and the top of the line. When budgeting for your swim spa, you'll need to factor in the cost of the spa itself as well as installation and ongoing operational costs.
Here's what you can plan on spending upfront for each of the three main types:
- 10 to 11 feet - Costs for entry level, exercise-only models are the most affordable. Expect to pay between $8,900 and $12,000 for almost any model in this range, excluding customizations and equipment.
- 12 to 18 feet - Standard swim spas take a slight jump, nearly doubling in cost. Models in this range average between $15,000 and $24,000 for a standard package without customizations or equipment. Manufacturers that offer customized models, allowing you to select the specific components you want, may be able to deliver a model within the mid-range to lower end of this scale by cutting back on features you don't need.
- 19 to 21 feet - Top-tier, dual temp models are currently running between $23,000 and $53,000. Much of the price is dictated by the method of current, with jet propulsion on the lower end of the scale. Propeller-driven and paddle wheel currents demand top dollar due to the width of the current they create and a smoother more consistent feel throughout the pool.
Cost vs. features
While most swim spas accept almost any type of accessory or exercise equipment, you'll find more room and added entertainment features within top-tier models.
|Width||Depth||Seating||Jets||Continuous Swimming||Water Capacity||Current||Lighting||Est. Cost|
|10 - 11 ft.||7 - 8 ft.||4 - 5 ft.||1 - 2||6 - 12||No||900 - 1,100 gal.||Jet Propulsion||N/A||$8,900 - $12,000|
|12 - 18 ft.||7 - 8 ft.||4 - 5 ft. with additional deeper versions||2 - 6||6 - 40||Yes||1,200 - 2,400||Jet Propulsion; Paddle wheel; Propeller||Multi-colored LED Lighting Packages; Fountain Jets||$15,000 - $24,000|
|19 - 21 ft.||7 - 8 ft.||4 - 5 ft. with additional deeper versions||4 - 8||30 - 60||Yes||1,600 - 2,400||Jet Propulsion; Paddle wheel; Propeller||Waterfall; Multi-colored LED Lighting Packages; River Jets; Fountain Jets||$23,000 - $53,000|
Swim spa installation
Installation is another element that will impact the final upfront cost (and one that should be explicitly detailed in every finalized quote you receive). Most swim spas can be hoisted into place through the use of a forklift, though some may require a crane to lift the tub over immovable objects like fencing, walls, or costly landscaping. Expect to pay around $200 for the forklift and driver and $900 to $1,200 for the services of a crane.
Swim spa installation also requires a licensed electrician. For this you can expect to pay between $1,500 and $2,000 for an above-ground swim spa and $2,000 to $4,500 or more for installation in-ground or indoors. This cost covers construction of the cement pad, any trenching necessary to bury the wire, snaking wire through walls, and the electrician's labor.
This is where almost every buyer realizes a huge advantage over those who own a lap pool. Many manufacturers advertise running costs lower than $2 a day. This is in comparison to a traditional full-size pool than averages total running costs of $8 per day. When budgeting your expenses for a swim spa, plan on spending anywhere from $80 to $100 each month depending on seasonal temperatures and your geographic location.
You should also allow an additional $10 to $15 per month for maintenance supplies including water filters, sanitizers, defoamers, and other chemicals.