While I never thought I’d say this, here goes: A hot tub has ruined my summer.
Back in May, with the coronavirus pandemic annihilating the odds of our family of five spending our weekends cooling off in New Jersey’s community swimming pools—or of me booking the occasional weekend at a spa—I started mooning over the many inflatable hot tubs I saw on Amazon.
Many promised an “easy” setup: Just inflate, fill with water, pop the champagne, and enjoy!
But the model I ended up purchasing, from Amazon.com for nearly $700, turned out to be anything but relaxing. (The price range has since increased, perhaps due to demand, starting now at $1,200.)
On the contrary, it’s been emotionally, physically, and financially draining, and has even deflated any warm-and-fuzzy goodwill in my marriage. I should note that purchasing this hot tub was my idea, something my husband never lets me forget.
And I’m quite sure I’m not the only homeowner whose hopes of some quarantine relief have been dashed by an inflatable hot tub or some other supposedly “easy setup” backyard water feature.
“A lot of people, especially now, go out and buy an inflatable pool or hot tub without understanding the significant amount of care needed, along with additional costs,” says Jen Stark, a home improvement expert and founder of Happy DIY Home.
In case you’re pondering purchasing an inflatable pool or hot tub for your own yard, allow me to explain what the whole experience is like, just so you can weigh whether you’re getting in over your head.
Setup may be easy, but…
Inflating our hot tub was the easy part. Ensuring that the water stayed crystal clear and safe for soaking? Not so much.
An inflatable pool will come with a pump and a filter, but you’ll need to be sure to treat the water with chlorine tablets or liquid to keep microbes in check.
My 18-year-old son is a lifeguard, so he’s familiar with testing pool water, balancing chemicals, and cleaning filters. He volunteered to take the lead on making sure it didn’t devolve into a cesspool. Easier said than done.
In the beginning, my “pool boy” alerted me almost daily to yet another product we needed. He seemed to be requesting more chemicals than Walter White before whipping up an epic batch of blue meth.
Soon, Amazon deliveries were arriving at our home with a holiday-season-like frequency, which leads to my next complaint…
Maintaining an inflatable hot tub is expensive
Here’s a quick rundown of the items I purchased in an attempt to keep this hot tub afloat (bear in mind, this doesn’t include my electric bill, which also spiked, thanks to the filter running eight hours a day):
- Pool and spa shock ($5)
- Hot tub test strips ($16)
- Maintenance accessory kit with brush, skimmer, and scrubber ($33)
- Chlorinating concentrate ($21)
- Brominating tablets ($27)
- Alkalinity ($29)
- Baking soda ($3)
- Chemical for adjusting pH ($29)
That’s a lot of chemicals, which then made me wonder…
Is it clean? Is it safe?
My lifeguard son is prone to saying our hot tub is about 3 degrees less toxic than Chernobyl.
Sometimes when I think about going in, I hear the voice of Jerry Seinfeld telling his neighbor Kramer, who’d purchased a hot tub from a pal: “I’m not taking a soak in that human bacteria frappé you’ve got going in there.”
How can I be certain it’s clean?
“It’s very important to keep in mind that pool water should be clear, and anything other than that might point to some chemical imbalances,” says Michael Dean, co-founder of Pool Research.
“When you think ‘inflatable pool,’ the first thing that comes to mind is probably ‘Easy breezy,'” says Glen Wilde, who runs a healthy living coaching company and often recommends long soaks in hot tubs to his clients.
“What most people don’t realize is that an inflatable pool requires all the same maintenance as an in-ground pool.”
It may be on a smaller scale, but the process is the same.
“The CDC has several different regulations and guidelines that encourage safe pool water, which should be followed as closely as possible for inflatable pools,” agrees Dean.
“For example, the CDC recommends alkalinity to be around 125 parts per million. For chlorine, it’s recommended to be at least 1 part per million. And don’t forget about the pH levels, which are recommended to be at around 7.5.”
And these chemical levels should be checked daily—for good reason.
“If the pH is off, the chlorine won’t be able to do its job properly, potentially making you sick,” Wilde explains.
Stark recommends draining your pool or hot tub every few weeks (or more frequently if it appears dirty) and washing it with sanitizer.
“Once clean, it needs to be rinsed until there are no bubbles,” she says.
“Then you are ready to start the process over again and fill it up. To keep the pool clean, remember to keep it covered when not in use, do not miss a chemical dose, shower before using, and make sure the kids go to the bathroom before getting in.”
It’s a tight squeeze
While the product description indicated that this hot tub could comfortably fit four adults, it’s more like a glorified soup tureen. My three teen boys feel as if they’re marinating in a tea cup. See below just how thrilled they are in there (not very).
It’s slow to heat
No one finds warm water refreshing on a sizzling summer day. Still, icy H2O isn’t all that appealing, either. Once we’ve filled the tub, the water temperature is typically a chilly 72 degrees. Reaching the ideal range—between 78 and 82 degrees, according to Swim University—can take about six to eight hours, even on a blazing afternoon.
Plus, the manufacturer notes that the ambient temperature needs to be above 50 degrees if the tub is to reach its full 104-degree potential. I don’t think I’ll be keeping this hot tub out all winter.
Where am I going to store this thing?
If we don’t keep this hot tub out year round, though, there’s the issue of where to store it. Even when deflated, without a single drop of water, it weighs 87 pounds.
While it’s around 2 feet flat when fully compressed, it still measures in at almost 7 by 7 feet. Plus, it’s important to clean and drain your hot tub ahead of the winter months, to avoid potential damage from freezing temperatures.
My husband is lobbying to sell this hot tub ASAP. But I feel like I’ve invested so much already. So while its fate remains to be seen, let’s just say it isn’t as amazing as I thought it would be.
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