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In Ground vs Above Ground Hot Tubs (2021): Which is the Better Hot Tub Set-Up?

You’re looking for a new home installment to help you relax, and what better to do the job than a new hot tub? The warm water is calming, and the jets massage your body tired from a day at work. However, you’re not sure what specific kind of hot tub you want to have for your home. Is it better to have it fixed in your background (like Bulldog Spa’s submerged tubs), or above ground and movable (like Essential Hot Tub’s Adelaide)? Read on to see how different massage functionalities, cost, design, and more are between the two types.

In Ground vs Above Ground Hot Tub Comparison Chart

In Ground (Bullfrog)Above Ground (Essential Adelaide)
 
PriceCheck Price at Bullfrog.comCheck Price at Amazon
Jet Number Range5 to 20 jets30 to 100 jets
Seating CapacityDepends on installation sizeup to 12
Seating TypeBench-styleVaried
Usual MaterialConcreteStainless steel, acrylic, and others
Installation TimeApprox. 3 months for concreteBuy and use

Massage Features

Above-ground or portable hot tubs usually come with more jets and more diverse configurations.

Two above-ground tubs: a Jacuzzi (left) and an American Spas unit (right) in action.

When comparing above-ground and in-ground hot tubs in terms of how good the massages it gives are, above-ground choices usually come out on top. They have more pre-built choices for jet type, placement, and strength than concrete, in-ground hot tubs. Since these are designed by companies specializing in making hot tubs, like Jacuzzi to name one example, portable tubs are more likely to have more specialized jets. These water jets imitate different kinds of massages, from Swedish to shiatsu, to give you the full spa experience within the comforts of your own backyard (or wherever you choose to place your above-ground tub).

In comparison, choices for massage jets for in-ground or “submerged” tubs are more limited. These types of tubs usually use a single-stream jet for each expected seat, plus an additional jet located near the calves. The settings are also usually more restricted and not as easy to change on the fly as above-ground tubs, which almost always have a button interface for adjusting pressure and which jets are active. Some in-ground tubs get around this problem by using pre-fabricated hot tub shells, but these are still essentially modified portable tubs.

Design and Installation Considerations

Both kinds of hot tubs are versatile, but in very different ways.

A look at the Essential Adelaide‘s jets (left) and the impressive seating capacity of the Balboa 12-seater tub (right).

In-ground hot tubs shine when it comes to design. They are very flexible during the designing process, so you can make sure that it fits the current aesthetic of your backyard poolside area. This means that your hot tub can be as conspicuous or hidden as you want it to be, depending on what kind of feel you want when you’re soaking in your tub. Other design aspects like the material, size, and shape are also super customizable.

Additional features like separate waterfalls and connections to your pool (if you already have one) are also possible to do with an in-ground model while being impossible for portable tubs unless you decide to fix them in one place. In-ground tubs only have this advantage during the design process, however, since it’s way harder to change the design you’ve decided on once it’s realized in stone (or concrete, or whatever material you’ve chosen). The installation itself also takes a lot of time, since it’s a backyard fixture. Most sources online would place building an in-ground tub within a 3 to 6-month time-frame.

The versatility of above-ground tubs, on the other hand, isn’t due to their assorted designs but the variety of things you can do after buying one. These tubs usually have more specialized jets that can simulate different kinds of massages and more variety when it comes to seating style (compared to the bench style that in-ground tubs are usually limited to). The latter feature is important, since the one-size-fits-all approach that bench style seats take are usually less ergonomic and comfortable. These benches also put shorter users at a disadvantage, since the jets wouldn’t hit the spots they’re supposed to hit. The acrylic finish that most above-ground tubs have are also more gentle to both skin and swimming suits, compared to an in-ground tub’s tiles.

Maintenance and Cleaning

In-ground tubs are easier for pool owners to maintain, but are harder to find other accessories for.

Above-ground tubs (right) require more attention and care.

The ease of maintenance and cleaning all depends on whether you also have a pool. For those who do have one and are planning to have their hot tub and swimming pool connected, in-ground tubs are easier. There’s no need to drain your tub separately, and keeping your water clean is also done simultaneously with your pool’s water. This also means that your tub’s water benefits from your pool filters and sanitizers. It can be harder, though, to find a tub cover that fits your custom design, depending on what shape your tub is.

Above-ground tubs can also be maintained and cleaned without much of a hassle. Cleaning is straightforward, since materials used for pre-fabricated tub shells are usually easier to scrub clean. These tubs are also covered by a warranty which usually last one to two years. Most of the time, any parts that need replacing can easily be found from your tub’s manufacturer, compared to embedded jets that may be custom-made for in-ground tubs. However, these tubs do need to be drained every three months or so to keep the water clean. Unlike the in-ground tub, this is something that you’ll have to manually remember and do when the time comes.

Cost

Portable hot tubs are usually more affordable, with some even going below 1000 USD.

Above-ground tubs American Spas AM-730BS (left) with its cover and the inflatable Coleman SaluSpa (right).

It’s always more expensive to have permanent fixtures constructed. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s costlier to have an in-ground hot tub made. You’ll have to pay for all the usual construction materials, the hot tub components, any other additions you’ll want to make like lights, and construction labor. In comparison, portable hot tubs are usually a purchase that requires you to shell out money only once.

However, the perks of owning an in-ground tub can make it more worth your while depending on your situation. For example, you’ll be using less water if it’s connected to your pool. Portable tubs, especially ultra-portable ones like the inflatable Coleman SaluSpa above, require water changes more frequently. Despite that, though, your water cost savings can still be offset by the fact that in-ground tubs will generally use more power than portable tubs to heat your water up.

Verdict

In-ground tubs blend more easily with the surroundings, but above-ground tubs are more cost-efficient and flexible.

Generally speaking, in-ground tubs are the way to go for all pool owners who are looking to add a hot tub to their home. Your pool area already undoubtedly has its own design style, and an embedded hot tub is more likely to serve that design well instead of disrupting it. It’s also easier to maintain, since it’s connected to all the things that keep your pool clean.

For those who are looking to have a separate place for relaxing with a warm water massage, though, you can’t lose with an above-ground tub like Essential Hot Tub’s Adelaide. It’s easier to clean if you don’t have a pool, and it usually costs less than an in-ground model. If ever you don’t want to shell out a lot of money for an in-ground tub but still want a partially submerged hot tub, you can easily have a more affordable deck built around your above-ground tub.

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Mauie Flores

Senior Editor at Compare Before Buying, blogger and content creator passionate about writing, music, and good food.