Do Swim Spa Really Work? Swim spas are a combination of pool and hot tub providing swimming, exercise, therapy, and recreation (fun for the whole family!). People don’t know what to think when they first set their gaze on a swim spa. What is that? Is it a big hot tub? Is it a pool? Then, you tell them what it is and their first question is, “does it really work”? The simple answer is “yes”, swim spas absolutely work and they work well. They are truly one of the greatest innovations in history of the pool and spa industry. They are affordable, portable, energy efficient, therapeutic, and the best part of it all is that that they can be used year-round.
Most swim spas are portable, self-contained, and sit above ground. Swim spas are typically made of acrylic (surface), fiberglass (backing), and wood or steel framing. They are always rectangular in shape and they come in some industry standard footprints. They are always 90”-94” in width (8 foot) depending on brand and they are almost always 42”-60” tall depending on brand. They can be found in lengths of 8’ x 12’, 8’ x 13’, 8’ x 14”, 8’ x 15’, 8’ x 16’, 8’ x 18’, and on up to 8’ x 24’.
Let’s take a moment and review some of the different types of swim spas available on the market.
- Jetted Swim Spas – these swim spas generate a current to swim against using a pump and motor that pushes water through a swim jet(s). Jetted swim spas can have between 2-8 swim jets to swim against. Most jetted swim spas use a two-speed pump to control flow rate thru the jets (low speed offers one level of resistant and high speed offers another, more intense level). Manufacturers of jetted swim spas also plumb 1-2 swim jets per pump (depending on the size of the pump and the jets). In essence, if you’re swim spa has four swim jets and two pumps (2 jets per pump) then you could technically swim with only 2 of the 4 jets going to have a weaker current if you’re not a strong swimmer and run all 4 swim jets and both pumps if you were a stronger swimmer. It’s also important to note that some jetted swim systems out there have a truly adjustable current because they have a variable flow pump (or similar technology) that can adjust how much flow comes from the jets based on different settings (current levels). Adjustable current, jetted systems are by far the most superior of the jetted swim spas category. Swim spa brands with adjustable current systems include Master Spas, TidalFit Swim Spas, and HydroPool Swim Spas. Within the jetted swim spa category you will also find different types of swim jets. The most common ones are round or rectangular. The rectangular swim jets are also referred to as “river swim jets”.
- Propulsion Swim Spas (single or double prop systems) – these swim spas generate a current (up to 5000 gallons per minute) using a propeller design. The propeller sizes and material (steel versus composite) vary between brands and therefore performance will also vary between brands. The propeller creates different levels of swim current based on how fast it is spinning. Again, the current can be easily controlled via the topside control so that you can swim at the desired level. Propeller systems are also nice because they generate a smoother, larger, and more laminar current at the water level and below. For most swimmers the current is wider than your body and deeper (underwater) than your swim stroke.
They also do not use air so there is much less turbulence making it is easier to see. There are fewer brands who make propulsion systems and they are a lot more expensive than jetted systems. They also rely on more proprietary technology which makes them more expensive to repair and maintain over the lifetime of ownership. There are several swim spa brands who emphasize propulsion systems like Master Spas, Michael Phelps Swim Spas (owned by Master Spas), PDC Swim Spas (TruSwim), and Endless Pools who is probably the most dominate in this particular category. The PDC TruSwim Spas have the most unique prop system of the category because they have a dual hydraulic propeller system featuring two props mounted side by side which provides a larger and more powerful current.
- Paddle Wheels Swim Spas – these swim spas are also unique as there is only one brand offering this patented swim current system and that is SwimEx. The SwimEx Paddlewheel is self-proclaimed as the widest, deepest, and smoothest system on the market. Being a patented design, we would caution buyers to consider the after-warranty costs associated with maintenance and repairs over the lifetime of ownership. Availability of parts and an authorized technician to make the repairs may be challenging as well if your local dealer goes out of business or no longer supports the product.
Aside from the aforementioned size and current generation system, there are other considerations when buying a swim spa. These considerations include the following;
- Swim Spa Seating Configuration and Layout – Generally speaking most swim spas are configured with hot tub seats on one side and swim jets on the other no matter what length, however, as swim spas get longer what you see is more seating on the hot tub side. The swim side doesn’t gain much more swimming area.
- Swim Spa Lighting – All swim spas come with a main wall light for safety and for night time operation. You can get most swim spas with an enhanced lighting packages featuring colored LED lights. The colored LEDS are more for ambiance than anything else although an argument can be made that the colored LEDs provide chromatherapy benefits.
- Swim Spa Waterfeatures – Waterfalls and waterfeatures are a fun, relaxing, and soothing features on a swim. Some swim spas come with water features standard and other offer them as upgrades.
- Swim Spa Remote Monitoring Systems (WiFi) – Smartphone controls to wirelessly monitor your swim spas temperature, pumps, lighting, and diagnostic information are becoming more and more popular. There’s even some speculation that hot tubs will be available using voice assistants like Alexa or Google Voice.
- Swim Spa Covers – Most swim spas come with traditional spa covers which are made from vinyl covered Styrofoam, however, there are a few covers that are more durable, better insulating, and easier to use than a traditional foam cover. Those are the End2End Cover, Axis Rolling Cover, and the Smartop Hard Cover for Swim Spas. These are typically available after market thru the hot tub dealer or you can buy them direct from the cover manufacturer. They can be pricey (starting at ~$3000) but the convenience, ease of use, and longevity are worth it.
- Above Ground Swim Spas versus In-Ground Swim Spas – Most swim spa manufacturers build portable, self-contained, and above ground swim spas that can be put wherever the homeowner has the space. They can be placed indoors in a designated room. They can be built into a deck. The can also be lowered down into the ground in a concrete vault. If a an aboveground unit is put in the ground (vault) or built in a deck then service access needs to be made available on all sides of the swim spa. There are a handful of swim spa manufacturers that offer in-ground swim spas like TidalFit Swim Spas (semi-in-ground), Endless Pools Swim Spas (vinyl liner), and SwimEx Swim Spas.
- Swim Spa Warranty – Most swim spa warranties start out at 3 years and can up to 5 years. The 3-5 year warranties typically cover parts as well as labor if you buy from a local dealer who is an authorized repair center for the brand(s) they sell. The 3-5 years cover equipment, plumbing, pumps, motors, etc.. and obviously the longer the warranty the better. The other part of the warranty is a the shell warranty which can range from 10 years to lifetime depending on brand. When it comes to a swim spa we would always recommend a fiberglass backed acrylic shell for longevity and durability.
- Swim Spa Exercise Equipment – Stretch cords, rowing bars, swim tethers, swim spa underwater treadmills (aquatic treadmill), swim spa underwater exercise bike (aquatic exercise bike)
- Swim Spa Stereos – Most swim spa manufacturers offer a Bluetooth Stereo System or CD Stereo System. The systems typically give the consumer a one year electronics warranty passed thru from the maker of the stereo system. With the amount of wireless speaker technology in the market place we would advise against purchasing a swim spas with a built in stereo system. Over time they always seem to fail as water and electronics don’t cooperate well together. They are also cost prohibitive (~$1000 or more) and limited in use as compared to a nice outdoor Bluetooth system that can be purchase for the backyard.
- Swim Spa Water Management Systems – UVC, Ozone, and Salt Water Management systems are the big three water purification systems available in swim spas today. All three of the systems are designed to reduce chlorine or bromine levels dramatically in the swim spa.
At end of the day, one thing you should always do when comparing swim spas and certainly before purchasing one is to do a wet test or test swim.
For more information on how to research and compare hot tubs or swim spas before purchasing please visit our hot tub buyer’s guide pages. You can also click on the pink boxes at the top right of every page to get a free local quotes from dealers in your area.