Swim Spas v Pools (Detailed comparison: Use, cost, maintenance and more)

Firstly, as always, I’ll start with my disclosure. I am the CEO of Spa World and Spa World sells A LOT of swim spas. Not only do we sell more swim spas than probably any single swim spa retailer in the world, but we have been doing it for a long time, more than 15 years in fact.

Over this time, swim spas have not only become better and better but also more and more popular.

Is a swim spa better than a pool, and can you actually swim in a swim spa?

If you have found this article, you have probably been considering a swim spa and maybe weighing up whether to invest in a swim spa or a swimming pool.

We have a very popular blog post that talks, in brief, about the benefits of a swim spa over a swimming pool and you can read that by clicking here. But if you want to dig a little deeper, please read on.

What is a swim spa?

Swim spas have been around for almost 20 years. They are manufactured in a similar way as a spa pool but are considerably larger and deeper - generally 4m to 8m in length and 1.3-1.5m in depth.

Swim Spas use large swimming jets to create a stream of moving water which you can swim in, hence the term swim spa. To find out more about things to look out for when buying a swim spa, click here for more posts about swim spas.

Why have swim spas become so popular?

I would say that the biggest reason is simply the awareness that they exist has increased over the last 10-15 years.

At Spa World, we did a public survey about 3 years ago and found that only 25% of the population knew what a swim spa was. Compared, I would assume, with 100% of the population that knows what a pool is.

There are plenty of other reasons though and here are a few of them:

  • Land sizes are getting smaller and swim spas fit onto a small block much easier than a swimming pool does
  • Installation; Swim spas, in general, are much easier to install than a swimming pool.
  • You get a spa in the bargain. Almost all swim spas incorporate 2-4 hydrotherapy spa seats
  • Water is becoming scarce. Swim spas use, on average, 5 times less water to fill them, and because they come with a sealed cover, they lose a lot less water to evaporation.

So that starts to explain the growing popularity of swim spas, let’s now assess swim spas against conventional pools.

How much does it cost to buy a swim spa cost compared with buying a pool?

Like any product, both swim spas and pools have quite a range of prices, however, you can buy a good quality swim spa for between $20,000 and $30,000.

Yes, you can spend less if you are interested in non-swimming aquatic fitness or are happy to forgo quality and features, and you can spend a lot more if swimming is your primary reason for buying a swim spa. This will be discussed more below and you can read my in-depth post about swim spa costs by clicking here.

On top of the cost of buying the swim spa, you will need a concrete pad to sit the swim spa on and an electrical connection. You may also need fencing depending on your local council's by-laws.

These additional investments mean that the minimum you will spend on a quality swim spa will be $30,000-$40,000 once it is installed in your backyard.

The upper limit is only determined by the amount of landscaping you wish to do around the swim spa, but this will also be the case for a swimming pool.

The cost of pools vary greatly depending on the type of pool you buy, whether it is in-ground or above ground, whether it is a fibreglass or concrete pool and of course the way you will landscape around it.

To give a rough guide, an average-sized (10m x 4.5m) inground swimming pool including fencing (which is always mandatory), is going to cost you between $40,000 and $50,000.

So if we are comparing an average installed swim spa price with that of a pool, then the swim spa is going to be a cheaper option, but not by as much as you might have been hoping.

However, there are many other advantages that a swim spa has to offer.

The winner: Swim spa - by a small margin

Can you actually swim in a swim spa?

Yes, and this is the first big advantage that a swim spa has over your typical backyard pool.

You can actually swim-train in it. Have a think about a standard swimming pool. Not one that would be considered a ‘lap pool’ which is typically 15-20m long, I am talking about a standard 8m-10m pool. If you are a half-decent swimmer, you are going to swim from one end to another using 3-4 strokes. You then turn around and repeat. I find this less than ideal.

Swim spas work differently.

They create a swim current (using large speciality swim jets), that you can swim within.

Imagine swimming on a treadmill. You can swim away to your heart's content without turning around. But not all swim spas are created equal when it comes to swimming.

If you are happy with breaststroke, some light freestyle or backstroke, or maybe some water walking or aqua jogging, then a standard swim spa is going to be suitable. But if you are training for the next Olympics, you could choose to invest in a swim spa that is specifically designed to replicate swimming in a lap pool.

The best is the Hot Spring® Fastlane® range or the Jacuzzi® PowerPro™ range.

If you go this route though, you will spend more. These options range from $45,000 to $75,000, but the swim experience will equal anything you have experienced in a conventional pool lap pool.

The winner: Swim Spa

Is a swim spa or a pool best for kids?

This is a question we get asked often and I would always say that neither is better, they are different.

A pool is generally going to be bigger allowing for the use of more water toys and generally giving more space to splash around in. A swim spa, by comparison, has a built-in river to play in with up to 2400 litres of water coursing down the middle of it every minute.

It always amazes me how creative kids can be when it comes to playing and I have seen my own kids have just as much fun in a swim spa as they do in a pool.

The swim spa is also going to have some lovely hydrotherapy seats for mum and dad to relax in whilst keeping an eye on the kids.

The winner: Tied

Can you use a swim spa year-round?

Yes.

Swim spas are very well insulated, they always come with a lockable, insulated hardcover and can be fitted with an extremely efficient, ‘heat pump’ which works in the same way as a reverse cycle air conditioner in a home.

For all of these reasons, not to mention the fact that a typical swim spa holds about 5 times less water than a typical swimming pool, a swim spa is a great option for year-round use. That being said, you are going to notice it on your power bill - unless you live in a tropical climate such as Queensland.

The winner: Swim Spa

How much does a swim spa cost to run compared to a regular pool?

There are many variables that determine how much a swim spa will cost to run over winter. You can see some more information on this in my blog about spa pool running costs by clicking here.

If I have to state an average, I would say that a 4.5m swim spa, installed in a temperate climate such as Sydney, being used 2-3 times per week over winter, and fitted with a heat pump would add approximately $100-$200 per month to the power bill depending on the temperature you set the water at. Not bad when you consider how much it would cost to take the family to a public swimming pool over winter, or indeed the cost of heating a swimming pool which could run to over $1000 per month.

The winner: Swim Spa

Which is easier to maintain, a swim spa or a swimming pool?

Most swim spas on the market incorporate various automatic cleaning systems which make maintenance very easy. These include ozone clarifiers, UV sterilisers, saltwater chlorination systems and various types of filtration. These systems mean that you may use about a tablespoon of sanitiser every couple of days and balance the water once a week using a simple test strip.

Many pools also come with automatic systems but they are optional and can be quite costly - running several thousands of dollars. Furthermore, if you do forget to take care of your water for a while, a swimming pool is going to be a lot harder to recover than a swim spa.

Lastly, unless you invest in a swimming pool cover or an automatic vacuum system, you will need to vacuum a pool regularly, something that is not required in a swim spa.

Including vacuum time, my experience is that you may spend up to an hour per week maintaining a swimming pool, compared to minutes for a swim spa.

The winner: Swim Spa

What are the downsides of a swim spa when compared to a pool?

There are certainly a couple at least. The first is aesthetics.

There is no doubt that a beautifully landscaped pool looks a million dollars in your backyard. Swim spas can also be landscaped to look beautiful, but this can be quite an investment. You can see some great landscaping ideas for swim spas in our Spa World gallery by clicking here.

The second is the hardcover. These are heavy and cumbersome. This is not so much of an issue if the swim spa is sunken into the ground, as many are.

If you are thinking of installing a swim spa above the ground however, I would say that a cover lifter at each end should be a mandatory option. You can talk to your swim spa sales specialist about how these work.

Summary: The pros and cons of a swim spa vs a pool

Here is a quick recap of the pros and cons of a swim spa. I hope this information will help you to decide which option is best for you.

The pros of a swim spa:

  • They take up less space than a pool
  • They are slightly cheaper and easier to buy and install
  • You can actually swim-train in them
  • They can be used year-round if you don't mind a bump in the power bill
  • They are easy to maintain
  • They are a spa and pool in one

The cons of a swim spa: 

  • They offer less room to splash around
  • They aren’t as aesthetically pleasing
  • You have to think about the cover

Hopefully, this article helps you get a much stronger sense for the pros and cons of swim spas and how they compare to a swimming pool.

Now, as to which is best for you and your needs, well that is purely based on your individual circumstances, but ideally, you now have a better feel as to the direction you should go. If you have further questions about swim spas or want very specific pricing, contact us and set up a swim spa test.

Want to learn more about what to look for when you are shopping for a swim spa? Download our Ultimate Buyers Guide by clicking below.

Download The Buyers Guide