Should I get a pool? What about a swim spa? (Expert advice, costs and more)

Dreaming about a pool in your backyard? Wondering if a pool is a good idea or not? If cost and maintenance are a factor for you – you may be better off with a portable swim spa that's cheaper to install, more versatile and easier to maintain. In this article, we talk to a pool and swim spa expert about the pros and cons of both options.

Pools are fantastic – if you live in the tropics and can afford a pool guy to clean it every week.

For the rest of us, we're more likely to use our full-sized pools a dozen times a year when temperatures are hot enough to enjoy it. The rest of the time we’re cleaning it ourselves, and paying thousands of dollars a year to keep it going.

Have you been thinking about installing a swimming pool in your backyard? Are you wondering: "Should I get a pool?". Before you take the plunge on a new swimming pool, consider the other options out there – and your needs.

Do you really need 30,000 litres of water to swim in, heat and clean – or could you get by with something smaller and cheaper to run that you can use year round, yet still gives you the fitness benefits of lane swimming?

If that’s the case — then a hybrid spa and swimming pool (aka swim spa) could work out a lot better for you and your family.

"Swimming pools look great but realistically, how much will you use it? Probably a dozen times a year. The rest of the time you’ll be cleaning it, maintaining it and treating it."
David Abdel, swim spa and pool expert

What exactly is a swim spa?

If you’ve never heard of a swim spa – you’re not alone. As the name suggests, they’re a cross between a swimming pool and spa. They haven’t been around that long – about 10 years – and are only now starting to gain in popularity.

For a while, swim spas were pretty expensive to heat. Things have changed a lot in the last 5 or 6 years with new high-tech, highly efficient models entering the market making them more attractive and affordable for the average buyer.

Much more pool than spa, they’re increasingly popular with savvy buyers who want the fun and fitness of a pool but without the pain points that come with heating, maintaining and cleaning huge amounts of water each week.

The average swim spa is around 4.5 to 6 metres long and contains just 8,000 to 10,000 litres of water. There are several different types on the market, but the majority have a small spa on one side and longer ‘pool’ on the other. Watch the video below to learn about swim spas for fitness.

The pool is where the magic happens. With lots of powerful jets, they allow you to swim against a current of water – effectively swimming upstream. You could say they are like a treadmill for swimmers.

Incredibly, the extra resistance means that—exercise wise—10 minutes swimming in a swim spa is equivalent to one hour of swimming in a lane pool.

They’re also portable – so if you decide to move house, you can take your investment with you. Imagine trying to do that with your inground, concrete pool?

"With lots of powerful jets, they allow you to swim against a current of water. You could say they are like a treadmill for swimmers. "
David Abel, swim spa and pool expert

Is a swim spa right for me and my family?

Before you dive into any decisions about owning a swim spa, there are some things you’ll want to consider. First and foremost – is it the right choice for you and your family?

Spa and pool expert David Abdel, who has been in the spa industry for over 20 years, says most people are deciding between a pool and a swim spa. Very few are choosing between a spa and swim spa.

That’s because, in terms of the way you use them, swim spas have a lot more in common with pools than spas. While swim spas can be used as spas, they are at their best when used for activity such as fitness and playing with your kids.

Whereas, the primary focus of a spa is relaxation. “That’s a whole different market.”

Watch: What is a swim spa and how does it work?

“People who buy a swim spa are looking for something they can have fun and exercise in. They're generally pretty active people who typically aren’t the type to sit for long periods relaxing – as you would in a spa.”

David, a swim spa owner himself, says he owned spa pools for years – but never used them.

“I don’t like sitting there doing nothing. That’s just not me. I like to move.”

He’s also owned swimming pools. But again, he hardly used them.

“Swimming pools look great, but realistically how much will you use it? You probably use it a dozen times a year and you’ll have to wait for those really hot days to use it. The rest of the year you’ll be cleaning it, maintaining it, treating it, and you’ll hate it.”

“Very quickly a swimming pool becomes a pain point, and it’s not giving you that relaxation factor you wanted.”

David now owns a Vortex™ Aqualap swim spa. He's had it for six years and uses it almost everyday – as do his wife and young children.

“It's much cheaper to run than a pool – you save a lot of money on running costs. It uses less water so it’s much easier to maintain and treat as well. Plus, you can use it year-round – that’s the biggest benefit.”

How much does a swim spa cost to run?

Another thing you’ll want to think about before diving into any decisions, is how much it’s going to cost you to own a swim spa.

After the initial purchase price, what are you prepared to pay each year for the pleasure of having a ready-made aquatic fitness centre in your backyard?

One of the biggest benefits of owning a swim spa over a standard pool, is you can use it year-round. However, that does mean year-round heating too.

“By far, the biggest fear of owning a swim spa is the power costs,” David says. “You've got to commit to buying a good quality pool that is well insulated and efficient. It will cost more initially, but in the long run – it’s worth it for the power savings.”

David says the technology has come a long way in a short time, and swim spas are a lot more efficient to run than they used to be. Most are heated by electricity, but the best models offer hybrid heat pump systems. You can also hook them up to new or existing solar panels to reduce heating costs further.

“With hybrid heat pumps they’re amazing, you can run the swim spa at 20 to 22 degrees all year round, 24-7, for about $1000 – depending on your location and electricity rates.”

David says working out how much electricity you’ll use is a personal thing.

“It’s a really hard question to answer because everyone likes the temperature different and running costs are really based on temperature. You have to find your own balance between cost and comfort. That’s the sweet spot.”

For David, he likes his swim spa at 30 degrees, which means it costs him around $2,000 a year to run. That’s a price he’s happy to pay for the right temperature.

He says, if you can handle it a bit cooler – say around 22 degrees – you can get the running costs down to $1,000 a year. If that’s still too much, you can keep it off during winter and just use it in summer. Again, it’s all about what works for you.

David suggests that the question buyers should be asking isn’t so much: "How much will it cost to heat?" – there will always be a cost – but, "What can I do to reduce running costs?".

“An average unit costs between $1000 to $2000 a year to heat by electricity alone. You can hook them up to your solar panels to reduce costs and you can also get smart about how you use it.”

Insulation is one of the biggest factors in reducing running costs. Without proper insulation any spa will rapidly lose heat. The best spas come fully insulated so you know you are maximising those benefits.

The video below explains the insulation difference between three spa models. While it talks about spas – the same principles can apply to swim spas.

Have a look at Spa World's swim spa range here. Our premium models come fully insulated to the highest standard with dual layer insulation, insulated base, perimeter insulation, high density lid and variable output heaters to control the temperature — even while you’re using the unit.

There’s also the option of 'Arctic Insulation' – the ultimate level of insulation available, providing unsurpassed heat retention and the lowest possible running costs.

To reduce running costs further, you can get smart on efficiency. For example, high-tech swim spas like the Vortex range, can be remotely controlled via a specially designed app and tailored to your needs. Learn more about spa pool running costs in this detailed article.

So, if you only use it on weekends, you can set the unit to ‘sleep’ during the week and have it jump into action for the weekend. The water will still be heated on the down days, but only enough so it can warm up quickly on Friday when you’re ready to use it!

David advises against relying on generic electricity calculators offered on some websites to work out how much it will cost to run.

“There are too many variables. The cost is going to change depending on what temperature you want, the location of your spa, how windy it is, how often you use it. There are a lot of other factors to consider.”

For the best advice, talk to a trustworthy spa sales expert. Explain your situation and preferences and ask them to recommend a set-up that will meet your unique requirements.

How easy are swim spas to maintain?

After running costs, the second biggest concern people have is around maintenance.

“People are scarred from the amount of maintenance involved with owning a pool – water going green, leaves clogging up the filters, and all the chemicals. It’s a lot.”

The best swim spas in comparison, are super easy to maintain and clean. They require very few chemicals and are self-cleaning – meaning less work, and more fun!

High-end ones, like all Vortex™ models, come with one-touch self-cleaning technology and high-tech water cleaning and microfiltration systems — so even the tiniest dirt particles are removed. Watch the video below to learn more about spa filtration. As above, while it talks about spa pools – it can also apply to swim spas.

For example, Vortex™ models offer an ozone UV filter combo that removes both bugs and organics. They have a UV sterilizer that uses ultraviolet light to kill 99% of viruses and bacteria, an ozone water clarifier to oxidize and remove micro organics and metals, and Purezone™ Filtration.

All this technology in one spa results in the cleanest, clearest water available – for each, and every swim. This is all before any chemicals are added. Learn more about Ozone and UV sanitisers in this detailed article.

“It means that when you jump in the water’s clean, it’s constantly being turned over and you’ve got ultraviolet light chambers that kill all bacteria. It reduces your chemical use by up to 90 percent - it’s all natural.”

"The best swim spas are super easy to maintain and clean. They require very few chemicals and are self-cleaning."
David Abdel, swim spa and pool expert

To reduce your maintenance even more, look for spas with self-cleaning technology.

“With the Vortex spas is just a matter of pressing a button after every swim and it gets to work cleaning. It’s really simple – you just out, press clean and you look away. That means you’ll never have that dirty ring around the edge of the unit.”

Most swim spas will still require the addition of some type of chemical, but it shouldn’t be a lot.

David says his Vortex™ swim spa requires just a capful of chlorine-based sanitiser once a week. That’s it.

“That’s my Sunday job! Put a capful of sanitiser in the pool. It’s not even noticeable in the water and is probably so diluted there’s probably more chlorine in your tap water.”

Is a swim spa worth it?

Swim spas aren’t for everyone. If you’re someone who just wants to relax, unwind, and sit still – then a spa is the way to go.

Equally, if you want something that’s really going to look amazing and be a focal point for the backyard – then a beautiful in-ground pool could be a better option for you.

But, if you’re an active person, have a young family, want to have fun, love entertaining with friends and want something you can use all year round with the relaxation values of a spa and fitness benefits of a lap pool – then definitely think about a swim spa.

Swim spa prices start at around $20,000 for entry level models. That’s significantly less than an inground swimming pool but still a good chunk of cash.

If you’re looking at premium swim spas with top of the line swim technology, then you can expect to pay over $60,000.

In terms of running costs, yes – like any pool, they do cost money to run. But, unlike a swimming pool, they’re low maintenance and with half the running costs. Surely that’s worth sinking your feet into!

In summary

We hope this article has helped you in your decision-making.

Buying a pool or swim spa is an investment, so you will want to consider all the options. As we often say, the most important thing is to choose the one you will use the most!

If you have any questions – we are here to help. Have a look at the range of swim spas on the Spa World website, contact us online or try out a swim spa for yourself at your nearest Spa World showroom. Happy shopping!

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