What to know when buying a swim spa or plunge pool (Features, costs, considerations and more...)

Buying a swim spa or a plunge pool is a big commitment. To help you with your decision-making, we’ve explained the top things to know before you buy your swim spa or plunge pool.

swim spa or plunge pool hero

With any big purchase, there’s always lots to consider. You want to make sure it’s a wise investment, and avoid any buyer’s remorse!

If you're thinking about taking the plunge on a swim spa – we can help you avoid some common pitfalls, and offer some expert advice on what to look out for. We’ve got over 35 years of experience in the spa pool and swim spa industry so there isn’t a lot we don’t know!

Top points in this article:

In this article, we’ve used brand names not affiliated with Spa World™ or Vortex Leisure Pty Ltd, the parent company of Spa World™. You can see the list of brand owners at the bottom of this article. All information, including pricing and product details, was accurate at the time of writing and may change without notice.

What is a swim spa?

A swim spa is a hybrid between a pool and a spa, giving you both the heat and hydromassage features of a spa along with the size and space of a pool.

The main feature of swim spas is their powerful jets which create a current of water for swimming against - kind of like a treadmill but for water. This means instead of doing laps, like you would in a standard pool, you swim in place.

Another great thing about swim spas is they can be used year round, making them arguably a better long-term investment than a pool. Find out more about swim spas and how they work by clicking the button below.

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What is a plunge pool?

In simple terms, a plunge pool is a smaller version of the traditional swimming pool. While they’re smaller than pools, they function similarly. Since plunge pools are more compact than full-sized pools, they can fit in small areas.

Plunge pools are often made from concrete, fiberglass or acrylic with fiberglass and acrylic plunge pools.

Swim Spas without swim jets are also plunge pools and they usually have the added advantages of being better insulated, making all-year heating or cooling more energy efficient and they are usually more comfortable with ergonomic hydrotherapy seating.

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Fisher Play™

Fisher Play™

What are the differences between a swim spa and a plunge pool?

Swim spas and plunge pools function similarly in that they are both compact in size but offer a place to exercise, have fun, and relax. The main difference between them lies in the swim jets.

Vortex Aqualap Pro Plus XD swim spa swim jets

Vortex Aqualap Pro Plus XD swim spa swim jets

Want to know more about plunge pools and swim spas and learn which would be a better option for you? Click the button below.

Watch: We bought a swim spa – and we love it!

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What features should I look for in a swim spa or plunge pool?

When you buy a cellphone or a computer, the specifications are the very first thing you look at. When buying swim spas and plunge pools, it is also vital to look for what each specific model has to offer.

It is extremely important to think about what features you will need in a swim spa or plunge pool. Here are the top 10 features you should look for in a swim spa or plunge pool.

1. Insulation

If you want to fully enjoy your swim spa or plunge pool without worrying about your electric bill, you must ensure that it is well insulated. This can be tricky to shop for. In an effort to make their swim spas sound good, any brand can claim excellent insulation, but how do you know if your swim spa is well insulated?

Here’s how you can tell. You will find that there are three main ways that spa pools, swim spas and plunge pools are insulated. These are:

  • Full fill insulation. As the name suggests, with full-fill insulation, the entire cavity between the outside of the shell and the inside of the spa cabinet is filled with foam or another similar material. This insulates not only the water inside the shell but also the pipework and plumbing of the swim spa, giving the highest level of insulation possible.

  • Perimeter or cabinet insulation. This type of insulation provides a good amount of heat retention, second only to full foam. Cabinet walls and floors are insulated, creating a warm zone between the cabinet and the shell.

Thermolock™ Perimeter Insulation

Thermolock™ Perimeter Insulation

  • Insulation foam sprayed on the spa's shell. The spa's shell is sprayed with foam, usually to a thickness of around 25mm or 1 inch. While this type of insulation is the least expensive upfront, it provides the lowest level of insulation and is thus more expensive to run compared to full foam or perimeter insulation.

Among these, full fill insulation provides the best heat retention and is the most energy-efficient. Swim spas and plunge pools using full fill insulation are typically more expensive upfront (you can expect it to add up to $2000 to the price of the spa). However, they are also more cost-effective because they will save you so much more in running costs.

As a long-term investment, we suggest going for a well-insulated spa. If full fill isn’t an option, then perimeter or cabinet insulation is the next best thing. You can also get two different kinds of insulation at once! For example, Vortex Spas™ use a combination of shell and perimeter insulation in certain models (only available in Vortex™ Avanté models as part of the Avanté upgrade) for better efficiency.

To learn more about the difference between the different types of swim spa insulation, check out the article and video below.

Watch: Spa insulation - Why is it a big deal?

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2. Automated sanitising system

When you own a swim spa, you want to spend your time taking advantage of it and enjoying it - not maintaining it. For this reason, an automated sanitising system is a great investment.

When it comes to automatic sanitation, you have the choice between salt water, chlorine or ozone UV combo auto sanitisers.

Our top picks are:

  • HotSpring® Freshwater® salt water chlorination system and ‘no-bypass’ filtration,
  • Jacuzzi® ClearRay® water steriliser with UV-C technology and 4-stage ProClarity® filtration system
  • Vortex™ Purezone™ UV/Ozone + 2 stage filtration

Much like insulation, a very good automatic sanitising system can add up to $2000 to the total price of your swim spa, but we think it is well worth the extra investment given the effort and time it'll save you over the lifetime of your spa.

Please note: regardless of the brand or type or system you choose, you will still need to use sanitisers. There is currently no automatic sanitising system that totally eliminates the use of chemicals, but it does reduce the amount of chemicals and effort that you will use while maintaining your spa.

Below you can read more about automatic sanitising systems and how they differ.

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3. Hard cover

When shopping for a swim spa or plunge pool, you will want to make sure that it comes with a hard cover. Not only is this a requirement in many territories, but a hard cover also offers protection and added insulation for your spa.

A high-quality swim spa cover will reduce heat loss and keep your spa at the ideal temperature while keeping energy consumption at a minimum.

Check out the article below to learn more about the benefits of swim spa covers.

When shopping for a swim spa, you want to look for one that has thick, high-density, heavy covers that provide a strong seal against evaporation. Here’s what you should look for in a spa cover:

  • A tapered lid to prevent water from pooling in the centre during rain. A minimum taper of 90mm at the centre down to 60mm at the edges is recommended.
  • Padded seals through the middle fold and around the edges. This will further prevent heat loss.
  • Cover locks. A cover that locks onto your spa seals in the heat along with the added safety of keeping the kids out.
cover locks

Cover locks

Pro-tip: high-quality swim spa covers will be large and heavy. While they are usually designed to be easy enough to take on and off by hand, we recommend getting a cover lifter to make things easier and help avoid dragging the cover when it is on or off.

You can also take it a step further and go fully automatic with hydraulic spa cover lifters.

Watch the video below to see an example of an automated hydraulic cover for in ground swim spa.

Watch: Hydraulic cover for in-ground swim spa

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4. Swim jets

A swim jet is something unique to a swim spa – you are unlikely to find this feature in a spa pool or even a plunge pool. What makes it worth investing in?

Swim jets are what make it possible for you to swim in your swim spa. Their main function is to push large quantities of water through the jest to create a strong current for you to swim against.

The great thing about swim jets is you can easily control and adjust the strength and speed of the current, so you can work out at your own pace.

When buying a swim spa, check to make sure that the swim jets have an unrestricted 50mm opening and do not move easily by hand. This will make sure that water will not move the nozzles and you can easily direct the water where you want it to go.

Another thing worth noting is the noise level. Choose swim jets that have a near silent operation so you won’t have to worry about the noise output when you want to exercise.

Now, when it comes to swim jets, you will want to go for quality over quantity. Some swim spa brands will boast plenty of swim jets, but more isn’t always better.

You may be wondering, ‘How many swim jets do I need?’ Generally speaking, you only need three swim jets in your swim spa - two to provide resistance for you to swim against while the third acts as a stream of water under you to keep you floating.

Four or more can also be a good number for a swim spa, but only if it has enough jet pumps to power it. If you’re looking at a swim spa that has more jets, make sure it comes with enough pumps for a good water flow.

As a rule, each swim jet should have its own dedicated jet pump. If a swim spa has four swim jets but only two pumps, it may not be powerful enough for intense workouts.

fisher Train jets

Fisher Train™ jets

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5. Circulation Pump

When talking about swim spas (or spas in general) a circulation pump may be overlooked as something unimportant. However, this seemingly unremarkable piece of machinery makes a world of difference in the quality of swim spas.

Every swim spa needs a pump to circulate water and run the jets, so it requires low and high speeds. To this end, many swim spas use either 2-speed pumps or single-speed pumps together with a circulation pump.

A 2-speed pump is a kind of pump that can be switched from low to high speeds as necessary. The pump is typically on low speed when circulating water, then switches to a high speed when the jets are on. This makes it much less reliable and can wear out a lot faster.

At the same time, 2-speed pumps tend to be noisy and use a lot of power which can drive up your running costs.

By contrast, swim spas using a single-speed pump usually come with a circulation pump – and we’re telling you now, the circulation pump makes a whole lot of difference.

Circulation pumps pull in water from the filter and push it through to the heater before returning it to the spa. While the single-speed pumps power the jets, the circulation pumps can still circulate the water through the filter and heater. With 2-speed pumps, you will need to choose between heated water or moving jets. Whereas with a circulation pump, you can get both!

A swim spa with a circulation pump is usually worth at least $1000 more than the same swim spa with a 2-speed pump, but it is worth the extra money in the long run.

Here’s why:

  • They are more energy-efficient.
  • They result in much better water quality because circulation does not slow down even when you’re using the swim spa.
  • They are also much quieter compared to 2-speed pumps, so you won’t need to worry about a noisy output when using your swim spa.

All in all, we highly recommend getting a swim spa with a circulation pump instead of 2-speed pumps.

Programmable Circulation Pump

Programmable Circulation Pump

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6. Hydrotherapy seating

You already know what to look for in a swim jet, so here we’ll help you choose a good hydrotherapy seating for your needs.

Most swim spas and some plunge pools include hydrotherapy seating. An important rule to remember when comparing models and brands is that a higher number of jets don’t necessarily mean they are better for hydrotherapy.

It is common for spa manufacturers to inflate the jet count of their spas by using a lot of little air or water jets. However, what’s really important is the jet design and placement.

You’ll see some of the best hydrotherapy spas from brands like Jacuzzi®, Hot Spring® and Bullfrog® that have a relatively low number of jets, but have great design and engineering.

To meet your therapy needs on a day-to-day basis, it's also important to have a wide range of jets with different strengths and types of massages.

Different types of massage jets will be able to provide different types of massage actions such as pulsating, rotating, soothing or kneading. They need to be strategically positioned to target specific areas of the body that often need the benefits of hydrotherapy such as the lower back, neck and shoulders, hips and feet.

Pro-tip: some swim spas make use of spinning jets, which are large spinners that give a rotating massage effect. They are great, and we love them! But if you’re getting a swim spa with one, make sure they have 'bearingless technology' (meaning no bearings!) to make sure that they remain spinning for longer.

Learn more about the different types of jets in the article below.

hydrotherapy jets

hydrotherapy jets

While many swim spas have hydrotherapy seating, it’s not the same as having a separate spa pool. But there is a way for you to get the best of both worlds with a ‘dual-zone’ swim spa.

A dual-zone swim spa is a swim spa that has a spa pool at one end and a separate swim spa or plunge pool at the other. Check out the Vortex™ Hydrozone video below as an example of this.

Watch: Why choose a dual-zone swim spa?

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7. Recognized brand of control system

Beyond the physical components of your swim spa, another feature that you need to pay attention to is the control system. This is an important piece of machinery that ensures your spa will work as it should, so don’t skimp on it!

For swim spas, plunge pools, and even spa pools, most reputable brands will only use control systems from these brands: Balboa®, Gecko® and SpaNet®. HotSpring® does make its own spa controllers for its swim spas and spa pools which are also great.

These brands have been tried and tested and are known to be reliable. Because they are used by most brands, you will also have no issues finding replacement parts or a compatible unit in case of damage or issues.

If the supplier or retailer does not claim to use one of the above brands, we advise you to steer clear.

Spanet™ control system

Spanet™ control system

No-name brands may be difficult to find replacement parts for and you may end up spending more on a new control system if things go wrong.

You’ll also want to check if the spa controller supports wireless technology so you can connect devices and remotely control your spa settings.

The best systems should allow you to wirelessly connect music and control, control lighting modes, adjust water temperature, turn jets on and off, set the operating and cleaning modes, and more.

Smart technology for energy saving is also a good feature to have, particularly if you want to reduce your running costs.

You will also want to make sure your spa controller is expandable, meaning that it has the ability to add or integrate spare parts (such as pump, lights, heat pump, or an ozone unit) that you may want to add later on.

All in all, here’s what you need to take note of in your swim spa controller:

  • Comes from a recognizable brand such as Balboa®, Gecko®, SpaNet®, or HotSpring®
  • Expandability for adding extra accessories like another pump, lights, heat pump or an ozone unit
  • Availability of spare parts
  • Wifi connectivity
  • Common support
  • Easy to install
  • Heat pump connectivity for future-proofing
  • Smart technology for energy saving

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8. US-made acrylic shell

The shell is arguably the most important part of a swim spa or plunge pool. Unlike other parts like the swim jets or the circulation pump, the swim spa shell is irreplaceable. It is also quite expensive to repair.

Knowing this, it’s vital that you look for a durable spa shell when shopping for a swim spa or plunge pool. You’ll find that different materials can be used to make a spa shell including vinyl, rotomoulded plastic and acrylic.

Acrylic is by far the best option. Not only is acrylic highly durable, but it also retains heat well, making it energy-efficient. Plus, it looks great!

Swim spas or plunge pools using acrylic shells do tend to be more expensive than their vinyl or rotomoulded-plastic counterparts, but we believe they are worth the investment if you consider the long-term savings you can make on the running costs because of their energy efficiency.

With that said, not all acrylic shells are made equal. You still want to make sure that they meet the following criteria before you buy.

  1. They are US-made. US-made acrylic sheets are some of the best in the world. You’ll find the best spa brands, including Jacuzzi® and Vortex™ Spas, use US-made acrylic shells as they are typically very high quality.

  2. They are reinforced by resin for added strength. This is quite possibly the biggest determiner of a spa’s lifespan. The resin applied to the acrylic shell needs to be strong enough that when you try to pick up the spa under the lip, it will not move even an inch.

  3. They are oven-cured. This is pretty standard for most acrylic spa shells, but it is still worth noting. Oven curing ensures that the acrylic strongly adheres to the fibreglass backing. Be sure to ask your swim spa salesperson if the swim spa you’re looking at is oven-cured. If they don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s probably not.

Acrylic shell

US-made acrylic shell

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9. A treated timber, or injection-moulded plastic frame.

Your swim spa’s frame needs to be strong and durable enough to support the weight of up to one and a half tons of water.

To this end, you will want to avoid getting a swim spa with untreated timber or stainless steel frames. Untreated, light timber is not a suitable material for a swim spa frame because it can rot and attract mould and vermin.

On the other hand, ‘stainless steel’ frames may sound like a good choice but they’re not often as good as advertised. Stainless steel spa frames can often be made from low-quality, thin, light gauge steel meant to lower manufacturing costs. If you want a long-lasting swim spa frame, go for these two options: treated timber or injection-moulded plastic.

Heavy-duty treated timber uses chemical sealants that preserve the wood while at the same time making the wood resistant to pests, fungi, mould, and rot. This makes it perfectly safe and suitable for spa framing.

Fair warning, you may come across suppliers who claim their frames are treated but are merely painted. To avoid this, it’s important to differentiate between treated and untreated timber, as well as the weight and density of the wood.

Ask to see absolute proof of the timber treatment. You can ask your retailer for lumber stamps, tags, or a fact sheet that provides details about what chemical treatment the frame has undergone if this is something they can provide.

You can also ask the retailer to remove the side of the spa so you can see the framing and judge for yourself.

If treated timber does not suit your fancy, a better option is to find a swim spa with injection-moulded plastic frames. We actually think that injection-moulded frame technology is the best system of framing available!

Injection-moulded plastic frames are strong, durable, and impervious to rot, mildew or vermin damage. Depending on the manufacturer, injection-moulded plastic framing can also be produced with minimal waste or use recycled high-impact plastic.

Now, whether you choose treated-timber or injection-moulded plastic framing, be sure to pay attention to the base pan that the spa sits on. Make sure that it has a moulded, upturned base.

The base stops water from getting inside the spa’s cabinet in case of rain. This helps prevent pump and equipment damage and protects timber frames from rot. We recommend a minimum of 50mm upturn on base pans.

Timber-Free Permaframe™ Construction

Timber-Free Permaframe™ Construction

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10. Decent warranty and after-sales service

The warranty and after-sales service aren’t technically a swim spa feature, but they are vital when buying a swim spa or plunge pool! Even if you find a swim spa that has every feature above but no decent warranty and after-sales service, we urge you to walk away.

A warranty is a written guarantee provided by either the retailer or the manufacturer. Having this means that within a set period of time, you have their promise that they will either repair or replace your spa if anything goes wrong. Even if you are confident about the quality of your swim spa or plunge pool, having a warranty will provide added protection for your investment.

As a minimum, you should expect:

  • Jets: 2-5 years warranty
  • Plumbing and heater: 2-5 years warranty
  • Pump and equipment: 2-5 years warranty
  • Acrylic surface: 5-8 years warranty
  • Shell structure: 8-10 years warranty
  • Frame: 10+ years warranty
  • A 60-day money-back guarantee

Do take note that warranties can vary between retailers and manufacturers. You will want to make sure that the store or retailer that you are buying from will be able to deliver on the warranty they provide.

There are many retailers or manufacturers that offer warranties longer than they have been in existence – this is a red flag. If these companies shut down before the end of the warranty period, you may be left with no support and potentially no access to replacement parts.

The best way to avoid this is by buying from a retailer with a solid track record like Spa World™ and HotSpring® which have been around for decades.

Another thing to consider is the quality of the after-sales service the retailer offers. Over the years that you will be using your swim spa or plunge pool, you will require consumables and after-sales support.

Whether it’s for asking questions or troubleshooting issues or getting repairs, having easy access to your retailer’s customer care line can be a lifesaver.

Many retail groups now have integrated parts and consumables division. The best ones will offer you 7-day support via a centralised call centre so you can reach out any time of the week.

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In Summary

There are many components that make up an average swim spa or plunge pool, and it’s not always easy to tell if manufacturers are using the good kind for each.

When buying a swim spa, look for these 10 features.

  1. Good insulation
  2. Automated sanitising system
  3. Hard cover
  4. Powerful swim jets
  5. Circulation pump
  6. Hydrotherapy seating
  7. Recognized brand of control system
  8. US-made acrylic shell
  9. A treated timber or plastic frame
  10. Decent warrant and after-sales service

We hope this article answered your questions about purchasing a swim spa or a plunge pool. Still have questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us online or visit our nearest Showroom and talk to our sales staff.


*The following registered trademarks are owned by companies not affiliated in any way with Spa World™ or Vortex Leisure Pty Ltd: * *Bullfrog Spas® trademark is owned by Bullfrog International. HotSpring® Freshwater® Spas trademark is owned by Watkins Manufacturing Corporation (Watkins). Balboa trademark is owned by Balboa Water Group. Jacuzzi® ClearRayActiveOxygen® UV-C system and ProClarity™ are owned by Jacuzzi Inc. Gecko® trademark is owned by Gecko Alliance Group. Jacuzzi® * Affiliations:

Vortex® Spas and Spa World® are trademarks owned by Vortex Leisure Pty Ltd. The Jacuzzi® brand is owned by Jacuzzi Inc. and exclusively licensed for use to Spa World™ in Australia and New Zealand.

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