Swim Spa Buyer's Guide: What to Look For When Purchasing Your First Swim Spa

If you're in the market for a new swim spa, you likely have a lot of questions about what to look for and what features are most important. As a first-time swim spa buyer, it can be overwhelming trying to sort through all the options. This swim spa buyer's guide covers the key factors to consider so you can find the right swim spa for your needs and budget.

What is a Swim Spa?

A swim spa, also known as a swim spa fitness pool, is essentially a small residential pool that generates a water current you can swim against for exercise. Most swim spas are about 15-18 feet long and provide adjustable water currents so you can customize the intensity of your workout. 

The small size makes them a more affordable and practical option compared to installing a backyard lap pool. The main draw of a swim spa is having a place to swim laps and get a serious cardio workout right at home it provides the benefits of lap swimming without having to deal with things like sharing lane space, overcrowded public pools, or limited pool hours. Swim spas allow you to swim on your own schedule in the privacy of your backyard.

Swim Spa vs. Hot Tub

While swim spas share some similarities with hot tubs, they serve different purposes. Hot tubs are designed for relaxation and hydrotherapy, with seats and jets aimed at providing a soothing soak. Swim spas don't have seats and are optimized for swimming in place against a current. The current is generated by strong jets on one end that propels the water in a smooth stream, mimicking open water swimming.

Most swim spas do have jets that can be used like a hot tub when not swimming, but the overall design is focused on exercise over relaxation. Many models allow switching between swim currents and hot tub jets. So while a swim spa can function a bit like a hot tub, the opposite isn't true - you can't use a regular hot tub for lap swimming.

Key Factors to Consider

When shopping for a swim spa, keep the following factors in mind:

Size: The length of the swim area is key for fitting your body comfortably while swimming in place. Entry-level models start around 10 feet long, but 12-15 feet is ideal for proper lap swimming technique. Anything longer than 18 feet will require a large dedicated space. Also, pay attention to the width - 5-7 feet wide allows reasonable arm rotation.

Current Strength: The pump horsepower determines the water current strength in the swim spa. Look for at least a 5 HP pump for a decent current to swim against. Higher horsepower ranging from 6-8 HP offers faster, more challenging currents tailored to experienced swimmers.

Number of Swim Currents: The ability to generate two different swim currents, usually on opposite ends of the swim spa, is worth considering. This allows for interval training by switching between swimming with and against the current. It also adds versatility if two people want to swim at once.

Jets: While secondary to the swimming function, jets contribute to the hydrotherapy experience when using the swim spa for recovery after exercising or just lounging. More jets provide more massage coverage and intensity. 

Placement of jets matters too - feet, back, neck, and shoulder jets all target different muscle groups.

Construction: The shell material and frame construction impact durability. Rotationally molded polyethylene shells resist cracks and retain heat better than acrylic. A stainless steel or thermoplastic frame stands up to frequent use and harsh chemical sanitizers are better than wood frames. Ask about insulation and cover thickness as well.

Special Features: Look for conveniences like underwater treadmills, exercise gear anchors, built-in sound systems, and programmable swim currents. High-end models may offer extra therapy options like adjustable depth floors, underwater lighting, and adjustable current direction.

Warranty: Given the complex pumping systems involved, an extensive warranty provides peace of mind. Many manufacturers offer at least 2-5 years of coverage on both the shell and equipment. Be sure to read the details carefully so you know what's covered.

Maintenance: While self-cleaning technology has improved, swim spas still require regular maintenance like draining and cleaning the shell, replacing filters, and adding chemicals. Consider ease of access to equipment, filtration options, and overall serviceability.

Cost:  You can expect to invest $10,000-$30,000+ for a quality swim spa depending on size, features, and brand. Be realistic about how much use you’ll get from it. If you swim daily, the cost may be justified. If not, a lower-priced model may suit your needs.

Choosing the Right Swim Spa for You

Your fitness level, swim goals, budget, and how often you plan to use the swim spa should guide your buying decision.

Casual swimmers who just want low-impact exercise may only need a basic 10-12 foot swim spa with one moderate current. This keeps costs down while still allowing comfortable swimming in place for exercise.

Frequent swimmers looking for a challenging workout need a longer model (at least 13-15 feet) with stronger pump current options. Look for performance features like interval training currents, underwater treadmills, and pace clocks.

Competitive swimmers require the longest, most powerful swim spas to mimic open-water swimming as closely as possible. You’ll want at least a 15-foot length, 8+ HP pump, and performance add-ons to max out your swimming potential.

For families or anyone not planning to swim laps daily, a mid-range model offers a nice compromise. Look for at least 12 feet long with a 5 HP current pump and a few luxury features like lights, waterfalls, or dual temperature zones. This provides a solid swimming function alongside the recreational benefits of your typical hot tub spa.