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Hardshell vs inflatable hot tub – What's best for me?

March 30, 2023 

Estimated read time – 5 minutes

Author – Fin Green – Content Writer UK, Jacuzzi Group 


Tossing up the idea of buying an inflatable or hard-shell hot tub? Asking yourself “are there seats in inflatable hot tubs” or “what are the differences between a hardshell and inflatable hot tub?”


With so many brands, designs, specifications and features to think about, making this first decision may feel a little overwhelming... But the team at Jacuzzi are here to help!   

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In this article you will learn about the features and factors that both tub types share and the general differences between them. This will help you work out which option may be best for you, those using it and your budget. 


In this article, we’ve used brand names not affiliated with Jacuzzi Group. You can see the list of the brand owners at the bottom of this article. All information, including pricing and product details, was accurate at the time of writing (March 28, 2023) and may change without notice. 



What is a hardshell hot tub?

A hardshell hot tub, as the name suggests, is hard. It is the complete opposite to a lightweight, air-filled inflatable hot tub. A hardshell hot tub can also be referred to as a portable hot tub and an inbuilt hot tub.  


Common materials that hardshell options are made of include rotomold plastic, tiles and acrylic. With a tough shell, they’re durable and if maintained well, can last for many years. 



What is an inflatable hot tub? 

Inflatable hot tubs are a hybrid between a portable hot tub and a blow-up swimming pool. They are usually made from UV resistant materials, (such as vinyl or latex) can be heated and bring luxury to your garden at an affordable price.  


An inflatable hot tub can also be drained, deflated and stored.  



What are the differences between a hardshell and inflatable hot tub? 

Aside from the obvious visual differences that you can take in at first glance, understanding key differences from materials to functionality will help you work out which tub type is right for you.

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Cost 

The purchase price of a hard-shell hot tub is considerably more than an inflatable hot tub.  


On average, the price of an entry level hard-shell hot tub can range from around £2,795 to £4,295. Higher priced options can range from £11,795 to more than £25,000. 


Inflatable hot tubs on the other hand have a lower retail price. Prices start at around £200 and the more luxurious ones can cost around £1,000 or more. 


The price brackets for both hot tub types are reasonable due to materials used, features and longevity. 


Durability and Longevity 

Hard shell hot tubs are made with materials and plumbing that's designed to withstand outdoor environments. This includes the  

-Framework 

-Base  

-Cabinet 

-Multi-layer shell  

-Insulation 

-and cover 


You will find that top quality hard shell hot tub options, if well maintained, can last, 20 years or more. Like a car, some components such as pumps may need to be replaced over time.


Inflatable hot tubs are made with soft materials that allow air to be inflated and deflated between the fabric walls. 


This can make it more challenging for this tub type to withstand common outdoor objects such as twigs, toys, stones and stay securely on the ground in the event of strong winds.  


Components and equipment (such as pumps, pipework, filtration and control systems are stored in a separate control box that’s linked to the outside of the hot tub.  


This makes it more susceptible to the weather as it’s not stored inside the cabinet. With limited durability and resistance to wear and tear, an inflatable hot tub can last several years, depending on how often you use it and how well you look after it. 



Good quality hard shells are usable all year round. However, you may find inflatable hot tubs are more likely to be used in the warmer months as exposing the pump to very cool temperatures during winter can damage them. 


Seating  

Most hard-shell hot tubs have moulded or open barrier seating along with hydrotherapy jets, which can be customised in terms of pressure and direction. The configuration and level of customising depends on the brand and model you’re considering. 


For example, you can choose between upright seats or loungers, depending on whether you relax more being laid down or upright. You can also pick a hot tub that features shallow seating. This allows you to sit with shoulders out of the water, acting as both a cool down seat and child seat.  



There is no built-in seating or seats in an inflatable hot tub. You’re essentially sitting on the floor or cushioned padding at the bottom of the hot tub. Some brands offer inflatable pads and benches as well as foam padding to place underneath the hot tub. You can also purchase inflatable booster seats for added elevation. 

Hot tub seating

Jets and hydrotherapy 

The jets on hardshell hot tubs are built in. Some brands and models place them so they’re full recessed which enables you to sit back and feel comfortable. You shouldn't feel the jets pressing into your back or limbs. 


Tubs that provide quality hydrotherapy will have jets positioned in a way that focuses on different muscles and joints. It’s essentially like having your own personal masseuse at home. 


In general, inflatable tubs have sections of material with holes that the water is ejected from. This helps create a bubbly effect in the water when the pump is on. On higher quality options, you can find a combination of air jets and hydro jets.   


Other hot tub features 

Features on a hard-shell hot tub vary, depending on brand, model and if it is an entry level tub, its likely to be equipped with less features than a top of the range option. In general, you'll find that mid to top of the range hot tubs feature Bluetooth® connectivity, speakers, control panels, LED lighting and more. They will either be included with purchase or available as optional upgrades. 


Unless you get a high-end inflatable hot tub, you will find that in most cases, there are fewer features offered in comparison to hard shell ones, the lower or middle price range for inflatable ones usually does not include features such as speakers, Bluetooth® LED lighting. 


With most hardshell hot tub brands, seat cushions, extra lighting and drink holders may be included with the purchase or be an optional extra. 


Insulation 

Quality, well-placed insulation plays a key role in keeping running costs down. A hardshell hot tub is fitted with a cabinet. 



Depending on brand and model, insulation can be fitted to the cabinet, shell and base to prevent heat escaping. It also reduces the amount of heating required to keep the water at your desired temperature. A cover on top also helps slow down heat loss from the top of the spa.  



Inflatable hot tubs in general are not equipped with insulating materials such as foam, EPS (expanded polystyrene foam) or reflective blankets. They do not have a cabinet, as such, the control and heating system sits separate to the tub. 



You’ll find that some inflatable hot tub brands offer heat preservation mats and inflatable bladder (for protection) and covers. Using these accessories can help to insulate and reduce energy costs. In most instances, a hardshell tub will have better levels of insulation and therefore, a greater ability to reduce running costs.   



To learn more about insulation in a hardshell hot tub, read this article 

Mobility 

Both hardshell and inflatable tubs are mobile and can be moved around your garden and even transported to a different property. With both options emptied, a hardshell option will always hold its form and may require a few strong bodies, a trolley, a truck (or all) to move.  



On the other hand, an inflatable, as the name suggests is much lighter, easier to move around and can be packed away when not in use.  

Hardshell vs inflatable hot tub - Which is better?

Hardshell vs inflatable hot tub – Which is better? 

Both hot tubs are great investments for your home no matter what they are made from. After all, who can deny the chance for serenity on your doorstep? 


Inflatable hot tubs have their benefits – they hold heated water, have jets to create bubbly water and massage, easy to move around, can be stored away when you’re not using it, cheap to buy and you can buy accessories to enhance the experience.  


However, they are not designed to last for many years, offer limited hydrotherapy and are more vulnerable to punctures. They may also not lock in the heat as well as a portable spa. 


A hard-shell hot tub can offer greater longevity, more seating, size and hydrotherapy options, features such as waterfalls, LED lights and control panels built into the shell.  



They are also more costly to buy, harder to move around and store if you’re not using it for a period of time. 


Summary 

We hope that this article has provided you with greater insight into the difference between hardshell and inflatable hot tubs and which one could be the best fit for your lifestyle. 



As you’ll see, there are pros and cons to weigh up between both options. Deciding which pathway to choose really comes down to personal preference and the value you want to gain from your hot tub.

 

If after reading this article you find yourself interested in learning more about hard shell hot tubs, there are plenty of options to consider. 



You can learn more about hard shell hot tubs in this article on the Top 5 features every hot tub should have. 


Our product pages on our website will also provide you with great information and of course, you can visit one of our many Jacuzzi store locations across the UK. 

Disclaimer: The following registered trademarks are owned by companies not affiliated in any way with Jacuzzi Group. Bluetooth® is a trademark owned by Bluetooth SIG, Inc.   

Affiliations: Jacuzzi® is a registered trademark of Jacuzzi Group. All rights reserved.