The first thing most people generally notice when they see a spa is
the cabinet. The appearance of an elegant, textured cabinet will not only add to the
aesthetic appeal of the spa, but will also add to the feeling that the spa is quality
Wood cabinets are most common, but it should be remembered that all wooden cabinets
will require some kind of care and maintenance in order to prolong their life and maintain
their beauty. There can also be many different qualities of materials and methods of construction.
Some manufacturers may cut costs by manufacturing very thin cabinets or using woods of
very low quality. These cabinets can be prone to quickly deteriorating when exposed to the
Perhaps the most popular, but be aware, the
quality of redwood is quickly declining. As the price of "quality" redwood
skyrockets, and it becomes more scarce, manufacturers that continue to use it may have to
turn to a much lower quality. Lower quality redwood can have little, or no rot resistance
that is normally associated with redwood. True quality redwood should be all pink in color
and have tight grain. Because most spa cabinets are stained it can be difficult to tell
from the outside the quality of the wood. Looking at the inside of the cabinet, redwood
should be all pink in color. Anything white, or light yellow in color is "sap wood" (from
the outer part of the tree) and has very little rot resistance. The grain of the wood
should also tight and close together. Wide grain indicates trees that have grown very
quickly and have not had enough time to build up a sufficient amount of their natural
resistance to decay.
Cedar is becoming more and more popular, and with routine
maintenance can be kept looking quite nice. Western Red Cedar is lighter colored than Redwood and
technically has more rot resistance. It's also slightly softer and weighs less than redwood.
Currently used by at least one manufacturer, with lots of attention mahogany can be one
of the most beautiful of woods used. Like all natural woods it too needs to be maintained. Without
attention it can deteriorate to a point of "unsalvageability" quicker than
redwood or cedar. As a rule mahogany is more labor intensive when treating, when compared to
redwood or cedar, due to its propensity toward fading and the need of extensive sanding
prior to staining. Also mahogany has been found to be more prone to warping than redwood
Regardless of the type of wood use for the cabinet, the thickness of the wood is also
important. The thinner the wood the more prone it can be to cracking, warping and just plain
falling apart. Also, thin cabinets make it difficult to attach many types of cover
Polymer / Plastic:
Composite cabinets are quickly establishing themselves
as a strong presence in spa manufacturing. The new synthetics can look like wood and
really do require very little maintenance. These plastic cabinets usually require much less
maintenance than their wooden counterparts, but some can be prone to fading or yellowing
from sunlight. Before purchasing one of these check with your dealer about not only the length
of the warranty but specifically about sun damage and warpage.
In a resent survey of major spa manufacturers the European market is still strong for
wooden skirts, but the US is moving toward a greater than 50% synthetic market.
Over the lip vs. Drop in cabinets.
There are two basic types of cabinet designs, one where the shell of the spa comes over
the top edge of the cabinet (lip-over style) and the other where the shell rests on a rail
of wood that sticks out from the lip of the shell. (deck-style)
While as a rule the deck-style style requires more precision and is more
expensive to manufacture, when done properly, with a strong sub-frame, the lip-over style
can be just as strong. The argument for the lip-over style is generally be that spa water
does not rest on the rail, found in the deck-style, and therefore is less prone to water
rot. While the argument for the deck style will be that it is protective of the lip of the
spa by providing a rail for things to bump into rather than directly into the spa shell.
Realistically though the difference between the two is only physical appearance. The
amount of spa water that the lip of a cabinet is exposed to is far less than the abuse
that mother nature dishes out to the sides of the cabinet. If the cabinet is made of a
high quality wood either should last equally long.
Spa Cabinet Construction
Just as important as the type of material used in a spa cabinet, the way
in which the cabinet is constructed is as important.
Removable panels allow for removal
from the hot tub in case repairs are needed. Just imagine trying to repair a car without
having the ability to open the hood. The repairing process becomes nearly impossible,
extremely time consuming, and expensive. With this design, your spa can be easily checked
and serviced when needed.
Interior Frame Construction:
Having removable wall
panels is only part of the solution to your spa's "serviceability". Another
key is having solid 2 x 4 construction. This provides enough strength to hold 200-300
gallons of water (between 1,600 and 2,400 lbs.) when the wall panels are removed.
Many manufacturers save money by only using 1x2's or 2x3's to construct their
frames. This dimension stock may not provide the adequate strength required to support a
spa full of water without the wall panels attached. When the wall panels are removed,
stress can be added to an already weak frame. Some manufacturers tout having removable
walls, but that benefit is rather compromised if the construction can't support itself. 2
x 4 construction provides plenty of strength to support a spa full of water, even when the
panel walls are removed. A few manufacturers tout 2 x 6 construction, but this really is
overkill and the only advantage is as a sales/marketing gimmick.
Pressure Treated Base:
Wherever you choose to install your hot tub, it
is strongly recommended that your spa have a pressure treated base - a critical
requirement if your spa is outdoors. Since an outdoor spa is subjected to harsh elements
detrimental to any type of wood, a pressure treated base will prolong the life of your
Some manufacturers are now using a plastic or polymer base. This type of base will far
outlast even the best pressure treated wood base. Besides being impervious to rot and
decay, a polymer type base can also do a better job at keeping bugs, rodents and other
critters from crawling into and making a home inside the spas cabinetry.