Buffalo. 104 degrees, and humid.

I have yet to ever mention much about our year-’round garden water feature, the love of my life, the hot tub. Sunday was 17 degrees, with gusting winds up to 45 mph. But my daughter and I spent a good hour (and I mean good) relaxing in the outdoor tub.

When the weather outside is frightful, so are we. Not frightful, but outside.

We’d always loved taking advantage of hot tubs in hotels in our travels, always aware that we’re sitting in someone else’s (hopefully over-chemicalized) bathwater. Always telling ourselves it would be great to have our own.

Deconstruction, construction, relaxation.

After having discussed owning one for 16 years, and after having built our deck, we took the plunge. The area where it sits was an enclosed porch when we bought the house. My wife, Destructor, un-built the porch when we started the deck, leaving just the base and roof. For two years, it was an barely-used landing outside the back door.

I hired a carpenter to build the tub into the existing porch / landing. It was beyond my weekend carpentry skills. Especially when there are electrical concerns, lode-bearing pillars and the like. The tub actually rests on a platform that is sitting on the ground on a bed of gravel. It took five guys just to set it in place.

The industry likes to call them “spas.” Too many 1970s hot tub party connotations, I guess. Or maybe they can sell them for more money. We started reading up on the Internet to educate ourselves then went looking.

Number of seats and jets and jet positions are two of the most important options to consider.

There’s a lot to choose from. The biggest factor in deciding on one for us was size. It had to fit in a specific area of the deck. After that, it was number of seats and number of, and location of, jets. We ended up with a “seven-seater” that has seats in four corners, plus three ledges between the seats. There is no way I’d ever consider having seven people in there. There are not six other people one earth I’d want to be that close to. There’s my wife. There’s Halle Berry. There’s Charlize Theron… and I can’t think of any others.

The “Spa” in better weather.

Other options included flashing disco lights, aroma therapy and sound & video systems. They were not even a consideration.

The best advice we were given was to make sure the pool is placed as near as possible to the back door. The further it’s placed from the door, the less it would get used. People with romantic notions of a secluded area of the yard with a tub get quickly disillusioned the first time they have to make a mad scramble through winding paths, gravel walkways or a frigid wind-swept, large, grass lawn. Ours is one step from the back door and it gets used 3-4 times a week.

Night time is the best time for a dip, it’s quiet. Well, except for the cars along busy Elmwood Ave., just a house or two away.

I also spent some time considering the lighting. There are some Moravian star candle pendants above the tub. There are rope lights hidden by a fake soffit around the exterior of the ceiling and then there’s the light inside the tub. The light inside the tub can be set for different colors. Most are okay. I do not recommend the yellow light. Yellow water is not pleasant (conceptually) to bathe in.

We have a 10-year-old that has friends over, so we’ve established a few rules.

  • Go to the bathroom BEFORE you get in.
  • No jumping and no splashing.
  • Water stays IN the pool.
  • No getting in and out often.

And for kids and adults:

  • Bathing suits are required at all times (with the exceptions of Halle and Charlize, if they happen to stop by).
  • No glass. We’re still looking for just the right plastic wine glasses.

My wife made the curtains. She was skeptical at first, and was going to sit back and watch me make them from outdoor fabric, but soon took over the job (sewing is not one of my many talents). She liked them so much, she made a 10′ long picnic tablecloth from the same fabric and covered the top of our daughter’s jungle gym so the whole yard now coordinates.

The tub gets used more, surprisingly, in the wintertime. Our house is a big old 1897 Dutch Colonial. It’s drafty and the first floor has no interior doors–it’s wide open. The cold starts in your hands and feet and travels inward from there. The tub is instant relief. And after shoveling? There’s nothing better. And it has become the winter finish line for my wife and her running friends.

The summer-time view from the spa into the dining area of the deck.

The tub stays at 104 degrees in the winter. It goes down to 102 or lower for the summer. It does take some maintenance–chemicals every week or so and hosing out the filters at least once a week. It gets drained, cleaned and refilled every three months or so (the “or so” part depends on a January or February thaw). In retrospect, I wish we had a water spigot closer by. I am dependent on the hose not being frozen to clean filters and supplement the water level.

View of the tub is hidden from the driveway. The motor & pumps for the tub are accessible behind the removable panel lower, behind the tree in the rock garden.

It does bump up your electric bill a bit. The sales people will tell you about a dollar a day. It’s closer to $1.30 a day for us. But it is determined by a number of factors – what temperature you keep it set for, your weather and how protected it is.

Ours has a roof over it, which protects it a bit. My neighbor has had a spa for more than 20 years and his greatest expense has been the spa covers. They get beat up by the elements. His is not covered and goes through them every six years or so.

It makes bathing-suit-attired snow angels bearable, if you’re man enough. Or childish enough.

For privacy, there are the curtains, tall walls 3′ above the tub about 75% of the way immediately around the tub, 6′ stockade fence around the property and 10′ tall vine-covered trellises in areas within view of neighbors. There’s also a locking, rolling, fence gate on the driveway to ward off unexpected guests from appearing.

We do not regret the purchase one iota. It’s probably the only “luxury” item we own. If you’re mildly interested in getting one, don’t spend 16 years deciding.

A spa, or the expense, or the maintenance is not everyone’s cup of tea, some people just find them icky. Do you have a hot tub/spa? What’s your experience? Do you want one?

I have a long-time garden blog, a popular garden on America's largest garden tour, and have co-written a book on garden design titled, "Buffalo-Style Gardens: Create a Quirky, One-of-a-Kind Private Garden with Eye-Catching Designs" When I'm not doing all that, I am an advertising designer always out looking to design things to promote your business. Look me up at #jcharlier.

12 comments on “Buffalo. 104 degrees, and humid.

  1. I miss mine terribly! We had one two houses ago and we built a three season room for it. We’ve thought about getting one here but so far haven’t worked it out. To top it off in the winter can you run the hose from the kitchen sink?


  2. Anonymous

    I’ve had an “inside” jacuzzi tub, and an in-ground pool, and they were both wonderful, but never a hot tub. I envy you. Hey! Pool party at The Charlier’s!! 😉


  3. i’ve never been interested in one but yours is so attractive it makes me ponder the idea. But ultimately, I know I won’t be willing to give up any of my garden space.


  4. Looks wonderful! We don’t have a spa, but we have a swimming pool with a salt water filter. Very low maintenance… but, it isn’t heated. We’re waiting for solar panels to come down in price enough to use those to heat it.Cameron


  5. What a great idea is this! Merry Christmas! Wesolych Swiat!


  6. When I win the lottery, we will have a hot tub, because they’re so soothing; and you’re right, they’re wonderful under the stars on a frosty winter night. A massage therapist I sometimes go to has one and I love hanging out in her tub, tenderizing for a while before she takes the pain out of my muscles. Happy Christmas, Chanukah, or whatever else you might be celebrating this week, Jim!


  7. Jim/ArtofGardening

    Apple,It would be devistating to have one and then have it go away! I do top it off by filling buckets and dumping them in the tub. But getting the filters cleaned is a chore, with no great solution so far. They need to design a filter that goes in the dishwasher.Nancybond,I think I’d be happiest with a juccuzzi tub, pool AND a hot tub. It’s good to have options.Mrs.Wis,I’d probably be reluctant to give up garden space too, but we’re fortunate that that particular area never was available for planting. You could always put one in and if you miss the garden space, you could fill it in with good soil and make it a raised-bed garden.Cameron,I’ve thought about solar panels to augment the electric – especially to offset the cost of the spa. But prices are way out of line right now to make it reasonable. Maybe after Obama unleashes the scientists and encourages solar panel manufacturing and encourages buyers to invest, we’ll see costs start to come down.Ewa,Wesolych Swiat back at you!jodi,Keep playing that lottery. A massage after a soak? My god, I’d be a puddle. THAT’S luxury. This week, I’m celebrating Christmas (and a birthday) so thank you. Same to you, including Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, but not excluding the celebration of the Sun God, Ra, or any druidish occasion marking of the winter solstice.


  8. Your spa looks divine! Two of my sisters have spas but I am so hot most of the time I cannot even consider one! LOL! Maybe in a few years. I know, too much information but you did ask.


  9. I can relate. Not personally, but by proxy. My wife is good in the spa for about 20 minutes max. I can go about 45. We’ve not found the time maximum yet for our daughter.


  10. I’ve been trying to convince my husband about adding a spa to our backyard sort of a similar idea to how you have done it. I love the idea of enjoying the yard year round. I’m going to show him how you have done this in hopes to convince him!


  11. gardenerprogress,I’ve got your back. Let me know if I can help at all! I can say a hot tub, of this size, itself comes in the $3,500 to $4,500 range, depending on the options. And it cost almost the same to have a carpenter come and build it into the existing deck.


  12. Jim – thanks so much for the links to your posts on hot tubs. I like the work you have done to make your hot tub just another room in the house – except it's outside!We have no regrets about ours at all and are still experimenting with the temperature. Tried 104 a couple of weeks ago (mid July) and found it was far too hot. I was out of there in about 10 minutes flat – and feeling the affects for some time afterward. So we are now at around 95-98 for the summer months. I suspect we will increase as the weather cools.Thanks for commenting on my blog – now I'm off to read some of your gardening posts!Cheers…Donna


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