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Integrating hot tubs into backyard landscapes

For homeowners looking for a more refined look, hot tub/swim spa vault installations offer many functional and esthetic advantages.

By Vic Walker

When considering a swimming pool and hot tub addition to an outdoor landscape design, many homeowners select a hot tub that is integrated into the pool form. This not only creates a cohesive look, but also allows the hot tub to be used as a design element with water flowing over or out into the pool. This is a common design premise. Installation concepts for portable hot tubs, however, can be a little more challenging when trying to make them look as integrated as their built-in counterparts.

In today’s modern backyard design, portable hot tubs have become quite popular with many homeowners as they are an ideal way to add hydrotherapy options to a landscape design and there are many interesting ways they can be incorporated. Some of the things that should be considered when installing a hot tub or swim spa include: ease of ingress and egress, general location in the backyard relative to the house or property views (e.g. overlooking a lake or other scenic feature) and making sure there is a safe path—to and from—with adequate lighting for safety.

Foundations and grade

Most hot tubs and swim spas are installed on grade (or level) with other features in the backyard. In most cases, they are typically installed on a poured-concrete foundation or other levelled, firm surface. However, while all hot tubs need to be installed on some sort of level ground, they do not necessarily need to be on a poured-concrete pad. Other masonry materials such as interlocking concrete pavers, dry-set tile, or even natural stone will work as long as they are secure. Hot tubs can even be installed on a pea-gravel base as long as it is thick enough (approximately 152 mm [6 in.]) and installed on a compacted soil base. Homeowners can even choose pre-fabricated plastic pads, which are designed specifically for hot tub foundations. These preformed pads are easy to set-up; however, they must be installed on a compacted, level surface as well.

Swim spas on the other hand, due to their size and weight, are typically installed on a steel-reinforced, poured-concrete pad with some form of footing design. Other methods of on-grade installations include using a simple concrete pad, gravel bed, or reinforced-wooden platform. These are some of the easier on-grade methods; however, sometimes they do not look as integrated into the landscape as other installation methods.

The vault

Vaults can be easily built into decks helping to maximize space and add an element of integration.

For homeowners looking for a more refined look, one option is to install their new hot tub or swim spa inside a vault. Vault installations offer many functional and esthetic advantages. For instance, they provide easier access for enhanced ingress and egress and can be built above or below grade depending on the design needs. In many instances, the materials used to finish a vault can be the same or complement other materials used in the landscape. For example, the exterior walls of an above-grade vault can be finished in stone veneer, tile, or any other material being used in the backyard.

In many instances, the materials used to finish a vault can be the same or complement other materials used in the landscape.

For below-grade vaults, the access covers and adjacent deck can also be constructed of the same or complementing materials as other features. By using similar materials, the ability to further integrate the design into a landscape is enhanced—even if the hot tub is installed after the initial landscaping has been completed.

In addition to esthetic concerns, proper design of the vault structure and other items are extremely important as they are essential to the hot tub or swim spa’s long-term stability. Other important considerations include: wall and support construction, drainage, and maintenance. A good vault design also makes routine maintenance easier by providing access to key areas, e.g. pumps and controls.

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