Hot tubs are red hot this year, with sales soaring as people seek ways to make it enjoyable to spend time at home. But unsuspecting shoppers often end up in hot water. The market is flooded with poorly made products that fail quickly…and the best-known brands often are well-known because of advertising, not because they make reliable hot tubs. Four factors that matter most in hot tub quality…

Insulation. Underinsulated hot tubs must work harder to maintain temperatures, leading to higher electric bills and shorter life for components. Smart: Choose a hot tub that features generous amounts of Icynene “open-celled” foam beneath its fiberglass shell—the space between the underside of the fiberglass tub and the cabinet should appear ­essentially full. This foam never completely hardens, so it won’t hinder access to parts for repairs. 

Components. Beware hot tubs that have “proprietary” components—that is, components that do not feature a third-party manufacturer’s brand name. Proprietary parts often hide the fact that hot tub makers are using low-quality parts and/or force customers to pay inflated prices for replacement parts when repairs are needed. Smart: Choose a hot tub with a Balboa electronic control system, which is the best. Any hot tub with this likely uses quality parts throughout.

Hose connections. In the best tubs, hoses are glued and clamped to jets. 

Shell. Low-quality hot tubs often have thin fiberglass shells prone to cracking. The best ones have a “hand rolled” fiberglass shell, which is very durable—the marketing materials will note this feature.

5 Top Hot Tubs

Five manufacturers produce hot tubs that meet all the criteria above—Artesian Spas, Beachcomber, Coast Spas, ­Master Spas and PDC Spas. Any hot tub made by these companies is likely to be of high quality. Particular standouts…

Best overall bang-for-the buck hot tub: Bar Harbor SE from Master Spas is a lot of hot tub for a reasonable price. With 25 jets, room for up to five adults, digital controls, LED lighting and even a small waterfall, this isn’t a stripped-down compromise. Unlike many hot tubs, it simply plugs into a standard electrical outlet. With most hot tubs—including the others on this list—it’s usually necessary to pay an electrician hundreds of dollars to install a 220- to 240-volt outlet and underground cable. List price: $8,000 but often available for $7,000. 

Best therapeutic massage hot tub: Twilight Spa TS 67.25 from Master Spas has big 3.6-inch jets positioned to massage the neck, shoulders and feet. Hot tub makers brag about the large number of jets in their products, but if your priority is massage, jet size is more important than quantity—jets three ­inches in diameter or larger provide a much deeper, more powerful massage than jets two inches or smaller. List price: $9,000 but often available for $8,200.

Most stylish hot tub: Cascade II Luxury 61 Jet from Coast Spas features a 24-inch waterfall, the largest available in any tub on the market, and an “infinity edge”—the water level goes all the way to the top of the hot tub on one side, making it appear that there’s no wall at all and allowing an unfettered view in that direction. Water that escapes over this wall falls into an out-of-view catch basin. List price: $11,000 but often available for $10,000.