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Portable Hot Tubs vs In Ground Spas . . . Which is Better?

Spas and hot tubs have a lot to offer! With a range of benefits including hydrotherapy and pain relief to pure recreational fun, there are a wide variety of hot water designs. From seating, jets, lighting, to aesthetic options and more, there’s something for every backyard aficionado. Check out all the benefits of portable versus in ground spas below.

What Makes Portable Hot Tubs Differ From In Ground Spas?

In ground spa? Hot tub? Some are on top of decks and patios. Others are permanently built into the ground and might even be connected to a pool, or swimming pool adjacent. Here are some definitions.

A Hot Tub or Portable spa is totally self contained. These are the kinds of units you can get dropped off on a deck or patio, fill with water, connect to power and let it rip. An in ground spa is a permanent structure, often built as part of a pool install. These can be gunite or fiberglass shells, connected to hard plumbing and an external pump and filter system.

The two systems have similarities, but just by their nature each has certain areas where they may shine. Let’s talk about the benefits of outdoor spas and hot tubs including hydrotherapy, design, integration with the pool, and more.

The original portable hot tub

Location, Location, Location

First, there are some basic differences between in ground and portable spas to consider. One thing’s for certain. If it’s in the ground, it is permanent and called an “in-ground” or “built-in” spa. If it sits on the ground, it’s called a “portable” spa or “hot tub” and can be physically moved. 

Portable spas offer a lot of variety of placement and can be built into a deck, under a gazebo, or placed on a patio close to the home. As stated above, they are considered self-contained and plumbing is built in. Equipment may be hidden behind the frame or cabinet of the tub. 

They can also be sunken into the ground for a more permanent look. Portable tubs can easily be drained and covered for periods of unuse. For sunken or “50/50” installs, a spa “vault” is used which helps ensure the installation is done correctly, safely, and in a way that enhances surrounding aesthetics.

Serviceability after installation is a very important consideration. Imagine sinking a hot tub into a glorious setting complete with decorative rock wall only to realize you forgot to leave room for an access hatch! Allowing for proper ventilation of portable units is also vital. 

In ground spas offer more customization and can be built to fit specific designs or size requirements. They provide a seamless look to poolscapes that are unmatched and are often built in conjunction with a pool. A custom installation makes in ground options very popular with homeowners.

However, in ground spas permanently alter the landscape and cannot easily be relocated. Like a pool, in ground spas are not drained regularly. Because they are usually integrated with the pool systems, plumbing is run underground and the equipment is maintained apart from the spa, usually right on the pool pad. 

Efficiency and Operation

Energy efficiency is also an important consideration with any body of heated water. Without additional gas heaters, in ground spas can take much longer to warm up than their mobile counterparts. For this reason alone, in ground spas are often labeled “inefficient” compared to portable spas, which maintain a constant, ready-to-soak temperature. 

Higher operational costs and the extra effort and planning prior to use can make in ground spas less attractive to the average homeowner. 

Now that we’ve got those basic differences out of the way, let’s turn our focus toward the benefits to users and how in ground spas differ from portable tubs in that respect. 


Differences in the Experience

“Hot tub” is a generic term referring to any tub you can fill with hot water, regardless of extra features like jets, bubblers, and LED lights. Regardless of nomenclature, we gain some incredible health benefits from regularly soaking our bodies in warm, jetted water. And there are many ways to get a good soak. 

The question you must ask is which method will provide the desired experience? Outside of being above the ground, the most noticeable difference between portable and in ground spas is the hydrotherapy experience. 

In ground spas—akin to miniature pools and often connected to the main swimming pool—are typically built with bench seating and offer limited jet options compared to their portable counterparts. In ground spas are highly customizable though in terms of add-ons and can be built to owners’ exact specifications. Some homeowners prefer a more seamless look or they want multiple areas for enjoyment. In ground spas help them accomplish those goals.

Portable hot tubs are designed more ergonomically with a focus on comfort and hydrotherapy options. More often than not, homeowners choose a portable spa for cost savings or to fulfill a specific need (usually hydrotherapeutic) and are often the focus of the backyard.   

In ground spas are highly customizable and great for customers with very particular tastes. Portable spas are convenient and are powered by strong pumps to provide uncompromising hydrotherapy performance. They also offer a variety of customizable jet placement options. 

Premium and luxury spas also offer entertainment through high-end features including LED lighting, waterfalls and aromatherapy. In addition to a multitude of premium, add-on options for portable hot tubs, CMP offers aromatherapy with the Aqua Effects® Liquid Aroma Injector and InSPAration Wellness Fragrances. Our patented aroma delivery mechanism puts control in the hands of the spa user by allowing calming scents to be released with the push of a button.

Liquid aromatherapy adds a whole new dimension to relaxation

Installation vs Construction

Depending on state-specific requirements, other things to consider include distance from the property line, safety barriers like self-latching gates, filling restrictions (they’re strict in Cali), and choice of safety measures (like in Florida). Check with your state and city before installing and servicing hot tubs in your area.

In most areas, “plug & play” and prefabricated hot tubs under a certain capacity and size do not require a building permit. If you are building custom hot tubs or installing in ground spas, you will need a licensed electrician and to obtain proper permits. Even if you’re only installing ABG tubs, you should adhere to local plumbing and electrical codes. 

Should You Separate the Pool & Spa?

Should the spa and pool be connected? What’s the purpose of a spillover? What about winterization? There are many things to consider with the integration of pools and spas. 

In ground spas do not have an outer shell or cabinet. They are typically encased in concrete or framed with stone or other material finish. Equipment is shared or on the same pad as the pool and easy to access. 

An attached spa uses the same filtration and heating systems as the pool. This simplifies installation and maintenance. It’s also convenient for the user to get from the pool to the spa in a very short distance. Without a shared system, users have more control over the separate bodies of water, but overall costs will be higher.

A raised, attached spa has a spillway feature that allows water from the spa to overflow into the pool. Much like a waterfall, this creates a soothing and tranquil dimension to the spa. The spillway makes it easier to control the water level in both the pool and the spa. And it can also help the spa stay cleaner by allowing for constant water circulation into the pool.

Attaching a hot tub to a pool can create a sense of adventure!

What is Hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy is a water-based therapeutic technique and form of physical medicine that uses water to treat and relieve pain. It has been known throughout history in different regions of the world. Studies show people successfully use it to treat various health conditions. In addition to treating a variety of conditions from arthritis to nerve problems to depression, hydrotherapy is widely used for relaxation and to generally maintain one’s health. 

The healing properties of heated water offer a variety of health benefits to those able to regularly enjoy it. The combined effect of heat, buoyancy and massage help relax the body and muscles, ease sore joints and improve circulation, resulting in a physically and emotionally beneficial experience. 

Water is soothing, calming and relaxing, and can be enjoyed in multiple ways including full submersion, shower/spray, compress, and more. There are some basic properties that give water its amazing ability to heal. We list a few of them below.

  • Water can store and carry heat and energy
  • Water can dissolve other substances including minerals and salts
  • Water can be used in different forms (ice, liquid, steam) for acute therapy
  • Water increases blood flow and circulation, thus improving blood pressure and decreasing the risk of heart disease
  • Exercising in water provides a gentle form of resistance while reducing pressure on joints  

📘 Learn more about the incredible relationship we have with water. 

Portable vs In Ground: Differences in Hydrotherapy


Most portable hot tub designs have a large variety of jets ranging from 2 to 5 inches. Some spas can have as many as 35 to 70 jets or more! Multiple pump and valve systems allow users to target therapy to various parts of the body.  

Portable tubs typically have lounge seating where users lay back. They can also have “head to toe” therapy including neck jets and powerful foot jets, as well as specialized therapy jets such as deep tissue, soft tissue, and acupressure.

With a variety of seat designs users can have a hydrotherapy circuit experience spending a few minutes in each seat to completely cover all their aches and pains. 

Many portable spas feature heated blowers that enhance the hydrotherapy experience. Some high end spas feature pulsating jets that move up and down the body through pre-programmed “sequences.”

Portable hot tubs can achieve high water temperatures which promotes blood flow and removes lactic acid and other waste elements from sore muscles, tendons, and fascia.


Large open bench seating promotes freedom of movement during hydrotherapy. In ground hot tubs can be very large allowing for multiple bathers to soak together. 

When placed adjacent or connected to pools, in ground spas allow users to easily jump in the pool to “cool down” and lower their core temperature and then quickly return to the hot tub to warm back up. 

Entering and exiting in ground spas can be easier than above ground and portable tubs. Steps are a great add-on for convenience and safety to portable and above ground tubs.

In ground spas can be designed to have “standing stations” that provide deep floating hydrotherapy experiences. Some options feature passive therapy with large whirlpool water action.

General Jet Information

There are a large variety of jets available for both in ground and portable spas, but there are more styles for portable versions. Typical jets can have directional, rotator, or double rotator configurations. And jet face options are extensive.

Specialized jets for special locations such as foot and neck help target common areas that give people the most trouble. Some jets also have air infusion that can be separately controlled with a bar top valve.

Many jets are flow adjustable at the face, allowing users to customize their hydrotherapy. Good hydraulic design is imperative to create “balanced” patterns. Like cold pizza, there’s no such thing as a bad hot tub experience! 


Deep tissue jets feature large volumes of water (GPM) and flow at typically medium to fast nozzle velocities (FPS). Directional style jets can be adjusted to target problem areas. 

Rotator designs provide very effective pulsating style massage. Deep tissue jets are effective on large muscle groups such as shoulders, thighs, and lower back. When used in groups, they are highly effective at covering larger areas.


Soft tissue jets will have lower GPM flows and lower nozzle velocities. Face designs for these jets provide a gentle wash of water and are often infused with large amounts of air.

Soft tissue jets are ideal for sensitive areas of the body such as behind the knee and around the wrist. They are also often used in locations around the feet.


Acupressure style jets typically have narrow water paths, medium water flows (GPM) and higher nozzle velocities compared to soft tissue jets. These jets are ideal for targeting areas that need focused penetrating therapy.

They are available in both directional and rotating varieties. When used in groups, acupressure jets can provide a very effective “large area” pin-point hydrotherapy style. Designers need to use care and not place this style of jet in therapy areas that may be “too” sensitive.


There are a large variety of specialized jets on the market for above ground hot tubs. Extra large multiport foot jets take hydrotherapy for feet to a whole new level. Extreme large volume jets can be used to create passive therapy like whirlpools or as a deep tissue solution. 

Specialized collar jets can help take the tension from sore shoulders and necks. Supercharged air jets can provide a tactile and air infused solution for carpal tunnel and sore wrists. 

Different jet styles can create completely different types of therapy.

Enhanced In Ground Hydrotherapy with CMP Spa Master

Whether you’re working with in-ground spas or portable spas, CMP offers options for providing a great hydrotherapy experience to customers. 

Create a “True Portable Hot Tub Experience” for in ground spas with Spa Master™. CMP is totally committed to providing the most complete and innovative selection of in ground spa products in the industry. Designed to create the best possible installation, Spa Master patented systems create powerful spa therapy and offer a ton of options to create the ultimate in ground spa. 

  • 2in Gunite Jet Systems: CMP 2” Insider Gunite Jets are part of a growing line of Spa Master advanced spa systems for in ground pools. This is the first gunite jet system that installs with more common 2” pipe, instead of 2.5”. These jet internals are a superior design and you can choose from multiple high end finishes and orifices to maximize flow.
  • Jetarray: This patented rapid spa seat installation system with Jetarray spa systems prevents under-performing jets caused by plumbing high and low. The inline style installs in almost any orientation, and only 25 GPM is required for high-level performance. The cluster design is more than a pre-assembled jet manifold, and has four 1.5″ ports that can be combined with 1.5″ jet fittings. Jetarray is the fastest way to achieve a consistent, powerful spa seat installation.
  • 1.5in Jet Internals: The fast and easy way to add enhanced therapy performance using standard pool fittings is with Spa Master 1.5″ Jet Internals. They install in any standard wall fitting with 1.5″ FPT threads. Our Stainless Steel Therapy Jet Internals give spas a clean look and have unique anti-corrosive properties. Stainless steel jet internals are available in white, gray and black.

Many in ground spas have very basic spa jets – Spa Master allows for a true portable hot tub experience. Designer styles make Spa Master systems attractive and more stylish in the pool. Quick install styles make upgrades fast and easy. 

2" Gunite Jets

Spa Master jets for in ground spas can create a portable spa experience.

Sell More In Ground Spas & Hot Tubs

No matter what spa style the customer chooses, you can feel more confident discussing the multitude of options for both in ground spas and portable hot tubs. Now you can discuss the basic differences and benefits offered including install location, the various hydrotherapy experiences, integration with the pool, and more.

CMP is committed to providing professionals with the most comprehensive and innovative selection of in ground spa and hot tub products in the industry. With Spa Master™ Spa Systems you can expect easier and faster installation, a wide range of jet styles, and complete systems for gunite, vinyl and fiberglass.

CMP Spa Products offer platform-driven product systems that make customization easy with low tooling costs and faster lead times. CMP can also work with OEMs to design something completely brand new. For more information about Spa Products, visit c-m-p.com/spa-products.


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