Portable spas can go from visually pleasing to downright beautiful
when placed in a wood deck.
The combination represents a significant design element in any
backyard, and deserves the same attention given to inground pools
and spas. Here,
experts share five rules for designing and building a wood deck to
complement the hot tub.
1. Think about flow
Many people see a hot tub with a wood deck as just something to be
placed in the middle of the yard, with little thought to any
aesthetic issues. But, regardless of the project’s scale, it
is a design element meant to enhance the property.
With that in mind, it’s important to consider placement. Many
designers put the hot tub as close to the home as possible, since
this creates easy access and provides a little more shelter..
It’s a good idea to think about privacy as well. Scout the
area to see if windows of neighboring homes or even other parts of
the client’s property might allow unwelcome glimpses of
Finally, choose a material that makes sense with the property. For
instance, you may have a homeowner with a gray house who asks
for dark brown woods for the deck. This may not blend well, in
which case the professional should suggest something more fitting,
i.e., a deck color that will better blend into the property.
2. Design to the tub
Some builders will come up with a design before the customer has
even chosen the tub. This isn’t the ideal scenario. Knowing
in advance which model will be used aids in selecting a color that
matches the skirt and complements the shell.
It’s also easier to build that way.
Another key consideration is the access required around the tub for
maintenance and repairs.
On many newer models, only one side needs to be accessed, since the
equipment is placed together. But some of the newer deluxe
amenities can complicate matters: Spas with waterfalls require
access to the back-side for repairs, and units with effect lighting
around the perimeter need all four sides to be
This additional access means that, in most cases, some kind of
removable “trap door” must be installed in the
Design-wise, there are two ways to handle this entry-point.
Professionals can make it blend into the design, with the fewest
saw cuts possible, by continuing the door-boards in the same
direction and pattern as the rest of the deck. The other approach
does just the opposite, giving the trap door a separate treatment
so that it doesn’t seem like an attempt was made to hide
unsightly saw cuts. If the primary boards run along the
deck’s length, for instance, those in the trap door can be
set in the opposite direction, on a diagonal or even in a
decorative pattern, making it appear as a design element.
To provide ample room, some designers place removable panels that
extend back 2 feet around the entire perimeter of the spa, and give
them a different aesthetic treatment. This allows for complete
access while also giving the area an enhanced design
In addition to allowing for future repairs, designers should also
look at other ways to enhance convenience. For instance, check for
the controller on older tubs. Though manufacturers now generally
place the panels on the top, some used to locate them on the
outside. If so, make sure customers can reach it.
Also, consider the cover lifter. To give it proper room to work,
some builders create an extra 2-foot area where the lifter will be
placed — usually the side closest to the house or other
Then, discuss which seats the homeowners will use most often and in
what direction they should face. No homeowner wants to sit in the
seat with the best jets, only to be left facing the chimney.
3. Try creating elevations
While homeowners may initially want their hot tub to be sunken
completely to mimic an inground spa, most professionals try to
convince clients otherwise.
Placing the hot tub 15 to 18 inches above deck level adds visual
interest and simplifies use. Ideally, the spa should be at a height
where homeowners can easily sit down on the edge, turn around, and
slip their feet in
And consider building the deck with multiple elevations. A higher
level in back can make the area more visually interesting while
giving users an easy place to set a towel, or add decorative
touches like plants. Adding the step-ups for this requires room,
however, so if the deck is less than 500 square feet, you may want
to stick with one elevation.
4. Know your woods
Pressure-treated woods will last a long time, but many feel they
aren’t very attractive. Most builders use this material for
the structural elements under the surface; however, it can be
stained and implemented on top for an ultra-durable and reasonably
When using this variety, know that only stainless-steel hardware
should be used. Pressure-treated wood is copper-based, and
selecting screws made of tin or other metals will create corrosion,
since the dissimilar materials don’t interact well
When sawing pressure-treated wood for the structural elements, the
exposed cuts should be sprayed with a wood preservative such as
Copper Green to prevent rot in those spots.
Cedar and redwood are beautiful, mid-priced options that are
relatively resistant to insects and rot. Imported hard woods are
increasingly popular, but can pose some complications. For
starters, beware of cheap treatments of the wood. For instance,
some suppliers may try to sell boards that are only ¾-inch
thick. Don’t settle. Use boards that are at least 1-1/16 inch
thick. If the customer wants to invest in an exotic hardwood, they
should buy something of high quality.
It’s also important to realize that these harder woods are
more affected by moisture than other varieties. Boards should be
sealed on all sides before they’re secured in place, and
screws of at least 3 inches long should be used so that they
can’t be pulled out if the wood warps or cups.
Additionally, there should be some kind of vapor barrier between
the joists and decking.
You also should prepare to use more drill bits and saw blades, as
these woods are harder on tools.
Composites and artificial wood are being used increasingly as well.
Know that, unlike natural wood, they must be coated with a solid
color and, once painted, will have to remain that color. They also
are hotter to the touch than natural wood.
5. Allow for moisture
Though moisture is an unavoidable factor for any outdoor design
element, its impact can be mitigated.
If the deck, or portions of it, will sit 18 inches or less off the
ground, it will need proper ventilation. The closer to the ground
the deck sits, the more moisture will evaporate from the soil to
the bottom of the wood, posing a cupping problem.
Designers can address this by leaving the sides completely open, or
including ventilation spots in the wood. Plants can be used to
cover the sides so that natural air flows through.
Drainage also must be addressed. There should be as little water as
possible pooling around the base of the deck or the hot tub.
Ideally, this can be handled by sloping the ground away from the
deck and hot tub. If that’s not possible, install drain pipes
that will direct any runoff to a lower area. Some professionals
will use either a large line — 6 inches or more — or
two pipes, in case one gets clogged by debris. Finally, make sure
clients understand that their decks will have to be resealed every
one to two years for optimal longevity.