You made the plunge to install a spa in your backyard and are now grinning ear to ear about the calm and relaxation it will bring into your life. The next step, however, is to consider whether or not you want to create an enclosure around the spa.
Reasons to Enclose Spas
A spa out in the open, whether on a deck, patio or out in the yard, can feel vulnerable and exposed without some form of enclosure. An enclosure helps with privacy and a sense of safety and intimacy, but there are practical considerations, too:
- Protection from sun, wind, rain and insects
- Insulation for four-season use
- Safety and security (keeping small children from falling in, for example)
- Integration with the landscape
It's always a good idea to create landscaping around a spa that fits with the theme - lush, fragrant plants and flowering vines are ideal - and you can even use shrubbery as a way to create enclosure. But in the long run, you may be happier with some form of structure around the spa, whether it includes four walls and a roof or just frames the space and integrates it into the landscape.
There is no end to the design options for partial spa enclosures. Wood, fabric, and metal structures are all available as pre-fabricated units or you can hire someone to build a custom one - or do it yourself, if you're inclined. Choose a partial enclosure if shade and some privacy are your concerns, rather than security and safety. There are three general approaches:
Traditionally, these consist of four stout wooden posts that support a lattice-like framework overhead, which is typically used to support a large flowering vine (wisteria, roses, grapes, etc). Pergolas provide dappled shade depending on how widely the wooden members of latticework are spaced and they type of vine that is used.
The downside is there is no rain protection and there isn't much visual protection, unless latticework or shrubbery is used on the sides. Having a vine overhead also means fallen leaves, which can pose a maintenance issue.
Fabric structures are an easy option to create a spa enclosure. They provide sun and rain protection, and there are screened versions that help keep insects out and provide a sense of visual privacy. The downside of fabric enclosures is they lack the durability of wood and they are more limited in their design options.
A typical 10 by 10 style canopy can be purchased for less than $100 and erected in 15 minutes for an instant, inexpensive enclosure. Or, you can have a custom canopy or awning designed that fits the aesthetic of the space and provides a more permanent solution.
Open-air wooden enclosures with three walls and a roof provide optimal privacy and protection from the elements. This is a very popular approach because it allows you to feel protected, but doesn't cut you off from the outdoors, which is the point of an outdoor spa. Of course, the more substantial the structure is, the more the cost of installation goes up.
The walls don't need to be completely solid, either. They may have slats and/or space between bottom of the wall and the ground and the top of the wall and the roof - both of which begin to approach the aesthetic of an Asian-inspired outdoor bath. The walls can also be made of bamboo, reed fencing, or other materials that create the ambiance you desire.
For maximum privacy, protection, and four-season fun, you may want to invest in a structure with walls that surround the spa and a roof above it, essentially creating an outdoor room. These also have the benefit of being fully lockable for safety and security.
Wood is the most common material for this purpose, though most of the walls should be windows of some sort. This can take the form of a simple screened-in structure with a wooden frame, almost like a patio, or can include actual glass windows that open and close for ventilation. It may or may not be next to or attached to the house.
Of course the possibilities for architectural design with this approach border on building a house, but ideally the enclosure should be built to match the house and landscape and add to the looks of both, rather than being an elephant in the backyard. They are frequently designed to look like a backyard gazebo, but instead of containing a table and chairs, there is a hot tub inside. Since a gazebo is typically elevated a couple feet off the ground, there is ample space to conceal the mechanical components of the spa underneath the floor.
The potential costs involved are in the four-digit range even at the low end and can easily creep into the five-digit range, once all the all the labor and materials are accounted for, which is a significant drawback to this option.
There is one final variation on the theme of spa enclosures, which is especially relevant for cold climates. The idea is to install a greenhouse-like structure around the spa. You won't want to broil inside it in the summer, so any transparent enclosure needs to be completely removable for the warm months, or at least able to be opened for a free flow of air.
Glass or a polycarbonate material can be used, though the latter is much less expensive. There isn't great visual privacy with this method, but this can be incorporated in other ways, i.e., with tinted/opaque panels, screens, etc. The biggest drawback is that transparent structures don't fulfill the need for enclosure in the warm months of the year.
Choose the Right Option
The first step is to figure out which of the reasons for having an enclosure are important to you. Then choose an option that will fulfill those goals and get started with the process of selecting one of the many pre-fabricated kits out there or contacting a contractor to design and build one for you.