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Should You DIY a Galvanized Steel Hot Tub in Your Backyard?

It might depend on your—and your partner’s—patience levels.

By Julia Silverman November 24, 2020 Published in the Winter 2020/2021 issue of Portland Monthly

I'd always wanted a backyard hot tub. How hard could it be?

Image: Mike Novak

The DIY backyard hot tub quest that nearly ruined my marriage started back in May, with a text masquerading as a flex from a friend. Her husband had just purchased a ginormous stock tank to turn into a backyard swimming pool, a bulwark against the sticky COVID summer.

I was immediately consumed with equal parts envy and lust. No plastic blow-up affair for me: bring on the stock tank, with its rustic-chic air of cool.

Unfortunately, there was none to be found within a 200-mile radius. What we did have was an underused galvanized steel planter, then holding some sad bamboo, big enough for one person at a time (or maybe two little kids). My husband cleaned it out, bought a filter, and a chlorine dispenser. I took to grandly referring to it as our “soaking tub.”

But when the weather turned, so did my thoughts: I’d always wanted a backyard hot tub. We were already 85 percent of the way there. How hard could it be?

Pretty hard, it turns out, particularly when your partner refuses to click the promotional links embedded in the online tutorial to purchase the needed parts from the internet, preferring to putter around at local hardware stores in search of various spigots, hose attachments, and sealants.

But once you’ve amassed those—plus a mini tankless water heater, a propane gas cylinder, a pump/filtration system, and a drill for making holes in your tub to run the tubes through—you’re good to go.

Or so I thought. The online tutorial suggested a two-hour project, but this took the better part of four days. The first iteration was a frustrating flop, due to the off-brand pump that simulated a loud, wildly out of tune accordion. But a replacement pump did the trick. It’s virtually noiseless, and our tub now hits 102 degrees in 30-ish minutes. (We realized too late we could have gone the potentially easier, lo-fi route of heating the water via a wood-burning fire/copper coil conducting setup.)

Now we can backyard bask while stargazing to our hearts’ content. Should you try this at home? Since the pump, and the arguments, have quieted, I’d recommend it—maybe even with a tub built for two.

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