Friday Cabins #29: How to Build a DIY Hot Tub
A conversation with one Idaho couple on their recent effort to build an at-home wood fired hot tub and cold plunge
Hello dear readers, together we're back with our regularly scheduled programming from your favorite newsletter in the galaxy—Friday Cabins. Every Friday we bring you cabin inspo for the weekend ahead, plucked from the pages of Field Mag-your go-to source for all things outdoorsy/designy.
I, Ellen, the prodigal daughter, have returned from time abroad to bring you cabin content - so fret not. Back home in the Big Apple, the city is in hot as **** mode, life has slowed down to a max-heat-and-humidity-induced crawl, and here in the apartment, we finally broke and turned on the AC. Yes, NYC is hot every summer, but you're just never quite ready for it.
At any rate, today we return to the thread of cool-people-building-cool-things, to help inspire you to build your own cool thing someday. In this Q&A, Idaho-based DIY builders Elias and Theresa Carlson share some BTS of their handmade wood fired hot tub-everything from design inspo, lessons learned, and a rough cost breakdown. And if a hot tub is just too hot to think about right now-they also incorporated a cold plunge pool into the design—ah, sweet relief.
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Where'd the idea for a DIY wood fired hot tub come from?
Theresa and I grabbed a cheap 2’x4’ galvanized stock tank at a yard sale a few years back and installed it on the edge of the yard near the forest. It quickly became an integral part of our Idaho summers. When the temperatures hit 90°, a quick dip in the cold tank could turn a sweltering slog of a day into a real delight. We’d grab a couple cold Rainier beers and a towel, chill ourselves to the bone in the 50-degree fresh water from the well, then pop out and soak up the sun until that cold water sounded nice again. But summers here are short, and soon our thoughts turned to a cold-weather version of the same experience.
Did you have construction or DIY experience going into the project?
In college I had a summer job for several years with a home remodel construction company doing grunt work and basic building work alongside one of the company's primary carpenters. I learned a lot, but was still very much in the entry-level phase in terms of building knowledge. For a job like this some basic building knowledge will be required—I'd classify it as solidly intermediate level.
It'd be a simple project for anyone who builds for a living, but if you've never built anything you might want to call your pal who knows what he's doing. You'll need to know how to level and square a deck, and have some familiarity with basic tools like a chop saw, table saw, drill, jigsaw, etc. That said, if you're comfortable with that kind of stuff it's not rocket science. Think everything through carefully, read the instructions for the tub hookup, measure twice, cut once, and you'll be alright.
Cost Breakdown & Time Commitment
Total cost: $2,200-2,300*
- Chofu Stove, $1200 + tax & shipping
- 2'x6' galvanized stock tank, $300
- All deck materials, $700-$800
Total time: Approximately 60 hours (30 hours x 2 people)**
*This would probably be closer to $3,000 without the cost savings from using salvaged siding, and free screws and nails, and could be dramatically more expensive depending on what materials you use. For example, 2x6 fir for our deck was $10/board for an 8' piece. Cedar in the same size & length was $50/board (which is why we used fir).
**This could be significantly less for an experienced builder who doesn't have a four-year-old and seven-month-old to take care of at the same time. Everything seemed to take me twice as long as it should.
1. Get in the tub before you buy it!
We got a 4' round tub first after seeing Tanner and Tess’s setup. But I'm 6'2" so when we got it home and I sat down in it we immediately realized it was too short for my long-ass legs and I had to drive it back to the hardware store to swap out for the 2'x6' tank. We think the 2'x6' is the perfect size for two people. We also considered a 3’x8’ tub to accommodate four people, but that was a jump from 175 gallons (two hours to heat) to 300 gallons (four-plus hours to heat), so we stuck with the two-person tub.
2. A cold plunge tank is a must.
We have a 2'x4' galvanized soaking tub off to the side of the deck which we fill with cold well water from the hose. After 5-10 minutes in the hot tub you start to get overheated. A quick dip in the cold tank is invigorating, stimulating, and makes the hot tub feel even nicer when you get back in. After three or four hot/cold exchanges you become extremely relaxed.
Have a good weekend ya’ll-stay hydrated!