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How to Build a DIY Stock Tank Hot Tub

Everybody loves a good, long soak in their very own backyard hot tub. After a long day at work, there’s nothing better than a quick dip into a pool of warm, bubbling water. However, traditional spa installations can get expensive, fast. It’s no wonder people have begun looking into DIY hot tub solutions. Among the most popular of these is the stock tank hot tub.

If you’re looking for a more affordable way to get a great looking, relaxing hot tub in your own backyard, the stock tank tub could be for you. Here’s how you can go from a metal basin to a relaxation station without any outside help.

What is a stock tank hot tub?

Sometimes called a trough tub, a stock tank tub is a spa or stock tank pool constructed from a metal stock tank and a heater source. If you are unfamiliar with stock tanks, they are large (500L to 5500 L) tanks made from galvanized steel most often used by farmers or agriculturalists to feed livestock.

Traditionally, a stock tank collects water from runoff or rain and stores it to provide drinking water for animals. However, many are breathing new life into this agricultural staple. With a tough tub or stock tank hot tub, these steel tubs are filled with water and connected to a heater, water filter, and a pump. From there, the look of the tub can be customized to fit the rest of your backyard.

The market for new inground hot tubs and spas has skyrocketed in the wake of the pandemic. Traditional options have become both incredibly expensive, and hard to obtain in the first place. Given a heater, the space, and a little bit of patience, you can create a DIY stock tank hot tub or stock tank pool of your very own.

Materials for a Stock Tank Hot Tub

Materials needed for this project vary depending on the level of spa you wish to achieve. While some DIY trough tubs use only water and a heater set up, more advanced versions will need a pump and filtration system as well. Stock tank pools require different materials, and typically do not require a heating mechanism to control water temp, unless you are aiming to create a heated pool.

Your most basic construction will require the following:

  1. Galvanized Steel Stock Tank

  2. Tubing (Vinyl, Copper)

  3. Heater of Your Choice (Propane, Electric, Wood)

More advanced versions of the stock tank tub may require:

  1. Concrete or pavers

  2. Pool Pump (a smaller pump will best suit a smaller hot tub. Stock tank pools will require a larger pump).

Additionally, you will need a more specific set of tools than you might find in the typical household toolbox. Varying constructions may require some or all of the following tools:

  1. Power or mitre saw

  2. Cordless drill with bits

  3. Adjustable pliers

  4. Grinder or metal file

  5. Plumber’s tape

  6. Utility Knife

  7. Flathead Screwdriver

  8. Soldering equipment

Different Stock Tank Hot Tubs Heating Systems

The last thing you want is for your relaxing spa setup to ice over. That's why the most important element to a successful stock tank hot tub or stock tank pool is the heater.

Among the DIY community, there are a few heat sources used to power DIY trough tubs. Most people opt for wood, electric, or propane to keep their hot tub heated. Electric and propane heaters are a great option, and allow users a more controlled, hands off experience. Wood heating mechanisms are less expensive, but more temperamental and have lower water temperature control.

Wood Powered Heat:

In this type of construction, a stock tank connects to a copper wire. This wire runs into a wide coil. This coil collects inside of a fire-proof container such as a steel drum. From there, users light a wood burning fire within the coil, heating it up. Heat runs along these coils into the tub, forcing cold water through one end of the copper tubing, through the hot coil, and back into the tub.

To create this heating system, DIYers must first drill holes to fit their plastic ports. These ports are connected and secured with caulk or industrial grade sealant to provide a leak-proof base. Copper coiling is bent to fit its containment system, leaving two long ends straight. These ends connect to the ports on the stock tank and are secured.

From there, it’s as simple as building a fire in your copper coil and waiting. Those using this system should check their water temperature regularly. It could take as long as a few hours to reach desired temperatures. Once an appropriate temperature has been reached, disperse the wood within the copper coil. This prevents the tub from reaching dangerous temperatures. Then, enjoy your soak.

Pros and Cons of Wood Heated Systems

While many love this set up, using a wood and copper coil system to heat your DIY stock tank hot tub has its pros and cons. Among the pros are ease of construction, affordability, and accessibility of material. Nearly anyone can create this model with some time and patience. However, the simplicity of this setup does present its own list of problems.

Temperature Control

This construction makes temperature control very difficult. While wood burning systems can make water hot, there is a fine line between a hot tub users can enjoy, and a boiling tub of water. Users must always check the temperature of their tub before entering the water to prevent burns and injuries. Additionally, if fires dwindle, these hot tub constructions can lose heat quickly.

Without a formal pump or filtration system, these setups are not the cleanest of models. Users should expect a life span of only a season or two, and recycling water isn't a smart idea for a more hygienic soak. Thankfully, opting for a more formal (and more expensive) heating mechanism solves many of these problems.

Propane Water Heater and Electric Heater

Moving away from more primitive constructions, stock tank hot tubs are also buildable using more modern heating components. Namely, propane and electric heaters. Not only do these heat sources allow for better temperature control, but they also allow for the introduction of filters and traditional pool pumps.

In propane and electric powered setups, the process begins much in the same way. Two holes are drilled in the stock tank, and ports are attached and secured. From there, materials diverge.

How It Works

Instead of a copper coil, these rigs use vinyl tubing to cycle water out of the hot tub and through an optional filtration system and formal pool pump. From the pump, the water passes through the electric or propane water heater, flowing back into the hot tub.

The concept behind this system is very similar to a wood and copper coil set up, however it requires more materials and a bit more space. Users will need to find a pool pump and filtration system that fits the volume of water within their tank, as well as an area to secure the heater and filter.

Once proper materials and tools are obtained, propane and electric heaters provide a more controllable, modern approach to the project

Pros and Cons of Electric and Propane

When compared to wood and copper set up, there are many advantages to opting for propane and electric. However, the best choice for you comes down to what you are looking to get from the experience. If a clean, controlled soak is what you’re after, the filtration system and steady heat provided by this rig will be preferable. This means the lifespan of your tub will likely be greater as well.

Cons of these rigs include affordability and accessibility of installation. Copper and wood are stunningly cheap. However, the purchase of an electric or propane heater alone will set this model ahead several hundred dollars in price. While the final outcome is still leagues cheaper than a traditional hot tub, not everyone may be prepared to spend nearly $700 dollars on a DIY experience.

Additionally, running a heater isn’t free. Users should consider the frequency with which they plan to use the hot tub. Constant use of a pool filter and heater isn’t cheap, and could increase monthly utility bills.

Other Considerations When Building a Stock Tank Hot Tub

You should keep several things in mind before beginning your journey toward a DIY backyard spa experience. Stock tanks are generally easy to build, source, and use. However, not everyone may like the look of a metal tank in their yard. While there is a certain rustic appeal, more modern spaces may need to find ways to integrate their tub into its surroundings.

For the best user experience, insulate your stock tank tub. This means covering the exposed metal, and allowing for a wider breadth of design experience. From bamboo to tile, users can customize the look of these tubs to their heart’s content.

How much does a stock tank hot tub cost?

A DIY stock tank hot tub is not incredibly expensive. In fact, all materials considered, you're likely not looking at more than $1,000 from beginning to end. Of course, your own time is valuable. For some, the ease and convenience of a professional installation is worth spending a little more.

Where should you put a stock tank hot tub or stock tank pools?

Additionally, it is important that the location of your tub is well considered. Wood and coil models can be constructed anywhere. However, propane and electric tubs will need to be more thoughtfully placed in safe locations near power sources. Homeowners with limited outdoor space may find it challenging to obtain room to place not only a large tub, but an entire pump and filtration system as well.

Finally, all tubs should be placed in level locations, on top of some form of anti-sinking hardscaping. Do not place a stock tank hot tub or stock tank pool on untreated ground or wood deck. Quick pour concrete, gravel, sand, or even other forms of pavers can be used to secure and buffer your tub and prevent sinking or collapse of the unit.

Is a Stock Tank Hot Tub Right For You?

If you’re looking for a cheaper way to bring the spa experience to your backyard, a stock tank tub may be right for you. It’s a good idea to choose which form of trough tub you’re interested in before committing to the project. From wood and copper to vinyl tubing and a propane heater, user experience will vary based on selected construction.

Stock tank tubs can be fun, easy, and attractive, but may also be temperamental and difficult to maintain. Ultimately, a homeowner will know best whether or not one of these DIY units is right for your space. At the end of the day, even the most advanced constructions should not cost upward of $1,000. And for many spa-hunters on a budget, that’s all the convincing they need to take the plunge.

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