Monday, November 14, 2011

A small home improvement project

When I was shopping for my new townhouse, one feature that I wanted was “a rooftop deck with a nice view.” Somehow this morphed into “a rooftop deck with a nice view that could support a hot tub.” When I found this rather awesome place on Capitol Hill with a large rooftop deck, I asked the builder whether the roof could support a hot tub. He said no.httm

I don’t like “no.”

I like “what would it take to make X happen.”

So being a bit of a geek, I turned to the internet. Specifically, I found Kevin Bauman’s rather thorough post about what it takes to install a large aquarium, from a structural engineer’s point of view. Armed with this newfound knowledge, I went back to the builder with a proposal. He offered to talk to his own structural engineer and agreed to have the modifications built into my rooftop as a condition of the sale. Win.

While shopping for tubs, I quickly decided that a used tub would be a *much* better value than a brand new tub. At first I thought of getting a free tub from a friend who doesn’t use theirs… but I started wondering about mechanical reliability and about delivery and realized that a reconditioned tub from a dealer would be a much better choice. I shopped around for awhile on Craigslist and talked to a few dealers. I also checked out some new tubs in a showroom. I eventually decided on a well-kept Hot Springs Sovreign, as it had the right combination of appropriate size, insulation, and expected reliability.

street-option-13thAveENext up, I needed to figure out how to get a tub onto the roof. The stairways aren’t particularly wide, and each has a 90- or 180-degree bend. The building suggested that I get a few guys with ropes and sticks, and that I drag it up the side of the building. My dad suggested a block and tackle with some pulleys, but we weren’t sure how we would counterweight the crane arm. So I found a few guys on Craigslist who deliver hot tubs for a living and learned that they often hire a crane service.

I talked to four or five crane services before finding a guy who would/could take on my job. His truck was small enough to avoid the trees and power lines near my house, but wasn’t big enough to reach all the way to my rooftop. My townhouse is the third one in from the street. So I asked the builder about craning the tub onto the first house, and decided to hand-carry the tub over from there.

I drew up the awesome diagram to the left, took a picture of it with my phone, made a few annotations in MS-Paint, and sent it to each of the crane guys. You’ll note that there are two half-ways to navigate on the way, and that we have an 8.5’-wide section and a 7’-wide section. The hot tub is 6.'5’ wide by 8’ long by 31” deep. Fun times. Luckily I have enough good friends and tasty beer to make such work feasible.

So… house, check. Tub, check. Crane, check. Awesome friends, check.

After one last-minute reschedule from the crane guy, we had everything lined up to go this past Saturday. I was pleasantly surprised with how easily we go through that part.

On Friday I tried to reserve a good parking spot for the crane by moving my roommate’s car. I also borrowed a few construction cones:


The first Really Exciting Moment was when the crane truck arrived, with the tub on the flatbed:


After getting the truck in place, the crane guy attached the hook and lifted the tub off the flatbed:


The tub was hanging a bit lopsided, so we set it on the sidewalk and rebalanced a little:


The next Really Exciting Moment was when the tub cleared the railing onto the roof:


We “caught” the tub on the roof and carefully placed it onto the roof, with maybe an inch to spare on each side. Then we carried it over the first railing, turned it onto its side, and slide it on carpet & towels to my railing. Yes, I forgot to ask the Hot Tub Guy to bring one of his dollies. He had so many of them at the showroom…


A hearty THANK YOU to Aaron, Zach, Dave, Susan, Ellick, Ted, Stephanie and even Peter (although he napped during most of the hard work). With ten friends helping out, the tub didn’t even feel all that heavy! Although if you ask Zach, that’s b/c I wasn’t carrying my fair share of the load. Winking smile

Finally we carried the tub over the last railing and moved it into position on my rooftop. It was time to celebrate with a few beers!


The next step was to get the electrical setup finalized. I’d had the builder’s electrician run 220V 40A wiring up to the roof b/c that’s what was readily available from the stove circuit. 50A would have been better, but we’re going to try running the tub in 110V 20A mode for awhile first, as 220V requires $500 worth of extra hardware on the roof. Anyways, the Hot Tub Guy’s uncle is an electrician and he showed up in the evening to finish the wiring job.


Meanwhile we filled the tub up with water so that we could plug ‘er in once the wiring was ready. The tub takes about 24 hours to heat up with the 110V circuit, so we had to wait through Sunday night for the tub to warm up. I am almost home now and ready to test the tub myself, but my roommate tells me that the tub was nice and toasty at mid-day today:



  1. You will like the sovereign. I have a hot springs tub (well, actually, I have two), and they've been mostly trouble-free. They do have some issues with the power relays at times.

    The 120v setup is limited to heating or jetting, but not both. So, you can sit and soak for a long time without issue, or you can jet for a shorter time.

    If you end up needed a new cover there are some nice inflatable ones out there - a bit more pricey, but they don't have the issues the foam ones do.


  2. Thanks for the tub tips, Eric. I *might* complete the upgrade to 220/240 at some point in the future, if 110/120 becomes an annoyance. You'll have to tell me a bit more about these inflatable covers. What are some of the issues w foam? Our current foam cover looks like it is 2-3" smaller than it should be in both dimensions.