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Almost everything you need to know about electric sauna stoves and need not be afraid to ask

EDITOR’S NOTES:

I have built a bunch of saunas.  All wood burning.  I know little about electric sauna stoves.  Yet, thankfully, I have had recent extensive engagement with not one, not two, but THREE super intelligent folks who are building their own saunas.  These gentlemen have researched extensively the world of electric sauna stoves.

One of our esteemed colleagues is an electrical engineer.

Instead of fierce editing, i’m providing raw dialogue, below, from our email trails.  Apologies up front for not making this information look pretty.  I’ll try to get his photos up, for now, please note placeholders.  It is the content that counts.

Welcome Scott, Joe, Jeff:

Hey Glenn – Thought I’d pass along an update on our hillside sauna. The outside is nearly complete aside from some paint trimwork and touch-ups.
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I ended up going with Hardie-Plank siding with an opaque stain. I tried using a transparent stain but didn’t have a whole lot of luck. Despite that, I’m pretty happy with how the opaque stain came out.
The interior is all framed with the electrical roughed in. Here’s a shot of the back wall.
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You can see the support for the upper bench and the lower bench on the sides. The big 2×4 pillar in the middle is where the upper bench middle triangle brace will anchor. Probably overkill but I don’t want it to sag over time. The two electrical boxes are for under bench lighting. The boxed area on the far right is where the sliding vent will go after I cut the hole through the sheathing.
Here’s where the heater will go, it needs two separate electrical feeds in the liquid-tight conduit.
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Next up is the location of the main electrical junction box for the heater in the anteroom. The unit I bought (Harvia Virta Combi) is programmable and has the contactor and all the electronics except the heating elements and sensors outside the hot room. This was something I was looking for to help prolong its life. The box also controls sauna lighting and a fan. (I’ve got the fan temporarily wired up to run when I’m working with the extension cord.)
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The heater I bought includes a water tank and heating element controlled by the electronics that allows you to set and maintain a specific humidity level. It’s got separate temperature and humidity sensors in the hot room and adjusts things accordingly. It’s not intended to be a steam bath but what they call a soft sauna (lower temp, somewhat elevated humidity). My wife is of Korean ancestry and they tend to use higher humidity levels in their baths than a typical Finnish dry sauna. Getting that option was helpful in getting her enthusiastic about the project.
I was worried about the effect of humidity on the cedar but the Harvia heater can be configured to automatically run a dry cycle at the end of the sauna session and also run the exhaust fan to dry out the sauna. I went ahead and installed a fan to remove the humidity after we’re done using the sauna. We won’t use it during the sauna itself, just the slider vent. I need to find a nice cedar grill for it.
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Here’s the heater it arrived last week. It’s stainless steel, made in Finland, and just beautiful. It has a huge rock capacity, over 100 pounds. Those ugly labels on the front are coming off! Freakin’ lawyers ruin everything. It only needs 2 inch clearance to the walls and/or benches so it will fit nicely in the corner despite it’s fairly large size (16″ W x 16″ D).
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Insulation goes up next, hopefully tomorrow. I was toying with the idea of going with a high-end clear Western Red Cedar T&G. I just got the quote and it’s $4K! Looks like I’ll be sticking with a bit more common grade of WRC.
That’s all for now. Unfortunately we’re on track to have our first sauna right in the middle of June/July rather than Winter but that’s okay.

Jeff,

It’s great to see an outdoor sauna being added to the Southern California landscape. For whatever reason they seem to be a rare find in California. I lived in San Clemente/Dana Point area from 2006-2012 and rented while there but managed to sneak a small 4×4 sauna into the garage of my rental and piggybacked electrical off the dryer outlet for the sauna heater. My buddies and I would run back and forth from the sauna to the community pool. Our neighbors were always curious but never quite figured it out. I also set up a outdoor shower on our patio for the cold rinse between sauna rounds.

I think your low profile design could be beneficial for many as it often seemed that people looking to add a backyard sauna would often run into HOA rules/regulations that had height restrictions on outbuildings, probably for similar reasons as you point out, so as not to obstruct the view for others.

I was surprised to see the Harvia Virta Combi. I wasn’t aware that Harvia had went through the process of getting it safety listed for the North American market. I’m curious, did you purchase stateside or through a European distributor?

I think the combi sauna heaters are unique and beneficial in the right scenario and understanding your wife’s preference versus yours it looks like it was the right choice. What is the kW size and what are the dimensions of your sauna room?

Lastly, did you price out material with a sauna company? It may be worth a look to get a price for a custom-cut sauna kit (minus the heater in your scenario). There are a number of outfits online be that offer this option and many that offer premium wood choices including clear cedar. Obtaining clear cedar locally is often very pricy since nobody really wants to stock it and it’s hard to get a good price when only ordering small amounts at a time.

I wish you all the best as your sauna project is completed.

Regards,
Scott

Jeff:
Yeah, it’s funny but once I decided to go with an electric heater I became a bit obsessed with researching them. I was using google translate to read Finnish websites. I was really surprised to find the huge variety available in Europe but that only a small subset were certified in North America. I was thinking about ordering one from Europe except most of them are configured for 400 Volt three-phase power, not the 240 Volt single-phase power available in US homes.
I was also surprised to find that much of the apparent variety available in the US is actually rebadged units sold as different brands, sort of like the Chevy Camaro/Pontiac Firebird. There are some really unique units certified here such as the Harvia Cilindro and the Virta Combi, and the Finnleo Himalaya but the distributors don’t seem to know much about them. When I ordered the Combi, the distributor originally sent me the wrong controller (for the heater alone). This was despite the fact I called them the day I ordered it and specifically noted to them that it used a different controller.

Hey Scott – Thanks for writing! I’ve never seen an outdoor sauna in So Cal. My original plan was to make an outdoor changing room/cabana for the nearby spa. I’ve been a sauna enthusiast for sometime, it started back way when I did a prolonged detox routine 30 years ago (don’t ask). Somehow I stumbled onto Glenn’s website last year and after that the cabana grew in size and transformed into the outdoor sauna.

I think the Harvia Virta Combi just recently got certified for the US. It’s got the ETL certs but only for the manual water fill version, the automatic version isn’t yet certified (so I’m told, though the parts for it are available online in Europe). It’s got two extra contractors in the junction box and some extra over temp protection that isn’t in the European version, at least according to the schematics. Presumably this was required to get the certs. I bought it from Baltic Leisure in Pennsylvania after shopping around and got a pretty decent price considering it’s new to the US market. I was also considering the Tylo Pure Combi but ended up with going with the Harvia as it seemed like a better value. It certainly looks nicer, the thing is like a work of art. The Tylo also has all the electronics inside the heater which concerned me regarding wear and tear, the Harvia has it in a remote box outside the hot room.
The sauna is 240 ft3 (90″ x 60″ x 77″) and the heater is 6.8 kW (the smallest Virta). The sauna will be well insulated so it should be plenty powerful enough though I am a little concerned about the length of warm-up time with the 110 lbs of rocks it holds. It’s worth it though for all the nice features.

I’m going to contact some other suppliers about the lumber or I may consider going with a lower grade. The quote I got was for all clear vertical grain WRC, enough to do the suana and the anteroom, and there was a bit of sticker shock.
I take it with your sauna below if you used the dryer and the sauna at the same time it blew the breaker? Tough choice between sauna and clean clothes!
Best Regards,

Jeff

Scott:

I think another thing to add and or consider when choosing a sauna heater is am I going to be able to obtain parts for future replacement. I think that both Helo (Amerec, Finnleo, Tylö and Polar) and Harvia (Finlandia) do a good job with this, Helo probably more so because they actually have a presence in the states whereas Harvia seems (in more recent years) to be offering distribution to many so some might support better than others, hard to say as this is newer for them.

Many of the Chinese knockoffs do not have parts available after the fact and most of not all do not include the rocks which is another disappointment.

The North American manufactures don’t offer much for advancements in design or technology which makes sense since more saunas are sold in Europe than the Americas thus the Europeans (mainly Finland) drives the technology and design.

I happy to hear there are others out there that google translate sauna heater manuals. There are so many interesting and unique heaters available in Europe that have yet to get stateside. It’s good to see both major Finnish manufactures (Helo and Harvia) are starting to introduce some “new” models.

I’m curious to hear how the Virta Combi performs for you. I’m not so much interested in the Combi portion but more with the design feature that they seem to show that elements are not in direct contact with the rocks and potentially easier to access when needing replacement with a type of slide out tray.

I love woodburning saunas but truly believe that you can achieve a great sauna with an electric stove. It really comes down to rock capacity and obviously the heaters ability to heat and maintain throughout the sauna.

I’m surprised that Harvia introduced the Combi stove. Helo had introduced what they called the Steamy or Misty many years ago and it didn’t seem to be a hit. I think a lot of people thought it was to complicated (to many sauna styles to choose from). I also think that those that chose it thought that it was the solution to having both a steam room (as in tiled room with nearly 100% humidity and max temps around 120F) and a traditional sauna (150 – 180F with low humidity around 20-25%) where in reality on the steamy of soft setting you might achieve 60-65% humidity at most and may have disciplined some that didn’t realize 100% humidity in a sauna would eventually ruin it since a sauna is not constructed like a steam room.

Helo’s Himilaya simplifies the soft bathing option with their new BWT attachment which seems to be an Arron feature that they may work into their other heaters. I really like the idea of the Himilaya but cannot say I’ve experienced it. It really seems like it would offer a very nice löyly with all the rocks exposed from top to bottom. The Helo Tonttu Series also some other large rock capacity sauna heaters and I think Harvia’s Symphony and Cilindro are their own takes of it.

I would typically caution people from choosing a Combi style stove for outdoor applications due to the risk of freezing the steamer tank but in your case it should not be an issue as I take it you are close enough to the coastline with your views of Catalina Island.

Cedar at a $1/lnft is hard to come by without having to work for it as described. I’d say that spending the extra on the high grade might be cheaper in the end after adding up all the time and effort but that might be part of the fun to some. The other option you could try to get lucky with is searching Craigslist or similar for someone that is looking for someone to come and tear out cedar from an old deck, sauna or other application. Heck, you might get luck and score some redwood that way too.

Jeff

Joe:

Thanks for including me in sauna chat. I am currently helping 3 people w sauna building (i’m not the carpenter for say, but overseeing design, choosing oven etc)  Finished with project #1 in less than 2 weeks-i plan to take pictures and send to glenn /sauna times-thanks to glenn ebook i used 100 percent of book except for deciding which electric oven to choose from-Yes for sure i’m more of a wood burning or even gas enthusiast-however electric suites the owner-“Im crossing my fingers” the oven i chose makes me happy! my ultimate goal is heating this outdoor sauna over 200+ and the stove having enough stone for loyll (water throwing)  This particular sauna will  be 6 x 8 ft hot room-im going w tylo sense 8 kw (44 lbs of stone) wall mounted.  i guess they doing away w older models-few mechanical problems despite being a solid oven (durability-good reputation). Im not going to tac the sensor-going to play around with where i put on wall finding the hottest location.
Im choosing this oven mainly because i can turn oven on from inside of home + i guess tylo has had a pretty good rap over the years- It appears  to me, “like automobiles” most of the companies are good these days-so i don’t think u can go to wrong-harvia, tylo, saunacore etc- I had the option to choose a larger oven like saunacore 9kw (which holds more rock) so i question my decision based mainly on rock capacity -i enjoy throwing water every 10 min and feeling the blast!

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6 Comments on This Post

  1. Jeff, Joe, Scott: One of the things that gets me scratching my head about electric sauna stoves is the challenge of creating a good amount of thermal mass, something I consider to be critical for a good sauna experience.

    All the “saunas’ that i’ve been in that are heated by an electric stove remind me of a toaster oven. I feel hot on my skin, but not so much in my body (or soul).

    I know there are new electric sauna stoves that tackle the issue of thermal mass, but for now, as I sit in my wood fired sauna, as I hear the wood crackling, feel the heavy soft heat, and settle into round one, I close my eyes and… http://www.saunatimes.com/building-a-sauna/stoves/wood-heat-vs-electric-heat-explained-once-and-probably-not-for-all/

  2. Hey! There is no argument that Woodfired Sauna or even Gas the ultimate sauna experience- unfortunately for many folks like my client the electric oven is the best choice-Ive spoken to various sauna companies about purchasing an electric oven-I did learn lots of stuff-however only about their ovens-Thanks to Glenn he getting the ball rolling trying to seek more info on the subject-there really isn’t a lot of solid, honest, info out there. i’m building a 6 x 8 sauna for a client it should be finished and up in running July 2017-i’m using Glenn ebook to build-I chose a Tylo 8kw Sense wall mounted model with 44 lbs of rock- i don’t enjoy “too dry” of a sauna like most local gyms-ideal to me is humidity around 8-13 %-i love throwing water on the stones every 5 minutes-the blast of steam is the best part- i’m hoping the tylo has enough stones for steam-time will tell! i no Harvia Cilindro 9kw has 90 lbs of stone double the amount-perhaps i should’ve purchased this oven! Supposedly they are doing away w the old Tylo 8kw and in with the new Tylo 8kw Sense. the old model recommended the oven be 10.5 inches off the floor-and the new tylo 8kw sense 7 inches-ventilation is important as we know preventing the wood from aging and mold prevention-i purchased a vent from Superior Sauna that i will be placing under the oven sauna); trying to keep the oven cool & from tripping!- i’m tacking the thermo on wall-When i learn where the thermo goes best (hot sauna) ill mount it permanently. Let’s hope this sauna gets over 200 degrees!

  3. Good comments Joe. I also was looking at the Harvia Cilindro and the Tylo Sense and ended up going with the Harvia Virta. My sauna is smaller than yours, being only 240 cubic feet (90″ x 60″ x 78″) so I was able to get away with 6.8 kW model rather than using a 8 or 9 kW version. It’s a good thing too as I was running into some limits with my electrical service. A full service upgrade would have meant digging up my front yard to replace the underground laterals. I was game but my wife had had enough.

    The Virta holds 110 lbs of stones which should really help with the thermal mass and produce a soft, even heat. Though you don’t get something for nothing, warm up times are longer and it takes more electricity to get them up to temp. That’s a reason we elected to go with a smaller hot room with a 6’6″ ceiling, and a decent-sized heater with lots of stones. The thinking was this would better replicate the feeling of a wood burning stove sauna while still maintaining the convenience of electricity. That’s the theory at least, we should be ready for our first sauna in about two weeks so we’ll see how it pans out.

    Tylo makes a great heater, They have the staged heating elements (turn on 1, 2, or 3 elements as needed) which help keep a uniform temperature in the hot room and helps minimize the “toaster oven” effect Glenn mentioned above. They also have a unique coating on the heater exterior which stays cool to the touch, unlike virtually everyone else. Tylo claims you don’t need a heater guard with theirs (which is a plus) though they recommend you use one anyways (probably on advice from their lawyers.)

    The only knocks I’ve heard on Tylo units are over temp tripping at too low a temp (well below the 190 deg F US limit). Hopefully they’ve got that fixed with the new units. Apparently this was a known issue from what I’ve read that Tylo was not very good in acknowledging and it was up to the users to figure out a fix. There’s two separate temp sensors, the one on the wall (that sets the room temp) and one within the unit (that shuts the unit off during over temp conditions). It’s the sensor within the unit that was causing problems and moving it lower to where it’s cooler is the magic fix. There’s a good post on it here with a bunch of commenters saying this fixed the problems for them. They also complain about how Tylo wasn’t much help in figuring it out.

    http://cdonner.com/sauna-kit.htm

    I’ve heard general complaints regarding customer service from all the manufacturers (not just Tylo) but that the distributors are pretty decent.

    I really liked the Harvias (other than their generic wall mounted units) for a lot of reasons but frankly they just look cool. I worked my butt off building the sauna, I wanted a heater that really looked nice! I’m working on a follow up post for Glenn that includes some thoughts on bringing in gray market units from Europe. Unfortunately, most of the US-certified wall mounted heaters are really bland clones of each other.

    I’ve got all my cedar and trim in and am finishing benches this weekend, It won’t be long now.

  4. Have you ever heard of the brands Nature, or Turku? I am looking at a 8kw electric stove and I am in a dilemma between a Harvia,Polar or ILO? I am looking for something cost effective and looking for ideas or reviews. Thanks!!

  5. I first bought a genrador de vapor from a website in Toledo from a person named Jesus, he said he will send a 5.5 k due to the size and sent a 4.5k, i then asked for 2 months that he came to install it, he refused and kept saying, to finish the saune to install it.

    After 3 months i realised he will never come to install it, i contacted Harvia in Finlandia to ask for another tecnician, i was told Harvia do not operate outside Barcelone. The person from Finlandia Pekka told me, she will find me a tecnician and the distributor saunapoolespana.es called me , told me the following:

    we do not have a tecnician to install your generador, but a tecnician who install hydromasage to whom we will send a manual so he can learn and come to install it for you??

    i was skeptic and waited but finally nothing happenned, Rosa said the tecnician do not respond to the phne anymore…..

    i insited and they finally found someone for not 340 e but 580 e finally who could install it, from barcelona or alicante?

    but after the instalation upon leaving they never tested it, the sauna was not going over 23 degrees.

    i burned my fingers trying to set it up and spend the night on the manual to find out all the problems during instalation…contcated back Rosa from Saunapoolespana.es she told me this time we will send you a resistence to go up to 6kw, its the same unit from 5k to 15k only the resistence chnged? why not taking more resistence while seting it up in case? no they didnt now took more resistence and they didnt even try it out. and leave me witha suana at 23 degrees .

    i was told to inform Rosa after receiving the resistence so she can called Juan Carlos sat Burmar Alicante, but she didnt called him.

    she told me he will pass monday, then she told me he will be everyday in valencia so no problem he can pass anyday after you got the resistence, so when i got the resistence i asked when will the tecnician pass, she said finally he can not come until he finsih his job in valencia? he will come next week?

    i have no idea of the turco bath will work, i still wait since 3-4 months, i realised how bad the situation is , how much i was abused by all, when i told them they do not even feel guilty, they think all is fine ith them, so i let you read and understand this.

    never buy from Harvia or saunapoolespana.es, you have been warned!

    since then we replaced the resistence with one of 3600 watts, now the generador is of 6.6kw and it does not go over 33 degrees in 3 hours.

    I want contact the president of Harvia.
    I bought this generador 4 montsh ago, i burned my finger and contcated 3 diferent places to have a decent instalation in vain, I wanted to reprot the attitude of Rosa, she said after all, she is not responsible for my problem as she didnt sold me the generador.
    she lied to me saying they will update the resistence very quickly after i received it, the tecnician, 5 days after was not even aware of it.

    Catastrofico, no hay sufisente espacio por decir lo que quiero decir, saunapool.es es una alienacion, un otro maldito distributor, harvia eres tan mal representado aqui, , senor no tenemos tecnico, vamos a enviar un libro manual a un instalator de banera, por que el lo aprendes y despues pasaria instalarlo, pero el tecnico despues no queria contestar el telefono, eso es el servicio pro de harvia, pues me enviaron un tecnico por doble del precio 580e que me dejaron el generador despues 4 horas a 23 grados….asi es el profesionalismo de saunapool.es y en ningun caso se sientes responsable.porque no me lo a vendido, pero tampoco la representacion de harvia y su responsabilitad de ser mayor distributor de espana, eso tampoco no lo respecta, gracias saunapool.es de hacerme entender el moro hijos de puta que soy por ti

    cuando es el momento de areglar todo y cambiar de resistencia, me dicieron que el tecnico pasaria rapido despues por areglarlo, me pregunbtaron de enviar un mensaje cuando recibo la resistencia por instalarla en un tiempo deciente, pero no aun, no se pasara asi, nunca ellos tenia avisado el tecnico, de lunes, a cambiado por otra semana y asi es, depsues de 4 meses de lucha con Harvia, el mayor constructor de sauna de finlandia, o la violencia de los corporacion, toma lo como quieres, este atituda son vieja de 50 anos, son los misma atituda de violencia de alienacion que existe desde 50 anos.

    1/ the agente Harvia who sold me the generador have me waited 2 months to install it and let me down without installing it!
    .2/ saunapool.es mayor distributor de espana, me alienara con la historia de enviar un manual a un desconocido que luego no contesta ni a ellos el telefono, eso podria gente en confianza si claro…
    3/ me enviaron un instalador a dos veces el precio que me dejas con un sauna a 23 grados!!
    4/ ahora que falta cambiar de resistencia me dicieron que el tecnico pasaria el dia despues, pero nunca lo llamaron, eso estaba por alienar poco mas,
    5/ saunapool.es me dices, no estamos responsable de tu problemos poruqe no te vendemos el generador, vees como un distributor nacional se quita toda la responsabilitad,

    6/ por fin Rosa me deciera que me enviara una otra resistencia de mas, y nunca lo a echo

    7/ sat service por reparar el generador me tenia dicho que podria llamar el en caso de problemos pero despues de hablar con Rosa el abuso de poder, el tecnician no quieres venir no mas, eso es la ayuda de saunapool.es el unico distributor de Harvia en Espana, gente, buena suerte.

    8/ the control panel should have been installed outside

    9/ the resistence of 3.6 kwt can not be added to this genrador,

    10/ the cable electrical connection was done very badly.

    11/ I will never trust Harvia, i feel being ripped off, misguided too many times, they lied to me and installed it dangerously and i do not see a good solution except asking me to rebuilt my sauna now.

    12/ The control panel broke due to the fact the instalador set the panel inside. 250 euros.

    Harvia. you re one of the most violent corporate i dealt with for a long time, if it was to redo now, I will never choose your product.

    despues de comprar el generador y llorar 20 veces que me lo installa el agente me enviara unos fotos de el con su caballo, la verdad, lo digo por harvia, yo lo que queria es una instalacion correcta, no un chaval que me envian foto de el con su caballo, pero que tipo de agente tienes a Harvia!!!!

    nota que los generadores de 5kwt a 15kwt son los mismos, lo que cambia es la resistencia, tu piensaria que el tecnico tomaria algun resistencia de mas , tu a esperando 3 meses o 4 meses, el te carga dos veces mas vienes de muy lejos, no toma ni una resistencia de mas, ni mira si el sauna se claiente? normal, si es normal, lo dejo a ti, que vas a leer lo, por fin peudeser que harvia funcionna con este gente de marbella, y como muchas cosas en este pais, es reservado a los muy ricos, si tu estas con dolores de artrosis, con Harvia, tu puedes comer la M ….a. gracias

    por los medidas, nada es vale, los informaciones son falsa, por algo de 8 metros cubos echo a exterior te falta minimo 9kwt por calentar lo y es 2 horas por calentar, al final es mucho electricidad, y mucho mas grande aparato que te falta, no te fias a lo que dicen, entre algo echo a exteior y algo interior , ellos no hacen ningun diferencia y es falso.
    lo hicemos con mucha isolation y no cambio nada, el tecnico diciendo es muy bien echo , tendria mucha calor enates de corir saliendo…y la otra que te dices al final que tu sauna es mal echo….
    primero ca,bio de resistencia, tenia a llamr un electricista, tenia a recibir segunda resistencia, pues no a sido enviado, claro. gracias

    el sensor de temperatura, en el libro dicen de instalarlo arriba donde hay mas calor, con silicona, y que solo 0,7 mm del sensor sale de la pared. yo lo tengo instalado asi:
    saliendo de la pared de 4 cm, instalado abajo de la pared en un tubo suleto sin silicona con aire frio entrando. eso es lo de los 580 euros por la instalacion
    el difusor de vapor en direcion de una puerta de cristal muy fria. sin rellenar los agugeros echo por error en la pared, sin limpiar nada de la obra despues, sin verificar que se calienta, sin que el tecnico vuelves por ayudar y installar los dos resistencia de mas que me faltaba.

  6. Hi guys. Has anyone tried to buy a sauna heater in Europe and ship it to the States? Considering purchasing Tulikivi Tuisku that is of course not certified in North America.

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