fbpx

Electric or wood fired: choosing the right type of sauna heater that best fits your lifestyle

For many, the decision whether to go wood fired sauna or electric heated sauna comes down to a simple preference:

Dials or draft?

Dials refer to the control panel mounted on the outside of our hot room, similar to a control panel for heating our house. Newer technology allows for wifi access, such that one can “fire up” their sauna remotely. Some take great satisfaction with their sauna heater “app:” being able to tell their sauna stove to heat up while driving home from work, or out at a bar. “Who wants to take a sauna?” and with a couple swipes, viola, sauna is heating. For an extremely well detailed review of electric sauna heaters available, click here.

Draft refers to the manual damper on a wood fired sauna stove, a simple manual lever that controls the amount of air entering the fire box which allows the user to control the burn rate of the fire in the firebox. The physical, tactile control of the burn offers many a joyous feeling (in an ever increasing tech driven world).

As sauna becomes more popular, it is interesting to see people’s preferences – dial or draft – as a representation of ones values and lifestyle.

Those into “apps” and gadget technology take comfort and pleasure with looking at a screen when it comes to thinking about their upcoming sauna session. Those more into axes and analog technology take comfort and pleasure with looking at their woodpile when it comes to thinking about their upcoming sauna session.

Iki Electric stove with the innovative sauna stone surround

In rural areas, like island cabins or rural hunting retreats, wood fired saunas are the essential choice. On the edges of the grid, wood is plentiful, electricity is still relatively novel and often is still unreliable, as it comes and goes with the wind. In urban areas, like apartment buildings and rooftop hotels, electric sauna heaters are preferred.

Serious sauna enthusiasts will “wrestle to the ground” rationale as to why wood heat as a better heat than electric heat. Regular listeners to the podcast Sauna Talk have heard this sentiment from the voices of sauna experts like Risto Elomaa, President of the International Sauna Association and Jarmo Lehtola, a lifelong sauna enthusiast. Those that have taken thousands of saunas in hundreds of different saunas develop a deeper understanding of how heat works as a function of raising body temperature to induce sweat. Good sweat not from toaster oven heat, but dense penetrating heat.

A wood fired Kuuma sauna stove radiating deep, penetrating heat

There are technological implications such as negative ions and fresh air ventilation that come into play via different heat sources to heat our sauna hot rooms. And we aren’t talking infrared light bulbs, we are talking about sauna: an external heat source that heats stones which allow for water to be tossed on these stones to create steam.

Some like the tactile, analog relationship with cutting, splitting, stacking wood. Others consider this drudgery and would rather flip a switch. Some can be blindfolded and let into a sauna hot room and can immediately feel the difference of wood heat vs. electric heat (thermal mass via radiant heat). Good heat is easily felt, but harder to understand because Lampömassa can be subtle yet very powerful.

Others may think this is gibberish.

Finally, there is a deal breaker for many who choose to go with a wood burning sauna heater for their sauna project. The traditional “old school” consideration is that sauna is both a noun (the place) as well as a verb (the experience). Sauna (the place) is often a separate structure, no electricity whatsoever. When we sauna (the experience), a simple candle illuminates the room, and we welcome the warm dancing flame across the wood lined walls and the crackling of fire from the sauna stove, which we created ourselves from firewood, the heat source harvested and created ourselves with our own two hands.

This contributes to the relaxing nature of sauna, a place to completely reset, restore and rejuvenate.

For many, the chopping of wood for fueling our sauna heaters and the carrying of water to our sauna for bathing and löyly (steam) is an indescribable benefit to enjoyment and fulfillment. The health benefits of sauna, from the experience of making heat as much as the practice of enjoying heat.

Enlightenment from a wood fired sauna experience.

photo: Jim Brandenburg, Ely, MN, USA

Other Posts You May Like

18 thoughts on “Electric or wood fired: choosing the right type of sauna heater that best fits your lifestyle”

  1. Hey Glenn

    I live in S Minneapolis too. I’m building a Sauna in my backyard and was pretty much settled on electric, but still have second thoughts – seems like I am unsure about mist decisions until the moment I have to make them, I have downloaded and read your guide. It has been very helpful. Still toying with the idea of wood but as a single dad with two 8 year old boys I think the convenience of electric is the way to go. I’m still open to persuasion though!

    How to run a few other things by you some time,

    Nelson

  2. I’m interested in buying a Kuuma stove for a sauna I’m planning to build in the SW suburbs of Minneapolis. The hot room will be 8’x7′ – do you recommend a small or medium Kuuma? When I order one through the saunatimes shop, when would I be able to pick it up locally? Much thanks.

  3. Hi Jeremy:

    For an 8×7 hot room, well, you’re right on the edge. If you’re going with a well insulated structure (R38 in ceiling, R13 walls) and a changing room – critical in our climate – i’d suggest the small. You can search “8 12” and see some information about a great layout for a 6×8 hot room, which may get your right brain going.

  4. Nelson,

    So glad my ebook has been helpful. I wrote it for people just like you (and me), so that’s great that it’s helping you. Re: wood sauna stove: I could imagine you and your energetic boys growing into the wonderful practice of wood splitting, etc. but if I tried to convince you too much and it didn’t work out, you’d be swearing at me, and that’s not good! :). So, it’s your call. You can tell my feeling, based on this article above, where i took the poetic license to get all philosophical on you.

  5. Hi Glenn – ordered the book, was thinking it was in eBook format? I got a file with word, pdf, and photos. Am I missing something.
    Thanks much!
    Tim Pazier
    Snohomish, WA

  6. Hi Tim:

    No, you’re not missing anything. The sauna build ebook is in the format you describe. Word, pdf, and photos. It is roots and DIY. We keep the photos separate as many print off the words and content from the ebook (saving ink and paper).

    After reading through, you can use the search bar on saunatimes if you have any questions, and if that doesn’t help, please follow along with format to email me (listing/numbering your questions). I’m excited for your sauna build. So many kick ass authentic saunas going up around N. America these days, and we’re becoming a more connected, healthy, happy tribe.

  7. Glenn –
    I”m in Northern California and in Sauna building planning stage. As well mentioned in many comments, your book has been most helpful. Thank you.

    Question: have you (and any of the readers here) had experience with connecting a Kuuma (or other) wood stove/hot water coil to a hydronic/radiant heating system?

    I’m planning a small pool house (10×12 on concrete pad) adjacent to the sauna. I’d like to redirect some of the sauna heat toward a pool house for radiant heating (PEX in pool house concrete pad foundation). Pool house within ≈10′ of sauna. Pool house design is open walls (think Hawaiian Lanai), so heating objective is just taking chill off concrete pad and not heating to “room temp” (say 70 degrees).

    There would be a dedicated heater for the radiant system, as pool house may be used when sauna not in use.

    I’m aware the Kuuma stove has a hot water coil which would most likely be used in this application.

    Thanks for any ideas! I’ve so enjoyed the site. Thank you for the gift to the community

  8. Andy:

    Thanks for the kind words and glad that you are enjoying saunatimes.com.

    Now, onto your radiant heating concept. Absolutely!! and love it. We are shipping out another Kuuma to someone in WA area who is looking to do something similar. He wants the Kuuma hot water coil to help heat his hot tub. This is doable. Now, the plumbing is beyond my pay grade as you’ll need a “T” system to divert for when your dedicated heater is heating your concrete pad, and then a way to divert over to the Kuuma hot water coil for when you’re rockin’ with your sauna.

    So, it’s just a matter of mechanics (and collaborating with the right helper/contractor).

    But promise me one thing: let’s document your project for a guest post on saunatimes. This is the type of project that gets me very jazzed up. You described it very well and I’m very happy for you. You can order your Kuuma through me, and I’ll send you an email and we’ll get your stove in the production cue.

    Awesome.

  9. Hi, thanks for this resource. I am building a lockdown project Sauna and your podcast has been amazing to listen to and keep my enthusiasm up! I live in south Africa and there are almost no sauna stoves available here. I want to use wood burning but I can find one. I have thought of making on or getting one made but scared it doesn’t work. Would one of those small closed combustion fireplaces work? My room is very small, 6ftx4ftx6ft.
    Would really appreciate your opinion on this, I’ve scoured the internet and can’t find a definitive answer.
    Thanks so much.

  10. Hi Robin:

    There are a couple problems with using conventional wood burning stoves, one is that if made from cast iron it will rust and it’s hard to get a place to load rocks. And there’s other things limiting but what you could do is lock into a network of farmers who do their own welding and maybe one farmer welds his own stoves and you can get him into the sauna stove business in S. Africa. Or we can ship you a Kuuma. We just sent one to Sweden. It’s all possible, and happy for your project… send us pics!

  11. Glenn –

    Firstly, yes to documenting my design/build process and crafting a post. I’d be honored.

    I am a fan – and meager practitioner – of iterative design. Meaning, box it out with the darn carpenter string, and let it sit for weeks (months?) as I ponder. A Russian River IPA helps deep think. We share this perspective, ya?!

    And after 20 years, I’ve learned that nothing saps the spousal connection as me demanding design approval – in the next 10 minutes, pls – because I‘m renting the backhoe tomorrow.

    So…

    My design is evolving. I now see one structure (12’x20’), sauna inside (8 x 12), with covered shed roof 8’ depth extending from the 20’. In our climate, much time is spent outside from April to October. Having the covered area with radiant slab heat (cozy feet) extends that yumminess into the shoulder seasons.

    Think “box inside a box.”

    As to radiant: thank you for the insight. Yes, I’ll be working with plumber to spec out more tightly. Boyle’s law. Yikes!

    More to come!

    Andy

  12. Glenn,

    I’m in the process of building a back yard sauna and was hoping you could email me a quote on a medium Kuuma wood stove with an ash pan and 8″ throat extension. I shouldn’t need delivery. Sorry to make the request here but I failed in my attempt on the “products” page. If you could just shoot me an email that would be great!

    Thanks,

  13. Hi Glenn, there seems to be a lot of differing opinions on if a flue damper is needed or not. I didn’t see a blog on this, maybe a future topic. What is your opinion? I have a Kuuma and did not add a flue damper per the instructions. The only gain I can imagine is to slow the exhaust flow as its a straight shot. Thanks!

  14. Hi Dan,

    I Like the topic. I’ve built a few saunas with dampers, and many more without dampers. All with the same small Kuuma. The bottom line is that I can’t tell any performance difference.

    In my Sauna Talk interview with Daryl Lamppa, the designer and builder of the Kuuma stove, he explains that the damper’s main purpose is to shut off fire from the chimney, in case of a chimney fire. Valid. But other than that, it is a redundant feature to the damper within the stove.

    And if a chimney fire is a concern, I’ll just say that I pointed a flashlight down my chimney stack at our cabin sauna a few years ago. We installed our Kuuma there in 1996. So this inspection was after a good 20 years of heavy sauna use. And I noted virtually zero creosote build up. I could eat off the metal. Jk.

    We burn good wood up there. Birch mainly. No pine.

  15. We are having a sauna built by a contractor (my brother). The size will be ~7’9″x4’5″x7’9″ (244 cubic feet). We want to get the heater (electric) and possibly programmable. What do you recommend for a sauna this size and a brand recommendation please. Thanks and really enjoy your website. We intend to be sauna junkies in the near future.

  16. Hi Regina,

    As far as electric stoves go, there is a theory of “get a bigger hammer” ie, more KW’s than what is recommended by the mfr. Eg., a 9KW possibly, in your case. But i’m talking out of my you know what, so, instead, please read Jeff’s posts. He’s an electrical engineer without a horse in the race (not working for a sauna stove mfr.), and he geeks out on the electric stove options here.

Leave a Comment

Blog Categories

Latest Sauna Talk Episode

Kick Ass Saunas

Map loading, please wait ...

Stay in the

Authentic sauna loop

Receive Monthly Updates on the Latest in Authentic Sauna!