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sauna and slate patio on Pine Island Lake Vermilion

I don’t work for a sauna company.  The only bias I have is from my own 25 year experiences taking saunas.  Consider for a moment the history of Finnish Saunas: smoke, wood burning, electric and infrared.

Smoked Out:

Dating back 2,000 plus years,  savusaunas (smoke saunas), were crudely constructed huts where a fire burned and heated a fire pit with rocks, and smoke was allowed to escape through an opening in the roof, so no chimney. There’s great history of the origins of the Finnish Sauna, and the cultural traditions surrounding the smoke sauna.  If you want to dive deep with smoke saunas, check  The Finnish Sauna Society. A wonderful testament to the tradition of authentic Finnish saunas is that today there are many working smoke saunas in Finland.  It’s not like those car collector shows, where people who are stuck in the 1950s trailer around their vintage cars with fuzzy dice and listen to Buddy Holly.  Enjoying a smoke sauna is a rooted cultural tradition, and sauna enthusiasts enjoy this authentic experience as their ancestors did centuries ago.

Ya! A Sauna Stove:

The second generation came when someone figured out how to contain the fire and smoke via a sauna stove,  a separate heat chamber. Fire heats the stove and the rocks and thus the sauna room, and the smoke escapes via the chimney.  This was a monumental step in the history of saunas as smoke saunas take all day to heat up and the smoke gets all over the place.  Somewhat analogous to cavemen discovering the wheel.  “Hey Sven, come to my sauna, you don’t have to wait until Tuesday!”

Electro-sauna:

The next evolution in the history of saunas came with electricity and the invention of the electric sauna.  Instead of a fire heating rocks, an electric sauna heat rocks via electric coils.  With an urbanizing population, saunas weren’t just restricted to farms, rural cabins and lake cottages any more.  The electric sauna stove opened the door for replicating the rural authentic Finnish sauna experience in urban apartments, hotels and health clubs.  The merits or demerits of this evolution is surely a fun debate, but what the electric sauna stove has allowed is:

  1. no chimney: an ability to build a sauna in your existing house, after the fact.
  2. no freaked out insurance agent: some homeowner insurance policies poo poo the adding of wood fireplaces and or wood combustion burners.
  3. no lumberjack: I don’t know why but people get weird about cutting, chopping, stacking, storing, burning firewood.
  4. no confused health club employee: a turn key sauna with the turn of a switch.

New Age Infrared:

The latest evolution of the sauna is the Infrared sauna.  Infrared technology (heating air via an invisible band of light) allows one to basically just “plug in” the heater, where as an electric sauna stove requires 220v and thus direct wiring to fuse box/elecrical pannel.  Infrared Saunas are smaller, convenient to purchase on line, ship to your house, and put together in your living room.  The infrared stoves I am familiar with require only a standard 120v 20 amp outlet, which is like a plugging in a space heater – you probably don’t need an electrician.  Getting more information on infrared saunas via the internet is a piece of cake, and I like the way this infrared sauna company is organized.  They are exclusively focused on infrared saunas and seem to know their products well: a great place to start researching for more sauna information on infrared saunas.  My personal Opinion:

Infared sauna in your house Electric sauna in your basement Outdoor sauna in your backyard
is like:
Cooking a steak in a microwave in a toaster oven on a Weber grill
Drinking a Bud Lite Killians Sierra Nevada
Having a conversation in the car in the kitchen on the lake cabin deck

Can you tell which type of sauna I most prefer?

7 Comments on This Post

  1. I have opportunity to buy a 12 ft barrel sauna (8ft sauna and 4 ft prep room). Problem is that I need to figure out how to move it from the current owner’s cabin to mine which is about 100 km away. Any advice about how to and who could do this? Was told I might have to get a ‘small house mover’ to get it done. Sounds expensive and complicated… I am in Canada near OTTAWA, Ontario and would move sauna to my cottage which is in next province in Quebec. Please advise if you can.

  2. Hello! I built a beautiful sauna (outside, but is inside and part of an outdoor kitchen space off of my deck) Technically uninsulated space other than the sauna. I live in northern minnesota temperatures. I used a super heavy duty plastic on the walls and ceiling, and taped everything well and *”sadly* put fiberglass on top and between the wall studs and ceiling. Squirrels got into the ceiling and now I have pulled all of that out and am stuck with the plastic between the cedar and loft. There was no moisture damage whatsoever. I am working on that now and am thinking of using a two inch foam directly on top of the cedar with plastic still between. I will spray foam the seams and that “should” keep most of the moisture mitigation out of the loft. Opinions?

  3. Hi Dell. The general rule building a sauna, from the outside, in is:
    1. exterior: lap siding, etc. often to match primary dwelling or cedar lap siding looks great.
    2. tar paper or tyvek house wrap:
    3. exterior sheeting: 4×8 plywood or OSB if saving a buck.
    4. studs, filled with unfaced batting or blown in insulation between cavities.
    5. vapor barrier: foil bubble wrap ideally, or poly if looking to save a buck, either way, all seams sealed well with foil tape or tape, depending.
    6. t&g cedar.

    Above works. Any deviation is suspect to problems, especially #3 if moisture or critters get beyond, as you’ve experienced.

    I’m not sure of this 2″ foam ontop of the cedar. If you’re thinking from the outside, yes you can do this, sparing pulling off all your t&g. I like R19 minimum, R38 if you can for ceiling hot room insulation. Hope this helps!

  4. I was wondering if you have any specific brands or styles you would recommend for sauna hats? Can’t figure out which ones are quality and which are just cheap imitations! My sauna was 205 last night and I’m starting to need a little insulation. Thanks for all the information and the great podcast!

  5. Good morning Glenn
    We talked on the phone about a week ago and I asked about your thoughts on the sauna I am about to start building. Could you please give me your thoughts about using western red cedar decking nailed tight together for the entire hot room floor and also in the dressing room floor. The overall size of the sauna will be 8 by 14 over all. Rooms will be straight in from the front door than straight in to the hot room. Again if done properly have you seen very happy sauna owners with this flooring approach? Also could you please give me the dimensions of the small kuuma wood burning stove so I can build the hot room accordingly? Also Glenn if you would give next week I would like to get the small wood burning stove ordered.
    Thanks Again
    Glenn Ruhland

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