When building a sauna with an electric sauna heater, it is critical to choose the right sauna heater. Most everybody puts their focus on the hot room, but generally speaking, the main reason why 9kW is your maximum size electric sauna heater has nothing to do with your hot room. Want to guess why 9kW is your max size for home saunas? Here’s a clue:
Yep, you got it. The control panel. Homes in North America are single phase electric. Power comes in from the power company right to the electrical box. We can draw off power for appliances like clothes washers, arc welders, and power amps for heavy metal guitarists in the form of a dual breaker 20 amp circuit. 20 amp +20 amp = 40 amps. That’s good! We start pushing beyond this, and well, appliances can start tripping (without Psilocybin).
Now, when it comes to firing up our home saunas with electric sauna heaters (an oxymoron, I know) if we start trying to log jam a commercial electric sauna heater into our residential saunas, well, chances are you’ll be seeing colors and trails from your trips to the control panel to reset your circuit breaker.
9kW is generally your max. And 9kW is a great size for most residential applications. And 9kW is the max that sauna heater manufacturers UL certify. You can refer to sizing charts on sauna heater manufacturer websites. What you will find is that a 9kW fits a 6’x8′ or 7’x7′ or even an 8’x8′ hot room like a baseball glove (and not an OJ Simpson glove). To best understand sauna heater sizing, consider that an electric sauna heated sauna performs best when the stove is “on” no more than 30% of the time.
- be on too much.
- suck the oxygen out of the room.
- overheat the rocks and your ears.
- give löyly that will make you want to rush out the hot room door.
- be apt to provoke your guests to say “This sucks. I don’t like sauna.”
- incur increased energy consumption: the heater runs more frequently.
- be on too little.
- heat the room too fast.
- underheat the rocks, and your body, and your soul.
- give löyly that will make you feel like a wet diaper (wimpy and wet).
- be apt to provoke your guests to say “This sucks. I don’t like sauna.”
Do you get the idea of how important this is? 9kW is the max for residential purposes. Let’s size our hot rooms and heaters appropriately.
There’s always the potential for a bigger hammer. You’ll sometimes find commercial sized electric sauna heaters in residential homes, especially newly built mega homes with big ass basements that go on and on. In these instances, the electrician will need to install an 80 amp breaker to carry the load of a 15kW sauna heater, for example.
Whichever sauna heater you choose, venting your sauna is important. Each manufacturer provides a different drawing and instructions. The major consideration is mechanical ventilation or standard non mechanical ventilation.
If mechanically venting your sauna, heated by an electric heater, locate your intake vent just above the sauna rocks. If venting your sauna without mechanical ventilation, you are best to allow for a generous gap along the bottom of your sauna door.
The best move is to be able to vent your electric heated sauna with fresh air from the outside, and an out take vent also to the outside. The Russian banya style is a vent about bench high as well as a vent up towards the ceiling, allowing for infinite control of allowing air flow and steam to escape.
Those familiar with saunas only in health clubs or hotels may wonder why there’s a dial on the sauna stove control panel. The dial is always cranked to the max. And often, it’s still not hot enough.
Secret: most commercial sauna stoves installed in the US have a “governor” on them. Safety first! It’s against the law to have a hot room hotter than 165 degrees f. Clever health club regulars try to work around this by tossing a little water on the control sensor “tricking” the sensor to think that the sauna hot room is cooler than it really is, so the controller tells the stove to “get going!”
Yet, often, even this trick doesn’t always get the sauna stove rocking. Poor stove. Cranking it out all day everyday, like the little engine who could, trying to heat the sauna rocks to foster an environment to produce good loyly (steam created from water being tossed on sauna rocks).
Sauna stoves in health clubs and hotels have other things to overcome, like:
- hot room door opening and closing, extensively.
- large hot rooms, often oversized, and the dreaded 8′ ceiling which contributes to lots of wasted cubic feet.
- Meathead construction: not enough insulation and/or no vapor barrier behind the wood paneling.
The dials on sauna stove control panels for public saunas in the United States are mostly useless. Saunas in public places in the United States are subject to rules and regulations prohibiting hot room temperatures at 165 degrees f. So, you can crank the dial to 11, but the upper limit governor kicks in. Yes, you can toss some cold water on the temperature regulator up along the ceiling, and that’s the best you can do.
But we really aren’t in a position to throw these saunas under the bus. Health club and hotel saunas are wonderful gateway drugs for folks to build their own saunas, and enjoy an authentic sauna experience on their own properties. And yet many folks don’t own their own properties or can’t afford their own saunas. So we are presented with an “end around” evangelical effort to support and bring really awesome public sweat lodges to the forefront. Chicago Sweatlodge and Red Square (the former Division Street Bathhouse), and other saunas in the public domain make great heat.
Thank you to Jeff for this awesome content reviewing electric sauna stoves.
The variety of electric sauna heaters available in North America seems a bit overwhelming at first glance. There are at least ten different brands, each with several model lines. The manufacturer and retailer’s websites aren’t very helpful as they are dominated by marketing hype and claims of superiority without much substance. Most seem better at confusing rather than informing.
Where to Start?
The number of electric sauna stove choices seems overwhelming at first. Looks can be deceiving. I started compiling a spreadsheet to sort them out and quickly noticed a surprising amount of commonality. It turns out that most of the available family sauna units are different variations of the same basic wall-mounted design. This was surprising until I understood two things:
One, the US market is dominated by two big European manufacturers, Tylo-Helo and Harvia, and a couple of minor players. Much of the apparent variety comes from rebadging the same core design under different brand names.
And two, only the most common designs that are likely to sell well are certified for the North American market. Most of the minor European manufactures haven’t been certified in the US. In addition, the major manufacturers have only certified their most popular variants. This has resulted in a rather bland selection compared to that available in Europe.
The Finlandia FLB series (left) and the Harvia KIP series (right), both are manufactured by Harvia Oy in Finland and are the same unit with cosmetic changes. Think of the Chevy Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird and you’ll get the idea.
So remember that Finlandia and Harvia are the same. Amerec, Finnleo, Helo, and Polar all fall under the Tylo-Helo umbrella and are at best very similar using the same parts, with some models being rebadged units. Tylo, while being part of the Tylo-Helo umbrella, is a bit of an outlier as its models are unique. Of the North American manufacturers, Saunacore and Sauna Craft are the same and made in Canada. Scandia is a reputable US manufacturer, though its units look a bit too utilitarian for my tastes.
There are some Chinese and other off-brand units available that on the surface look to be bargains. I didn’t spend much time researching these and never seriously considered them. Sauna heaters by design generate high heat levels in a highly combustible environment. On top of that, they run relatively high voltage (240 Volts) through a metal box into which we dump water. They can outgas if not made of heat stable materials. Based on this, I only considered manufacturers with a long history of not burning down saunas, electrocuting or poisoning their customers. I’m not saying these off-brands are a risk, but I wanted to see some history before entrusting my family’s safety. Sort of like how no one wants to be a new surgeon’s first operation.
After browsing through some European sauna store websites, one can’t help but become envious at the huge selection available to the European consumer. It is possible to buy from these sites and have the units shipped to the US. There are some real challenges and potential pitfalls in doing this, that we’ll discuss in part 2 regarding “gray-market” heaters.
The Harvia Globe is a cool-looking orb with a large exposed stone surface for loyly. Interested? Unfortunately it, along with a multitude of other unique designs, isn’t certified for North America. Most US units are the same bland wall-mounted box design.
First thing to do is estimate the required heater size as it will drive all remaining decisions. These guidelines are from Harvia, but they’re sound and typical for the industry. Undersizing will cause real misery as the sauna will take an inordinate period to heat up if it ever gets there. Oversizing can be an issue also (though less of one IMO) as you don’t want the heater to feel like a blast furnace when it cycles on. Note that these guidelines assume a properly constructed and well-insulated sauna. These also assume a 7 foot maximum ceiling height as higher heights significantly increase heating requirements. If you go that route you are on your own. Round the final answer up rather than down to prevent undersizing.
- Guideline 1: Allot 1 kW of heater power per 45 cubic feet of sauna interior volume
- Guideline 2: For each non-insulated square meter (10.75 square feet) of wall surface, add 1.2 cubic meters (42 cubic feet) to the volume of the sauna. This would include walls made of rock or brick, and large windows.
- Guideline 3: For outdoor saunas in very cold climates, consider bumping it up a size if your calculated value is close to the standard size
- 5’ x 7’ family sauna with a 7 foot ceiling ->5 x 7 x 7 = 245 cu ft (guideline 1)
- 32” x 16” window -> (32 x 16)/144 = 3.55 sq ft / 10.75 = 0.33 sq meter. Thus 0.33 x 42 = additional 14 cu ft (guideline 2)
- Total = 245 cu ft + 14 cu ft = 259 cubic feet -> 259/45 = 5.75 kW
- Outdoors in a moderate climate -> no adjustment (guideline 3)
Thus we end up with a 5.75 kW need, bumped up to 6 kW or 6.8 kW as these are standard sizes depending upon the manufacturer. A typical family sauna usually will usually end up somewhere in the 5 to 8 kilowatt (kW) heater range.
Anything above 2 kW (suitable for only small 1-2 person saunas) will require a dedicated 240 Volt circuit wired directly from the electrical service panel. This might seem overly complicated but it really isn’t as all modern US homes have 240 Volts available even if it only has 120 Volt outlets and appliances.
(Standard disclaimer: These points are passed along to educate. If you don’t know what you are doing or aren’t willing to spend some serious time doing research first, hire a qualified electrician to do the actual work. The National Electric Code has specific requirements on wire size, wire type, conduit size, conduit depth, grounding, breaker sizing, and other odds and ends that must be followed to ensure a safe and compliant installation. Some of these requirements aren’t intuitive and your family’s safety is at stake. )
A quick assessment of the home’s electrical panel will let you know what sort of shape you are in. Look for three things:
- The existing electrical service size in Amps – This can be found on the main breaker, usually labeled “MAIN” or “SERVICE DISCONNECT”.This will be a double breaker that is often larger in size than the others with typical values of 100, 125, 150, 200 Amps, or even higher.
- The existence of other 240 Volt appliances – These will be double breakers that serve large appliances such as electric ranges or water heaters, or an air conditioning compressor.Look for anything marked 30 Amps or larger.
- Spare spaces in the panel – Either spaces where the breakaway metal tabs have not been punched out or is filled with a plastic blank.
Typical service panel, the MAIN is at the top in this example and lists the Amp rating on the switch lever. Two 240 Volt branch circuits (double width) are present on the lower right. Plenty of spare spaces available here. A family sauna heater will typically need a new 30 or 40 Amp breaker/sizing depending on the kW rating. Generally, expect a 6 kW to need a new 30 Amp breaker, and 8 kW unit to need 40 Amps. The exact current draw can be calculated by:
Heater size in Watts / 240 Volts = Current draw in Amps
One kilowatt (kW) = 1000 Watts
Thus a 6 kW unit will draw 25 Amps, with wiring and breaker sized for 30 Amps, the next higher standard size.
If your existing service size is 150 Amps or higher you should be fine. You again should be fine if it’s smaller and you don’t have exiting 240 Volt appliances. If it’s small and you do have existing 240 Volt circuits you will need to do a little more research.
As an example, an older home with a 100 Amp service with air conditioning, an electric water heater, and a new sauna heater all running at the same time could exceed the 100 Amp service. This isn’t dangerous as the breaker will trip and protect the home (assuming it’s in good working order). It will be extremely annoying though, particularly when one is trying to unwind in the sauna after a long day.
If you fall into this camp, a qualified electrician should perform a load assessment before going further. It is not as simple as adding up the breaker totals as no one uses all branch circuits to capacity at the same time. It’s a statistical analysis that determines the highest load the service will likely encounter in daily usage. If the load calculation exceeds your existing service level, it might be worthwhile to upgrade your service panel and feeder lines. Be prepared to spend several thousand dollars. Hopefully not required but do your research first rather than realize the need after you’re in the dark.
Assuming we’ve cleared that hurdle, next check to ensure you have two adjacent spare spaces in the panel. They must be adjacent as a double breaker is required with the trip levers tied together. If you have two but they aren’t adjacent, a competent individual can rearrange them in the panel to free up two next to each other. If you don’t have two, spaces can be opened up by using tandem (half size) breakers. Convert some of the existing 120 Volt circuits to tandems so you can use a full size double breaker for the new 240 Volt sauna circuit. Note that not all panels allow the installation of tandem breakers so don’t just assume this is feasible without checking first.
If you’ve made it this far, it’s time to start drilling down into the available heaters.
The next major decision point is the heater controls. The lowest cost models simply incorporate the controls into the heater itself, usually two knobs located at the bottom of the unit. There’s a temperature knob and a time knob, all one really needs to enjoy a good sauna. Simple, straight-forward, functional, and relatively inexpensive.
Personally, I was looking for something a bit more sophisticated and I also wanted the controls outside the sauna itself since I have small kids and didn’t want them monkeying with them. There are manual remote controls that do little more than move these knobs outside the sauna, perhaps with a coarse time delay knob added on for some additional convenience. These will add one or two hundred dollars in cost and I’m not quite sure I get it. To me these look like they belong in a gym or a hotel fitness room and they also make an annoying ticking sound. To each their own.
The next step up is a full digital control that allows programming the specific temperature, sauna time, and delayed start. It also incorporates sauna lighting and an optional exhaust fan control. Further, the control can be programmed to automatically start and end a drying cycle and activate the exhaust fan and the end of the sauna session. There are also a few other customizable settings in the controls. It includes a digital temperature readout much like a home thermostat.
These controls are typically an add-on and the prices can cause sticker shock being upwards of $500. While they aren’t cheap, they aren’t quite the overpriced rip-off they might seem to be on first glance. Remember that the cost of the heater itself will be cheaper without the built-in controls, usually on the order of $100 or more. Also, most of these digital controls will typically move all the electronics except the heater elements and temperature sensors outside the hot room into a separate, remote contactor box. This separate box is usually included in the remote control package price.
There is a real benefit in wear and tear in locating these parts in a room temperature environment. The remote box will typically include a circuit board with some sort of microcontroller and one or more heavy duty contactors (electrical relays). Electronics don’t like either heat or humidity, and are subject to early failure unless specifically designed and tested for such environments (i.e. military grade). In addition, these types of failures are often intermittent thus being difficult to troubleshoot. As the electronics are usually the most expensive components to replace, putting them outside the hot room makes good sense to prolong life.
The next step up the line uses a wi-fi connection to allow turning the unit on/off from a distance further than feasible using a wired remote. The Tylo Sense Elite line incorporates this feature but be prepared to spend big bucks. Tylo states unequivocally that this feature is for turning on the unit from another location on your property. It specifically is not intended to turn on the unit from a location away from home. So don’t expect to turn it on from the office to have it ready when you get home.
Shop around as the control package price for the same unit can vary wildly among different distributors. (When comparing prices do make sure the controller model numbers are exactly the same as there are a variants that look the same but intended for different heater units.) Provided the controller is compatible with the heater, there is no reason you need to buy them from the same distributor if you find deals on each. If shopping online (E-bay in particular), do ensure that the controller is certified for the US market. European versions are configured to operate on different voltage forms and will not work on standard US 240 Volt single-phase power without significant modification.
Rocks are essential for any sauna heater as they act as a heat sink, and thus allow soft steady heat over time. An analogy from other applications might be a reservoir at a hydro-electric power plant or a flywheel in an engine. Its purpose is to store energy and smooth out delivery A sauna heater without rocks would provide a blazingly hot blast when the heating elements cycled on and then the sauna would quickly cool when they cycled off. Ideally, there should be no noticeable temperature fluctuation during heater element cycling.
Amount of Rocks
So just as a large reservoir provides more steady and reliable hydro-electric power than small reservoir, does that mean the more rocks the better? To an extent, yes. There’s a point of diminishing return where more rocks makes no noticeable improvement in sauna temperature variations. More importantly, more rocks can significantly increase sauna warm-up time as the rocks heat up much slower than the surrounding air. A major selling point of an electric heater is their convenience. If it takes two hours to warm up the sauna then one may as well build a fire.
Of course the rocks are also the source of steam when water is thrown on them, aka loyly. More rocks are better here too as the heater can instantly convert more water to steam with less running through and ending up as a puddle on the floor. However if there are too many rocks for the heater size then the rocks might not get hot enough to make steam in the first place.
You probably get the picture that the rock configuration requires some compromises to balance these competing factors. Different compromises result in different heater performance. Unfortunately, 80 to 90% of the heaters certified for the US family sauna market use the same basic setup with the same compromises (unlike the European market). The standard is a wall-mounted unit, a fairly deep rock cavity, 45 lbs of rocks, and the rocks in direct contact with all heating elements. Most electric heater models are the sauna equivalent of the Toyota Camry, functional and pragmatic, they get the job done but aren’t very inspiring. Not only that, most are pretty drab in appearance, a real shame after all that work in building the sauna and hand selecting cedar boards.
There are some notable exceptions that show some imaginative engineering. Tylo heaters use side chambers where a large portion of the heating element only contacts air. Rocks are limited to the center cavity and are fewer in quantity than that of competing models. Some hold as little as 20 lbs of rocks. This results in fast sauna warm-up times.
You would think this approach would cause sharp heat and large temperature fluctuations but Tylo implemented a clever solution.Virtually all family sauna heaters use three heating elements that turn on and off together. Tylo, on the other hand, operates their heating elements in stages. Rather than turning on or off all three elements at once, it changes the number of active heating elements based on the desired temperature change. This helps smooth out temperatures over time despite the small rock quantity.
There are also some family sauna free-standing towers that have been recently certified for North America including the Harvia Cilindro and the Finnleo Himalaya. These have huge rock capacity as they hold over 200 lbs. of stones. There is also plenty of exposed rock surface for throwing water thus creating strong bursts of loyly. These recent entries into the US market hopefully indicate we’ll soon see more true variety available to the US consumer.
We ended up selecting the Harvia Virta, another imaginative model recently certified for North America. The Virta is a floor standing unit that holds 110 pounds of rocks. It uses a clever cage to separate the rocks from the heating elements that Harvia claims will speed up warming time. We selected it based on its features and lots of good feedback and comments on European websites (thank you Google translate!) and we’ll post a report once we are up and running. Plus the unit is just stunningly beautiful to look at, using high quality polished stainless steel punctuated by crisp, straight lines.
When our unit arrived it was plastered with hideous orange and white warning stickers that assume the user is an imbecile. Not only that, they stop just short of telling you not to turn the unit on at all if you know what’s good for you. Somehow I doubt the units shipped within Finland end up like this. Fortunately they are removable and will be coming off ASAP.
I previously discussed the side chambers and staged heating elements but Tylo also uses unique chassis construction. Tylo’s units have a carbon fiber surface coating that stays cool to the touch, unlike pretty much every other unit out there. This means that Tylo’s don’t require a heater guard though Tylo does recommend you use one.
Don’t want to use a heater guard like this for whatever reason? Tylo’s cool touch surface coating means it isn’t legally required.
Tylo also is unique in that its remote control units house all the electronics within the heater itself rather than having a remote contactor box used by most of the others. This certainly simplifies installation. However, I’m not sure this is a good thing in the big scheme of things, as the hot room environment increases wear and tear on the electronic parts themselves. Tylo also has its own angular styling that is starkly different from the “box on the wall” look of most of the others. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I think they look pretty cool. Plus, you don’t have to hide them behind a heater guard so people can actually see it and appreciate its appearance.
This isn’t meant to say that Tylo’s are better or worse than the others. But, they are definitely different from the standard North American offering. If you are looking for some diversity in choice, they are worth checking out. Fair warning, they are generally a bit more expensive than their equivalent “box on the wall” counterpart.
Glenn has commented that he can tell an electric-heated sauna from a wood-burning sauna even if blindfolded. He equates an electric-heated sauna to sitting inside a toaster oven. While I think his comment was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the maestro does have a point. However, I would suggest that the difference is not caused so much by the actual heat source, but by the rock quantity. Heating a sauna with a blazing campfire rather than a rock-filled stove wouldn’t be very pleasant either.
We got into the physics of rock quantity in part 1 and I won’t rehash that here. However, I will remind folks that rocks create thermal capacitance. Sauna rocks store heat and provide for a soft, even release and distribution over time. Take a look at some popular wood–burning stoves recommended for family-sized saunas below and note the rock quantity.
Now compare that to the typical electric box-on-a-wall heater that at most holds 44 pounds of rocks. When it comes to thermal capacitance, these electric wall-mounted units just can’t compare to the wood-burning sauna stoves. That’s the price you pay for convenience and compact size. If you want to try and replicate the wood-burning feel with an electric heater, you’re going to have to increase the rock mass. There really just isn’t any good way around this fact.
For our sauna, we tackled this by selecting a floor-standing electric heater (rather than a wall-mounted unit) that holds up to 110 pounds of rocks. It’s a 7 kW unit that is a little oversized for our 240 cubic foot sauna. We didn’t want to endure long warm-up times that would result from having such a large rock quantity. Also, we made our sauna ceiling lower than usual, averaging about 6 feet 6 inches. We originally did this to minimize overall structure height. I later realized this would also help with warm-up times as we aren’t wasting heat pooling well above our heads.
This isn’t meant as a knock on the wall-mounted units. Wall mounted sauna heaters certainly have their place particularly if the budget is tight. However, there are trade-offs involved. There are other options available with large rock capacity that may be a better choice. Check out some of the more exotic models available and don’t assume the predominance of the wall-mounted units means that they are necessarily the best way to go.
Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that our unit shown above is actually the Harvia Virta Combi as opposed to the standard Harvia Virta. Combi units include a water tank and a dedicated heating element allowing higher humidity levels than typical Finnish sauna heaters. You can still throw water on the rocks to create bursts of löyly in the traditional fashion. However, in addition to setting the temperature level you can also set a precise humidity level higher than that usually used in saunas.
The idea behind these units is not to create a 100% humidity Turkish-style steam bath, as this would ruin most wooden saunas over time. Instead, they create what’s caused a “soft sauna” with 40-60% humidity and lower sauna temperatures. Combi units provide an extra degree of flexibility, particularly for those from different sweat bathing traditions. I originally proposed this model to get my wife on board. Her ethnicity tends to favor steam whereas I wanted a dry Finnish sauna. The Combi is a bit pricey, but overall is a small cost to keep my wife happy.
Nice Features of the Combi Unit
One of the really nice features of these units is that they can be set to automatically run a 0% humidity cycle to dry out the sauna immediately after steam bathing. In addition, we’ve also included an exhaust fan in our sauna that is automatically activated at the start of the drying cycle to quickly remove residual humidity. Both are controlled by the Virta Combi and should help prolong the life of the wood in our sauna.
One other thing to consider for outdoor saunas is that water remaining in the Combi tank could freeze if left unattended in cold climates. This isn’t an issue for us in Southern California but something to consider if this applies to you. The manufacturers recommend the user should drain remaining water after each use.
The “always on” sauna heater may be worth considering. These units contain the rocks within a super-insulated cavity with a closable lid that keeps heat trapped inside the box. There’s a low power heating element (usually around 200 Watts, about 4% of the main elements) that runs more or less continuously and keeps the rocks at sauna temperatures. When you’re ready to sauna, you simply pop the lid open to quickly bring the sauna room to temperature. Since the rocks are already hot, warm up only consists of that necessary to heat the air thus greatly reducing warm-up time. Once opened, the main heating elements kick-on as needed to maintain the rocks at sauna temperatures. These units typically have fairy impressive rock quantities for lots of thermal capacitance.
There are two downsides to these units; the purchase price is relatively high (at least $2K, some upwards of $3k) and the potential operating costs. If you sauna regularly (nearly daily) then the costs of operating the low power element should more or less pay for themselves in reduced high power element operation. If you sauna maybe once a week or less, then the electricity cost perspective is not worthwhile. As an example, the 200 Watt element on continuously for 24 hours will use 4.8 kW-hours of electricity, the same as operating a 4.8 kW high power element for one hour.
So even if you don’t use it often, your electric bill will look comparable to a standard electric heater being used daily. Perhaps this doesn’t concern you, but it is something that should be considered when planning the sauna. And this electric sauna heater review is here to help.
Suppose you just aren’t happy with the sauna heater selection in North America. It’s understandable as the vast majority of those certified for our market are uninspiring compromises, designed to appeal to the most people possible. It is as if every restaurant being a pizza parlor or burger joint. I’ve singled out some notable exceptions (in my opinion) in this post and the previous one but what if one is looking for something more? Take a look at this screen capture from a UK sauna distributor as part of this electric sauna heater review:
Aside from a few exceptions (e.g. Harvia and Tylo), most of the brands aren’t even available in the US as these units haven’t been certified here. Also consider that these brands have multiple product lines. You’ll see if you click through each of these tags, many of them can be seen in the screenshot. We probably get 10% the choices available of the European consumer, and the choices we do get are the pizza and the burgers. So why not buy from Europe? It’s certainly possible though there are some real potential pitfalls. I won’t discuss the legality of doing so as I’m not a lawyer. If you choose to do so, it’s between your conscience, the insurance man, and our friends at the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL). Proceed at your own risk.
With this electric sauna heater review, power incompatibility is the main issue when buying from Europe. The great majority of European units are configured for 400 Volt three-phase power, not the 240 volt single-phase power available in North America. There are some 240 units available from Europe but the selection isn’t much better than that available here. Most 400 Volt units likely can be converted to North American power as the single-phase voltage forms are comparable. (Each “leg” of 400 volt 3-phase power is 230 volts, virtually identical to the 240 Volts available here.) However, they will almost certainly require additional contactors, fusing, and rewiring. It’s definitely not a job for amateur hour.
Further, North American units require a self-contained over temperature sensor that shuts the unit down in the event the inside of the heater gets too hot (usually 240 deg F). European units don’t have this. They rely on the room temperature sensor for an over temperature trip. Most of the European manufacturers seem to slap these on North American units as an afterthought and frankly they don’t seem to work very well.
Older Tylo units in particular have a reputation for tripping at much lower temperatures than they should. In some documented cases, these trip at such a low temperature the sauna room can’t go much above 160 deg F. The “fix” is to move the bulb sensor lower in the unit so it doesn’t get as hot. I mention this as this safety feature seems to cause more problems than it actually solves. Presumably the North American manufacturers (Saunacore, Scandia, etc.) do a better job with this.
There are a few other odds and ends that a gray-market buyer must consider. North American regulations limit interior sauna temperatures to 194 deg F (30°c.) and also limit the maximum sauna heater time setting to 1 hour. European units won’t meet these constraints as they will allow higher temperatures and longer times. North America also requires a guard or grate over the top of the rocks. European units won’t have this grate and they probably don’t even exist (in the event you wanted to obtain one) for units that aren’t certified for North America. Violating these requirements will probably get you in trouble with the same guys who enforce the prohibition on tearing off those mattress tabs.
Last off, delivery can be an issue as the European distributors I contacted were willing to just get it to the US (for example a customs broker in New York) but wouldn’t ship it to my house. That part I had to figure out myself. I ultimately decided it was too much of a hassle. You may find it worthwhile and the European prices are generally very good and quite a bit cheaper than comparable certified North American models.
Thanks for reading and hopefully readers found this and the previous post helpful. I would appreciate hearing from any readers that have brought in gray-market heaters and how their experience went. Either leave a comment or send an email to Glenn so he can pass it along.