*NOTE* This post is not meant to be all knowing, absolute, and it will be updated as we go, and comments below are most encouraged!
The following is based on a 1.5 year empirical study of how air wants to move within an electric heated sauna, and so we’ve come up with A, B, C, D for your consideration.
By empirical study, we mean: “concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.” We did read and note the prior art of ventilation, written within various publications, including the out of print book “Sauna Studies” gifted by Risto Elomma, President of the International Sauna Society. We used these recommendations as baseline for where to point our 4″ hole saw.
Venting: one of the holy trinity of good sauna
Perhaps the best descriptor of what makes for good sauna is attention to the holy trinity. And what’s so funny about heat, steam, and ventilation? If you are like a deer in the headlights trying to figure out good sauna in your life, I want to encourage you to pay attention to these three attributes. And keep in mind that 88% of people who feel claustrophobic, dizzy, or uncomfortable within a sauna most likely feel this way because of lack of good ventilation. The other 12% are like my cat, never adaptable to sauna, and that’s ok.
Heat and steam are subject for their own insights, and there is a lot of great discussion on these two elements of good sauna.
Our two tools for analysis
By studying how air wants to move or not move within an electric heated sauna, we spent hours and hours “rudimentarily messing around.” As example, the entire album of Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 has been an excellent backdrop for us to light up a stick of incense and chart the movement of air by following the smoke tail.
Also, our second testing device: we started with a cigarette lighter, then graduated to a Catholic Charities wax candle. With this candle, we were able to also watch and chart the air movement within our hot room.
We feel that these two methods for studying air flow within our electric heated saunas provide the best analysis. And after reading below, we encourage you to adopt the same analogue devices for your own air movement analysis.
A lot of sauna variables
As we know, every sauna has its own soul. And how each of our saunas breathe is subject to several nuances. This is why it’s not always easy to follow a prescribed drawing or script. Further, this is why we emphasize the value of a “chute” or slider for every vent you punch in to your sauna. This gives you infinite control and customization of venting and breathing.
In addition, we have reviewed most of the manufacturer instruction manuals. The good news is, like a good brewing recipe for a hazy IPA, the electric sauna heater manufacturer industry is waddling its way towards a consensus on how to optimally vent a sauna hot room.
There are two unique aspects to this proposed ventilation plan:
- All four vents shall have sliders or “chutes.” These are adjustable slats that allow for opening and closing each vent. Fully, partially, or open all the way.
- The four vents are in spirit to the principle of of “and” not “or.”, meaning that with this plan, we can “optimize” for natural ventilation as well as mechanical ventilation.
The four vents
- A: Behind the heater, down low. PURPOSE: draws in cool air to help the over limit switch think that things are cool and calm.
- B: Above the rocks. PURPOSE: draws in cool air to help mix with hot air and steam rising when we toss water on the rocks.
- C: By you ears, opposite wall of heater. PURPOSE: Interacts with A vent through principle of hot air rising to create air flow. This vent can be criticized for allowing good heat to leave the hot room, yet with a kick ass heater, this may not be the case. And this vent is good for airing out sauna when we’re done.
- D: Mechanical outbound. Anywhere between 16″ to 20″ from from the floor, opposite wall of heater, with a variable speed mechanical inline (in the wall) fan. PURPOSE: This vent, with the fan switched on, pulls fresh air into the hot room, and pushes air out of the hot room.
Working in pairs:
- B & D vents: The B vent draws in fresh air above the rocks. The D vent has a variable speed mechanical inline fan, pulling air out of the hot room.
- A & C vents: This is the classic tandem that leverage the “hot air rises” principle. Cool air comes in down low, and exits up high, opposite wall. Saunas heated by wood stoves do well with this method. Instead of vent A, often air intake is via a generous gap along the hot room door. Wood stoves create a draw by sucking wood into the hot room for combustion. This principle creates good air flow, naturally. With electro saunas, we need to enhance the situation.
What we like best
All four have chutes for infinite control. Go sauna, have fun, and figure it out later (incense and or a candle and some good tunes). A few suggested settings to try out include:
- Au Naturale: A and C vents open. B and D vents closed.
- Pure Mechanical: A and C vents closed. B and D vents open. Variable speed mechanical inline fan on low speed.
- Semi schizophrenic hybrid: A open half way. B open half way. C mostly closed. D open. Variable speed mechanical inline vent on low speed.
A set up that has been working well with ambient downtempo playlist on shuffle:
- Au Natuale epoque : A, B, C, D vents 25% open. Variable speed mechanical inline fan turned on 5 minutes before sauna session, then shut off for quietude during sauna rounds.
Let’s remember: unless stamping out “off the shelf” backyard kits or standard flat packs, every sauna is different. Different atmospheric conditions as air flows differently in different houses or if outside, as Neil Young sings: “cold wind whipping down the alley..”
More songs about..
1. Can your post more clearly define which fan you have had success with?
I have installed this one. I’m open to other’s suggestions as this is a very basic one.
2. Can you explain the specifics of how an inline fan would be installed? Is the fan inside the wall cavity? If so, what does it plug into?
Yes. What we do is cut the plug in and hard wire it to a switch with dimmer. The vent fits into the wall cavity, inside a 4″ opening. A guy can cut the 4″ opening with a hole saw.
3. Do you ever put electrical outlets on the inside of hot rooms down low towards the floor? (to power the fan and/or a rechargeable bluetooth speaker).
I try to never put any outlets inside the hot room. It’s best to hard wire directly into lights, like under bench LED and overhead sconce, and run that romex into an outliet outside the hot room. And dimmer switches allow for infinite action.
On the road with David Hanna:
Adding onto that, I think noting that the D vent would benefit from being a mechanical outlet could be helpful–particularly for those building smaller saunas who can’t build as high of a ceiling.
Last but not least, some of the things that could be beneficial from taking this approach is that it caters to both those who want to optimize their experience and those who just want to build it and not think too hard about it. It solves problems like getting enough oxygen in the room, distributing heat more evenly, and ensuring the sauna can dry out without becoming a petri dish! I think some people who would particularly benefit from this design would be those who are planning to not have a drain and/or people who are limited to a 7-7.5 foot ceiling.
I really liked what you had to say about testing the air circulation with a stick of incense, and I think that would be a great way for people to sort of “dial in” their ventilation scheme by adjusting each chute.
Do you find yourself chasing the dragon for perfect ventilation?
Instead of chasing the dragon of the perfect sauna, at some point, it’s best to pull the trigger and give ourselves some freedom. We want to be happy with our lives and time in our saunas. It’s good to not second guess everything either by reading too much or having too many options, settings, dials. Just the ones that make sense to mess around with. Instead of paralysis, it feels great to clear our minds and just throw some water on the rocks in peace.
Like a kick ass sauna sound system with a subwoofer and an equalizer, this venting plan will give you a clear head to tune the air flow mix how best for you.
The real experience vs. sequestered with online experiences.
This is sauna therapy, one on on individual therapy. Psychodynamic unconscious feelings can show up in other ways. But not on our sauna bench.
A point where you Authoritarian and never satisfied. Celebrate the joy, let’s not suck out the joy. Mechanical or natural.. or a bit of both.