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Chassis Considerations for a Mobile Sauna Build

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Guest post series continues. Please welcome Wade Litt to saunatimes who will help you with chassis considerations for your mobile sauna build. Wade started bombarding Glenn with mobile sauna questions, and before too long we realized that Wade was very much up to speed on mobile sauna. He has done a lot of research and we are pleased to be able to share his story with you… for you! Welcome Wade!

My parents had a traditional sauna built a few years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since. Not only has it been an amazing place to connect with family and friends, but also a relaxing place to disconnect and find solitude. My enthusiasm for sauna has me planning a pilgrimage to Finland this winter if travel restrictions allow, and with a rough road map full of ideas from Glenn’s 2019 trip and a good Finnish friend to boot, I should be set! Apparently, though, my parents’ sauna and a trip to Finland isn’t enough to smother my desire for a good sweat; my Kuuma stove just arrived. I’m going to build a mobile sauna!

Mobile sauna trailer research

My first step has been researching the various chassis to house both the hot room and a small changing room – the winner of most unique being a sauna built inside a combine harvester, found in pictures from a 2018 mobile sauna festival in Finland – their next go-round in July is another trip I’d love to make next year. Although my county’s combine demolition derby is being held this week and I could probably score a great deal on a fixer-upper combine, I wanted to consider more common mobile sauna chassis options.

Mobile sauna chassis options. Clockwise from top left: a combine harvester sauna, a horse trailer sauna, a fish house trailer sauna, and a lawn mower utility trailer trailer sauna (photo credits, clockwise from top left: a farmer guy, forgot whose this is, Jon from Jim Falls WI, and Rodsky on Lake Minnetonka)

I was initially debating the tradeoff between a horse trailer (à la the Little Red Sauna in Maine. Or the one found in a recent Saunatimes article: “If you heat it, we will come!”) versus an enclosed trailer of some sort – perhaps either a cargo trailer or fish house trailer depending on budget considerations. I’ve also seen a couple built inside older, pull-behind camper shells.

Law of löyly and mobile sauna

As it turns out, researching the first step of a mobile sauna build can quickly lead one down the rabbit hole of researching the complete details of an entire sauna build. This is especially because space is a scarce resource in trailers. Stove selection, the width of walls and benches, and trading off space for the hot room and changing room become important considerations. It doesn’t seem too difficult to find long trailers – 12 and 16 foot are fairly common lengths. Height and width, however, are where sizing issues creep in. Six feet seems to be a common height and width for many horse and cargo trailers. It becomes harder to adhere to the Law of Löyly in short-ceilinged trailers and bench width and layout become more of a puzzle in narrow trailers. Used trailers on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace weren’t too difficult to track down. However, from my search anyway, many trailers seemed too short or narrow for my ideal hot room.

Aesthetics are also an important part of the chassis debate. I may end up making a side business out of my sauna, although even if it ends up being largely for personal use. I want it to look nice. If it does become a side hustle, however, it should be social media-ready to help it market itself. Although barrel saunas have superb aesthetic appeal, they lack the thermal qualities and tall, upper benches I’m after – there’s only so much good heat I’m willing to sacrifice for good looks! Horse trailers seem to have a nicer visual appeal to me than cargo trailers. Maybe it’s a subtle nod to the agricultural and rural roots of traditional, old world saunas or, perhaps, it’s simply because I grew up in the country. Whatever it may be, I hope to install at least one scenic window in the hot room, and the chassis impacts the ability to do this. One would either need to work around the current framing of the trailer, or be prepared to structurally reinforce any necessary customizations to install the perfect window in the perfect location.

Mobile sauna chapter in Sauna Build Start to Finnish

It’s possible I only notice them more due to my own recent obsession. But I think the phenomenon is real: mobile saunas are on the rise. They are still relatively young in their development. However, and it has been tricky to find resources for the more technical questions I have been facing around topics like chassis selection. After a sizeable amount of independent research, I finally reached out to Glenn at Saunatimes to get his take. Much to my delight, he is finishing an updated edition of his eBook, “Sauna Build, From Start to Finnish,” which includes a new chapter on mobile saunas. What’s more, there is a section specifically on chassis options, including horse trailers, cargos trailers, fish house trailers, and homemade trailers. This topic is just what I had been researching!

The new chapter covers many of the topics I had been thinking about above, but also other important considerations like homemade trailer chassis, weight dispersal around the axle, legal limits on trailer widths, solar power, surrounding decking, and other topics. Reading an advance copy of Glenn’s second edition book gave me new ideas and useful technical details that will be critically important in my build.

Lots more research

Armed with the information in the newest edition of the Saunatimes eBook, I continued the search and debate on which chassis to use. My Dad is convinced that his six-foot wide livestock trailer would be too narrow to be converted into my sauna. I passionately resisted initially, especially because such saunas already exist. But I have started to come around. Insulation, the vapor barrier, an air gap, and siding on both sides really eats away at the finished width. Designing a roomy layout which also includes the critical upper bench becomes tricky. Especially if it ends up being used on a commercial level with several people in the hot room at once, My online search continued with many messages to sellers for the internal dimensions of their trailers. I began to get an eye for their dimensions and became better at filtering out trailers that would be too small.

Whether it was a random-chance ad or Facebook’s algorithm detected my narrowing focus on larger chassis. An unexpected posting took my idea of a mobile sauna to an entirely new level. The new chapter in the Saunatimes eBook briefly mentions vehicle considerations for towing a mobile sauna but doesn’t go into great detail. The gist of it, though, is that you should probably have a truck, which I do not. The unexpected Facebook Marketplace post solved this problem while also providing a chassis that was slightly wider (6’10”), taller (6’9”), and longer (15’10”) than I been finding with the horse and cargo trailers.

Bread Truck Mobile Sauna

I am now the proud new owner of a former bread truck. Taking this big step in my mobile sauna build is exciting. The truck fits many of my desired specifications slightly better than a conventional trailer chassis, although it has opened up an entirely new set of challenges. For some reason, the first insurance company I called didn’t want to insure a vehicle with a giant wood stove in the back of it.

Stay tuned for more from Wade. Despite waiver forms and insurance roadblocks, he is “full steam ahead” towards mobilizing his own authentic sauna on wheels. Be it horse trailer, fish house, utility trailer, or other trailer options, we are seeing how the mobile sauna revolution is being televised (hashtags and social-media-izing) in all kinds of creative ways.

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