Help me buy a sauna!
November 20, 2009 8:51 AM   Subscribe

Good 2 - 4 person sauna?

Looking for recommendations for a reasonably-priced, reliable 2 - 4 person home sauna (kit or assembled) in the US.

Also, please comment on IR vs. ceramic vs. ??? and teak vs. hemlock vs. ???

posted by ZenMasterThis to Health & Fitness (3 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: We bought our sauna kit at Saunafin in Toronto. They keep odd business hours but they were good to deal with. I think they do most of their business shipping to the states.

I wouldn't want any wood other than cedar. It smells wonderful. We got a five by six irregularly shaped custom sauna kit with the smallest CW-M electric heater. Whenever we sit in it in on a winter night we turn to each other and say, "This is the best money we ever spent". All the IR saunas I've seen in the stores look terribly cheap. You want a heavy duty electric coil heater (with lava rocks that you can sprinkle water on) and clear cedar planking. You don't need or want a floor drain. I would get the smallest sauna that allows you to stretch out full length. You give them a sketch of the dimensions you want and they work out the parts list and give you the price.

The only thing I would change about ours is that I'd get the solid state timer/ thermostat instead of the wind up kind because I find the ticking sound kind of loud.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:13 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Perfect timing, I just came from the sauna in my apartment building :). As a swede/finn from the arctic circle, we take saunas quite seriously where I come from... I don't know anything about bying a sauna in the US, so I'll comment on some other aspects.

The best wood is European birch, but I guess it would be expensive in North America. As bonobothegreat said, cedar is an excellent replacement in that case (birch in Europe and cedar in North America are really the only two acceptable choices for a purist).

As for heaters, unless you can use a firewood stove in the sauna (not that practical, but the best) an electrical heater is preferred. In fact, I never even heard of IR heaters for saunas before... No respectable Finn would ever use something like that, throwing water on the stones are one of the most important part of a sauna. The Tylö-brand of electrical heater that Saunafin (that bonobothegreat linked to above) sells is a quite well known for instance.

A bit more about the heater and water. I find that the most enjoyable heat comes from keeping the sauna cool enough that you can sit on the top bench without discomfort if you don't throw any water on the rocks (which have to be of certain kind, otherwise they can splinter and send small shards flying...), but when you do throw some water on the sauna rocks the heat increases as you throw more water until you can't stand it anymore and you run to a cold shower or (preferably jump into a lake or the snow outside). And the you repeat it... This requires that the heater is of a suitable size to the volume of the sauna. Too small and it gets cold as you throw water on it and it wont create the steam that transfers the heat to you.

And one last tip: don't hold your hand over the heater as you pour water on it, the steam burns...
posted by rpn at 10:57 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 2nding rpn's comments about heater size and water. If you do order from Saunafin, ask for a second bag of rocks because the bag they gave us was just barely enough to cover the heater. A big, deep pile of rocks is better for making steam. Also, cut the cedar pieces to length outdoors because the dust is bad for your lungs.

Seriously, do not delay. It's a wonderful, guilty pleasure. Like bacon.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:59 PM on November 20, 2009

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