The core of any sauna is the heater. Sauna heaters are specially
designed to produce a consistent high temperature. There are several
types available, but the most common are electric. Wood-burning
heaters are popular in rural areas, and oil or gas heaters are used
The heater has two basic functions which are creating heat and
steam. Stones are piled on the heater to retain heat and produce
steam when water is poured over them.
Electric sauna heaters were introduced in the 1930's. Before their
introduction all saunas were heated by fire. Many sauna fanatics
feel that fire produces the best heat for a sauna. It is described
as a 'soft' heat.
Wood-burning heaters are generally not a practical choice for urban
areas. This has left the electric sauna as the most popular choice
in sauna heating.
Electric heaters are generally enclosed in a protective casing to
ensure bathers do not accidentally touch the heater and get burned.
The heater is controlled by a thermostat mounted on the outside wall
of the sauna. The desired temperature is set and the heater remains
on while the sauna is being used.
The sauna will be at the desired temperature in approximately 30
minutes if an electric heater is being used.
For those that live in rural settings, a wood-burning heater is a
good choice for a sauna. Firewood is more readily available in these
areas so the sauna can be operated at a reasonable cost. Some units
have glass doors to allow bathers to watch the flames while bathing.
Wood-burning heaters are combustion chambers with controlled air
flow. The amount of air flow determines the speed at which the wood
burns; lower air flow makes the wood burn more slowly. Controlling
the air flow also controls the temperature to some extent, but there
is no way to set a wood heater to a specific temperature. Smoke
inhalation inside the sauna is not a danger because it is drawn out
of the heater through a chimney installed through the roof of the
Oil and Gas Sauna Heaters
Oil and gas heaters are used occasionally for saunas but less often
than electric or wood burning units. They are considered to be quite
less efficient, and can produce an odor from the fuel being burned.
If the heater is properly vented there should be no odor present.
All sauna heaters require stones. The stones retain the heat
produced by the heating unit and produce steam when water is poured
over them. Sauna stones must be durable because they endure a lot of
stress. They must be able to withstand severe temperature changes to
endure the constant heating and cooling.
Sauna stones can be made of any type of rock, but some types are
better suited for sauna use. Sauna stones should not produce an odor
when heated, and should be able to withstand high temperatures
Sauna stones should not have any cracks and should have a rough
surface which releases steam faster. They also should be able to
retain heat. Popular sauna stones are peridotite and olivine, which
can be found at a sauna supply store.
Using a Sauna
to Build a Steam Room
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