Electric Sauna Heaters

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Sauna FAQ


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Sauna's Frequently Asked Questions

Where did Sauna come from?
Why Electric?
Why an ILO?
Steam vs. Dry bath?
Do I need a floor drain?
Do I need ventilation?
How about glass?
What about a wooden bucket?
Why do I really need a sauna?
How does a sauna cleanse?
What should a sauna have in it?
What wood should I use?
What height should the ceiling be?
How about the benches?
A few final words....

Since publishing our website, we constantly get compliments and also many inquiries concerning questionable practices stated in other websites, and thought we should include this page in our site to answer some of these and perhaps provoke others.

We have watched many products come and go over the past 35 years, so to give an insight, we thought we'd start with explaining the origin of sauna;

Where did Sauna come from?

Sauna started some 1500 + yrs ago in the Nordic countries of Europe. The earliest saunas (I have seen only one in my 70 years) were a log building with an earthen floor and a pile of rocks in the center of the room. We would call it a smoke sauna. The wood fire was started on the rocks and burned most of the day till the rocks were hot. Water was tossed on the rocks for steam. People sat on benches around the room. These rooms were not very large, only about 10' x 10'. The walls and ceilings were glossy black from the creosote.

Later, when steel and welding were in wide use, the next generation of wood heater started and were much the same as available today. They had a firebox and a hot water tank as part of the stove. Water was heated until it was boiling, the room was hot, and sauna was taken. Generally, the fire door and damper were in another room for cleanliness.

They were almost always built near a water source such as a river, stream, lake, or well. Water was carried into the sauna and was poured into two tanks, one to get hot and another "cold water barrel" was nearby to temper for bathing.

Later, as running water and electricity became prevalent, the sauna moved indoors as part of the home. Usually in the basement of homes and sometimes as part of a garage, etc. We now see a few that have them on the 2nd floor. These, of course, are always electric saunas.     top

Why electric?

Electric Saunas have become the sauna of choice, as they are fast, convenient, economical, easy, and do not have the problems and dangers of wood. Good ones, such as our ILO Sauna operate exactly the same as the wood fired sauna (kiuus), except no wood to contend with. If it didn't work the same or better, we couldn't give it away here in Finnish America (Michigan's Upper Peninsula).

Why an ILO?

ILO Radiant Electric Sauna heaters are designed and manufactured in Lake Superiors Upper Peninsula where the majority of the population is Finnish or partial Finnish extraction. We are born and raised in a sauna tradition.

Note the large rock capacity- far more than any other heater. The traditional sauna is a steam bath brought here from Finland by our earliest immigrants. In this area most desire a steam sauna. Which is accomplished by tossing small amounts of water on very hot rocks thus producing steam. This is the reason the ILO sauna heater has a very large rock capacity. –A necessity as the heater must not cool significantly from this or run out of "loyla" (steam). This large rock capacity is just as necessary for the dry sauna, which is taken without steam. In this case the large amount of rock is necessary for a steady temperature.

The ILO manufactured here goes into day in, day out service. It is built to perform this service without failure as it has for more than 30 years. Here the ILO far out-sells all other sauna heater.

We manufacture seven models to suit any application, residential or commercial. The ILO you purchase is identical to those used day-in, day-out in commercial applications.

In your search for a heater you will see models with a few rocks to distinguish themselves as being a sauna heater. One could do far better by purchasing a space heater. It would cost far less and work just as well.

You will find sauna heaters that you’re unable to throw water on the rocks. Having one of these heaters is like having an orchestra that only plays one piece, which is fine if that’s all you wish to experience. The ILO does everything you desire and does it beautifully.

This is also the reason we don’t manufacture wall-mounted sauna heaters. We could build and sell these cheaply, but they wouldn’t meet our standards. More importantly you, our customer, would not be completely satisfied.

Wall-mounted saunas simply cannot hold enough rock for a good sauna, as they would be too heavy for the wall. Many wall-mounted heaters suffer from premature element failure unless wattage is very low. We discovered this when designing the ILO.  A small-sized heater with high wattage elements (9 KW or above) cannot generate enough air flow through for cooling. One cannot generate 30,000 BTU or more (1KW=3,415 BTU) in a small enclosure (like a wall-mounted sauna) without the use of insulating material, which is self-defeating. This is why you see some manufacturers placing a ventilator beneath the heater which is like putting a band-aid on a hemorrhage. 

Beware of models with a thermostat or control mounted on the heater. This is a cheap method of manufacturing. You may have to replace the entire stove if the control fails. Also, it really doesn’t mater what the heater temperature is as long as the room is hot enough for a pleasurable sauna.

The room temperature is all you’re interested in. This is where pleasure is derived.    top

Steam vs. Dry Bath?

A real sauna must have a large rock capacity so when water is tossed on the rocks, an ample amount of steam, or loyla, is produced. For the hard line purist, ours will chase you right out of the sauna, should you desire.

Some take sauna as what we call a dry bath where water is not tossed on the rock, but here also, the large rock capacity is necessary to provide a "steady" temperature.

It is common where lakes, etc are available to heat ones self up and jump into the cool water or even roll in snow (it's not as bad as it sounds).

These are the reasons the ILO Sauna is constructed as it is. It performs superbly in either case.

Try it! You'll love it!         top

Do I need a floor drain?

Floor drains are very convenient but not absolutely necessary. So if you can install one, we advise it. You may then have a shower fixture in the sauna room, which can also be used for washing the room down.

The floor may be painted or tiled, but should have a removable slatted wood mat to avoid being slippery. You should be able to lift it for cleaning.

Do I need ventilation?

Normally, the sauna is a relatively dry room with low humidity. Surprisingly when water is tossed on the rock, it feels much warmer, but actually the room cools slightly. This rise in humidity gives a sensation of being hot. So in sauna, moisture is generally not really a problem.

Some sauna "builders" tell you that you "must" have a ventilator. Ventilators are used to remove air from one space and expel it to another- usually outside. For this reason we consider them not necessary. 

Ventilation is used after sauna to bring fresh air into the room to dry it out and remove odors. Opening the door serves the same purpose.

What inspired us to write this is that we see items on the market (new fads) touted as a "must".

How about glass?

Another item is full-length glass doors, and glass wall panels. THESE CAN BE DANGEROUS!!!!!!!

I seriously doubt those who advocate such items have spent much time in a sauna.

We could write a small book here on reasons not to have glass walls, but we’ll settle for a few statements.

Windows are to look at a beautiful vista or for the light to shine in, not in sauna. If you want something pleasant to look at, put your paneling in an interesting pattern.  See pictures of paneling in "Build A Sauna". (you can get back here when you're done)

Music is a nice touch and colored lights with dimmers on them. These are OK- Relaxing.

A dear friend of mine once summed it up, saying "Sauna’s NOT a spectator sport."

What about a wooden bucket?

Wooden buckets, which are sold for saunas look really nice. I even bought one.

For a wooden bucket to hold water, you must always keep it full for the wood to swell and seal the joints. You must keep it full or it shrinks and leaks.

Another problem is when it sits full of water, it provides a nice habitat for little "things" to grow in. It looks good but isn’t practical.

You're far better off with a plastic bucket that has a wooden outside or just a plain plastic pail.

Why do I really need a sauna?

It is a method of relaxing through heat, steam, and humidity.

Sauna speeds up the body processes, increases blood flow, and cleanses the skin as nothing else can.

Relaxation is what this is all about. It's not just to get clean- as the Finns say, "Sauna on koyhan apterkki" (Sauna is a poor man's drugstore)- it truly is.

Sauna is a very pleasant, comforting, and rewarding experience. The heat from stones is pleasant, not smothering or oppressive. The steam is almost sweet to breathe.

Sauna is a rather small area where you may lie quietly alone, with a loved one, or with friends. You can’t buy this in a catalog.

The idea of sauna is to provide a pleasant atmosphere for relaxation, or to sort of shut the world away.

A friend of mine who occasionally uses our sauna stated that his wife and he seldom argue in the sauna and he attributes this to the soft red light.

What is the purpose for having your own sauna? Is it just to get clean? Or to provide a pleasant atmosphere, where you can relax alone, or together with friends or a loved one? To relax, refresh and invigorate?

If your purpose is the later, decide what will provide this.  Soft lighting, background music, or flashing strobe lights and loud drumbeats. Hopefully something in between.

Sauna is a personal thing. A space one can shut out the world, relax and enjoy pleasant surroundings. Therefore, only you know what that environment consists of.

I am sure you’re aware, one person’s pleasure can be another’s agony

We stress that it’s a personal thing. Only you know what this environment will consist of. This explains why we do not manufacture sauna rooms or kits.        top

How does a sauna cleanse?

Sauna cleanses both physically and mentally, a short sauna invigorates and a longer one relaxes, making one sleep like a baby.

A shower rinses dirt off the surface, but sauna gets your pores "squeaky-clean". There's nothing that cleanses like sauna, but it’s not just to clean off.

Pores in our skin are actually holes the skin uses to breathe. Ladies, think about this for a minute. The ads tell you to spread some "wonder" goop on your skin to cleanse it (they call it cleansing cream). If it's already dirty, how can you cleanse a pore by spreading cream over it?

Sauna flushes the pores from the inside out so they're really clean.  If you have acne, nothing cleans your pores better than sauna.

A shower cleans quite well, but it cleanses just the surface. Only perspiration flushes the pores- from the inside-out, not the outside in. Makes sense doesn't it?

This is why we prefer our traditional "wet" sauna, or tossing water on the rocks, which raises the humidity and rapidly causes you to perspire freely.

Mentally it also refreshes. It seems that after sauna you just feel good, relaxed, and ready to tackle the world again. It helps people suffering from depression.

Another nice thing about sauna is that when your head is all clogged up, you can add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to some water and toss it on the rocks. It will clear your head up shortly.

So you see, it is a poor man's drugstore, and you don't need a prescription.        top

What should a sauna have in it?

With our experience we’ll be happy to advise you on items you may be unsure of.

A sauna is a very simple room to build. If you can build a closet, you can build a sauna.

A few tips…..

The wood paneling need not run in horizontal or vertical neat rows. It’s an environment. Create a pleasing geometric pattern or design with the wood.

Have soft indirect light. You need only enough to safely get around. This light may be colored. Lights need not be on the ceiling or walls. They may be placed under the benches in a rain-tight enclosure.

A friend of mine who occasionally uses their sauna stated that his wife and he seldom argue in the sauna and he attributes this to the soft red light.

A minimum amount of light in a sauna seems relaxing. In our own we have two 40-watt red lights installed under the bench which provides a very soothing atmosphere.

Make sure you have a safe suitable railing around your heater.

Remember this is an well-insulated room, so it’s quiet. It is your environment. Do you want soft music? Automotive-type speakers can accomplish this.

Remember, we’re shutting the other world out and creating a new environment. No phones, TV, computers, etc. It’s relaxation we’re seeking.

What wood should I use?

Sauna rooms are constructed with wood paneling of such species as cedar, redwood, cypress, poplar, and basswood. Others will work equally well if they don’t have pitch or resin.

Personally, I prefer basswood as it is very light in color, almost white, and it stays that way. It doesn't have the pleasant odor of cedar, but my nose isn’t that good anyway.

Some have used oak paneling successfully. It looks nice, but we're not sure how it will hold up in the long run.

The paneling must be free of stain, paint, pitch, etc., as the vapors of these coatings may be dangerous when heated.        top

What height should the ceiling be?

The ceiling height in a sauna room is kept to a minimum because, as we know, heat rises. The warmest part of the room, therefore, is near the ceiling. 7 ft is a good height for most of us.

How about the benches?

We also see a new fad in pre-fab (kit) saunas. Two wide benches, the lower one about 16" off the floor and the other directly above it about 4 ft off the floor so that two may lie at different levels.

This is "real" nice, I suppose. The person on the upper bench can "drip" on the one below.

An upper bench of around 42" from the floor is about right. This allows one to sit upright on the bench and your head will be near the ceiling. Make benches wide enough so that you can lie on it comfortably but not overly wide that your knees are uncomfortable when sitting.

The lower bench should be about chair height, but it should not be directly below the top one. It should protrude in front of the other like a step.

A few final words…

We tell you all of this so that you may decide how you want your sauna. It will be a very pleasant and rewarding experience.

Build it yourself. It's very easy. Remember, if you can build a closet, you can build a sauna.

One can buy a kit for $3000 - $7000 and up. Why pay that for $300 worth of materials to get what someone else decides you need.

Again, you’re probably going to have questions particular to your needs, which all cannot be covered here. Contact us as explained and remember that we do not operate a telemarketing operation. We have lives as you do. If you don’t get a person, leave a brief message and someone will contact you. Or explain your question with an e-mail. We are more than happy to assist. Evening calls are welcome M-Sat 6-9pm EST. We have E-mail and an 800 #, 1-800-41 SAUNA (1-800-417-2862).

Someone is usually available most days of the week and if the person you talk to doesn't have your answer, we'll do our best to find it for you.


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Last modified: October 23, 2008