Toronto Sauna Report

Sauna Obscura Toronto Island

Sauna Obscura Toronto Island

Our long-time sauna host and collaborator George was recently in Toronto and was fortunate to connect with a number of sauna-related projects going on back east.

I’m really pleased to hear about Heidi Lunabba’s Sauna Obscura project making an appearance on Toronto Island as part of the Nordic Bridges cultural program. Continuing the great tradition of using mobile saunas as a platform for artistic practice, Sauna Obscura turns the inside of a sauna (tent in this iteration) into a pinhole camera.

Sauna Obscura Toronto Island

Sauna Obscura Entrance

About Sauna Obscura, the tent edition

I’m also very interested to hear more about Othership, a new bathhouse in Toronto that really seems to understand that the key element of sauna bathing and sauna wellness (at least from our perspective) is transformative social connection.

George also mentioned a sauna festival in Toronto coming up next year in 2023. We’re waiting for more information, and hopefully we’ll be able to attend some virtual sessions. There’s a lot to talk about at the moment regarding sauna culture. I was today reading an article about European energy shortages leading to residents being officially told to cut back on saunas. Of course we know the real response to energy shortages is to sauna with more people, and move away from the (relatively) recent personal bathing trends like daily solitary hot showers and return to traditional community bathing practices. There’s a lot we can do to restore and reinvent community bathing facilities that have recently been eclipsed by architecture that favours solitary bathing as it leans us toward isolation in all aspects of our lives. We know social bathing is an excellent way to restore the community bonds and the feelings of connection that go along with them. Here in Canada and elsewhere there’s a wealth of cultural traditions around sweat bathing and sauna-like practices that we practice, honour, learn from and explore. There’s also a lot of new ideas in sauna practices that we can incorporate into our bathing routines, including technology, design and artistic perspectives, as well as other complimentary and synergistic wellness practices. I think there’s also a lot of opportunities to explore saunas powered with alternative energy sources, whether that includes geothermal, ground source heat pumps, waste heat reclamation, solar, or other technologies. Here in Canada we’ve also got a lot to learn about how to integrate sauna practice into the design of our cities and neighbourhoods, in a way that is supported by and supports the kind of communities we want to live in. I’m hoping we’ll get a chance to dig into these ideas a little more in the months ahead.

Thanks again to George for his Toronto sauna reconaissance, we’re looking forward to hearing more.

Posted in Saunasessions | Comments Off on Toronto Sauna Report

A New Year of Saunas

Our first saunasession by Sasamat Lake on January 1 2001.

It was 20 years ago today that we fired up our first mobile sauna at the Intention gathering in 2001. As I recall, that festival was created in response to millenarian anxieties about the world ending for various reasons. The idea was that by setting positive intentions we would bring about positive outcomes for our community of friends and relations. As it turned out, we had a lot of great saunas, many fun adventures, and made a lot of friends. Now, during our 20th year of hosting sauna sessions, we didn’t really have many saunas at all.

Should we be disappointed or optimistic about the state of our sauna community practice this year? As we became aware of the pandemic, we thought it prudent to suspend our weekly sessions. I don’t have a sauna at my residence, and the community center where I also use the sauna sometimes has been closed as well. In fact I think I’ve only had a handful of saunas this year. We had a few “virtual sauna sessions”, essentially a bathtub video conference as an experiment, but in general it’s been many months without our usual sauna community. Nonetheless, I think it’s been a good year for saunas. A lot of people in our circle either completed or started new sauna builds this year. A few of our friends who have property outside the city have managed to build their own, and there’s a few new mobile saunas that came online this year. For city dwellers, I’ve never been a big fan of personal-size saunas, but they’ve definitely been proven useful lately in these days of isolation, and we know several people that have installed their own. That’s all just people we know, not to mention the untold numbers of new saunas built and used around the world. And of course, while our we haven’t been hosting the community gatherings we’re used to, our saunas are still being used by the households that maintain them, even as we write this, including the red Saunabus, the Bussauna, Saunalab, the Shop Sauna and others.

A lot has changed around here in the past 20 years. Our lives have transitioned online in new ways. Around Vancouver at least, it’s become a lot more difficult to find the space to park and use a mobile sauna. Old friends have new responsibilities, and we’re all dealing new new issues and new concerns. However sauna culture (and other social bathing customs) has been around for ages because the reasons for that culture continue to be relevant: health, wellness, spirit and community. This December 17, Finland inscribed sauna culture on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. And as we’ve done for two decades now, we’ll continue to sweat together in the years ahead.

Posted in Saunasessions | Comments Off on A New Year of Saunas

Virtual Saunasessions

Now that everyone’s adjusted to self-isolation and getting into virtual hangouts, and fine time for us to have some virtual sauna sessions.

We investigated some virtual sauna session ideas before, notably Lev Manovich’s IRC sauna chats in 1997, and experiments in multimedia virtual sauna linking by Tapio Makela and David Rockeby at Banff in the early 2000s. I don’t recall that anyone ever imagined this would be a practice of necessity to maintain our social bathing practices and interpersonal bonding during a pandemic, but here we are.

Most if not all of our crew has no access to a sauna on their own. Of course, it’s not the sauna that matters so much as the connection. We’re going to try a group hot candlelight bath on Zoom this sunday. Hopefully the bathroom environment doesn’t pose a problem for anyone’s gear, certainly there will be room for improvements. I’d love to see a video chat app with a remote heat-tolerant,waterproof camera/microphone that also shows your ambient temperature and humidity to the others in the chat. Maybe add some David Rockeby-style visual privacy filters (sadly I’m not about to turn tech-CEO to make that happen).

Big thanks to Rielle and Amy for organizing this new chapter of sauna sessions. We’ll see how it goes this Sunday and report back.

Posted in Saunasessions | Comments Off on Virtual Saunasessions

COVID19 Sauna Distancing

We’re into our second week of no sauna sessions at BCMSS. Hopefully you’re not coming here for your COVID19 news and information. Of course we’ve been missing our saunas and thinking about what social distancing means for social sauna bathers, so that’s what this post is all about. I’m not a doctor or a health professional, so take what I’ve written here in the context of information from your health authorities.

About 2 weeks ago internationally recognized epidemiologist Michael Osterholm was interviewed on the Joe Rogan show #1439
where they discussed saunas in the context of coronavirus. Thanks to Joe for being a big sauna fan and making a point of asking these questions for us. Michael is also a big sauna fan from Minnesota so he is well positioned to give some insight based on his expertise.

Saunas are not going to cure you of COVID19. The heat will not go into your lungs and kill viruses there. Going into a small room or sauna with a group of people will greatly increase the chances of transmitting the virus among those people. So we have to think about how we are using saunas and make some changes. Saunas are good for your general health and wellbeing, so I think it’s a good idea to determine if and how we can maintain the use of saunas during this time.

I’m not usually a fan of small personal saunas, but if you have one, keep using it for yourself and potentially with the housemates you are isolated with. If you’re already sleeping, eating, and cuddling with someone, taking a sauna with them is not going to introduce any new transmission opportunities.

The second case we can consider is a shared or community sauna. We still want to avoid using a sauna concurrently with others to avoid infection. Can a group of people use the same sauna at different times and avoid the risk of transmission? Let’s look at how long the virus can remain active in the air and on surfaces, and under what conditions.

“With good soap cleaning, the coronavirus can be destroyed. The virus also degrades, for example, in alcohol-based solutions. Even the sauna is useful, at these temperatures these viruses probably won’t live anymore” said Marjomäki.

Looking at other coronaviruses, high temperature Coronaviruses (MERS-CoV) died when under environmental circumstances of 56 degrees Celsius (132 degrees F) for 25 minutes. Increasing the temperature to 65 degrees Celsius (149 degrees F) was even better and only one minute was needed to kill viruses.

The study suggests that people may acquire the coronavirus through the air and after touching contaminated objects. Scientists discovered the virus is detectable for up to three hours in aerosols, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.


Finally we also know that UV light is used by hospitals and businesses to disinfect pathogens on equipment, in the air and on surfaces. UV-light products have seem increased sales, but it’s unclear what intensity of UV light, what wavelengths, and what durations are required.

Taken together, we can start with some community sauna guidelines.
If you have a public sauna like a recreation centre or spa, these should be closed for now. If you have a sauna in your local community, your building, or a backyard sauna, I think these can still be used in a limited fashion. Only sauna with your self-isolation or quarantine group, like your spouse, partner, family members or housemates that are socially isolating with you. You can then share a sauna with other groups on different days, allowing enough time between each group for any coronavirus present to become inactive.

This part gets a little tricky. I’ve seen reports saying it takes as little as 24 hours or up to 4 days for the virus to become inactive on different surfaces. Time estimates depend on your source, and I suspect this will be updated as more studies become available. Just today I read a new publication claiming the virus lived for up to 17 days in some areas on infected cruise ships. The good news for us, it seems to be reported that the shorter times of 24 hours are for porous surfaces (like cardboard or in our case, cedar benches).

I think we could reasonably share a sauna between two groups. The time span between sessions would depend on the source your find most credible. If it’s 7 days, you could alternate every other week, or even as frequently as one group every 4 days. With the cruise ship finding, it would be 2 groups per month. Better than none at all.

We can also use the vulnerability of virus to sauna temperatures, and run the sauna hot before we use it to help kill any viruses present. I don’t think these temperatures will be high enough if you’re a fan of mild heat or infrared saunas. It might be a good idea to use a sauna thermometer if you don’t already have one. You could add additional measures between uses with alcohol wipe-downs, washing surfaces with soap, and UV light treatments.

We’ll keep our eye out for more sauna-specific information. I’m still unclear on how long the virus can survive on various surfaces under what conditions, this article was informative but unclear as to whether it’s definitive.

If you’re not using your sauna and home-bound in isolation, it’s good time to do some sauna maintenance, or a chance to do some upgrades. Refurbishing your benches, adding new accent lighting, carving artistic details are some activities that you can do while we wait this out. I’m considering building a temporary tiny sauna from materials in the shop to last us the duration of this pandemic.

Based on the vulnerability of coronavirus to high temperatures, it might even be a consideration to use your sauna to disinfect items, although we have no reports to suggest this as a useful practice, and I wouldn’t be cooking my various clothes items if I’m sharing a sauna with another group.

So by all means if you have a personal sauna for use by your household, use it. While a sauna probably won’t help you if you have coronavirus, I think we should keep using our saunas for general health and psychological well-being. Based on the ideas discussed above, I don’t think a shared sauna is incompatible with social distancing, provided the sharing is limited and follows specific guidelines based on what we know about the virus.

Be well.

Posted in Saunasessions | Comments Off on COVID19 Sauna Distancing

Sauna Residencies 2001-2019

Sauna Residencies 2001-2019

Since 2001 we’ve been fortunate to have some amazing hosted residencies for our ongoing social practice of regular weekly sauna sessions around East Vancouver. Some of these were long-term installations that lasted for several years, some were only for a partial season. Here’s a (probably incomplete) list. Dates are approximate. This map doesn’t include festivals, rentals and events, or residencies outside Vancouver; hopefully we’ll see what that map looks like in a future post. Did I forget any? Let me know.

Sauna House: (815 East Georgia Street) Hosted by residents, including Karlis, Darren and Trish. 2001-2003

West Belt House: (1488 East Broadway) Hosted by Rambles and Prawns. 2003-2005

Pandora Benevolent Society: (2054 Pandora Street) Hosted by residents, including Karlis, Darren, Trish and Luke. 2003-2007

121 Heatley. Hosted by Karlis, Adrian, Geri. 2010

(Kamloops & East Georgia Street) Hosted by Karlis and Trish. 2007-2012

1610 Gravely: Hosted by Fiona. 2012

Gropp’s Gallery: (144 East 6th Ave) Hosted by George, Jen, Foss 2013

Hammock Residency: (Victoria & Gravely Street) Hosted by Adrian and Heidi. 2013-2014

Red Gate: (859 East Hastings) Hosted by Adrian. 2014

(3263 Matapan Crescent) Hosted by Desiree & Yossi 2015

891 East Pender Street: Hosted by Blake and Lisa. 2014-2017

George’s Shop: (Woodland & Venables Street) Hosted by George and Robyn 2014-2016

(2981 McGill Street) Hosted by Negin. 2017

Strathcona Park (857 Malkin Avenue): Hosted by Arielle. 2017

Crystal’s: (22nd & Victoria Drive) Hosted by Carly and Crystal. 2017-2018

(5th & Nanaimo Street) Hosted by Shredder & Adam. 2018-2019

19th & Gladstone St: Hosted by Kari. 2019

Posted in Saunasessions | Comments Off on Sauna Residencies 2001-2019

Sauna Season 2019

There’s lots of sauna activity going on this season.

SaunaLab: formerly the SaunaTruck, in 2018 we liberated the box from the truck. The box is now transported by crane truck when it’s time for a new residency, which is ultimately less expensive than maintaining the old Hino truck and allows us to focus on sauna upgrades rather than truck repair. This sauna is in a new location in the Trout Lake area (Dec 2019) and will be hosting regular sessions.

SaunaBus: 2018/2019 was a tough year for the SaunaBus. On-street parking in Vancouver led to repeated break-ins and vandalizations. This was followed by a complete engine failure. Currently the SaunaBus is indefinitely retired to a safe off-street location in Burnaby. The sauna is used occasionally by property residents.

SaunaTent: currently in storage in East Van, waiting for a new residency.

PentaSaunaGon (AKA George’s 5-Sided Sauna): One of our directors recently acquired a new sauna, set up in the former studio workshop location of the SaunaTent. It’s an interesting pre-fabricated modular sauna made by a (now defunct) company in Windlaw BC called EuroSauna, and it’s our first electric-heater sauna. We just completed the shower unit and had some test sweats, and we’re now planning some lighting upgrades.

We currently don’t have any easily-mobile saunas available for events or rentals. There are fortunately several other mobile saunas available for rent in Vancouver. In fact in the last few years there’s been lots of new sauna options added to the Vancouver area, including Scandinave, Art of Sauna, and renovations to the Hastings Steam and Sauna. We’re looking forward to visiting the Lost Faucet in Courtney BC. There’s also lots of new mobile saunas around, like the AnglerFish Sauna in Washington, AlpenGlow in Victoria, SaunaStoke in Revelstoke, and theFinnishSaunaBC here in Vancouver.

You may have seen a big media splash recently when a video produced by our friend Bryce and the CBC about our SaunaBus trip to Harrison Mills was reposted on lots of websites:
CBC, VancouverIsAwesome, Best In Sauna, Megaphone, New West Record

You can see the video “Sweat Together” here:

Posted in Saunasessions | Comments Off on Sauna Season 2019

Pierre Trudeau and the Long Sauna

Trudeau describes his long sauna of February 28 1984

Trudeau describes his long sauna of February 28 1984

February 28, 1984: The Long Sauna

On February 29 1984, Pierre Trudeau, who had been Prime Minister of Canada since 1968 and for the better part of 16 years, announced his retirement. As the media and public asked questions about the events leading up to his announcement, Trudeau described the previous day and the process leading to his decision:

“I went to judo, with my boys. A very good judo lesson, because nobody was there because of the storm, so we had the teachers all to ourselves. And I went home, discussed with the boys, put them to bed, and walked till midnight in the storm. Ah, interesting, eh? And then I went home and took a sauna, for even an hour and a half. I was all clear I was going to leave. But I went to sleep, just in case I’d change my mind overnight, and I didn’t, I woke up, it was great. To use the old cliche, this is the first day of the rest of my life, and here we are.”

(watch Trudeau describe his long sauna)

The 24 Sussex Sauna

The pool and sauna at 24 Sussex Drive, designed by Stig Harvor and Pierre Trudeau

The pool and sauna at 24 Sussex Drive, designed by Stig Harvor and Pierre Trudeau

Stig Harvor, Architect (ret)

Stig Harvor, Architect (ret)

Any regular sauna user will notice here that a 90 minute sauna is no casual session. As it turns out, Trudeau was no casual sauna user. Years earlier in 1975 he had set his mind to constructing a poolhouse at the Prime Minister’s official residence, 24 Sussex Drive. To avoid spending taxpayer money on the project and avoid public criticism about Liberal Party public spending, Trudeau raised $200,000 for the project ($844,000 in 2015 dollars) through private donations. Architect Stig Harvor was selected to design the building.  Harvor, who was working for the federal public works, had originally immigrated to Canada in 1945 when he was 16, arriving with his Norwegian family from Finland. Harvor developed a modernist Scandinavian design with a long skylight and an all-cedar interior, and Trudeau himself specified the details for the sauna. Currently long-overdue renovations are being discussed for the house at 24 Sussex, and Harvor is curious about how the poolhouse has weathered over 40 years. And despite his design credentials, he still hasn’t had a chance to try out the sauna.

Ottawa developer Bill Teron was there for the inaugural sweat and he recalls Trudeau encouraging guests to jump in the snow before returning to the hot sauna. Teron had this interesting perspective about the sauna at 24 Sussex: “It was well known that Pierre Trudeau, who like other busy public people, was very conscious of his role as father with his children and his family life. He apparently went home at 6 PM every possible day to be with them. The swimming pool and sauna became an important centre of their family life. Many people wonder where did Justin obtain his insights and values about life, and how much of this did Justin learn from his father. As you know, much time in the sauna is spent chatting about life. Can you imagine the years and thousands of hours that Justine spent with his father and family, chatting about human and social values? Pierre Trudeau used the sauna to ‘transfer’ his prime ministerial knowledge and social values to a next generation Prime Minister, his son Justin Trudeau.”

Canada Sauna Day

So in 1984, the Prime Minister who institutionalized multiculturalism in Canada who spoke of his last day in office working on Aboriginal rights, followed by a Japanese martial art workout, a walk in the snow and a Finnish sweat bath. Had any previous Prime Minister spoken so casually about a daily agenda spanning culture from three continents? I wonder if his description of this day was an intentional ode to multiculturalism, or just a typical day. Significantly to the Canadian imagination, the lead up to his resignation became known as “the Long Walk in the Snow”, rather than “the Judo Lesson” or “the Long Sweat”.

In commemoration of this interesting event in Canadian history, we’d like to invite you to join us this February 28 to enjoy Canada Sauna Day. Sweat bath culture unites many different people in Canada and around the world. Whether it’s a visit to a First Nations sweatlodge, a Japanese mushiburo, Russian banya, Korean hanjeungmak, Turkish hammam, or even  a simple hot bath or another sweat bathing tradition, February 28 is an opportunity for all Canadians to have a long sweat, reflect on our life path and perhaps make a big life decision we’ve been mulling over, much like Pierre Trudeau did those many years ago.

Watch Trudeau describe his long sauna:

24 Sussex and Poolhouse (at right). The poolhouse is connected to the main house via an underground walkway.

24 Sussex and Poolhouse (at right). The poolhouse is connected to the main house via an underground walkway.

Members of the press inspect Prime Minister Trudeau’s 20x40 foot pool at 24 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ont., July 11, 1975. (Chuck Mitchell/CP). In this photo you can see the pool skylight, and in the rear corner are the stairs leading to the underground walkway.

Members of the press inspect Prime Minister Trudeau’s 20×40 foot pool at 24 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ont., July 11, 1975. (Chuck Mitchell/CP). In this photo you can see the pool skylight, and in the rear corner are the stairs leading to the underground walkway.


CBC Archives: Pierre Trudeau announces his retirement (1984)

The Ottawa Sun: The Legend of the 24 Sussex Pool

Globe and Mail: What to do with the dilapatated pool at 24 Sussex

Bill Teron, personal correspondence, 26 Feb 2016

Stig Harvor, telephone conversation, 25 Feb 2016

Posted in Saunasessions | Comments Off on Pierre Trudeau and the Long Sauna

Your Sweaty Dollars

Sauna Eggs Sauna Eggs[/caption]

When you come and sweat at one of our events, we ask that you make a $5-$10 contribution to the Society. What do we do with that money?

Sauna Fuel. The first contribution goes toward the propane to heat up the sauna for the night. The amount of gas and the fuel cost fluctuates a bit based on how long the session is and how seasonally cold it is, but a $10 cost is average for a session.

Hosting Expenses. Our gracious sauna hosts often have small costs to take care of to make regular sweats possible. This might include things like shower hose or extension cord replacement, backyard lighting, or new gate hinges. Each new location needs a little bit of work to make hosting weekly sessions possible, as well as regular upkeep to ensure it keeps going smoothly, and we’d like to budget $4 per session.

Sauna and stove maintenance and replacement costs. Our saunas see a lot of use with weekly or sometimes multiple weekly sessions, and attendance ranges from 8 to 40 people or even more in a single evening. For this reason the sauna and sauna stove requires maintenance. Over time, they will require full rebuilds or replacement. This includes the sauna burners, propane tanks, sauna doors, benches, lighting, batteries, electrical equipment, the roof, locks and other hardware. Based on our experience, we estimate that each sauna will require a rebuild every decade in addition to regular maintenance, which comes out to about $15 per session.

Vehicle maintenance, insurance and replacement. Thanks to our gracious hosts, we don’t pay rent for our mobile saunas, but we do have to maintain our vehicles to ensure they to stay roadworthy. They also need insurance to be on the road, and there are fuel or towing costs every time they move to a new location. If we don’t have the funding for this maintenance, the harder it becomes to get them back on the road, and eventually the vehicle requires total replacement. Based on monthly insurance costs and a 10-year (used) vehicle cycle, this works out to $50 per session.

Sauna Donations

Sauna Donations

The following costs are divided between the multiple saunas the BCMSS operates.

Society expenses. The BCMSS doesn’t have a large overhead for a non-profit society, but there are some costs to maintaining the society which include registration fees, printing, office supplies, website renewal, insurance and bookkeeping. $4 per session.

New Projects. The goals of the Society include promoting and supporting mobile sauna culture. We would like to be able to build new mobile saunas, or help people building new mobile saunas with grants and other support. We built one sauna in 2014 funded by community support, and we’d like to do this every year with surplus from contributions made by the people who will benefit the most. $14 a week would allow us to create new sauna experiences and grow our community.

Volunteer Support. Most of the work on our community saunas is done by volunteers. If our budget allowed it, we would like to be able to reward our members for their hard work, and hire them to develop and support the goals of the society. We would like to at least have a yearly dinner to say thanks to those who put in so much time to make our community sweats a reality, and we could do this for $2 more a week.

The Real Cost of a Session. When these weekly costs are added together, we realize a weekly community sauna session costs $99. On average our saunas see 10 people in a week, sometimes many more. If each of these people were to contribute $10 each, we would easily reach our funding goals.

If our weekly contributions are not enough to match our budget, we have to seek out individual donors, hold fundraising events and seek out corporate opportunities in order to make up the budget shortfall. Even with these efforts we often can’t afford to fully maintain our equipment  and are forced to reduce our operations.

So next time you enjoy a sweat, think about how much you enjoyed your experience and how much you’d like it to continue. Please make a generous donation to the Society every time you enjoy a sweat, and encourage other to do so. For our supporters, you can donate online. Visit our community page to sign up for automatic monthly contributions online through our paypal account.

Thanks for your support!

Where do the Sweaty Dollars go?

Where do the Sweaty Dollars go?

Posted in Saunasessions | Comments Off on Your Sweaty Dollars

Solar Sauna

Seismograph solar powered sauna design

Seismograph solar powered sauna design

I recently had a conversation about using photovoltaic solar arrays to power an electric sauna heater. Our sauna enthusiast friend had an old electric sauna heater they picked up for free, and was thinking about building a solar array to power it in a sauna they planned to build in a small trailer. We did some quick calculations to see how feasible it would be, and I thought I would share them here if anyone else was thinking about the idea.

The trailer is about 6’x10′, 6′ high. If you make the whole thing a sauna that’s a pretty respectable size for a small group of people, say 4-12 people. Your sauna volume will be about 360 cubic feet, or about 10 cubic meters. A general rule for small electric saunas is 1kW per cubic meter, but you can use a range from .6kW-1.2kW per cubic meter. If we went on the low end of that range (longer heat-up times) we could get by with a 6kW heater, but we’ll want about a 10kW heater for this project.

We like to use our sauna once a week for about a 3-hour session, and we invite our friends over and have a nice social sweat. You might use yours differently, like having more sessions per week that are shorter. Powering a 10kW heater for 3 hours a week is 30kWh per week, which is how much solar power we’ll have to collect and store to power this sauna. Since we have 7 days to collect our power, so we’ll have to get on-average 4.3kWh per day.



Vancouver area solar potential

We live in Vancouver BC, 49′ North latitude. It’s quite cloudy and rainy in the winter and our days are quite short, and that’s when I want to sauna the most. Unfortunately, it’s not the best place for solar power during the cold season. If we want to sauna in December, our darkest month, the system will be overpowered the rest of the year, but we can use that extra power to sauna more often than once per week. The monthly kWh/kW potential in Vancouver ranges from 30 in December to 110 in summer, according to this photovoltaic mapper from Resources Canada, or from about 1kWh (December) to 4kWh per day. So to get our 4.3kWh/day, we’ll need solar panels rated at 4300W, which will cover about 270 square feet or 25 square meters. If we’re paying about $1/watt for the panels, the cost will be about $4300 for the panels.

We’ll also need to store that power until we use it for our sauna session, so a battery bank that can store 30kWh  is required. This works out to around 6000 amp-hours (at 12volts) when providing for a 50% battery discharge so we don’t shorten the battery life too much. A quick check with my battery distributor tells me for deep cycle batteries I should be prepared to pay at least $3.80 per amp-hour, so I think that’s more than $23,000 in batteries. That battery bank also weighs over 1600kg (3500 lbs).

In addition to the panels and batteries, we’ll need to get a power inverter to convert the 12volt power the battery bank provides to the 220volt AC power the sauna heater requires. You will also need a charge controller for your solar panels, and cables to hook up the batteries. If you want this system to be mobile, you will probably want another trailer for the panels and batteries, because it won’t fit on or in your sauna trailer.

Let’s suppose that your cables and power equipment costs around 10% of the rest of the system (just a guess here), then you should be able to take advantage of that free electric sauna heater and build a solar power system like this for your weekly saunas for around $30,000.

I’m not an expert at solar power generation. Have you worked out your own numbers? We’d love to see what you came up with! There’s more than one way to do it.

If you only use your sauna in the sunnier months, you could cut the size of the solar array, battery bank and cost by 50% or more. This might work for a summer cottage.

If you are happy with “infrared sauna” heaters, the infrared heat lamps only heat the room to a low temperature (around 50C/120F) and thus require less power. For this project, one company recommends  6.6kW of heater elements compared to our 10kW system, so you could cut your power use and thus cost by about 33%.

Recently the electric car company Tesla announced a battery module (probably lithium-ion) for home use that can store 10kWh for $3500, although the devices have not yet been produced or evaluated. If the price is correct, for our system described here, we would need 3 of these units, for a cost of $10,500 for our 30kWh system (vs $23,000 for our lead-acid batteries). Lithium-ion batteries have a much shorter life, and need replacement more frequently, about every 5 years.

Munda Ecoturismo solar sauna

Munda Ecoturismo solar sauna

Instead of storing the solar power in batteries, it could be possible to use the heat of the sun directly. I’m not sure if this could work in our region, but it might be possible somewhere. You could use a greenhouse effect, storing the solar energy in a glass-faced sauna. You could also use reflectors, thermal mass and other techniques to concentrate the solar heat for storage and release. There’s a few photos and stories available if you search for solar saunas, for example Solar Exergy, and Munda Ecoturismo. Some of these resemble a half-cedar, half-glass gazebo. I’m not sure how well these worked, or how hot they get. They probably can’t be used in the winter or maintain heat after sunset, but they would be excellent for enjoying the warmth of the sun in regions where there’s cold air but lots of sunlight. They might be useful as a hybrid system, with solar energy to warm up the sauna during the day, and a traditional heater to keep it hot in the evening. I’d love to hear more about them.

Another way of storing solar energy is in biomass, like wood, or vegetable oil, to release it through combustion. We’ve looked at the numbers for vegetable-oil sauna stoves before. If I recall correctly, we needed to harvest at least an acre of an oil crop (like soybeans) to provide for one weekly sauna session per week for a year.

We’re quite happy at the moment with our propane sauna heaters. The stoves cost from $500-$2000, depending on how fancy the controls are, and we use about $10 in propane per session. The propane is widely available where we are and is easy to use. Of course, we need the propane delivery infrastructure, which might not be ideal if you are trying to live “off-grid”. For “off-grid” sauna heat, it’s hard to beat a good old wood stove.

I’m not an expert at solar power generation. Have you worked out your own numbers? We’d love to see what you came up with! There’s more than one way to do it.

Posted in Saunasessions | Comments Off on Solar Sauna

Saunas vs Showers: sustainable bathing throwdown

A 10-minute shower, at 5 gallons per minute, will use around 22,000 btu of energy (about 6 kilowatts) for the hot water. If you’re using a low-flow showerhead you might reduce that to 2.5 gallons per minute using 11,000 btu (3 kilowatts). After the shower you’ll have cleaned up the surface of your skin, but I find even a 10 minute shower doesn’t get me that warmed up and I start to feel cold as soon as I get out of the water. You can have two or more people shower together and save on hot water, but except in sexy movie scenes, most people shower alone most of the time.

A typical sauna session for us will last about 4 hours and use 200,000 btu of propane. During and after a sweat we’ll have cold showers. Typically we can sweat up 10 or more people in an hour so in those 4 hours we can get 40 people cleaned up. That works out to about 5000 btu per person (about 1.5 kilowatts). It’s a nice deep clean from the inside out, and since the sauna builds up your internal heat, even with a post sauna cold shower you will be hot and likely still sweating for 10 minutes to an hour after you finish the sauna.

Now if you are one of those people who goes home and has a long hot shower after a long hot sauna you’re throwing off this whole calculation. Our numbers show you can get deep clean by having a sweat with 10 of your friends and feel toasty and relaxed for 1-2 hours for the low cost of 5000 btu per person, or lightly rinse your skin in 10 minute hot shower, all alone, while burning 20,000 btu. Saunas use one quarter of the energy of that personal shower while rewarding you socially, cleaning you better, relaxing you deeper and it’s way more fun.

Depending on where you shower, and what kind of sauna you have, the energy you use might come from wood, coal or gas, or maybe from hydroelectric or nuclear power. Your choice: pollute the air, destroy the ground, disrupt ecosystems, destabilize countries. Regardless of the source, more energy use is inherently more destructive and ultimately releases more pollutants into the atmosphere. Make the efficient choice and sauna with your friends. For your health. For your community. For national security. For humanity. For the planet.

This dilemma I’ve presented is admittedly reductionistic; you do have more choices. A 5-minute shower with a low-flow shower head will equalize the shower side of the equation; better yet the same 5-minute shower with a friend and you’re winning the green ribbon. But who wants to spend 5 minutes trading places under a warm sprinkle in a cold room, when you could be relaxing on a hot bench in good company? We think the choice is clear.

Posted in Saunasessions | Comments Off on Saunas vs Showers: sustainable bathing throwdown