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.

References:

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

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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?

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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BCMSS Newsletter winter 2014/2015

2014/15 winter newsletter cover

2014/15 winter newsletter cover

I just finished our yearly BCMSS Winter 2014/2015 Newsletter, download it while it’s hot. We’ll be sending out the link to our maillist. It has some edited versions of our recent blog posts and short editorial, all in a pretty pdf package.
Maybe just a photo of the cover is your interest.

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the Sweats of 2014

It’s been such a busy year it’s almost hard to remember all the great sauna sessions we’ve had.

Adrian gets a mic for a sauna video

Adrian gets a mic for a sauna video

We started the year with the Saunatruck in residence backing onto Falaise park near Rupert skytrain station in deep east Vancouver. Our enthusiastic hosts kept the sauna hot every Sunday, with special sessions like a steamy sledding night on the hill behind the house after an uncommonly large snowfall. In January our friend Jen came by for a visit to produce a video segment on the sauna society for Shaw TV.

sauna tent (2014)

sauna tent (2014)

2013 saw premature ends to two amazing sauna residencies, so we came up with a design that could solve some of the problems we’d been having with saunatruck access and bylaw issues. Our new tent sauna design could be set up in a carport, on a deck, or in a 10’x10′ popup, and it’s modular structure could be transported in a cargo van and set up in a few hours. Construction was started in George Rahi’s shop, and after a very cold month we had our first test sweat in February in time for our book launch event for our publication, “Mobile Saunas”. Karlis gave a small talk and presented a slideshow about the book and about various mobile saunas around the world. The book can be ordered online from Amazon and our website. George and Robyn have continued to host weekly sauna sessions from their studio/shop near commercial drive.

urban sauna oasis in strathcona

urban sauna oasis in strathcona

Meanwhile, we were introduced to Blake McAndless who had been hosting epic sauna-less sauna sessions in Strathcona (one block from our original location). Everything else was in place: a backyard campfire, urban oasis backyard, fenced in parking, acoustic jams, wood fired bathtub, and an amazing hosting talent. We moved the saunatruck behind his house, set up the shower, and since then he’s been hosting 2 sessions a week, on sundays and wednesdays. It’s amazing how this location combines the best elements of our last few years of residencies. Blake and his roommates are thoroughly enjoying the hosting experience, crafting their own tradition while at the same time the vibe will feel completely familiar to long time sauna regulars. Blake recently hosted a (hot) Boxing Day sweat and a New Years session to sweat in the new year and the BCMSS’s 14 year anniversary.

Sauna Trailer Gabriola

Sauna Trailer Gabriola

That original sauna is still heating up on Gabriola Island, where host Megan and the local crew enjoy sweats in the forest every Sunday. This year we replaced the cast iron burner which finally retired after burning through an estimated 4000 lbs of propane over the years. We’re happy to know the saunavan is still going strong.

Transformation Projects Bus Sauna

Transformation Projects Bus Sauna

As we were getting ready for the summer, BCMSS vice-president Adrian Sinclair and Andrea Curtis bought George Rahi’s old camperized schoolbus for their event production business, and the decided it would be great to turn 8′ of the 40′ bus into a sauna. We got to work on a horsefarm out in Tswwassen in May, and in June took the completed sauna with a crew of people up to Hollyhock on Cortes Island. The inaugural sweat was followed by a bunch of sauna missions during the rest of the year, including an installation at the dragonboat festival, an epic weekend at Basscoast in Merritt, an private 2-night event in Manning Park, another trip to Cortes, and a sweat on Burnaby mountain in support of the Enbridge pipeline protests. Transformation Projects continues to rent out their new bus and recently hosted an all-day sweat at Spanish Banks for the January 1 polar bear swim.

In June our enthusiastic Funkoree sauna crew built another “dirt sauna” this year. It’s a dome of canvas over cedar and willow branches erected on the banks of the Elaho river outside of Squamish. I’m always a little surprised how much people enjoy rolling around in the sand and jumping in the river after a long night of dancing under the stars. Even with our comfortable saunas in the city, the dirt sauna experience is a tradition many have come look forward to every year.

Indoor spa: 2 saunas and showers

Indoor spa: 2 saunas and showers

Our friend Ryan commissioned a custom sauna bus from us this fall. We first sweat with Ryan back in 2006, and have been bringing saunas to his summer staff events for the last few years. This year his winter staff afterparty featured his new bussauna next to a cozy spa zone in the company parking garage, and we set up the new sauna tent as well. The success of this 2-sauna indoor spa is inspiring us to work on new installation ideas for similar events next year.

With such an eventful and successful year, we’ve been planning lots of new projects and new missions, and we’re all very excited about the year to come.

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Transformation Projects Bus

Transformation Projects Bus Sauna

Transformation Projects Bus Sauna

Our friends at Transformation Projects recently purchased a 40′ long school bus to use as a production vehicle for their events company. 40′ is a lot of space, what are a bunch of sauna enthusiasts going to do with it all? Build a mobile sauna, of course!

The vehicle (1984 Thomas) was formerly owned by our own George Rahi, who camperized it with the help of some Danish friends and took it on a tour of the USA including stops in New Orleans and Burning Man in Nevada. The new owners Adrian Sinclair and Andrea Curtis renovated the interior while keeping the kitchenette, and decided 8′ of the rear of the bus would become their new sauna. The sauna area would also convert to seats with seatbelts when the bus is being used for transportation.

Transformation Projects Bus Exterior

Transformation Projects Bus Exterior

Adrian and Andrea moved the big red bus out to a horse farm in Tsawwassen where we set up shop for the conversion. By the end of April the old bunk beds were out and we started working on the new interior. The design features 2-tier, u-shaped benches for seating, and included the full-width bus windows on both sides of the sauna. The arched roof of the bus was also maintained and is one of the sauna’s most attractive features. Our welder Nathyn at Gropps’ studio put together the stove with exhaust manifold improvements from our previous stove design. With our rollout deadline approaching we managed to complete all the major work in time to bring the bus up to Hollyhock on Cortes Island for the SCI in early June 2014 with a dozen or so friends along for the ride.

The TP Saunabus interior includes a lounge and kitchenette

The TP Saunabus interior includes a lounge and kitchenette

The inaugural trip was a big learning experience for the owners, both for the bus and the sauna. Although there’s more detail work to be done, the issues were worked out and the bus continued to heat up events during the rest of the year, including a trip to Merritt for Basscoast in July, and more trips to Cortes and other gulf islands. The new bus was featured in a newspaper article syndicated across the country. The proud owners Adrian and Andrea are happy with the sauna and continue to use the bus for event production and mobile sauna rentals around BC.

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Tent Sauna

sauna tent (2014)

sauna tent (2014)


Our mobile sauna experiences in 2013 led us to the development of a new sauna design. The saunatruck was working well but we were having problems with Vancouver city bylaws relating to parking large vehicles. In residential areas we couldn’t legally park it on the street or on private property. In practice this meant our sauna residencies would end prematurely after several months. Add to this the constraint that there were some places a saunatruck simply can’t go, like back decks, car ports, garages and fenced in yards.
Sauna tent interior

Sauna tent interior

After several months of exploring design ideas, in January 2014 we set to work in George Rahi’s shop, and Nathyn welding up our stove design at the Gropps shop. By February we had a test sweat in time for the Mobile Saunas book launch.

Sauna tent framework

Sauna tent framework


We created a mobile sauna that could be set up anywhere. The design is modular and relatively lightweight, and with a 9.5’x7′ footprint it can be set up inside an inconspicuous 10’x10′ popup shelter. It’s definitely the roomiest sauna we have, and can accommodate 10-15 people easily. There’s a wooden framework for the structure and bench supports, and the 2-tier benches are full-width (24″) with backrests. The walls are heavyweight cotton canvas, covered as needed with quilted blankets for insulation and a polytarp outer shell. The whole structure dissasembles into 12 main wood modules (wall units and benches) plus additional equipment (stove, canvas, etc). The stove is the same design as our other stoves but with a lighter gauge steel for easier transport. The whole sauna can be disassembled in 1 hour and set up in 2 hours with 2 people, and it is transported with a cargo van, which we can rent as required.
George assembles the Sauna tent framework

George assembles the Sauna tent framework


We’ve done a mobile mission with this sauna, but most of the time it resides in the George’s bike shop/spa on a covered back deck near Commercial drive where it is used for weekly sauna sessions. We’re continuing to improve the design, but George already finds that this sauna has a “lightness” and functionality that compares favourably to other saunas he sweats in. Maybe it’s just that people tend to like their sauna the best, but by any measure the BCMSS tent sauna has been a huge success.

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Stove Solutions

We built 3 new sauna stoves this year and did some work on two original stoves, so we’ve been thinking a lot about stove design. Since we run our mobile saunas in the city where wood fires are prohibited, propane gas is our fuel of choice. It’s readily available, burns clean (no smoke in the neighbourhood), and a 20lb tank will last for about 12 hours of sauna time with no refuelling.

the first stove: saunavan, 2001

the first stove: saunavan, 2001

Our original stove design from 2000 was a steel box with an old driveshaft for a chimney, powered by a 50k btu 2-ring cast-iron banjo burner inside. We later added a stainless steel heat shield to soften the radiant heat the leg level and this essential feature considerably improved the feel of the sauna. The original burner finally rusted out completely this year, but we managed to find a used burner at the local recycling depot that’s smaller but sufficient to get the sauna as hot as we need.

the stove arrives (saunatruck, 2005)

the stove arrives (saunatruck, 2005)

Our next stove built in 2005 was built with some improvements. A exhaust manifold attempts to capture more heat energy before the fumes go out the chimney. The fire box has more flame “headroom” to allow for better combustion. The stove was also originally intended to be used with gas or wood fuel, but it’s only been used for gas. As with the first stove, the heat shield was also added later. This one was improvised with corrugated aluminum. It’s definitely better than no heat shield, but stainless steel (or even painted mild steel) would be safer in the event that someone accidentally touched the hot stove.

Vico gas stove in the surf sauna

Vico gas stove in the surf sauna

The only other similar gas stove on the market we’ve seen is the Vico Scandia Ultra Sauna heater (and used in the mobile Surf Sauna out in New Hampshire), and from what we’ve seen it’s a very nice stove. All stainless steel, 2 sizes, and automatic burner control options. It’s more expensive than we can afford, but we looked closely at their design as we began building our new stoves.

painting the stove body (TBus Sauna,2014)

painting the stove body (TBus Sauna,2014)


Our new stove designs have a similar size but incorporate a manifold before the chimney to keep as much heat inside the sauna as possible. The stoves are made with 1/8″ steel and painted with high-heat enamel. The stainless heat shield is wrapped around and attached with brackets to the stove body. A separate door/wall interface module can be built to accommodate different burners, vehicle bodies, and installation options. When installed the stove vents through the roof or wall through a 4″ stovepipe chimney. Additional steel flashing covers the walls around the stove and chimney. As in previous designs we use a 50kbtu high-pressure cast iron propane burner; the burner must be selected with a neck length appropriate to the size of the stove. These stoves still use manual controls for lighting and flame control that we can upgrade in the future to a more automated system.

RH Sauna Stove

RH Sauna Stove with burner, rocks not included

The design continues to evolve with each stove. The manifold is now easier to construct, and our most recent model incorporated a new mesh shield that can be filled with additional rocks (similar to the IKI sauna heaters) so the stove body is surrounded by rocks and has an amazing stone wall appearance. We also reduced the stove size to fit better in smaller mobile saunas. In a future post we’ll cover the stove design in more detail. If you’re interested in our stove design or would like to share your stove design experiences we’d like to hear from you.

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First look at Sh’Bang Sh’weat sauna trailer in Bellingham

Shbang Shweat under construction

Shbang Shweat under construction

Our friends at the Lookout Arts Quarry in Bellingham completed a new mobile sauna in time for their annual homegrown festival Sh’Bang this September. The sauna is constructed in an old horse trailer and uses an innovative woodburning stove design. We’re looking forward to a full review (and hopefully a sweat) soon.

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