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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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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TBus Sauna in the paper

TBus and Andrea Curtis

TBus and Andrea Curtis

Read up in the Province about our latest mobile sauna, a co-production with Transformation Projects converting a 40′ long red bus into an awesome sauna-equipped lounge. You may recall this bus (pre-sauna) from our spring Spanish Banks mission in 2013.

Check out the TBus article in the Province newspaper.

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Burner Retirement

burner at the end

burner at the end

You might think it a bit odd to be writing a eulogy for a propane burner, but this burner was the heart and fire of our first sauna for over 13 years. Countless pounds of propane (4000 lbs?), many gallons of sweat, scores of people, by any measure this propane cast-iron crabpot cooker had a good run of it, heating up the sauna from Nelson to Victoria and many points in between. With it’s two-ring configuration, automatic peizo ignitor and easy to use gas valve, it set a high standard for reliability and ease of use that is still unsurpassed. We acquired it in December 2000 but of late there were too many cracks in the casting and the propane just wasn’t burning well anymore, and this recent sunday was it’s last sweat. The ignitor and injection valves were salvaged for use in a future project, and the burner has been temporarily replaced with a used cast burner from the local recycling center.

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Gabriola Sauna

Sauna Trailer Gabriola

Sauna Trailer Gabriola

Now that the days are lighter we had a chance to get a better photo of our sauna trailer on Gabriola Island. Sauna host Megan has done a lovely job clearing a little spot out of the forest by her cabin home which you can see in the background of this photo. You can also see the shower setup, stairs, decking, and string lights she’s set up in the sauna zone, where you can listen to hooting owls and frogsong as you steam into the night air. Megan also makes an awesome apple crumble.

This was the first sauna for the BCMSS, built in December 2000, and it continues to bring the heat on sunday nights sessions.

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BCMSS board meeting

It’s not all sweats n’ giggles around here, we have to get serious every so often. Feb 27 was our most recent BCMSS board meeting where we review our budget, expenses and upcoming plans with full attendance from the BoD: VP Adrian Sinclair, Heidi Nagtegaal, George Rahi and myself. Here’s a nice photo of the BoD happily concluding the meeting:
BCMSS BoD 2014
After the meeting we had a good sweat to test out the newest sauna in our fleet which we will probably call the tent sauna. We should probably do a post about that but for now here’s a photo of the benches:
Sauna benches

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Winter 2013-2014 Newsletter

Newsletter 2013/2014

Newsletter 2013/2014


This year’s BCMSS newsletter is ready, we’ll be emailing it out shortly. You can also download it here

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Sauna Truck on Shaw TV


Our friend Jen at Shaw TV just finished a video segment on the sauna Truck featuring Karlis Kalnins and Adrian Sinclair.

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NYD 2014

New Years Day sweat 2014

New Years Day sweat 2014

As per tradition we celebrated New Years Day with a sweat commemorating our 13th January 1 saunasession. Some of the crew posed for an after-sweat photo, you can tell there’s some steam involved.

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