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why we don't build barrel saunas

Updated: Apr 14

In my many years of building saunas, I have had countless customers ask, "Do you build Barrel Saunas?" My answer is always a short no, but I am always holding back on the reasons I really dislike them. I don't generally like to talk bad about another style of work, but the misery I have witnessed over the years makes me feel obligated to share the dark side of barrel saunas just for pure educational purposes. I would first like to apologize in advance to the builders of these commodities, many don't actually know how these saunas just simply won't hold up over the years of west coast weather. Let's get right into it. Barrel saunas are not insulated, they have no waterproofing, or if they do, are nowhere near adequate for protection. There is no air or even vapour barrier to stop the transfer of moist air between the inside and outside of the structure. As a woodworker, I cringe at the fact of having a precious wood for a structure like cedar out in the open weather and elements to degrade. It is just wrong in my book for our west coast weather. We get a lot of rain here. Call me a wood snob, but I like to see all wood, even cedar, protected from the elements for years and years of enjoyment and beauty. The City hall building in our town, of Courtenay, finished the front of the building in Clear, stain grade cedar. I remember saying how that will not look good in a few year time. Was I ever right. It now appears a mostly black mold colour. Nothing a few, tens-of-thousands, of taxpayer dollars can't fix... Hopefully next time they save the stain grade for protected applications. The main reason I have come to dislike these saunas is that most of the owners I have met who has one of these saunas, had nothing good to say about them. A good product should come with some good reviews over the long-term. I had a customer approach me just yesterday wishing she had purchased a custom build, rather then the barrel sauna she bought last year. "So many problems" she said. From water damage, cold spots, drafts and it just looks worn out after a year of weathered use. On that note, I challenge anyone to the "Barrel Sauna Challenge". Find a barrel sauna in our west coast climate that still looks nice and is functioning well after 3 years of use. I'm not sure one of these beauties even exist, but I could be wrong. The thing that I feel the worst about, is the customers who are out the money for a sub-par product. Sellers of these saunas do not mention to the clients all the potential problems these units run into. Maybe they don't know, or just dont care...That's the worst part. Our client is now going to buy a new custom sauna, when she could have just bought one in the first place, and saved herself about 5 grand. The price of a custom sauna will always be a better financial choice for the long run, and not to mention, problem free. I want to apologize for "bashing" the barrel sauna makers out there, I mean no harm to you by this post. I think it would be admirable to warn the customer about potential problems of having one of these out in the weather over the years. People should have the right to know the investment could possibly tank after only a few short years of use. I guess a structure could be built over a barrel sauna, but then again, why not just avoid them in the first place? I'm not saying all location for barrel sauna are bad. There are plenty of warm climates with little to no rain that would be ok for these saunas, but our west-coast-rainy-climate weather is no exception. Another big concern is the amount of barrel saunas making the way here from China. Yes, chinese saunas are in abundance here now, shipped over direct for about 2 grand. I would imagine the quality is not very good for that price. The last thing to note is there is no warranty for a reason. Typically the manufacturers of these saunas will make it very clear that once it leaves their facility, they are off the hook for any problems. There is a very good reason for it... Buyer beware..

Why choose a custom sauna over a barrel sauna? Knowing the west coast climate and the importance of a proper building envelope, every sauna structure that is built here should last many many years. Custom saunas should be built like a house. The wall construction should contains all the important elements of any standard building. Proper siding, air barrier, vapor barrier, and insulation are essential for the functionality of the building, something barrel saunas simply cannot offer. The difference between hot and cold conditions allow the transfer of moist air through the wall if these elements are skipped in the building design. A barrel sauna would never pass building code standards. The building code was designed to protect your investment from potential problems and to stand up over years of weather and climate conditions. Just like a house, you want to ensure your sauna investment is protected and built properly for years of function, beauty and enjoyment. When we build houses in BC, they are built to Code under strict practises, and we feel saunas should be built no different.

Let us know your thoughts below? Do you have a barrel sauna? How is it holding up?

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