Choosing The Best Sauna Heater

The sauna heater is the most important element of your sauna and the type and quality of heater you choose will affect the quality of your experience more than any thing else.  So shouldn’t you spend some time, know your options, and choose the best sauna heater?

Heat in a sauna is meant to open your pores and make you sweat.  Yet all heaters do not provide the same heat in the same way.  There are 2 main types of sauna heaters – the traditional heater with rocks and newer infrared heaters.

Both these are electrical though originally a wood sauna heater was used to provide the heat.  Many sauna enthusiasts claim the only real sauna experience comes from the rock style heaters.  Infrared sauna heat does serve those looking for a dry, less intense heat.

Traditional Rock Heaters

Traditional heaters use electricity, oil, gas, or wood.  Where a wood sauna heater was the traditional norm, electric sauna heaters offer a convenient alternative.  Heaters are usually have steel enclosures and mount to the wall of the sauna or are set in the floor.

In the United States, the maximum temperature allowed by electric heaters is 194 Fahrenheit (90 degrees Celsius) based on UL code.  In Canada, the temperature limit is the same and is outlined in CSA rules.  Europe allows for higher temperatures.

When these heaters are turned on, the heat up a bed of sauna rocks which warms the sauna by convection.  Electric heated rock units take about 30 to 45 minutes to heat up.  Typically, the temperature range is 140° to 190° F (60 to 88° Celsius).  These heaters have a covering or fence to protect sauna bathers.

Heaters with a stainless steel enclosure may perform better than painted units, because of the potential for rust.  Place the unit as centrally as possible to evenly distribute heat – See How To Build A Sauna for more tips.  Wall mounting is preferred in residential units since it allows for more floor space.

Residential electric home sauna heaters will only run for 1 hour before turning themselves off.  Electric heaters usually operate on 220-volt electric service.  Some smaller units may use 110-volt.  The higher voltage units will dramatically shorten heating times.

Newer models of heaters use insulating technology that lessens your wait time.  When not in use, these heaters will maintain heat using about the same amount of energy as a few lightbulbs.  They may cost more, but the convenience is worth it.

Main Benefit of Traditional Sauna Heaters

Traditional rock heaters allow you to customize your sauna experience.  You can maintain a very hot, dry environment or add varying amounts of water to generate steam and reduce the intensity of the heat.  See Sauna vs. Steam Room for details.

Infrared Heaters

Developed in the 1970s, infra-red heaters offer an alternative to traditional rock heaters.  Technically, an infrared heater is not a true sauna heater.  It does not use convection to warm, rather it warms surfaces that it is pointing at.  It does not heat the air and cannot offer the respiratory benefits of traditional sauna heat.

Infrared sauna heaters produce a lower temperature, dry heat.  They use a zirconium tube energy source that usually increases temperature to 110° to 150° F (43 to 66° Celsius).  These infrared home sauna heaters do not produce steam, leaving a major disadvantage compared to a traditional sauna experience.  See how to choose the best sauna.

Sauna Controls

Residential heaters in both the United States and Canada, are required to have a 1-hour maximum timer along with a thermostat for temperature control. Commercial saunas can run longer than the 1 hour residential limit, but require an attendant on the premises to check bathers.

Sauna controls are sometimes found directly mounted on the residential electric heaters.  It’s a convenience and cost saving measure but it may lead to other issues because of exposure to heat and moisture.  Controls are better suited to being mounted outside the sauna to the side of the door.  They should operate more effectively and will be easier to read too.

Sauna Heater Fence

Sauna heater fences or guards are a personal safety requirement for all sauna heaters.  When buying a replacement heater, make sure it fits within your existing heater guard.  See Sauna Parts for fences and other replacements.

Heater sizing

A quick rule of thumb for determining the right size electric heater (in an 84″ high sauna) is to divide the cubic feet of your sauna (for example, 5′ x 7′ x 7′ = 24 cubic feet) by 50 to get the appropriate size of a 220 volt heater in kilowatts (Kw).  In our example, 245 divided by 50 is about 5 Kw.  In other words, you need about 1 Kw for each 50 cubic feet of space to heat.

Small electric sauna heaters (110 volt) are designed for 1 or 2 person saunas.  Saunas larger than that require 220 volt heaters.  Electric sauna heaters range in size from 2 Kilowatts to 18 Kilowatts.

Wood burning sauna stoves are natural and traditional sauna heaters.  They are a lot more work to tend and maintain and they require up to 1 1/2 hours to heat up – compared to 30 minutes for an electric heater.

You can also choose a gas sauna heater, though they are expensive to install.  Gas heaters require gas lines for natural gas or propane along with propane tanks to be installed outside the sauna.  You will also need to vent the exhaust through a chimney.  Gas sauna heaters are sized in BTUs with 1,000 BTUs needed for every 15 cubic feet of sauna room space.

Sauna Heater Reviews

Tylo Sauna Heater

Tylo Sauna Heaters – Tylö sauna heaters are world renowned for high quality and distinctive features.

  • Heats up quicker
  • Uses less energy
  • Constant bathing temperature
  • Safe to touch
  • Scored highest in Finnish Sauna tests

Learn more about Tylo heaters – Tylo Rated.


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