Why is the choice of wood so important when building an infrared sauna? Is it worth investing in a more expensive type of wood? Will it make my sauna last longer and perform better? These and many other questions come to mind when trying to find the right infrared sauna cabin for your home.
From a sauna experience point of view, the wood is a very important factor. At first glance, it may seem like there is not much difference and choice of wood is not of great importance, but this could not be further from the truth. The quality of the wood used and the craftsmanship applied in the manufacturing process, are a vital and key part of your sauna experience as well as a big component of the cost price of your sauna.
In what follows we only consider infrared sauna cabins that are built using solid, natural wood. We do not consider the ones that are constructed using plywood, fibreboard, plastic components, etc. This includes cabins made of fibreboard with a layer of veneer on the outside or plywood with a coating of paint or varnish. Excluding these probably means that we are not considering the majority of the infrared saunas in the market place today, but when talking about infrared sauna cabin quality, a minimum requirement is that only natural solid wood is used and no toxic products can be found anywhere in the cabin.
When building an infrared sauna cabin, picking the right wood is a key decision. Unlike furniture, a sauna has its own unusual characteristics and presents a number of challenges to the material that is used.
- An infrared sauna warms up to temperatures as high as 75 degrees and cools back down to room temperature or below hundreds of times. This sort of treatment can cause wood to crack or bend over time.
- Although infrared saunas are dry saunas, people tend to sweat in them. It is advised to protect your sauna with towels and wipe off any sweat stains with a damp cloth, but still, it is important no hidden rot or mould develops in your sauna cabin.
- An infrared sauna needs to warm up quickly and stay warm. The panels should provide good insulation.
- The look: an infrared sauna cabin is usually put inside the home. It should have a natural look and blend in easily.
- The smell: Most natural wood is non-toxic, but the smell can differ enormously. Cheap quality woods lose their smell quickly
- Safety: there shouldn’t be any varnish, chemical glue, etc. used in the inside of the cabin. The heaters should be encased in a safe way to prevent any fire hazard. The cabin should be solid and sturdy
- Practicality: the quality of the wood and joinery determines how easy it is to assemble your cabin. As well as how feasible it is to take it apart and assemble again in case of a move.
Typical woods used for infrared saunas are Hemlock, Spruce, Red Cedar. Some other woods are used, but most saunas are constructed using one of these three types of wood.
How to make the right choice?
Check the characteristics mentioned above: how does the wood deal with warming up and cooling down? How does it deal with extreme temperatures? Will it crack or warp. Etc… Do your research before you buy. Do not take a salesman’s word for it. A good indication could be the warranty given on the wood. A manufacturer will not give and extended warranty if the wood is likely to cause trouble over time.
Is the wood prone to rot, insects and mould? Again, the same common sense approach applies. Do a little bit of research and ask about the warranty policy.
Try to see the sauna before you buy. Visit a showroom, tradeshow, or maybe a spa or health clinic near you features the model and brand you are interested in. Wood is a natural product and the sauna cabin is very likely to look different from the picture. Touch it, smell it and ask yourself how it would fit in your house, do you like the smell, etc…
Another reason why it is important to see the sauna before you buy it to get an idea of the quality of the craftsmanship. Check the thickness of the panels, the joinery, maybe have a look under the bench, check the floor panel, ask about glues and other chemicals used in the sauna. Check for splinters and hidden faults. Also, ask the sales person about how easy it is to put together. Are there screws, nails and tools involved, etc. Maybe they can show you….
Making the right wood choice is important, it means that in 10 years from now, your infrared sauna cabin will still look the way it does today. Your door won’t jam, the panels or benches won’t warp or crack and the look will not deteriorate. It also means that your cabin will warm up quickly and stay warm, even if you put it in a cold garage, basement or log cabin. You don’t have to worry about rot, insects or moulds developing and, it will always have a fresh, natural smell whenever you walk into it.
Note: It takes only a matter of minutes to find conflicting internet claims about the toxicity of different woods and their likely effects on allergies. This sort of unreliable information is unfortunate as well as seemingly unavoidable. Here are some medical facts about allergies and wood: Based on research done in the United States, it was concluded that 3-5 people out of a million have some type of wood allergy. This, while being very unpleasant for those involved, is a very low number. Also, if you have a wood allergy, you are likely to know and spending time in any kind of wooden cabin is unlikely to be something you would consider. Once again, a bit of common sense will do wonders. Wood is a natural product that is all around you, always and everywhere and the commonly used types of timber are the safest material that you come across in modern everyday life.