How to Choose Your Barrel Sauna: Ultimate Guide

How to Choose Your Barrel Sauna: Ultimate Guide

“How to choose a barrel sauna?” is a common question you may ask yourself if you’re planning to build one outside your peaceful home. However, building a sauna from scratch can be a demanding and expensive task to do alone. There is also a lot of room for error and getting your ventilation wrong can be dangerous.

Have you considered a barrel sauna? With these Do-It-Yourself sauna kits, you can build and relax in your sauna in no time! In this guide, we will show you the ways in choosing a barrel sauna: from wood materials and heating options to designs, accessories, and sizes.

What Is A Barrel Sauna?

As simple as it is named, a barrel sauna is a type of outdoor sauna that is shaped like a barrel. These saunas are cylinder-shaped with the use of long staves, which are long pieces of wood with chamfered edges that fit together and form the barrel shape. 

The sauna is assembled by wrapping straps tightly around the circumference to keep the staves in place. Some barrel saunas are straight, while others bulge slightly in the middle, which defines the barrel as we commonly know it.

A barrel sauna is a perfect way to enjoy the outdoor sauna experience. As it is made of wood, a barrel sauna has a natural look and scent that fits in perfectly with any outdoor setting! (They can also be used indoors, of course.)

Barrel Sauna Design

creating-a-barrel-sauna-stave
Making a barrel sauna stave. From Michael Sounart Youtube

Most Barrel Sauna designs come in a pre-fabricated kit that needs DIY assembly. A barrel sauna kit comes with partially pre-assembled parts and wooden panels, benches, an electric sauna stove or wood-burning heater, and windows and doors. 

Complementary accessories such as sauna stones, headrests, clothing hooks, water buckets, ladles, and wooden footrests are also sometimes included.

The barrel shape of the sauna helps it to resist water damage and pests, making it a low-maintenance option. The barrel sauna also comes with support cradles made from a high-grade polymer that serves as the base and is placed on any flat surface. This makes it versatile for different types of locations such as your backyard, patio, or deck.

The wood selection for barrel saunas fares well as a sauna material as they are good heat insulators. Particularly, cedar wood is a popular wood for barrel saunas as it has superior resistance to water and insects. All these features make the barrel sauna a great choice for anyone looking for an easy-to-use and low-maintenance option.

As compared to traditional saunas, a barrel sauna is designed with a single-element structure, making it much simpler and more affordable. Traditional saunas have a multiple element structure: external cladding, frame, internal cladding, insulation, and even vapor barrier. This makes them more complex and expensive to build than barrel saunas.

Read More and Elevate Your Backyard with Barrel Sauna Benefits

How Does Barrel Sauna Work?

Outdoor/Indoor Western Red Cedar Barrel Sauna with Front Porch 4 Person
Outdoor/Indoor Western Red Cedar Barrel Sauna with Front Porch 4 Person

A barrel sauna works like a traditional sauna but has added features and benefits. Its unique shape and curvature help to evenly distribute the heat, making it more comfortable than a traditional sauna. By allowing the upper heat to be pushed down the sides and back into the sauna, it ensures that the higher temperatures are brought lower into the sauna. This way, the heat flows more evenly, making for a more comfortable and enjoyable experience.

Additionally, the barrel sauna can retain heat better than traditional saunas due to its superior insulation properties, meaning that you can enjoy the benefits of the sauna for longer. 

When it comes to choosing a sauna, the barrel sauna is an excellent option for those who want to enjoy a more evenly distributed and comfortable heat.

How Long Does A Barrel Sauna Last and How to Protect It?

Photo Credits: Pixabay

Barrel saunas are built to last, and can typically last from 15 to 20 years. But if you take good care of it and perform maintenance on a schedule, your barrel sauna could endure more years.

How to Protect Your Sauna

After a few years of having your barrel sauna outdoors, the wood may start to change color due to exposure to moisture and sunlight. Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal.

For outdoor barrel saunas, you can apply a high-quality semi-transparent stain or oil to maintain your outdoor barrel sauna every one to two years. Additionally, if you want to get your sauna looking new again, you can sand the surface with a smooth grit to refurbish the look of the wood before staining.

Although your barrel sauna is already made to handle tough weather conditions, you can keep the exterior wood to keep looking new with one or more of these options:

  • Applying a wood-penetrating oil
  • Cleaning with a pressure washer on the low setting cleaning. 
  • Use a stain on the exterior that has a UV inhibitor as additional protection from sunlight.
Related: Do Barrel Saunas Need a Roof? Exploring Weather Protection Options

Considerations in Choosing a Barrel Sauna

When choosing a barrel sauna, there are several important factors to consider to ensure you choose the best option for your needs. By taking the time to evaluate each of these options, you can find the perfect barrel sauna for your home or business.

#1 Where to Locate Your Sauna

Barrel Saunas can be installed in many places with level and sturdy ground. Facebook: Shyms Saunas

First and foremost, it is crucial to find the right location for your sauna before you start construction. If the ground is not level, this could cause problems with lining up the staves or getting the door to latch properly. If you cannot level the ground, you may need to use shims under the sauna cradles to make up for the unevenness.

There are many different materials you can use for the base of your sauna, but some of the most common include:

  • Concrete
  • Flagstone
  • Wood/Deck
  • Bricks and/or Pavers
  • Compressed gravel

If you want to set your sauna indoors, any flooring type is suitable, except for carpeting. Remember that you may have leaks of condensed water on the floor. 

When considering a location for a sauna always consider the following aspects: 

  1. Privacy. Many people choose to have a sauna installed in areas where they can feel fully secluded and not being observed. 
  2. Proximity to a water reservoir, shower, and possibly bathroom. 
  3. Change room, or place where people could change their cloth for something more suitable for a sauna. 
  4. Proximity to relaxation zone, tea zone, or area where you could have a rest between sauna sessions. 

Beware: Never place your barrel sauna on bare earth. 

Doing this will increase the risk of tipping and damage to the sauna. In addition, placing your barrel sauna on a hard surface will help to improve the efficiency of the sauna and make it easier to keep clean. 

Looking for ideas on sauna layouts? Get inspired with Our Projects gallery!

#2 Indoor vs Outdoor Barrel Sauna

Outdoor/Indoor Western Red Cedar Barrel Sauna with Panoramic Glass

When it comes to owning a barrel sauna, there are two main options to choose from – indoor or outdoor. 

When to consider an indoor sauna?

If you live in an apartment or somewhere where space is limited, then an indoor sauna is probably your best bet. Also, if you would like to have a minimal weather impact on your sauna, so that it lasts the longest, have your sauna indoor, there will be no rain or damaging sun. 

When to consider an outdoor sauna?

On the other hand, if you have a bit more outdoor space to work with, building an outdoor sauna is a great option. Although outdoor saunas tend to be more authentic and closer to nature, they may not be as convenient as an indoor sauna.

Why Choose Indoor Saunas?

Several benefits come along with having an indoor sauna. One of the main advantages is that you don’t have to leave your home to enjoy your sauna session.

Additionally, having your showers and bathroom close by can be a major perk.

However, there are also some drawbacks associated with indoor saunas. For example, they can be quite expensive to install and maintain with the needed insulation, plumbing, and venting systems. Plus, if you live in a humid climate, the indoor sauna may not be ideal since it can make the space quite stuffy. Also, indoor sauna options are limited to electrically heated ones and not firewood. 

Why Choose Outdoor Saunas?

An outdoor sauna can offer a more authentic and luxurious experience, especially if you’re fortunate to have access to bodies of water or other scenic outdoor spaces. The fresh air and natural surroundings can make the sauna experience even more relaxing and enjoyable. 

Take note that there are a few things to keep in mind before investing in an outdoor sauna. For example, weather conditions can play a role in how often you’ll be able to use it.

If you live in an area with hot summers, your outdoor sauna might not get much use during the hot months. Additionally, outdoor saunas require more maintenance than indoor models, so be prepared to spend some time and effort keeping them clean and in good condition. 

#3 Infrared sauna vs Traditional sauna

infrared sauna
An infrared sauna. Photo credit: Pixabay

If you are looking for a sauna that has lower temperatures but can still penetrate your body with heat, then an infrared sauna is the best option for you. Infrared saunas are designed to be used indoors only, so keep that in mind.

On the other hand, if you prefer steam, higher temperatures, and a more social setting, then a traditional sauna is probably the best option for you. Also, traditional saunas can be enjoyed indoors or outdoors. Here are some key factors that differentiate a traditionally heated sauna from an infrared heated sauna:

Traditional Sauna Infrared Sauna
Heating method Conduction/ConvectionRadiation
TemperatureCan heat above 85 °C (185 °F)50 °C to 65 °C (120 °F to 150 °F)
Energy RequirementsMore power (up to 4.5 – 6 kW and higher) Low power (about 1.6 kW)
HumidityHigher HumidityLow humidity

Heating method

Traditional saunas work by transferring the heat from the air around you into your body.  This is also accompanied by heat transfer that happens due to steam condensation on the surface of your skin. As a result, your body starts its natural cooling process, which brings blood closer to the skin’s surface and opens the pores to release sweat. Traditional saunas are simple but effective. A single heater is used to heat the air, and that hot air heats the user.

On the other hand, an infrared sauna session can feel very different than a traditional sauna session. For one, you don’t necessarily need to be in a steamy room to reap the benefits of an infrared sauna.

Infrared saunas work by emitting a wavelength of light that your body absorbs. This absorption causes your body to heat up, which then activates more pronounced sweating. Because you’re not dealing with a steamy environment, some people find infrared saunas to be more comfortable and tolerable than traditional saunas.

Temperature

Photo Credit: Sunrise Specialty

The main differences between infrared saunas and traditional saunas are the temperature and the way the heat is transferred to the body. Traditional saunas can get very hot, sometimes reaching over 100 degrees Celsius. This can be too much for some people to handle. 

Infrared saunas, on the other hand, use lower temperatures that are more comfortable. Even though the temperatures are lower, infrared saunas are still effective in sweating your body. Infrared saunas are a bit cooler than traditional saunas because they focus on heating the body itself, rather than the room. 

Traditional saunas in contrast have a more natural way of heating your body, via surrounding hot air and the environment. There are also many health benefits from the use of traditional sauna that are not achieved with the use of an infrared sauna.

Humidity

Another important difference between traditional and infrared saunas is the level of humidity. Traditional saunas have much higher levels of humidity, which some people believe provides additional benefits such as opening pores and promoting better sleep.

Saunas that use infrared technology do not produce steam, thus having lower levels of humidity. People who enjoy using these saunas say that the sweating they induce can help detoxify the body and lead to weight loss. 

However, it is often omitted that steam is the main contributor to raising the body temperature. As the steam condenses on the surface of the skin the heat is transferred from the steam to the body. This heat transfer is more efficient than from the dry hot air. So, if you target to maximise the health benefits from the use of the sauna and its hot temperature then the high humidity sauna is for you. Dr. Michael Ruscio has summarised well the health benefits of the use of the two types of saunas in his article “Infrared Saunas vs. Traditional: Which Is Better?”. It also had been backed up by scientific research. 

#4 What Materials are Available for Barrel Saunas?

Facebook: Shym Saunas & Hottubs

Cedar

There are a lot of different materials that can be used to build a barrel sauna. One of the most popular and traditional choices is cedar. Cedar is very durable and is known to withstand harsh outdoor conditions. It also has a natural resistance to decay. 

Additionally, cedar won’t swell or shrink when exposed to extreme temperatures – making it ideal for use in a sauna. Not to mention, cedar is a great insulating material- it won’t get hot to the touch. There are two common types of cedar used:

Western Red Cedar

The Western Red Cedar is a type of tree that is native to the west coast of North America. It has a beautiful reddish color, and it is very strong and durable, thus known as high-quality material. This makes it an ideal material for building outdoor saunas.

Eastern White Cedar

If you’re looking for an environmentally friendly and sustainable option for your barrel sauna, eastern white cedar is another great choice. This tree species is shorter than western red cedar, but it grows back quickly – about every 35 years. Eastern white cedar has a pale brown or tan color, and it turns a beautiful silver-gray when left unfinished and exposed to the elements.

Nordic Spruce

Wood Burning Sauna Heater Firewood Sauna Stove with Flue Kit 15kW
Facebook: Shym Saunas & Hottubs

Nordic Spruce is an excellent wood choice for saunas because of its high density and tightly ingrown structure. It is a popular sauna wood in Finland and other European countries because of its light coloring and therapeutic aroma. Also, the hydrocarbons in the Nordic Spruce make it a naturally insect-repellent wood.

Nordic spruce may contain little sap that can vary from each wood piece, but this is normal and not harmful. If spruce is thermally treated, you can’t have sap seepage.

The thermal treatment works as a process involving heat and steam. This improves the wood to be more stable and durable, resisting rot. This is a chemical-free and eco-friendly process that makes any wood a better and more stable material.

Hemlock

Hemlock wood is an excellent material to use for building barrel saunas. It is moisture-resistant and durable, making it ideal for withstanding the high temperatures and steam of a sauna. 

Hemlock is also low in resin, meaning that it won’t release resin fumes into the air when heated. This makes it a good choice for people with allergies or sensitivities. Hemlock also has a faint scent, sometimes odorless, making your sauna smell fresh and clean.

There are three main types of hemlock – Canadian, Western, and Hem-Fir – which all have different benefits.

  • Canadian Hemlock is one of the most popular choices because it is native to North America, has a uniform texture, and is very aesthetically pleasing.
  • Western Hemlock is another great option that is native to the west coast of North America and pairs well with other woods like Western Red Cedar.
  • Lastly, Hem-Fir is a combination of Western Hemlock and fir trees that makes for beautiful detail work in a sauna. 

Aspen

Photo Credit: Industrial Lumber

Aspen is a type of tree that is common in cooler regions of Asia and Europe. It is bright in color and belongs to the willow family. This wood is a popular material for saunas because of its moisture-resistant, resin-free, non-allergenic, and non-toxic, properties. It fares the outdoors well too, as it can withstand microorganism attacks. 

Douglas Fir

Photo Credit: Naturally Wood

The Douglas Fir tree is a species of tree native to North America, commonly used for its wood that has good strength and appearance. The Douglas Fir has a light brown color with hints of yellow or red and has little to no scent. Its uniform appearance and straight grain make it a desirable choice for many applications.

Kiln-drying the wood prevents it from seeping resin, making it a popular choice for homes, furniture, and saunas. 

Pine

pinewood
Photo Credit: Flickr

Pine is one of the more affordable woods used in sauna construction. It is a darker-colored wood but typically has more wood knots as compared to spruce.

The knots are problems for pinewood when they tend to be large and loose. With a high resin content as well, pinewood can have dripping sap and unpleasant resin emissions. Pine can also warp and bend more easily than other sauna woods, making it less durable.

However, pine becomes a stronger and more durable wood type once it is thermally treated. 

#5 How Many People Will Use the Barrel Sauna?

The number of people who can use a barrel sauna at one time will depend on the size of the barrel sauna. Smaller barrel saunas can accommodate 2 to 4 people, while larger ones can fit up to 8 individuals. If you have a lot of friends who also enjoy using saunas, the 8-person sauna can be a great investment!

Barrel saunas are named and designated according to the number of people that can use the sauna at the same time. You can see barrel saunas named two-person, four-person, six-person, and eight-person barrel saunas. Custom barrel saunas can be made to accommodate even more people, but they may be more difficult to heat.

The main question to ask when choosing a sauna is how many people will we have in our sauna at a time? The answer can be 2, 4, or more. This will define the dimensions of the sauna to choose from. 

Another important question is how do you intend to use the sauna? Do you plan to do some light stretches in the sauna? Many people also like to use sauna whisks in the sauna to maximise health benefits. In both cases, you may need to consider the larger sauna size options. 

#6 How Much Space Do You Need for a Home Sauna?

Facebook: Shym Saunas & Hottubs

When selecting a sauna, you should consider the available space in your home. This is especially important if you are considering an outdoor sauna, as you will need to factor in the size of your platform and the available space to place your barrel sauna. In particular, it is the footprint of the sauna and its height that needs to be considered. 

Many saunas vary in shape and size. More traditional saunas are rectangular, but it is common to find all kinds of sauna shapes these days including round barrels, square barrels, and even oval. There is probably not much difference in terms of functionality of the sauna for different shapes, as they all work similarly.

As the shape of the sauna changes so does the complexity of the structure and its components, which leads to a difference in price. In general, all sauna shapes will require a solid base platform, whether it is a slab or pavers, it will need to be leveled.    

Regarding the size of the sauna, the sauna can be as large or as small as one wants it to be. Important to note that the larger saunas will be more expensive to buy, build and maintain. It will also be more costly to run in terms of energy spent on heating. The larger saunas will require more space, so make sure to check the numbers and dimensions for your specific make and model before you buy it.

If you are in the market for a firewood-heated sauna, make sure to take into account the height of the flue and the clearance from the nearby buildings and structures. It can also be a good idea to check with your neighbors if they will be ok with you running the firewood heater occasionally and the associated smoke that may be blown their way.  

#7 What Type of Sauna Heater Should I Choose?