What to know before buying a sauna (Heating, installation, price and more)

Buying a sauna can be a daunting task. There are a lot of things to think about like how much to spend, what type to buy, what size you need, where to put it – and that’s all before getting technical on features and extras!

To help in your decision-making, we've listed the top things to consider when shopping for a home sauna.

These recommendations are based on a range of factors including design, build, durability and reliability – and of course, our many years of selling a wide range of saunas.

1. What type of sauna to buy

When you’re considering sauna options, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is what type of sauna to choose.

There are a range of different types available – from traditional steam saunas heated with hot stones through to the latest state-of-the-art infrared therapy saunas.

Traditional steam saunas and infrared therapy saunas are the most common for home use. You can learn all about the difference between a steam and infrared saunas in this article

Ultimately, choosing which type of home sauna to buy depends on your personal preferences and wellbeing needs. To decide what type of sauna to buy, it helps to think about the type of sauna experience you want.

If like many people you can’t imagine a sauna without hot rocks, steam and high heat – then a traditional sauna could be the best option for you.

However, if you find the heat of traditional saunas a bit much, and health and wellbeing are a priority for you – then you might find an infrared sauna is an ideal option.

2. How much do you want to spend?

Sauna prices vary widely depending on the type of sauna, quality of timber and equipment, the size of the unit and extra features - of which there are many.

Prices start at around $2,000 for an entry level unit, $7,000 to $10,000 for high-quality, mid-market saunas and $10,000+ for premium, custom built models. Traditional steam saunas are generally more expensive than infrared therapy saunas due mostly to their installation costs.

As the adage goes, you get what you pay for. Inexpensive saunas tend to be made with low-end materials, offer less effective sauna health benefits and can lead to costly repairs or replacement down the road.

Creating a list of ‘must have’ and ‘nice to have’ features is a great way to determine your budget. Remember to ask about financing options too.

3. Where will you put your sauna?

Installing a sauna in your home is a great investment. An in-home sauna can add value to your property and, if it’s portable, you can take it with you when you move.

In general, an infrared sauna can be installed almost anywhere inside your home or outside under shelter. Spare bedrooms, in the garage or outside undercover, are all popular places to put infrared saunas. Learn more about installing an infrared sauna.

Traditional steam saunas are more limited in where you can put them as they need to be professionally installed due to their plumbing, drainage, ventilation and electrical requirements.

Sauna installation checklist:

  • Will it be indoors or outdoors?
  • What are the limitations of your property?
  • What are the dimensions of the chosen space?
  • Is there an adequate electrical outlet nearby?
  • Will the sauna be easy to access? Factors like access and the view from inside are also important to keep in mind. If your sauna is easy to access – you’ll use it more.
  • For traditional steam saunas, is there adequate ventilation and provision for drainage, plumbing and electrical outlets?

Settling on the location for your new sauna will also help you decide what size you should buy. For more information on sauna sizes and specifications you can view the full range of Spa World infrared saunas on our website.

4. What size sauna would you like?

If you've been looking at portable home saunas (also called kitset or pre-built saunas) then one of the things you’ll be wondering is: “What size sauna should I get?”.

Portable home saunas come in a variety of sizes, from one to two person units to large saunas with room for six or more. Cabin sizes range from 1.1m by 1.3m for a 2-person unit to 1.3m by 2.1m for a 5-person unit.

Deciding what size sauna to buy depends on a range of factors:

  • the size of your indoor or outdoor space and any limitations
  • your budget
  • how many people are going to be regularly using your sauna at any one time.

As a guide, you could plan for at least 60cm of bench space for each bather.

If you feel claustrophobic in small spaces, you might want a larger sauna with a full glass front and as much glass as possible on the sides.

5. What kind of sauna wood do you want?

Infrared and steam saunas can be made from a wide variety of different woods, including premium hemlock, spruce and cedar, less expensive pine and plywood and more.

Cedar and hemlock are the most common sauna timbers – and for good reason. These are premium, durable timbers that should be preferred over inferior materials such as pine or plywood which can split, warp and shrink.

Cedar has a rich aroma, elegant finish and is resistant to splitting and shrinking. Because of these desirable qualities, it can be more expensive than other wood types.

In contrast, hemlock is a beautiful furniture wood with smooth contoured lines and edges. Hemlock is low in scent so is a good choice for people with allergies.

Things to keep in mind when considering sauna timbers:

  • Timber choice. Choose a high quality, chemical-free, dense softwood that won’t overheat or secrete resin, is resistant to heat and moisture, and retains its colour and finish even after years of use. Hemlock or red cedar are both excellent choices.
  • Timber construction. Look for kiln-dried or air dried, fine-grain wood construction to minimize warping and cracking and to offer a beautiful look.
  • Scented or unscented? Some types of wood–like spruce, aspen, poplar and cedar–can release a rich, distinctive aroma to the room to improve relaxation. If you have allergies you might prefer a low-scent timber like hemlock.
  • Avoid experimental materials. Some woods can emit unpleasant odors when heated. Therefore, it’s best to stick to conventional, trusted materials instead of experimental ones.
  • Is it sustainably grown? Ideally, it should be certified from sustainable forests. No one should be cutting down rainforests to make saunas.

6. Will your infrared sauna have a ceramic or carbon heater?

Ceramic and carbon are the two most common materials used in infrared heaters. Of the two, carbon heaters are the superior option. They’re more expensive but are also thin, light, provide an even and safe surface temperature and can last up to 50 years. This article goes into more detail on the topic.

Infrared heat from carbon fibre heaters also penetrates deeper into the skin tissue, which allows the body to absorb more energy, meaning you experience a more intense sweat.

Others things to consider with infrared sauna heating:

  • Does it have surround heating? Ideally, you want heaters on the back wall, side walls, under the bench, by your calves and on the floor – so you are surrounded by infrared heat.
  • What type of infrared heat do you want? Infrared heaters can deliver near, mid, far and full spectrum infrared heat. Near and far infrared heating elements are the most common. Learn more about the infrared spectrum in this article.
  • What’s the surface temperature? For optimal healing benefits, find a sauna with a heater that has a lower surface area temperature – this allows for a more precise wavelength consistently throughout your sauna session.

7. Would you like extra features?

Are you interested in light therapy? How about an audio system or Bluetooth® capability?

Once you have a general idea about your budget as well as the type and size of sauna you’re after, there are a variety of entertainment options that can be added to your sauna to make your experience more exciting and customised to your tastes.

Take your sauna experience to the next level, ask your retailer about the following options:

  • Chromotherapy or light therapy
  • Digital smart touch control systems for easy use
  • LED lighting
  • Sound system with Bluetooth® capability
  • Automatic timers so you know how long you’ve been in the unit
  • Roof vents to allow cool outside air inside the sauna
  • Ergonomically-designed benches and integrated seating
  • Plus, a huge variety of aesthetic choices including windows and doors

8. How much do you want to spend on running costs?

Overall, infrared saunas are more energy-efficient than traditional saunas as you don’t have to wait as long before the sauna is ready to use.

If you want a sauna with low running costs and want to keep electricity bills as low as possible, then an infrared sauna would be your best option.

On average, if you use your infrared sauna three times a week you could expect to spend around $10 a month on electricity.

In contrast, traditional steam saunas cost between $20 and $30-month to run. An idle sauna doesn’t cost anything.

9. Does the sauna meet recommended safety standards?

Saunas can make a meaningful and positive difference to your overall health and wellbeing. For peace of mind, you’ll want to make sure your sauna is constructed to the highest quality and safety standards.

Here some important safety factors to consider:

  • Non-toxic materials. Your new sauna should be made from 100% non-toxic materials, inside and out. No VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) glues should be used to ensure there is no unhealthy off-gassing.
  • Safety glass. Glass doors and windows should be tempered safety glass.
  • Timer with automatic shut-down. Your sauna should have a timer with built in auto shut down to monitor session times and eliminate the chance of dehydration after falling asleep
  • Electrical certification. Make sure it has third-party electrical certification to ensure it meets Australian safety and performance standards.
  • Low EMF and low ELF levels. Look for infrared saunas with undetectable or extremely low Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) and low Electric Fields (ELF). Check your sauna has third-party tested results on its EMF levels. Learn more in this article on infrared saunas.

10. Does it come with an extensive warranty?

Your sauna is an investment. Make sure you buy from a trusted company that offers extensive warranties. Ideally, the warranty should cover the heating system, your power supply, control panel, wood, and any glass.

As a minimum, you should expect a lifetime warranty on the sauna cabin and heaters; and at least 2 years on electrical components.

In summary

A sauna is an important investment in your health and wellbeing. You certainly don’t want it to be a source of stress!

To ensure you have a positive and successful spa buying experience – it helps to know what to look for in a quality sauna. This will ensure you are making a solid investment in a sauna that is built to last.

In our view, the best quality saunas should have these features covered:

  • Quality construction with durable timbers. Hemlock and red cedar are the recommended sauna timbers; look for kiln-dried or air dried, fine-grain wood construction; avoid experimental materials.
  • Safety standards. No VOC glues, third-party tested results for electrical parts and EMF/ELF levels, timer with automatic shutdown.
  • Effective and safe heating system. An even, consistent heat that radiates from all areas of the sauna, (ideally) carbon fibre heaters with a low surface temperature
  • Great design. Look for an aesthetically pleasing sauna that suits your tastes and style of your home
  • Extra features and personalisation. Smart touch controls, Bluetooth compatibility, chromotherapy and more
  • Extensive warranties. Look for a lifetime warranty on sauna cabin and heaters; and a minimum 2 years on electrical components.

Remember, take measurements before you shop so you can discuss suitable options with the salesperson.

We hope this article has helped you in your decision making. For expert help and advice, speak with one of our sauna experts online or at your nearest Spa World showroom.

DISCLAIMER: While many people use saunas as part of a healthy lifestyle, what’s best for you may not be what’s best for someone else. Certain health conditions are not compatible with saunas or steam rooms. As a rule, we always recommend consulting with your medical practitioner before buying a sauna. We are not medical professionals. If you have any concerns about your current well being, please contact a GP or seek professional help and advice.

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