The Pros and Cons of Electric vs. Wood Burning Outdoor Saunas

So you’re thinking about buying or building an outdoor sauna? Excellent!

One of the first big decisions you’ll need to make is whether to go electric or wood-fired. Both have their pros and cons, so let’s dive in and explore them in detail.

The Allure of the Traditional Wood-Fired Sauna

There’s something special about a classic wood-burning sauna. The scent of the fire, the crackling sounds, stoking the flames—an experience that engages all your senses

It connects you to ancient sauna traditions and cultures like the Finns and Estonians in a way electric heaters simply can’t replicate.

Many sauna lovers argue wood-burning stoves produce a superior quality of heat. The radiant warmth penetrates your muscles deeper, promoting relaxation and detoxification. The steam created often feels softer and more pleasant as well.

Additionally, wood-burning saunas can achieve higher temperatures as they are not restrained by the temperature limiters found in modern electric stoves. This aspect appeals to those who like a more intense sauna experience.

Downsides of Wood-Fired Saunas

Of course, wood-fired saunas also come with disadvantages. Maintaining a supply of good dry hardwood takes work and storage space.

Starting the fire an hour or more before sauna time requires advance planning. Stoking the fire to fine-tune the temperature is an art that takes practice. Dealing with the ash cleanup after a session is just another chore. For many, though, the extra work is part of the ritual.

The initial investment in a wood-burning stove and proper installation can be significant too – expect to spend $2500+ on the stove itself, chimney, permits, and professional installation if needed. Not to mention potential ongoing costs for hardwood and maintenance.

Wood-fired stoves need more space and proper clearance from walls or flammable materials, so they may not fit in a more compact outdoor sauna design.

If extra chores and the longer prep time don’t appeal to you, an electric sauna may be a better fit.

The Practical Allure of Electric Saunas

Half moon window option for barrel saunas

Electric saunas offer the ultimate in low-maintenance convenience. Just plug it in, set the timer, turn on your favorite sauna soundtrack, and relax. No need to worry about wood, chimney cleaning, or ash disposal.

Electric stoves are also safer, as they have built-in temperature controls and safety protocols that prevent overheating and fire hazards.

Electric saunas are typically simpler to install and require less space than their wood-fired counterparts, making them a practical choice for various locations.

In conclusion, the electric sauna is a clear winner in terms of convenience and practicality.

Potential Drawbacks of Electric Saunas

While electric saunas come with their own set of advantages, they also have potential drawbacks that should be considered.

Some sauna enthusiasts argue that the heat from electric stoves lacks the depth and penetrating warmth of wood-burning stoves. The heat can sometimes feel superficial, almost buzzing on your skin, rather than deeply sinking into tired muscles like the heat from a wood-fired sauna.

There is a common misconception that electric saunas are cheaper to install. While this can be true in some cases, it’s important to remember that installing an electric sauna often requires a permit and a licensed electrician. This can add to the overall cost and installation time, making it important to carefully consider all factors before choosing an electric sauna.

Moreover, in older homes, the existing power supply may not be sufficient, necessitating an upgrade or reconstruction of the electrical panel. These additional requirements can significantly increase the cost of installation.

Another misconception is the heat-up time. Contrary to popular belief, electric saunas don’t always heat up faster than their wood-fired counterparts.

In fact, in the USA, electric heaters often have limiters that prevent the sauna from heating up quickly. An electric heater might take 1.5 to 2 hours to reach the desired temperature, while a wood stove could achieve the same in 1 to 1.5 hours.

Furthermore, electric heaters in the USA typically operate for about an hour, after which they need to be restarted. This can be inconvenient for those who enjoy longer sauna sessions.

Despite these potential drawbacks, electric saunas still have many advantages that make them popular, especially in urban areas.

Running costs

The running costs of a wood-fired sauna and an electric sauna depend on various factors, such as the frequency of use, local utility rates, and the efficiency of the heater.

For a wood-fired sauna, the average wood consumption is about one bundle (15–20 lbs) of firewood for a 1-2 hour session. If you use the sauna once a week, you will burn about half a cord (1.5 m3) of wood per year. The annual cost of firewood can range from $150 to $250, depending on your location.

For an electric sauna, the running cost depends on the heater’s power rating and the local cost of electricity. A modest 6′ x 4′ sauna with a 6 kW heater can cost around $25 to $50 per month to operate.

The annual operating cost for an electric sauna can range from $300 to $600, depending on factors such as sauna size, power output, and energy rates.

The running cost of a wood-fired sauna can be lower than that of an electric sauna, but it requires more manual labor to maintain. On the other hand, electric saunas have higher operating costs but are more convenient to use.

Making the Wood vs. Electric Sauna Decision

As you can see, both wood-burning and electric saunas have their merits. Which is best for you depends on your priorities.

  • Wood-fired is likely your choice if you want an authentic, traditional sauna experience. But be prepared to put in some extra work and maintenance.
  • For low maintenance and convenience, electric models shine. Just plug in, set the timer, and sweat. Though some feel the heat isn’t as deep.
  • Consider setup costs; electric may require pricey electrical upgrades. And wood-burning stoves can be more expensive to install.
  • Think about your space. Wood stoves need more clearance and room for the chimney. Electric has a smaller footprint.
  • Check local regulations if you live in an urban area, as wood-burning may be prohibited.

Carefully weigh the pros and cons for your needs and lifestyle. And don’t hesitate to ask us for personalized advice!

We’re happy to help you find the ideal outdoor sauna. Give us a call today to get started designing your perfect sweat sanctuary.


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