From Roman and Finnish to Aztec and Native-American societies, heat bathing has been an integral part of many cultures. In fact, the first North American sauna was built in 1638 by Finnish immigrants in the Delaware River Valley who longed for the comforts of home. In the mid-19th century, steam rooms or “Turkish baths,” began tentatively appearing in public bathing facilities in North America but were mainly for the upper class, not for use by the general public.
In the United States, the terms sauna and steam room often are used interchangeably, but in reality, there are major differences between the two. Saunas provide dry heat in a wooden room and include a small amount of steam created by pouring water over hot rocks. Typically, a sauna’s temperature ranges from 160 to 200 degrees with a humidity level ranging from 5 to 30 percent. On the other hand, steam room temperatures range from 110 to 114 degrees with a humidity level of approximately 100 percent. Steam rooms provide a moist heat via a water-filled generator pumping steam into an enclosed room.
Both saunas and steam baths are believed to offer similar benefits including helping circulation and respiration, diminishing muscle tension and removing toxins from the skin and body through perspiration. Suana and steam bath companies have recently introduced more efficient units incorporating luxurious features, entertainment system capabilities, mood enhancement options and more practical designs. And through advancements in research and development, manufacturers now have the technology to allow virtually anyone to enjoy a home spa regardless of home size.
“The basic principle of the sauna has been around for over 2,000 years. Stereos, special lighting and aromas are added features that make the experience more modern and enjoyable,” says Terri Tarkianen, chief financial officer, Finlandia Sauna.
Convenience and Efficiency
Especially appealing to the fast-paced American lifestyle, Finlandia Sauna’s Ever Ready heater requires no preheat time. While the unit is always on, once it is heated, the Ever Ready uses only 250 watts of power promising maximum energy efficiency. And the heater contains more than 200 lbs. of rocks for large volumes of instant heat and steam.
“Home saunas are often used two to three times a week but vary greatly with the user. The sauna can be used year-round but most use it more in colder months,” Tarkianen explains. “We have had customers tell us they rarely use their spa or whirlpool but love to use their home sauna. With our Ever Ready sauna heater, which is always ready to use, some take a sauna every day.”
Jim Van Landingham, national sales manager, ThermaSol, elaborates by saying, “Our society is an instant gratification society. They don’t want to wait five to 10 minutes for the steam to enter the room. And one of the key benefits of ThermaSol is that we supply constant steam at a constant rate — the unit always maintains the same amount of water.”
Utilizing infrared light technology, Sunlight Saunas recently introduced a line of wooden saunas that employ Solocarbon technology. Solocarbon heating technology promises the largest amount and most therapeutic far infrared sauna heat — the same heat released by the sun — for an increased amount of sweat.
“Infrared light energy heats the body for a deeper, more penetrating sweat than you could get from traditional steam and hot rocks,” says Jason Kort, corporate account manager, Sunlight Saunas. “Infrared light is more comfortable and requires much less maintenance, and it is much more energy efficient than the old steam saunas.”
Luxury in Demand
In today’s high-pressure society, homeowners find that the bathroom is an ideal sanctuary in which to relax, unwind and escape reality. With chaotic lifestyles, time demands and ever-increasing stress, Americans need a private retreat in which to regroup and rejuvenate.
As more and more homeowners crave the spa-like environment in their homes, Mr.Steam now offers an increasing number of products including heated towel warmers, wet speakers and in-shower seating. “We are extremely excited about our Aromatherapy Injector Pump and Chromatherapy,” says Martha Orellana, vice president, Mr.Steam. “We feel that these two features enhance the steambathing experience exponentially. Both products are easy to incorporate into your shower area. The injector pump allows you to pick the aroma of your choice — from eucalyptus to lavender.
“The ChromaSteam system allows you to fine-tune your mood. If you need to be energized, then choosing the color red will stimulate your spirit. If you prefer to be relaxed and in a peaceful state, then blue is the way to go.”
Amerec introduced the Alta to its Signature Series of modular sauna rooms. The Alta, which is 72 in. deep, 72 in. wide and 84 in. high, features a concave curved glass front, low-voltage lighting and integral shelving. In addition, the Alta’s unique bench layout incorporates either Amerec’s new Saunatonttu heat-storing heater or the standard 6kW FSO-60. This sauna is available in select Nordic whitewoods or Western red cedar.
“Consumers are looking for custom designs with lots of glass and upgraded luxury systems,” says John Gundersen, national sales manager, Amerec Saunas & Steam. “We are continually striving to expand and improve our product lines. The Alta is loaded with luxury. This sauna offers the ultimate in design, features and comfort.”
ThermaSol now offers The Serenity Collection of systems to further enhance any steam shower, bath or sauna environment. The company’s options include mood lights, radio, CD player/changer, waterproof speakers, phone and the exclusive proportional heating system. The Serenity Collection also features the Heavenly Collection of fog-free mirrors and ThermaSol’s aromatherapy oils.
“The most common features today are design upgrades and technology upgrades,” explains Keith Raisanen, president of Saunatec. He adds that these upgrades include deluxe interior design upgrades with such features as curved glass, curved benches and ergonomically designed backrests.
In response to this interest, Saunatec’s Helo Sauna & Steam worked with Finnish designer Esa Vapaavuori of Esan Design Studio to create a dramatic new sauna interior design promising a “fresh European look, clean lines, and amazing flexibility in room layout.” The Helo-Deco Design interior systems include furniture-quality benches, movable bench sections to create maximum flexibility for sitting or lying down, and a fiber optic lighting system integrated into the custom backrests and water bowl. The Helo-Deco design is available in a number of Helo saunas, including modular sauna rooms and custom cut sauna rooms, and is available in European alder and Western red cedar.
Today, a custom home is incomplete without some sort of home spa — whether it’s a sauna, steam room or steam shower. As more and more new home designs feature fitness centers and wellness areas, placement is no longer limited to the master bath. And with an enormous array of product offerings, manufacturers ensure that home spas are available at practically any price point. “The price range and upgrades/options available in saunas and steam baths is broad. However, these amenities are clearly much more popular in high-end custom homes,” Raisanen says.
Many high-end custom homes have steam rooms built into, at least, the master shower. “By far, the steam rooms are being put into high-end homes, but the production homes are catching on to the ease of installation, lack of space requirement and the ability to transform a shower into a spa shower,” Orellana says.
Saunas require the necessary space, which can be as minimal as 3 ft. by 4 ft., a 220v power supply, and a solid-surfaced, easy-to-clean floor. Otherwise, a custom sauna can be framed-in just like any other part of the house, Tarkianen adds. “If you have an existing house and do not want to do any framing, the prefabricated modular-type sauna is an option. It is a free-standing unit that does not require any additional framing or remodeling,” Tarkainen says.
To simplify the sizing process, ThermaSol developed a factory sizing system that does the calculations for the customer. The customer measures length, width and height and then rounds up the measurement to the nearest cubic foot on the ThermaSol specification chart. “The sizing of the unit can be intimidating so we went to factory sizing. You don’t have to worry about sizing, and there’s less of a chance for an error to be made,” Van Landingham says.
The only accommodation builders need to make in Sunlight Sauna’s sauna systems is electrical. “Our systems are modular so they’re ready to go into the house,” Kort says.
Turkish baths once were the domain of the wealthy and Finnish saunas were mainly communal. With little size restriction and vast collections of products to choose from, today’s manufacturers ensure that home saunas and steam baths are available for nearly any home. And installation is no sweat.