November 18, 2011

Some Like It Hot

Home-based saunas have become light and inviting spa retreats.


Saunas and the accompanying lifestyle are enjoyed year-round at lakefront cottages throughout Scandinavia, including the countries of Finland, Sweden and Russia. But what about here on the west coast of Canada?

According to Sauna Canada, while the hot boxes weren’t always a part of Canadian life, the history of saunas goes back thousands of years. The Romans used a version of the modern day sauna in their bathing houses in the form of a hot room.

Of course, the best-known examples of early saunas are found in Finland and Russia, where hot steam treatments were considered ideal for anything that ailed you. Here in Canada, First Nations people have a long tradition of using steam, in the form of their sweat lodges, to spiritually and physically cleanse themselves.

Different wood materials, combined with metal, can give a sauna a unique and distinguished look. The decorative external stainless steel soffit is equipped with LED lights.

Today, many people continue the bracing tradition of sitting in the sauna and then plunging into the snow or icy water, believing a good sweat followed by a chilly dip is good for the body. While such health benefits are debatable, anyone who has tried these two extremes will tell you it is extremely refreshing.

“It’s perfect for this type of climate,” says new sauna owner Sandy Ray of Kitsilano, who enjoys a sauna session two or three times a week, year-round. “In our particular case we had a four-by-six foot space where a [sauna] kit would have fit in there nicely. But in customizing it we were able to suit it more to our needs. “We love it predominantly for the health benefits,” Ray adds, who believes the sauna promotes good health and helps heal injuries.

Homeowners like Seija Tyllinen, of West Vancouver, have taken home saunas to a new level by installing units that give the local spas a run for their money. “Our sauna was part of a larger renovation that was done to our home,” explains Tyllinen. “Of course, I had to have a Finn build my sauna.” Tyllinen says she always had a sauna when she was growing up, and for the last 20 years would go to her parents’ house to use theirs. But with the major home reno, she took the opportunity to get a sauna of her own. “We have a large bathroom and home spa area now,” she says, adding, “It’s a place to relax our muscles year-round.”

Pasi Tontti from Linden Construction in Vancouver says, “It hasn’t changed throughout the ages. When you build a house back home [in Finland], the sauna is always the first room in the house which is 100 per cent finished. Your house is ready when you throw water on the sauna rocks.” In addition to more home-based units, infrared saunas are also popping up in health food stores such as Finlandia Pharmacy, and yoga and massage clinics like Sinclair Wellness Centre and Y Yoga.

YYoga chose infrared saunas over steam rooms in four of its seven locations because of their popularity with yogis and because they believe in its health benefits, explained Vancouver architect Michel Laflamme, adding that among saunas’ benefits, “it’s a great way to eliminate toxins.” Laflamme, Tyllinen and Ray have all built their saunas using the Thuja Sauna Products Ltd. of Brentwood Bay, which for the last five years has been installing sauna systems in custom homes throughout Metro Vancouver.

Paavo Pirttikoski of Thuja Sauna Products Ltd.

“Homeowners, builders, architects and designers and renovators have used our cedar sauna products with excellent results,” says owner Paavo Pirttikoski (aka “the Finn”). “I don’t know if it’s a trend right now or not, but having a sauna just makes you feels good.” And the home saunas of today are certainly unlike the ones of yesteryear, What were once dark, windowless rooms buried in the corner of the basement have evolved into inviting home-based spa retreats. The heaters are more compact and you can even install a sound system.

“We’ve updated the look and design of saunas, says Pirttikoski, citing the use of glass doors that bring light into the room and the use of lighting underneath sauna benches to really invite people into the space. “Sauna kits are manufactured with care and attention,” Pirttikoski continues. “Cedar sauna kits are simple to build and retain the core values of a traditional Finnish sauna.”

For the handyman who wishes to build his own sauna, Pirttikoski’s company offers the pre-cut modular sauna, which is easy to assemble and comes with detailed assembly instructions. “Our plans for modular saunas are comprehensive and easy to understand,” he notes.

Thuja Modular Saunas take less than an hour to assemble and can be moved from place to place. The do-it-yourself kit costs from $2,000 to $3,000, and can be built into your home, shed or any other building project, with streamlined efficiency. And because it can be put up or taken down quickly, you can take your modular sauna with you to your rental cottage or to your beach house for the holidays. “People love them.

I’ve built at least a thousand in B.C.” says Thuja Sauna’s master builder, Kosti Uusikartano. With a confident smile the 73 year-old goes on. “And I’ll build a thousand more.”

Sauna Facts:

There are several different types of saunas from smoke saunas to continuous fire saunas, but they can be divided into two basic styles:

Electric Stove Sauna

Nowadays the most common sauna type. The stones are heated up and kept on temperature using electric heating elements. This type of heating is used in urban saunas. The Finnish-style sauna generally reaches temperature of 70 to 80 C (158 to 176 F), but can vary from 60 to 120 C (140 to 248 F).

Infrared Saunas

Infrared saunas warm objects and may use various materials in their heating area such as charcoal, active carbon fibres, and other materials. Infrared heat travels up to 5-7 centimetres below the skin, accelerating sweat, detox, and stimulating circulation. The heater in an infrared sauna produces radiant energy, this warms the skin but doesn’t heat the surrounding air.

Löyly [løyly] A finnish word that denotes the heat of the sauna room, especially the heat derived from throwing water on the hot stones of the sauna

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