A recreational vehicle, mountains, lakes...wilderness - a perfect setting for a sauna. Why not consider building one in your RV? Impossible? Not at all. The author is doing just that. Find out about this and sauna stories, hints, books, neat products...all here at the Finnish Sauna Culture page.
RV SAUNA: What'll I think of next!
During the spring-fall work season, I work away from my wife and family in the northern British Columbia wilderness. It is beautiful there, not withstanding the terrible swarms of blackflies that immediately cause skin infections. It's a rugged country where a Canadian Finn feels right at home. It is in the blood. The forest is not an alien environment to a person of Finnish persuasion; it is home. I arrive home every day from my highway engineering job on one of the isolated stretches. And every day I wish I could relax in my own sauna as there is maybe one sauna for every 200 km in the Highway 37 region of the province. I can't understand why this is even though it is a winter country. No tradition in that direction I guess. This contrasts sharply with my own heritage, where every little shack or mansion has a sauna. And the prestigious President Hotel where I stay in Helsinki, has one with a large picture window overlooking the city. Finns have learned to enjoy the little things in life that make the north tolerable, and even desireable, and I intend to do the same. My home for six or seven months of the year is a 30 foot Wilderness trailer, motel or lodge. So it would be natural to wonder if a sauna could be built in the trailer. I came up with a couple of ideas. To my knowledge I am the first to make such a sauna. The design converts the bathroom into a sauna, without taking away its primary functions. The toilet is covered and an air-tight lid can be used for access. That will require some special engineering. The bench mounts over the sink, and there is a hinged portion that allows access to the sink. You can fill a basin and pour the water into the shower area where it goes through the spaces in the boards.
Update: I have finished the season at my work location and am now home enjoying a holiday. The sauna was a complete success with the electric heater and I enjoyed having a bath daily. I used two 750 watt elements in the heater. This took two hours to heat the sauna which was ready when I arrived home. Opening the door to the sauna it was a pleasant experience to see wood there instead of the usual panel. The bench is just big enough for me to recline though I would have had to add a foot rest to lie down straight. But this was a test and it confirmed what I wanted to know. Now I have bought a motorhome. Will I build a sauna in it? I am actually considering towing a small Boler type unit with a sauna and sitting room, bunk etc. It would be more practical because if I sold the motorhome, I could still use the Boler to live in if necessary temprarily.
You can buy a 110 Volt sauna heater that plugs into a standard outlet. Or a heater could be converted from a small, very inexpensive wood stove, or a small (RV?) gas fired water heater by those skilled in the art and science, or even an electric barbecue might be converted. In any case, extreme care should be taken, and advise should be sought from professionals. I was planning at one time to use a ecologically friendly Pyrolytic system of my own design that uses twigs and wood-chips or what have you and does not produce a lot of smoke. Nor does it need a chimney, just some ventilation, when adjusted properly. The new, inexpensive "Turbogas sauna stove" was tested but not installed. A larger unit than the one tested would have to be built and the equipment was not available to me at my work location in the north. The goal was to obtain 3 kw heat per 1 kg (2.2 lb) of wood chips or sticks which is the energy of the 2.2 m3 (1 m3=35.3147 ft3) of pyrolytic gases given off. The energy output per kilogram would be the equivilent of 1/3 liter (a little more than 1/3 quart) of diesel fuel or a 3 kw electric heater. A clean burning sauna stove such as the one I am developing is not supposed to create CO problems but don't take any chances with yours. If you burn anything for heat, be sure to have a CO monitor and stay in the safe range, increasing ventilaton as required. See Not all CO detectors are created equal. I plan to return to this project in the near future.
Soapstone tiles, which get 2 times hotter than brick using the same heat and give back heat over 12 hours, could be added to hot areas to store the heat. If you are interested in heating stoves look into soapstone products by Tulikivi of Finland. Be sure to comply with proper construction methods stressing fire and carbon monoxide safety. Overdo it in this regard; also have fire extinguishers, carbon monoxide and smoke alarms. photos of soapstone stoves, includes small stove with soapstone inlay.
Shower water is easy to heat with a tankless water heater, and you never have to worry about running out. An inexpensive point of use system could also be used. My office has a propane heated tankless unit and I can't see any reason to fool with tanks anymore especially if the RV has to be winterized as mine does. The systems are inexpensive enough and I believe they will be used extensively in the future and there are many models available to suit your requirements. I have included a few links for examples of what is available.
The dimensions of the sauna are 35" x 5'6", drawn to scale. The sauna heater is 7" deep and can be installed on the wall with a 1/2" space.
My email: osmo
My activities last April 12, 2004:
Over the Easter holidays I drove 1700 km to my trailer. I found it had wintered very well, but my work can't start until the ground thaws. My job had snow banks about three feet high beside the road.
So I wasted no time in taking off the bathroom fixtures and putting the foil-plastic-paper reflective vapor barrier on the walls. In hind-site, I should have put a layer of poly down first for double protection. I built the bench and placed it over the counter, and made a wooden platform over the shower area and a slatted grate for the floor. I didn't have time to fool with my wood chip burner, but I did use two small 110 volt electric barbecue plug-in (from bottom) type elements as a heater that I had picked up for $1 ea. at a thrift store. I surrounded the element with expanded steel to isolate it from the rocks which will wear out the elements. I plugged it in and waited. The temperature outside was just under freezing and since there were no boards on the walls, they did reflect the heat inward, but remained cool to the touch. The temperature rose to 50 degrees or about 125 degrees Fahrenheit. The reason for this is that the electric element is small and does not produce enough heat to counter the cold bare walls. The stove only produces what it produces, and it takes some time to heat the sauna to an acceptable temperature where you can sweat properly. I placed a large stainless steel pot of water near the stove to warm it up for washing. I threw water on the rocks, began to sweat perfusely and washed while sitting with my feet on the boards removeably covering the shower stall. The water went down into the shower stall with only a little ending up on the sauna floor, which was cleaned up easily. The grate could be installed with a plastic liner underneath so the little bit of water could be poured out into the shower grate. I plan to put tiles there and perhaps a drain as well. All in all, the experiment went well, and I can see that the improvements to be made in the next month or so, when I return, will prove successful in creating an excellent sauna. I plan to put a riser on the electric heater and will replace the rocks with better ones that hold the heat. This is a definite improvement on the trip to my office shower. I have a 24 hour timer that I can set to heat the sauna before I get home from work, which is an advantage over the wood-gas idea.
more stoves in log home section
Majava Sauna The Sauna Tradition Feeman Virtual Sauna Sauna and Bath Supplies Finn - Tastic Sauna & Gift Saunasite, lots of information Homecraft, Langley BC Canada Finnish Sauna and Wood Products Suomen Sauna Seura/Finnish Sauna Society Kastor - one of Finland's oldest sauna heater companies
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