"Happiness is summer and a lakefront sauna"
"Onnea on kesä ja rantasauna."
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 did 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 black flies 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. Driving by one wilderness lake after another, I arrive home every day from my highway engineering job on
one of the isolated stretches. The photo is on the road to Telegraph Creek, west of Dease Lake BC. 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. Perhaps this is because there are very few people there to begin with. Germans and Swiss especially had picked up the tradition when it was popularized by the Finns in the 1952 Olympics. 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 desirable, and I intend to do the same.
My home for six or seven months of the year (on Hwy 37) was 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. I knew one thing: no moisture must be allowed to escape into the trailer walls - at all! It must be absolutely vapor proof.
The plan was to convert the bathroom into a sauna without taking away its primary functions. As it was, the heater sat on top of the toilet. Ideally, the sauna heater would slide into a recess in the counter. That would require some special engineering.
The room is the minimum size required for a sauna. The bench mounts over the sink, and there is a hinged portion that allows access to the sink. But I just use a basin and pour the water into the shower area where it goes through the spaces in the boards. I heated water in a stainless steel stock pot mounted on a rack over the rocks. This supplied all the hot water I needed to bathe properly. Washing was done at the former shower end with the water going through the removable duck board inserted and held in place by the shower stall sides.
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. 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.
You can buy a 110 Volt sauna heater that plugs into a standard outlet. If you use wood heat, be sure to have a CO monitor and stay in the safe range, increasing ventilaton as required.
Soapstone tiles, which hold 2 times as much heat as brick using the same heat and give back heat over 12 hours, could be added to hot areas to store the heat if required. 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.
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 activities 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. The elements were protected by expanded steel to isolate them from the surrounding rocks. 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 elements are small (750 watts each for a total of 1.5 kw) and do not produce enough heat to counter the cold bare walls in winter. 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 threw water on the rocks, began to sweat profusely 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 or tray 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 am happy to say I was successful in creating an excellent sauna. I have to admit it worked better when the weather warmed up and the inside temperature rose to around 70 deg. C. Still not the best possible, but certainly enough to produce a good sweat and steam, about as much as I can handle in a half hour.
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 I had earlier. Woodgas heaters use woodchips and twigs to form a gas under low oxygen, which is then zapped with air and burned clean, like propane or natural gas. I haven't heard of these being used for small saunas, but I don't see any reason why they would not work. However, it must be converted into a closed top stove first, and some means of lighting the fire, adding fuel, from the top must be available. So, now (2009) I have rekindled the wood-gas idea and have completed the portable stove/barbecue version. The chimney should have a damper. As of February 2009, I have a camping version of the stove and I will let you know here when the sauna version is available.