Barrel Saunas

The Ultimate Guide to Barrel Sauna Heaters: Comparing Electric, Wood-Fired, and Propane Options

barrel sauna heaters

Investing in a barrel sauna is an affordable way to get all the wellness benefits of heat and steam right at home. Choosing between barrel sauna heaters and stoves has to be decided in the early stages of planning your outdoor sauna, as it will impact everything from placement to budget.

Not all barrel sauna manufacturers and sizes allow for wood-burning stoves. Either way, ensure your safety clearances and legroom are accounted for from the start.

With electric barrel sauna heaters, bring in 3 electricians early for quotes. Use SaunaSizer for optimal heater sizing, or contact us to provide your electrician with electrical specs so you can get accurate estimates. You will probably want to run 240v 8AWG and a separate 120v line for lighting and an outlet.

This article will discuss the three primary barrel sauna heater options: electric, wood-fired, and propane. We’ll also explore the key features of top electric heaters – Saunum Air and HUUM Drop, wood-fired heaters – Harvia M3 and HUUM Hive Heat 12, and the top propane heater option, Torch Stoves. We aim to help barrel sauna buyers make informed decisions so their heaters last as long as their saunas.

That said, most barrel saunas are NOT built to last themselves. Make sure you’re starting with a barrel sauna that will last. We review the best barrel saunas here.

Electric Barrel Sauna Heaters

Electric sauna heaters are popular for their convenience, ease of use, and minimal maintenance requirements. They can be installed both indoors and outdoors and are subject to fewer regulations than wood-fired heaters. Electric barrel sauna heaters are an excellent choice for those who prefer a more modern, hassle-free option.

Customers are often surprised to learn that electric heaters are cheaper to install, even if they have to run power and hire an electrician. That’s because with an electric barrel sauna, you don’t have to cut a hole in the roof, install a chimney (expensive!), or buy additional safety shields and platforms. They also take up less space in the barrel and provide a WiFi option to control your sauna from your phone.

But there’s one big problem with electric heaters in barrel saunas. Actually, it’s a problem with almost all barrel saunas but it’s worse with electric heat.

Heat rises and your feet are below the heater. Ideally, your feet will be above the rocks, which isn’t possible in any small sauna but especially a barrel sauna. Did you know temperatures can be nearly 100 degrees different between the ceiling and the floor of a barrel sauna?

There’s only one heater that solves this ‘stratification’ problem by distributing ideal sauna temperatures from the ceiling to below the bathers’ (that’s you!) Feet.

Meet the Saunum Air.

Best Barrel Sauna Heater (but difficult to spec) – The Saunum Air

Barrel Saunas are America’s favorite backyard sauna, but the performance has never met the standards of those who understand and appreciate Finnish Sauna Design. Our customers have found them to be an excellent, affordable way to get the benefits of an authentic Finnish sauna at home. At, we found the best on the market (Thermory, Dundalk Leisurecraft, and SaunaLife) and have 100% positive reviews for both.

But we couldn’t stop wishing we could offer a better sauna experience in a barrel. We know barrel saunas do not heat up as well below the benches as more expensive saunas with high benches.

Saunum Air is a revolutionary sauna technology that equalizes the sauna conditions throughout the room. No more stratification, no more harsh heat, no more stale air.

Saunum Air Flow

They’ve been popular in Finland, England, and Northern Europe for years but are now available in the US and Canada with UL listings. They require ‘goldilocks’ sauna dimensions and are not compatible with most barrel saunas due to minimum height requirements and required modifications but we have discovered and tested two barrel saunas that will blow your mind.

Until recently, you could not install a Saunum Air heater in a barrel sauna due to clearance issues. We worked with our friends at to fabricate heat shields that make it possible. Our Thermory 60 Series Barrel Saunas and SaunaLife EE8G Barrel Saunas come with custom heat shields, only available on Sauna Marketplace.

The Thermory No 61 / 60 with Saunum Air 7 and the brand new SaunaLife EE8G with the Saunum Air 10.

The most comfortable, customizable sauna experience imaginable is now available in a barrel sauna. These are guaranteed to change the mind of any barrel sauna hater with an open mind.

If these options work, there is no better barrel sauna experience in the world.

Besides those combos, we do not recommend putting a Saunum in any barrel sauna without talking to Sauna Marketplace techs.

Harvia KIP

Want to keep it simple?

Our top recommendation for an electric heater is the Harvia KIP with built-in controls. The built-in controls simplify the installation process and reduce material costs, saving you up to 50% on the total heater purchase and installation.

Key Features:

  1. Easy installation and operation
  2. External temperature sensor to get more accurate readings and optimize conditions.
  3. Built-in controls save money and simplify installation by around 50%
  4. Trusted design without as many reports of heating coil failures as HUUM.

Buy a Harvia KIP here.


The HUUM Drop electric sauna heater is an excellent choice for those seeking higher temperatures. The HUUM Drop is more expensive than the Harvia KIP, but it has the added benefit of Wi-Fi control for ultimate convenience.

The HUUM Drop in particular, has had premature heating elements not always covered by warranty. HUUM is addressing the problem, and Sauna Marketplace offers an additional protection plan that covers heating elements.

Our customers have avoided the problem by carefully placing stones according to instructions. If you choose HUUM Drop for a barrel sauna heater, plan on spending some extra time and photographing your installation if there are problems later. That’s always a good idea anyway.

Remember that with any electric heater with external controls, including all HUUM and Saunum models, you will want to protect the external controls from direct sun and rain. The most elegant way to accomplish this is with a barrel sauna with a porch, like the 60 Series of Thermory Barrel Saunas. Alternatively, you will require an electric box to protect the controller, which isn’t a great look.

Key Features:

  1. Modern, stylish design
  2. Wi-Fi control for remote operation (optional)
  3. Controller can operate light and exhaust fan.
  4. Temps up to 230f and longer sessions.
  5. Softer heat thanks to additional thermal mass (rocks).

Buy a HUUM Drop Electric Sauna Heater here

Other popular barrel sauna electric heaters include:

  1. Harvia Cilindro – a floor mounted rock basket heater that requires a flat floor kit in your barrel sauna. A softer heat than traditional wall mounted heaters but takes a little longer to heat the rocks.
  2. Harvia The Wall – a sleeker, more modern wall-mounted heater than the KIP that comes in black. Low clearances keep it low to the ground for better bench heat.

Electric Heater Size in a Barrel Sauna

Sizing barrel sauna heaters can be tricky and is an inexact science. Because they are not as well insulated as large saunas, we recommend getting the largest size that fits the volume of the space – especially if temperatures are frequently below freezing in your climate zone. However, oversizing a sauna – especially one that’s not made of thermally modified wood can blacken the ceiling above the heater.

We sell heat shields if that becomes an issue, but it’s best to get the size just right from the start.

Be wary of a company selling barrel saunas that don’t consider your climate when sizing the heater. At Sauna Marketplace, we often confer with customers and upsize the sauna heater at no extra cost. The last thing you want is a barrel sauna heater that doesn’t get the job done.

Here’s a simplified table that doesn’t take into account windows, climate, or user preference:

Barrel Sauna SizeElectric Heater Size (KW)
Up to 6ft (or smaller)4.5 KW to 6 KW
Between 72″ and 81″6 KW to 8 KW
Larger than 81″8 KW or larger

Stave thickness and roof material will also impact the size of the heater required and can make a surprisingly large difference. SaunaLife Ergo Barrel Saunas have a stave thickness of just a quarter of an inch wider than standard barrel saunas, but it increases the insulative properties by up to 25%.

The biggest impact is whether heat is escaping through cracks. The best barrel saunas, like Thermory Barrel Saunas are made with thermally modified wood that doesn’t expand and contract as much as cedar, so we expect they will leak less air when properly tightened. SaunaLife Ergo barrel saunas come with a shingle roof kit to help prevent air from escaping through the top, where you would loose the most heat.

Cedar barrel saunas like the ones we recommend from Dundalk Leisurecraft can work to your advantage if the bands are tightened before the cedar swells. In either case, it’s good to retighten the straps periodically to keep heat loss to a minimum.

Wood-Fired Barrel Sauna Heaters

Wood-fired sauna heaters provide a more traditional sauna experience, producing a natural, radiant heat source and emitting a delightful aroma from burning wood. They are often preferred by sauna enthusiasts who value authenticity and ambiance. Wood-fired barrel sauna heaters are perfect for those seeking a classic, immersive experience.

Barrel saunas without panoramic windows or lights are dark places, but a wood-burning stove with glass window sets the ambiance just right.

Keep in mind that wood-burning barrel saunas are significantly more complicated installs, even though you don’t need an electrician most of the time. The chimney assembly requires cutting a large whole in the roof, and oftentimes additional safety shields and platforms are required.

That said, nothing beats the ambience and aroma of a wood burning sauna.

Top Wood-Fired Heater Options for Barrel Saunas: Harvia M3 and HUUM Hive Heat 12

Harvia M3

Experience the gold standard in sauna performance with the Harvia M3 Wood Fired Sauna Stove. Designed to be durable, energy-efficient, and reliable, this stove boasts a sleek and modern look that adds to the beauty of your sauna. The M3 is the best-selling sauna stove in the world and offers a traditional sauna experience with a natural heat source and delightful aroma.

Key Features:

  1. Suitable for small and medium wood-fired barrel saunas.
  2. Efficient air circulation for a pleasant sauna experience
  3. Glass door for a traditional sauna ambiance
  4. Graphite black and stainless steel design

HUUM Hive Heat 12

If you’re looking for a more high-end wood-fired sauna heater with a unique design and excellent thermal mass, consider the HUUM Hive Heat 12. This stylish and efficient heater is popular for smaller saunas due to its clean-burning process and strong flame.

Key Features:

  1. Unique structure for a strong flame and clean burning
  2. Efficient burning with no wood gas escaping the chimney
  3. Cast iron furnace door for durability and easy maintenance
  4. German standard compliance (BimSchV II)
  5. Treated only with natural oils, without the use of chemicals

Have a huge barrel sauna, or want a larger sauna heater? Check out the HUUM HIVE WOOD 17.

Propane Barrel Sauna Heaters

Propane sauna heaters are an excellent option for those who want a convenient and efficient heat source without electricity or wood. These heaters are often used in commercial settings and are built to last. Propane barrel sauna heaters are ideal for those who prioritize ease of use and efficiency.

Top Propane Heater Option for Barrel Saunas: Torch Saunas

We highly recommend Torch out of Northern Michigan. They’ve always been the best gas and propane sauna stoves on the market, but with their new design they are also the most stylish. They have simple controls and heat up fast.

Just make sure to use a large enough barrel sauna for the clearances. Please reach out for combos.

Buy a Torch Propane Sauna Heater today.

Barrel Sauna Heaters – Safety Considerations

Always read the manual and check safety clearances before purchasing a barrel sauna heater. Make sure you’re buying from a reputable seller. We often pair barrel saunas with heaters that require safety shields that we include. We often see the same combos being sold by other websites without realize they require custom safety guards to be safe.

Most wood stoves, including the Harvia M3 will require heat shields in the barrel sauna to prevent fire risk. We also recommend talking to your building department and city ordinances to ensure you don’t have any issues with neighbors.


When deciding between electric, wood-fired, and propane barrel sauna heaters, consider your personal preferences, space constraints, and desired sauna experience. Electric heaters offer convenience and minimal maintenance, while wood-fired heaters provide a traditional, authentic experience, and propane heaters combine efficiency with ease of use.

By comparing the Harvia KIP and HUUM Drop electric heaters, the Harvia M3 and HUUM Hive Heat 12 wood-fired heaters, and the Torch propane heater, barrel sauna buyers can make an informed decision for their sauna heater needs. Each option offers excellent performance and unique features, ensuring a high-quality, enjoyable barrel sauna experience.

When you buy a barrel sauna on Sauna Marketplace, we make it easy to select a heater as an add-on that fits your sauna. That way, you’ll know you’re getting the best possible price and support.

Check out our thermally modified barrel sauna options here.