Are Barrel Saunas Good or Bad?
Barrel saunas are the most popular, affordable, and cozy outdoor saunas kits in the world. They're also controversial among sauna communities.
Noisy purists on social media stand ready to critisize them, and it's worth taking note. Are barrel saunas leaky, unventilated, CO2 chambers where feet stay cold?
While we are sympathetic to pursuing the perfect sauna, high-quality barrel saunas from Thermory, Dundalk Leisurecraft, and SaunaLife make authentic sauna experiences more accessible. And in one case, a barrel sauna performs even better than Finnish design standards (EE8G Upper Bench Barrel with Saunum Air Equalization).
But the internet sauna trolls don't know that 🙂
Most sauna buyers take the critiques with a grain of salt, and are happy they did. Outdoor barrel saunas provide an affordable way to experience the essence of a Finnish sauna: Heat above 180 degrees Fahrenheit, Loyly (gentle steam from water on rocks), and fresh air.
So... Are Barrel Saunas Good?
Done right, barrel saunas look great and accomplish what makes a sauna good - heat, humidity, and rocks.
But there are real criticisms, especially with the ones you might buy Costsco.
The primary concern for most is that barrel saunas don't get their feet elevated. This, of course, can be remedied by putting feet up on the benches. The best solution is choosing a barrel sauna with higher benches (EE6G, EE8G) or pairing it with a Saunum Air circulating heaters.
The next well-deserved criticism of barrel saunas is that they leak. And it's true - all barrel saunas leak without a roof. That's why the best barrel sauna kits come with roofs or rain jackets. Use them 🙂
The third criticism of barrel saunas is they develop unsightly water marks and start rotting after a couple of years. This is true for cheap barrel saunas made of unmodified fir, and cheap Chinese kits. Unfortunately, these categories are still the default barrel sauna options for many.
Lastly, problems can arise when barrel saunas use thin lumber that's less than 1.5" thick. All of the best barrel saunas we recommend use beefier dimensional lumber, and are either thermally modified or carefully selected to reduce twisting and warping.
Be sure to compare your kit to something like a SaunaLife Ergo, with 1.65" thick walls.
Kit, Custom, or Prebuilt?
Operating within a budget and don't mind spending an afternoon putting together a sauna kit? A barrel sauna kit is the fastest, most affordable option. But here come those landmines again...
Avoid at all costs:
- Companies selling very low-quality Chinese barrel saunas that haven't left the port. They often steal product pictures from reputable brands like Dundalk. A red flag would be a company that sells everything for your home and garden. Be careful with Smartmak, Aleko, MCP Sauna, Saunasnet, and any wholesale website. Avoiding companies that also sell scooters, or have 'vital' in their domain name will go a long way.
- A company that doesn't consider your climate or preferences when sizing the barrel sauna heater. Barrel saunas don't have insulation beyond a single layer of wood, and outdoor conditions will greatly impact your sauna's quality. At SaunaMarketplace.com, we always review the order before shipping and make sure the sauna will perform as expected. We frequently upsize sauna heaters at no cost
- Barrel saunas that are made of untreated fir or pine that don't recommend painting or staining the exterior. Without treatment, these will be particularly susceptible to rot and decay.
- Building from scratch - the total amount of board feet that require routing for a standard barrel sauna can be over 1400 feet - which would reach the top of the empire state building. Not a fun or inspiring job for most people, with very little savings. Let the CNC machines do this job.
- Infrared barrel saunas - outdoor infrared saunas simply do not perform well.
What The Best Barrel Sauna Kits Have In Common
The best barrel sauna kits use screws to hold the staves together (not just nails or straps) and come with a roof or rain jacket.
We're not biased against China, but EVERY decent barrel sauna kit we've ever encountered came from Europe, Canada, USA, or Finland. Buying a barrel sauna kit that uses western red cedar from Canada that was shipped to China to be milled, then shipped back to the USA is unlikely to come together well.
The Best Barrel Saunas Use Thermally Modified Wood
The barrel sauna kits we trust the most are made with Thermally modified wood which lasts up to twice as long as cedar. It's a natural process (no chemicals) that uses precise heat and steam in a vacuum to make the wood more durable, stable, and attractive.
Cedar today isn't what it used to be after the old-growth forests have been logged. The age and natural growth of the tree gave cedar its ability to resist rot.
So if you're looking for a sauna with little to no maintenance, our top two picks are for you...
Why should you trust us?
We started SaunaShare.com in 2019 as a platform for sauna rental companies. The first sauna on the website was a barrel sauna, and through the years, we've consulted with over 250 barrel sauna owners. We know what lasts, and what fails.
But are we just recommending our products? Fair question.
At SaunaMarketplace.com, we don't recommend what we sell; we sell what we recommend. That's why we started this website in the first place. Our top choices, Thermory, SaunaLife, and Dundalk Leisurecraft reflect this commitment and can be conveniently purchased from our platform.
We're here to help you find the best barrel sauna for your unique needs. We can't sell everything, but chances are we can recommend a builder or manufacturer that can.
Best Barrel Sauna Kits
#1 SaunaLife Barrel Sauna
Crafted by sauna industry veterans, and some of the most knowledgable sauna experts in the business, this kit is SaunaLife's answer to achieving unrivaled comfort and impressive durability in a DIY package from Northern Europe.
The Ergo Series stands out with its unique features. The designers have ergonomically shaped the Thermo-Aspen benches and backrests, making them almost 50% thicker than the industry standard.
They have constructed the sauna using Thermo-Spruce, a thermally modified Nordic Spruce that doubles the lifespan of traditional Cedar.
Coupled with LED lighting that comes as standard and the option for a full glass front wall, these saunas also explicitly support wood stoves.
Every purchase from SaunaLife comes with a complimentary shingle roof kit and LED light kit.
- Most comfortable benches
- Thickest Wood for Insulation and Durability
- Best roof kit (shingle with drip edge)
- Best technical support
- Best performance (EE8G w/ Saunum).
- Fastest Deliver (2-3 weeks)
SaunaLife Barrel Sauna Kits
Ergo Line and 2 Upper Bench Options
#2 Thermory Barrel Sauna Kits
Thermory Barrel Sauna Kits
Small, Large, and Black
Thermory Barrel Saunas, with the entire range accessible through SaunaMarketplace.com, are ingeniously crafted from thermally modified wood that effectively resists expansion, contraction, and leakage.
They have optional windows front porch and include a floor kit and rain jacket.
Someone could write a book about the quality control at Thermory; it is remarkably consistent. Thermory is a global leader in the Thermal modification process, and sell high-end indoor saunas through the Auroom brand.
We believe Thermory barrel saunas are the most consistent, reliable barrel saunas on the market.
They are in stock, easy to build, and have a generous warranty and support.
#3 Dundalk Leisurecraft Barrel Sauna Kits
Dundalk Leisurecraft is an eco-friendly, family-owned sauna kit manufacturer out of Ontario, Canada. Their recommended 'Canadian Timber' line of barrel sauna kits are excellent for those who want the aroma and ambience of cedar without sacrificing quality.
Cedar barrel saunas often develop warps or other shrinking issues when stored for long periods of time, or during transportation. Dundalk Leisurecraft barrel sauna kits are built, packaged, and shipped right to the customers door to ensure quality.
The Harmony, Serenity, and Tranquility models live up to their names. The larger models have a full glass wall option with panoramic rear window.
These are excellent options for wood-burning stoves, and can be paired with Karhu sauna stoves from Finland.
We teamed up with Dundalk Leisurecraft to offer free shipping on all their barrel sauna kits, directly from their manufacturing facility to your curb.
Check out their available options and pricing here.
Custom Sauna From Nomad Saunas
#4 BZB Outdoors
Use discount code SAUNASHARE
#5 Casa De Sauna
Casa de Sauna, established in 2015, is a Canadian-based manufacturer of handcrafted mobile saunas. Notable for their 100% Canadian cedar construction, these saunas offer an authentic, traditional experience with the flexibility of mobility.
This makes them a good choice for those desiring sauna benefits at home, business locations, or events.
With over 30 designs, Casa de Sauna offers a range of options to suit different customer needs. Additionally, they offer a factory-direct model, which assures quality and can help keep costs more manageable.
The company positions its mobile saunas as a luxury product and a wellness tool that can bring health benefits to the consumer through mobile sauna companies like those on SaunaShare.com.
The company's commitment to customer service, innovation, and quality makes it a worthy consideration for anyone seeking a mobile sauna solution. South of the border? CasaDeSauna will meet American customers at the border and deal with the paperwork.
Overall, Casa de Sauna's offerings are a good blend of quality, affordability, and wellness benefits, making it a compelling option for those in the market for a mobile sauna.
Get Creative with Custom Barrel Saunas
For those who want to buy everything prebuilt, and love the idea of personalizing their sauna to their taste, custom-built barrel saunas are the best fit. Expert manufacturers like Nomad Saunas and Alpenglow Saunas specialize in delivering masterfully crafted, tailor-made barrel saunas that go beyond your expectations.
Choose Custom if...
1. You want to avoid some headaches
2. You want to customize your sauna
3. You want an experienced builder to oversee the project
Nomad Sauna - Custom and Mobile Barrel Saunas Out Of Minneapolis
Alpenglow Saunas - Vancouver Island
Other Sauna Types
Yes, you can build a barrel sauna from scratch but unless you have a good source for inexpensive, quality lumber you will likely pay nearly as much as you would have for a barrel sauna kit. Building from scratch also takes about a week, while a kit can be assembled in a day.
No, it’s actually quite easy and even enjoyable to assemble a barrel sauna kit. For the best barrel sauna kits like Thermory, installation can be compared to assembling a very large piece of furniture from Ikea. It is a little tricky towards the end but rewarding.
Barrel sauna kits range from $4500 to $8500. Some of the best barrel sauna kits are at the lower end of this range because they use thermally modified Nordic Spruce instead of cedar. You can also save 70% on the heater by using an electric heater with built in controls.
Barrel saunas themselves weigh 600 to 1800 pounds depending on the size, material, and options like roof, floor kit, and chimney.
We recommend electric sauna heaters with built in controls. We wrote a post about the best heaters for barrel saunas here.
When working within a budget, every sauna type has cons. By design, barrel saunas do not get feet elevated or have insulation besides the single layer of wood, and the market is flooded with low-quality options. The best barrel saunas present tremendous value and make authentic Finnish saunas more accessible.
More Barrel Sauna Companies
Almost Heaven, owned by Harvia is a major barrel sauna manufacturer in the United States. Their quality seems to have slipped since they started selling barrel saunas at Costco, but they have cedar options at a good price. The problems with Almost Heaven tend to come from a misunderstanding that their untreated wood needs to be painted or stained, and that a roof is always required for outdoor barrel saunas. We took a deeper dive into Almost Heaven barrel saunas here.
Northern lights is a family business thats sold saunas and hot tubs for 25 years. Located in Manitoba, Canada – they offer a 7′ diameter model which provides more headroom and interior space (standard is 6′).
Saunacore is based in Ontario, Canada with a USA office in Niagara Falls, NY. They have a trusted sauna heater thats very popular in Canada. Saunacore offers a 'country living' cedar barrel sauna but have been focused in recent years on infrared saunas.
We encourage careful consideration if you're considering an Aleko Barrel Sauna due to a few potential concerns.
Firstly, Aleko's saunas often come with a SLIGHTLY lower price point, which may seem attractive. However, it's worth considering that lower costs often correlate with compromises in quality, wood choice, and longevity.
When it comes to an investment such as a sauna, durability and resilience to the elements are crucial factors to weigh.
Secondly, Aleko's use of materials may not match the high standards Thermory and SaunaLife sets. The sauna industry increasingly prefers more resilient and eco-friendly materials like Thermo-Spruce and Thermo-Aspen, used in our top-rated barrel saunas. Aleko's reliance on untreated pine and other cheaper non-sauna woods will impact the sauna's lifespan and performance.
Finally, the user experience and comfort offered by Aleko's models may not measure up to those of SaunaLife's Ergo series or Thermory's offerings. Both of these brands have pushed the envelope in terms of design, integrating ergonomically designed seating and enhanced features like LED lighting to elevate the sauna experience.
In conclusion, while Aleko and other sauna kits offer a SLIGHTLY more budget-friendly option, potential sauna owners should consider these factors to make an informed decision.
There has been a public sauna called SISU Sauna for years, so just to be clear - we are talking about the barrel sauna manufacturer here!
SISU Saunas went heavy on the influencer marketing campaigns and light on sauna technology, options, or lead times. Most paying customers seem to ultimately be disappointed in the quality, dimensions, and how quickly they develop water marks. These are not particularly sturdy or well built barrels but we hope they improve!