Mass-Produced Sauna Kit Buyers Beware!

by Neil Peterson

Mass-Produced Sauna Kit Buyers Beware!

When searching for home saunas online, there is no shortage of internet-based retailers willing to sell you a pre-packaged sauna kit and ship it to your home.  However, once many sauna buyers make this seemingly straightforward purchase, they’re left asking themselves “now what?”.  Finding someone who has experience installing saunas proves to be a much more difficult task, and one that most people don’t consider when making their initial purchase – or they’ve toyed with the idea of installing the kit themselves.  This is not to say that a competent carpenter or a home owner with the right tools couldn’t work their way through it, but there are many considerations that someone with no experience wouldn’t think to make, and unfortunately these online retailers make no attempt to help you with them either.   As one of the only companies out there who present themselves as sauna installers, we’ve been contacted on many occasions to install a kit that a homeowner has purchased through a different source (more often than not, these customers had already purchased a kit before they found out about us, and end up regretting not purchasing one of our saunas in the first place!).  Accepting jobs like these have given us a great deal of insight into the many shortcomings and headaches that come with buying these mass-produced kits, and has helped us to further reinforce the advantages of dealing with a small-scale, detail oriented company like ourselves.

Quality and Quantity of Material.

Mass production sauna companies are generally very similar to other wholesale distribution operations in terms of their business structure – meaning that they have salespeople and inventory controllers who work from computers buying and selling digitally quantified material, thereby generating orders for unskilled warehouse workers to pack and ship.  In other words, the material being packaged for these saunas is nothing more than a number on a packing slip – x board feet to cover x sq ft.  The problem with this large-scale method is that wood is a natural medium with different characteristics (and possible defects) in each board.  This impersonal, numbers-based approach to their inventory means that any defective board that’s included in their supply shipment is fair game to be included in your sauna kit.  Anyone who’s ever gone to Lowe’s or Home Depot to pick out a few boards for their home project has likely seen how the undesirable boards tend to stack up on the side of a self-serve pallet of lumber as people pick around the defects.  Western Red Cedar is no different; our wholesale shipments of material require us to screen through each board to identify which defects need to be cut around to minimize shrinkage while also making sure each board is pristine.

What does this mean for you?

These kits are shipped with the bare minimum number of boards to cover a given space, however, 10%-20% of the boards contain minor to significant edge defects, splits, or warping that should either exclude them from being used or require them to be used in a place that is trimmed-over or concealed by benches. Also, roughly half of the boards have unfavorable grain characteristics which wouldn’t pass our standards for visible “contact area” placement (see previous post about grain characteristics). While these problems present significant headaches for us as experienced professionals, a novice installer wouldn’t even know to screen or account for them and could easily find themselves short on usable material.

Our experiences with these kits have underlined the need to distinguish ourselves and our products in terms of material quality and to emphasize the value of consulting with experts to design a custom sauna for your unique space.  For those of you contemplating a future sauna purchase, we hope you’ve found our site, and this blog, in time to save yourself the headaches of a mass produced sauna kit!


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