sauna heating elements hot (RED)

#1 Sauna Heater Failure a Simple Inspection to Stop Expensive Repair

A Sauna Heater is a relatively simple device, almost like an oversized toaster oven. It is important to inspect and clean the sauna heater once a year. It was a surprise when we toured our home to find out it had a “real” sauna. It was not part of the home description but no matter we smiled when we saw it. This was not a Costco Infrared unit, but a custom one off built in sauna in our bathroom.

We have experienced saunas in a couple of locations. Many during business trips at hotels in Sweden where I travel for work have saunas. We have also visited several times a local spa in Asheville, NC The Omni Grove Park Inn, they have a couple of steam rooms and dry saunas. We have always enjoyed the refreshing experience that a sauna brings. So we were a little excited to find this feature in our new house.

What I did not know, is practicality of a Sauna. How expensive would it be to run it? How to properly clean the entire surface? How to ensure the heater is running properly. There were many questions that entered my head that I had no way of understanding how hard or easy of a luxurious item the sauna is.

Research on maintaining a Sauna

I kicked off my research by chatting via email to the North American Sauna Society. I asked their CEO about various things that we should be concerned about. Electric heater vs. a stove (more traditional until the electric units have become acceptable). He gave me a couple of resources that helped me to dig further to find answers to my questions. While the North American Sauna Association is primarily focused on commercial environments, some of the pieces of information were applicable to private saunas.

The first piece of advice was to test and clean the heater. This is the number 1 area that most people fail in. An annual inspection can catch problems before they start, that can lead to an entire heater replacement.

Also we had one item that was important to note. Most of the time, the heat in our basement area where the sauna is located is usually cool. We don’t typically use the heat (or we keep it really low) unless it is a weekend. So the Sauna Heater must be able to heat the sauna 70F degrees warmer than where it starts out.

Sauna Heater Thermometer

In a sterile, plastic world, sauna is.. the sound of the steam on the rocks with its enveloping warmth, the smell of wood, and the warm sauna benches.

The North American Sauna Society

Testing and Improving the Sauna Heater

Our heater is an electric unit. It is not extremely powerful nor is it a bottom of the line unit either. By all indications that I could find, it is a 6KW unit. So if left on it would use 6KW per hour on high. It was taking 45 minutes to heat up. So this was one of my first goals. 1. Get it to heat up the room faster. 2. Ensure it was in proper working order. It would not consume more energy than 6KW per hour but I can easily shorten the amount of time it takes to heat up.

Regular cleaning is essential for a healthy sauna. These simple steps will keep your sauna clean and working properly. The heater being a key component needs to work properly to get the sauna up to temperature (130 degrees Fahrenheit )

Total Time: 25 minutes

Remove Stones

1st Step

The stones that are used to surround the heater elements must be removed in order to clean and test the elements. You may find a couple of stones that are broken down too much and should no longer be used. This is common if you have not cleaned the heater in a season or two.

Remove Supports

Step 2 DIY two step

You may have various metal structures inside of the sauna heater to support the stone and heating elements. You want to use a pliers or wrench to take the supporting structure out.

Sauna Heater Inspection

interior of electric sauna heater

Take a look inside, what do you see? My sauna heater was a little dirty from previous use. It was overall in decent condition and I did not see anything that raised an alarm. I took a soft brush went over the interior of the heater. Once done, I took a vacuum to remove any and all dirt. Note, if you use essential oils in your water for the sauna, you may need to lightly use some soap and water. However, I caution you to not use any harsh chemicals as they will come out into the air when you are using the sauna.

Reassemble Support Structures

sauna heater testing

Now that you have cleaned everything out, turn the heater on. Give it about 5 minutes or less to get to operating temperature. you should see that the elements are for the most part glowing red. You may have one that is slightly discolored and not glowing, that may be OK as long as it is still getting hot. I had one element that was slightly off, but after about 5 minutes it got more and more red.

Sauna Electric Heater Repair

4rth step in DIY fourth step

If you identify that you need to get new Elements, I have seen some of the common brands on Amazon or eBay. You can also do a search for “Sauna Shops near me” to find a local resource for parts. I don’t have the history on our home and who installed our unit, but there are parts available online.

Sauna Stone Placement

Helo sauna heater 1960

Once you are ready to place the stones back into the Sauna heater, you need to understand two things. 1. Airflow is key to heating up the sauna. 2. Arranging the sauna rocks too tightly will not help to transmit heat. Think about keeping the edges as open as possible. Once you get to the top, you need to cover the heater elements. They are OK with being wet, but you do not want them to be exposed directly to water.

Final Adjustments to Your Sauna Heater

Step 6 in DIY

Now that you have the stones put back into place, turn the heater on one last time. Make sure the heater elements heat up as expected. Hold your hand about 8 inches above the heater. Do you feel warmth going past your hand? Does it feel like the air is flowing? If not, take a look at the sauna stone. See if you have packed in too tightly and if so adjust once the heater cools down.

By following these steps you will be well on your way to ensuring your electric sauna heater is working properly. As with any appliance, it is important to maintain especially when high heat and water are in the mix. Our sauna used to take 45 minutes to heat up prior to this cleaning session. Now it takes slightly less (about 30 minutes) -note that the stone does deteriorate over time, so they do need to be adjusted annually. Up next for us will be how to properly clean the rest of the sauna to get it up to snuff for the season.

Until next time!

2 years ago

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