Buying a barrel sauna? Here are 10 pros & cons

So you’ve decided to buy a barrel sauna. Excellent choice. They’re a blend of modern design with a traditional, Finnish-style sauna experience. Barrel saunas comes with plenty of pros, but there are also some cons you may not realize, too.

In this article we’ll take a look at 10 reasons why barrel saunas are awesome and all the awesome benefits. We’ll also highlight 10 potential disadvantages and risks you’ll need to consider when making your purchasing decision. Oh, and if you want to check out our favourite barrel sauna products in 2023, click here. Do you have a bunch of questions about these beauties? Check out our FAQ here.

And I just want to say you may be surprised by a few pros and cons. I’m guessing con #4 may surprise you and may not be something you’ve considered. I know, I know so much suspense. But you’ll just have to read on find out what I mean.

Ready to jump in? Let’s go!

Looking for an infrared sauna? Check out our buying guide here.

10 pros of barrel saunas:

As we mentioned at the top, barrel saunas are an excellent choice for those looking for a traditional Finnish-style sauna experience with a modern aesthetic. However, they offer a ton more advantages.

Let’s take a closer look at why barrel saunas are awesome.

Canadian hemlock barrel sauna in the a forest

1. Better air circulation & heat distribution than cabin-style saunas

Barrel saunas are better for air circulation & heat distribution than cabin-style saunas because of the circular design. The curved roof & walls create a natural circulation of air within the sauna. This creates a convection current that helps to circulate the hot air evenly throughout the space.

The heat rises to the top of the sauna, then moves down the walls and circulates back up, creating a natural flow of air that ensures that all areas of the sauna are evenly heated.

In contrast, the typical box shape of cabin-style saunas can create stagnant pockets of air & uneven heat distribution. Air can become trapped in certain areas, leading to hot & cold spots. This can make the sauna experience less comfortable & less effective.

Overall, the curved design of a barrel sauna provides superior air circulation and heat distribution, resulting in a more comfortable and effective sauna experience.

2. Energy efficiency

Tying into #1, barrel saunas are much more energy efficient (when properly assembled & insulated) than their cabin-style counterparts. The barrel shape creates a constant air flow, meaning it takes less time & energy to initially heat than other sauna types.

The natural air circulation means that the heat is distributed more evenly throughout the space, reducing the amount of energy needed to maintain a consistent temperature.

3. Durability (due to unique shape)

Outdoor barrel traditional steam sauna in a forest

Barrel saunas are known across the sauna world for their unrivaled durability. This is largely due to the barrel shape. The curved design distributes the weight evenly, which reduces stress on individual components & preventing cracking or warping. Using high quality wood such as cedar or fir further reduces the risk of wear & tear.

The barrel shape is also resistant to compression & tension forces. This makes it more resilient to external factors like high winds or heavy snow loads. A cabin-style sauna, by contrast are typically more susceptible to the elements over the long term.

4. Unique design & aesthetic appeal

Let’s face it… barrel saunas have some sex appeal. They’re beautifully constructed & aesthetically pleasing. The curved shape of the barrel creates a natural, rustic look that blends seamlessly into any outdoor or indoor setting. They’re legitimately the perfect addition to a backyard oasis, a cabin retreat or even an urban concrete jungle.

The wooden exterior & interior of the sauna add warmth with a touch of luxury that is hard to match. The charming appearance of a barrel sauna makes it an ideal space to relax & unwind while connecting with nature (assuming you’re not in the aforementioned concrete jungle).

5. Versatility – can be used indoors or outdoors

One of the biggest pros of a barrel sauna is its versatility. It can be used either indoors or outdoors, depending on your intended use. Another huge plus is that an indoor barrel sauna offers all the same health benefits & relaxation opportunities as an outdoor sauna.

But a big plus of installing it indoors is the added convenience of not having to trudge through two feet of snow in your backyard in the winter. At least that’s the reality of winter where we live ????.

Conversely, outdoor barrel saunas provide unrivalled peace & serenity. A natural experience that allows you to enjoy the beauty of the surrounding environment.

6. Easy maintenance

A really nice thing about barrel saunas is that they require very little maintenance. The caveat to this is installing it in a sheltered area, where it won’t be directly impacted by inclement weather (i.e. strong winds, heavy rain & snow). The wooden exterior only requires occasional treatment to maintain its natural beauty, while the interior can be easily cleaned with a soft cloth & natural cleaner.

And since the barrel shape distributes weight evenly, there is less stress on the sauna components. This translates to fewer maintenance issues over time. So, yeah barrel saunas are awesome.

7. Portable & easy to relocate as needed

Barrel saunas are reasonably portable & easy to relocate. Typically, you’ll either need to disassemble it or use a forklift to move it. However, disassembly & reassembly is extremely easy. If you go the forklift route, it just expedites the process.

If you decide to move or sell your home, you can take your sauna with you This ensures that you won’t lose out on your investment. Or you can leave it & increase the value of your home, but more on that a little later.

8. Available in a variety of sizes

Wooden barrel sauna with smoke out of a chimney in a snow covered forest

Barrel saunas are available in a variety of sizes, from small 2-person models to big ol’ ones that can accommodate up to 10 people. This flexibility makes it easy to find a barrel sauna that fits your space and budget requirements.

Whether you are looking to add a cozy sauna to your backyard or a larger one for your family & friends to enjoy, there is a barrel sauna out there that will fit your needs.

9. Largest models can accommodate up to 10 people

As we just touched on in #8, barrel saunas are unique in that they can accommodate up to 10 people in their largest models. The real benefit to buying a large barrel sauna vs. a cabin-style sauna is that even the largest barrels are typically cheaper than a cabin sauna kit.

Plus, as we’ve already hyped in this article, barrel saunas are beautiful and require minimal maintenance. They provide ample space for everyone to enjoy the sauna experience together.

10. No special plumbing installation required

Another great advantage of barrel saunas is that they don’t require any special plumbing installation. Virtually all barrel saunas are equipped with proper drainage.

So if you enjoy a traditional Finnish sauna session complete with löyly (steam from throwing water on the heater) , the units are designed to drain any excess moisture. This means no plumber needs to be called during the installation process!

This also means that you can install a barrel sauna quickly & easily without having to worry about the cost or inconvenience of extensive installation requirements.

11. Can increase value of home

Alright, yes I realize this is ELEVEN pros, not ten. But consider this one a bonus.

As we already touched on, a barrel sauna can increase the value of your home. In addition to being a unique and appealing feature, a sauna is also an investment in your health & wellbeing. It can also be a selling point for potential buyers who are looking for a home that offers something extra.

By adding a barrel sauna to your property, you are investing in your own comfort & lifestyle, while also increasing the resale value of your home.

10 cons of barrel saunas:

Alright, we need to play Devil’s Advocate here for a second. Let’s explore a few of the potential disadvantages that come along with barrel saunas. The goal of this little exercise is to help you make a more informed buying decision.

1. More expensive than an infrared saunas

Split image, left half is a wood panel far infrared sauna in a grey stone tile room. Right half is an outdoor wood barrel traditional dry sauna in a forest.

Making an investment in a barrel sauna is not something you’ll regret. However, they are typically quite a bit more expensive than some of the other sauna options out there. Comparing infrared and traditional saunas isn’t necessarily a fair assessment, though. Most sauna purists don’t consider infrared units to even be “saunas” after all.

And although barrel saunas are more expensive than infrared saunas, many people consider the traditional wood-fired (or electric heat) experience of a barrel sauna to be worth the extra cost. While infrared saunas are cheaper, they do not provide the same authentic sauna experience as a barrel sauna.

2. Requires regular maintenance (risk of leaks & pests)

We mentioned low maintenance as a pro, but these units do require some maintenance, which can be annoying. This includes sealing the wood to prevent leaks & pests, cleaning the interior and exterior & inspecting the electrical components.

If you do commit to regular maintenance though, a barrel sauna can last for many years & provide countless hours of relaxation & enjoyment. And it’s an awesome way to beat the winter blues!

3. Assembly can be difficult

Barrel saunas require assembly, which can be challenging for a lot of people. An infrared sauna was hard enough for me to put together. I can’t imagine the hours required to put a barrel sauna (complete with barrel staves) together.

Thankfully there is some good news on that front. Many companies (like Almost Heaven) offer a done-for-you service that will install the unit for you & haul away any waste. But if you’re even a little handy, you should be able to manage assembling one of these kits.

There are typically a ton of resources available to help with the process, including online guides & instructional videos.

4. May require special permits for outdoor installation (depending on locale)

Okay so this is a BIG one. Depending on where you live, you may need special permits to install an outdoor barrel sauna. This is important for a couple of reasons:

  1. City/municipal officials may make you disassemble your unit if you don’t have a required permit
  2. Or you could face a tax assessment if the unit it larger than is allowable for taxation purposes; I know where I live, anything under 10’ x 10’ if fine, but if it’s 10’1”… watch out for the tax man!
  3. If you choose to build without following local laws, you could risk voiding your insurance in the event of a fire.

It’s important to follow local regulations to ensure that your sauna is legal. This may add to the cost & time required for installation, but it’s necessary to ensure that your sauna is compliant with local regulations.

5. Not ideal for larger groups (largest models seat up to 10)

Traditional barrel sauna on a dock by a lake in the forest

Okay, so I feel like we may be talking out of both sides of our mouths here. Yes, there are some spacious barrel sauna models. But they typically don’t accommodate large groups as well as other options (i.e. cabin sauna).

While the largest models of barrel saunas can accommodate up to 10 people, they may not be ideal for larger groups. If you frequently entertain large groups of people, a barrel sauna may not be the best choice for your needs.

6. Require additional insulation for cold climates

In colder climates, additional insulation may be required to maintain the desired temperature in a barrel sauna. This can add to the cost of installation and maintenance, but it’s necessary to ensure that your sauna is comfortable & effective in all weather conditions.

Proper insulation can also help to reduce energy costs & improve the efficiency of your sauna. There’s nothing more frustrating than waiting an hour or more for your sauna to heat up!

7. Requires an electrical source for heating (unless using wood stove)

Barrel saunas require an electrical source for heating, unless you opt for a wood-fired stove. This means that you’ll need to ensure that you have a dedicated electrical circuit and a sufficient power source to run your sauna.

Many units require a direct power source, so contracting a licensed electrician will be necessary. However, with proper installation and maintenance, the electrical components of a barrel sauna are reliable & safe.

8. Can take longer to heat up than other sauna types

Compared to other types of saunas, barrel saunas can take longer to heat up due to the larger volume of space that needs to be heated. However, the traditional wood-fired experience is often worth the extra time and effort required to heat up the sauna.

Additionally, with proper insulation & heating equipment, the heat-up time can be reduced.

9. Limited customization options due to size

Man in shorts standing in snow outside snow covered wooden barrel sauna in the forest

Due to the unique design of barrel saunas, there are limited customization options available compared to other types of saunas (i.e. cabin saunas). While you can choose the size of your sauna & the type of wood used, there may be fewer options for customization such as the layout, lighting, stereo system, etc.

Here at Sauna Squad we subscribe to the notion that the natural & rustic beauty of a barrel sauna makes up for the lack of customization options.

10. May not be suitable for people with health conditions

A middle age man and woman with towels around necks enjoying a sauna with wood panelling

We’ve covered the potential health risks of saunas before, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate. Long story short, the risks associated with sauna use are generally minimal. However, they may not be suitable for those with certain underlying health conditions (such as heart conditions)

People with cardiovascular issues or high blood pressure, for example, may need to consult a doctor before using a sauna. Additionally, pregnant women & young children should avoid using saunas altogether.

People with sensitive skin may also need to be cautious when using a sauna, as the high heat and humidity can cause dryness and irritation. It’s recommended to keep sauna sessions short and to hydrate adequately before and after use.

Overall, it’s always a good idea to consult a healthcare provider before using a sauna, especially if you have any underlying medical conditions.

Barrel sauna pros and cons wrap up

Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground in this article. To summarize what we talked about, barrel saunas are great for a lot of reasons, such as their beautiful shape, energy efficient design, durability & minimal maintenance.

However, they aren’t risk-free purchases. You’ll need to comply with municipal law before setting up a barrel sauna up in your backyard. Oh, and that whole assembly thing. Yes, the assembly can be challenging. But the good news is many companies offer a white glove setup service for a fee.

We are firm believers that the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to barrel saunas. But at the end of the day, it comes down to your budget, personal preference & desired goals.

A message from Sauna Squad

We hope we’ve provided some value in your research. But if you have any questions or concerns, hit us up on Instagram @thesaunasquad or feel free to fire us a message on our contact page.

Latest posts