INFRARED VS. TRADITIONAL
In order to understand the new-style infrared (IR) saunas, let’s first discuss traditional saunas and how they work. Warming the room predominantly uses an electric heating element, applied to a container of stones or rocks. These stones employ convection heat to radiate warmth all over the room (similar to how an oven works). When the pre-set air temperature is reached, the heating elements then alternate on and off to preserve the high temperature. In warming the air surrounding you, the system warms the surface of the skin, which then heats the muscles and tissues underneath. Most users of traditional saunas delight in splashing water over the rocks to generate steam and increase humidity.
Juxtapose this with IR saunas, which employ safe far-infrared (FIR) light energy to deliver radiant heat to directly heat your skin, muscles and tissues without drastically warming the air around you, resulting in a cooler experience overall, that can help to extend sessions longer than in the traditional sauna. While this radiant heat may sound new-fangled, keep in mind that the same science makes us feel warm when we step outside on a sunny day, and also comforts babies in neonatal units all over the world.
With far-infrared the user may also start bathing as soon as the room is turned on, as the energy emitted is applied directly to the bather. Contrast this with the 30-40 minutes required to properly preheat the rocks in a traditional sauna. Finally, in an IR sauna, you will sweat, however not as much as in a traditional experience since the heating effect is less intense.
Room Size / Social Experience
It’s important not to lose sight of the kinship and unity that can be gained from the traditional sauna experience. As they are typically larger in size, multiple people can be immersed in intimate socializing which can be very rewarding and even therapeutic. Conversely, because of the smaller sizes and designs for IR saunas, the rooms tend to be used more as a private escape.
Electronics, Economics & Ecologics
In recent years, energy use and overall carbon footprint have gained increasing importance in consumer purchase decisions. That said, neither the IR nor the traditional sauna will likely cause your household electricity bill to increase substantially. Comparatively speaking, a traditional sauna will have a larger average size than an infrared, although there are plenty of smaller (1-2 person) sizes of traditional saunas available.
To perform a quick comparison of the electricity economics, we assume the following (average) electrical specifications for each:
Traditional (5x6 or 5x7 size): 4.5 kW heater, 240-volt, 18.8 amp –requiring a dedicated circuit breaker
Infrared (4x4 or smaller): 1.5-1.7 kW heater, 120-volt, 15 amp –non-dedicated circuit
As well, to calculate costs we apply the Ontario Energy Board’s off-peak price rate of CAD $0.065 per kWh (as at July 1, 2018), and thus all figures here are reported in Canadian dollars.
Finally, assume a traditional sauna heater will operate 75% of the first hour, and 50% of each subsequent hour (since the heating element will cycle on/off once the temperature setpoint is reached). For the IR, assume heater is always on, however the room is used for ½ to ¾ of any given hour including heat up time.
Approximate cost calculations:
Traditional sauna (1st hour @ 75%) = $0.065 x 4.5 x 0.75 = $0.22
Traditional sauna (additional hours @ 50%) = $0.065 x 4.5 x 0.50 = $0.15
IR sauna (1 hour, continuous) = $0.065 x 1.6 = $0.10
IR sauna (¾ hour) = $0.065 x 1.6 x 0.75 = $0.08
IR sauna (½ hour) = $0.065 x 1.6 x 0.50 = $0.05
Keeping in mind that the IR sauna can be used sooner and is not likely on for the full hour, the electricity costs for IR are between 5 and 8 cents per session.