Remote Start Sauna-Interview with Al Betschart

You’ve been asking and we have answers! We’ve interviewed Al Betschart from Illinois about his remote start sauna. In this interview he goes into depth about how he built and wired his wifi sauna.

Finished Sauna!

Q: How did you first hear about Almost Heaven Saunas?

Al: My wife and I found your site years ago, but never pulled the trigger. When we went on holiday, I was the only one going daily to the Sauna. So she didn’t really want one.

It wasn’t until we were in Mexico last year and went into an igloo shaped sauna called Temazcal. It was a very spiritual setting, with ritual and everything. This was the final push to finally build our own sauna.

We then chose the Almost Heaven Weston Barrel Sauna.

Q: What led you to choose the Weston outdoor model over our other sauna options?

Al: We liked the round shape of the barrel. It reminded us of a hobbit house.

Q: What is your favorite feature of the Weston sauna?

Al: The space inside. It is plenty big for two full grown adults to lie down. And the heat up time is still pretty quick.

Q: How has having a sauna changed your lifestyle and health?

Al: We sauna almost daily at 90C and sometimes 95C, with 2 – 3 cool off sessions. Not only does it take the aches out of your muscles and bones, but it has also given us time to bond and talk without all the noise of the world (TV, cellphones, tablets). It has given us a place where we can forget and just relax.

Q: What was the most difficult part of the set-up and how would you rate the difficulty of putting this all together?

Al: Site preparation has to be the biggest pain. We have hard soil and lots of trees, so digging below frost line for wiring was a no-go. We chose to trench for rigid conduit, which means we only needed to trench about a foot deep.

As for the sauna, it was easy peasy to put together. My wife and I assembled it in about 3.5hrs. Sealing it with the recommended stain took far longer than assembling it.

Q: What made you decide to make your sauna WiFi controllable?

Al: It is cold here in Chicago, really cold. I did not want to run outside to turn the sauna on, only to come  in an hour later to find it was not fully heated. I also did not want to guess the temperature on the dial. Before the sauna was delivered, I reviewed the circuit diagram and came up with my game plan as to how to make the heater WiFi controllable, but without having to cut wires.

Q: Where do you recommend beginners interested in doing the same to their sauna start?

Al: Get to know Arduino IDE and how to work with ESP8266 wifi controller chip, such as “adafruit huzzah”. Flash a few simple ESP chips and get to know how they work.

A great forum for the ESP chip is https://www.esp8266.com/

Once you feel comfortable with flashing an ESP8266 chip, go to my github page.

Step-by-step of Al’s build!

Site Preparation

Step 1: Site Preparation.

Site preparation includes the following:

  • Ensure that the installation surface is level.
  • If surface is not level, be prepared to shim the cradles slightly.
  • Make sure the sauna is built on stones, gravel, concrete, a deck, or any other solid surface.

Step 2: Sauna Assembly.

Al followed our barrel assembly directions and put the sauna together. More details on assembly and what is needed to complete this process can be found here!

Assembly

Step 3: Staining.

Al chose to stain his sauna, which can prevent fading. Cedar is naturally resilient in the elements, however we recommend applying a UV inhibiting stain to keep the color lasting longer! Check with your local painters or hardware store for a recommendation, and take a wood sample with you to see if you like the color!

Staining

 

 

 

 

Step 4: Roofing.

Once assembled, you may decide to get a roof for your barrel sauna. The porous nature of the wood means you will get some natural water seepage. However, if you live in a rainier climate you can cover the top of the sauna with a variety of materials. We have a sauna rain jacket available for purchase. Other options are purchasing corrugated metal, or doing what Al did: roofing #30 sheathing and roofing architectural shingles. He also added a ledge over the electrical box and a drop edge, so that rainwater will not get on the equipment!

Roofing

Overhang

Step 6: Wiring.

See the image sequence below for what Al did to get his heater calibrated for wifi starting.

Step 7: Wifi Box.

Al added an external Wifi antenna for better reception!

Step 8: Sauna time!

 

Here’s a bit more information on the app Al uses:

Captive Portal configuration page

The MQTT DASH APP:

 

For anyone looking to configure their sauna, be sure to research plenty before trying. Thank you to Al for providing this fantastic starting point!

February 15, 2019 •