In the realm of modern architecture, the marriage of tradition and innovation has given rise to exciting possibilities. One such innovation is Mass Timber —a contemporary approach to working with wood that involves combining small pieces into large, robust structures. Today, I’m thrilled to share how Mass Timber, particularly Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT), is transforming the world of saunas, creating not only a sustainable oasis but also a longer-lasting, more comfortable retreat.
What is Mass Timber?
At its core, Mass Timber involves taking small timbers, assembling them into large pieces, and then using those pieces to make up the majority of a structure. This has several environmental implications. First, as they grow, these trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into wood. In a long lasting building that carbon is effectively sequestered. Second, these small timbers are sourced from fast-growing, sustainably-farmed forestries, unlike the large old-growth timbers that were previously necessary for large wood structures. Third, mass timber can be used to replace or minimize the use of other building materials such as metal, fiberglass, and concrete, whose manufacturing releases significant amounts of carbon dioxide.
By using more sustainable timber, and fewer carbon-releasing materials, construction can become a much more environmentally friendly process.
Crafting Perfection with Mass Timber
In partnership with researchers from the Natural Resources Research Insitute, we designed and prototyped what we believe to be the first CLT sauna in the United States, using CLT panels we built in-house. We then partnered with Element Five, a CLT manufacturer in Toronto, to source panels on an ongoing basis. As we put these saunas into use, we also built an instrumented sauna, which has given us longitudinal data on the performance of CLT in this extreme application.
“Mass Timber has ushered in a new era for sauna design—one that prioritizes sustainability, comfort, and longevity.”
The Mass Timber sauna has both performance and longevity benefits. In a Mass Timber sauna, the CLT structure has significant thermal mass, which absorbs heat slowly and radiates it back gradually. In most saunas, a foil vapor barrier dictates the heat dynamics, akin to enclosing oneself in a foil packet. The mass timber sauna gives a smooth, even, and consistent heat experience in stark contrast to the sometimes peaky heat of conventional stick frame saunas.
Beyond the comfort factor, there’s an added advantage for the longevity of the building: the ability to construct a wall assembly without impermeable barriers. The simplicity of this wall assembly allows moisture to move freely through the wood, promoting drying and ensuring a longer-lasting sauna that is less susceptible to water damage or mold growth.
Environmental Stewardship and Lasting Design
One of the most remarkable aspects of Mass Timber saunas is their role in carbon sequestration. By building structures with this sustainable resource, and fewer carbon releasing materials, we are not only creating an enjoyable space but also contributing to the fight against climate change. The carbon absorbed by the trees remains locked in the wood, offering a dual benefit of environmental stewardship and a unique, carbon-sequestering resource.
Our commitment to sustainability goes beyond the sauna experience. We are pioneers in using Cross-Laminated Timber for small buildings and saunas in North America. Through rigorous studies and real-world applications, we’ve observed the promises of Mass Timber in the real world. Our instrumented CLT sauna in the woods has provided valuable data over time, affirming the longevity and sustainability of this innovative approach.
Mass Timber has ushered in a new era for sauna design—one that prioritizes sustainability, comfort, and longevity. As we continue to explore the possibilities of this magical material, we are excited about the prospect of creating spaces that not only stand the test of time but also contribute positively to the environment. Join us on this journey towards a greener, more sustainable future—one sauna at a time.