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The Helo Fantasy represents new design. Its operating principle, separate regulation of air and kiuas stone temperature, is protected by international patents.

The bath that the Finnish language gave a name has a long history behind it and tradition still largely determines the Finns' basic conception of what a proper sauna is. In international markets, however, the sauna has to meet international demands. That has become the working principle of the world's biggest manufacturer in the sauna sector, Saunatec Ltd of Finland. The company's factories in Germany and the United States make saunas and steam rooms that are assembled from elements, whilst kiuas sauna stoves and steam generators are made in Finland.

The popularity of saunas have grown enormously in recent years, especially in the German-speaking countries of Central Europe. There were 12 000 private saunas in Germany in 1970. By 1997 the number had increased to 1 000 000 and was still rising. The trend is similar in Austria and the Netherlands as well as in the USA.

"There is a connection between the growing popularity of the sauna and a strengthening trend towards favouring a healthier lifestyle," reckons Managing Director Pentti Piisku. "People want to follow a healthy diet, exercise, take care of themselves and relax. The development and spread of sauna culture is part of a broader development of health awareness. Thus in our work of innovation we must understand the concept of the sauna more broadly than has been traditionally done in Finland.

"In Central Europe, for example, light treatment and herbal therapy are often combined with sauna bathing, something that is very unusual in Finland," says Export Manager Veli-Markus Penttilä.

Advanced stove development

The heart of a sauna is a special stove, called a kiuas in Finnish, the properties of which very largely determine how well the sauna functions. "The sauna was originally just a pile of stones that had been heated in an open fire and then placed inside a conical tent. When water was thrown on them, steam immediately filled the tent," Piisku points out.

Wood-fired kiuas stoves have a ritual value in Finland. But nowadays here and especially elsewhere in Europe most are electrically operated with increasingly sophisticated electronic controls. Saunatec concentrates intensively on kiuas development, which it sees as a key priority. All of the company's kiuas and steam units are made at a factory in Hanko in southern Finland. The research department there has a trial sauna built in laboratory conditions and used for testing new products.

A new product developed for the international market is the Helo Steamy, a kiuas which offers four different ways of using the sauna. "The basic idea was to combine the Nordic and Mediterranean sauna traditions within the same space," explains Piisku. The new kiuas accommodates a traditional dry sauna (65-110°C), a mildly warm one (25-65°C), a moist steam sauna (25-65°C) or steam without the kiuas functioning. "This is the first kiuas designed exclusively with foreign users' needs in mind," says Piisku. "It combines a kiuas with a steam generator, both controlled by the same unit. The steam generator is available in automatic and manual versions. However, it is not a compromise; it is a high-quality kiuas that does all the things traditional ones do, but which also caters for other alternatives," emphasises Penttilä.

New-type kiuas, old-style sauna

Saunatec has also developed a new-age version of the traditional kiuas. The Helo Fantasy is a dual-function model, which enables the temperature within the sauna chamber and that of the kiuas stones to be separately regulated. That means that everyone can enjoy precisely the background and steam temperature they want. The scale ranges from relatively low-temperature, moist steam to hot and dry, with many alternatives in between.

"The free-standing kiuas was designed by Arto Kukkasniemi and adds potential to the architectural options available when planning a sauna," says Pentti Piisku.

has factories in Finland, Germany and the USA. Kiuas stoves and steam generators are made in Finland, element-assembled saunas and steam rooms in Germany and the USA. The company's best-known marques are Helo, Knüllwald Helo and Finnleo.

See also:
A sauna soothes body and soul