I bought my backyard sauna in 2019, after ten years of being a regular at Russian Banya of Dallas which was my first banya/sauna experience that left many nostalgic memories to me. Being born and grew up in South Korea where people have their own bath/sauna culture(it deserves a separate post by the way), I immediately fell in love with the steam. I would like to support the local business as much as possible, but the more I went there, the more it made sense to get my own. After checking quite a few hardware stores and sauna builders, I chose the easiest way: a barrel kit from Costco. I placed the order in April using up my father’s day gift chance a bit ahead of time.
Denis, my Russian buddy who introduced me to the Banya came over to help build the barrel along with my then-6 year old son. We started after lunch, taking enough time watching instruction videos and reading manuals, measuring and leveling the base, picking and rearranging boards for better fits as well as taking beer breaks from time to time, but we were still able to finish it around sunset without making a critical mistake. I heard from Denis about one of his friends who built the same model; he realized he had put the back panel upside down, but it was too late and he had to fill holes on top and put new holes on bottom. He can’t use it when it rains as he feels electricity. People, read the damn manual. Or drink less.
It was the best purchase of the year as I used it more than 100 times that year. If I did not buy it and kept going to Russian Banya 100 times, I would have spent more than what I paid for the barrel. It’s also more convenient for jallu drinking as the Banya does not allow BYOB anymore.
However, I knew my wife was still not too happy about it as she didn’t get that kind of expensive mother’s day gift. She is not a person who does revenge shopping either, so I still had to justify the purchase with some good reasons. Then the year 2020 came.
I had a business trip to Europe scheduled in March 2020 when the pandemic was just starting to become serious in the US and Europe. Right after I board on the flight to Europe, countries started closing borders and airlines canceling flights, and by the time I headed back to my Texas home after a week, all travelers coming from Europe were told to self-quarantine for two weeks. The virus was so unknown back then, I couldn’t afford to take any chances, so I decided to live in the barrel for two weeks, isolating myself even from my family. Working, eating and sleeping in the sauna was like being a caveman but still fun. And that’s when my wife eventually approved it.
The pandemic lifestyle forced me to spend more time at home. There are always too many things at home to fix, improve and throw away. And I had this big beautiful wooden barrel. During the pandemic I was able to add some redneck engineering to it, such as an LED screen that displays the current time and temperature, remote switch and voice control, automations on the heater and vent, and so on. I barely have any advanced programming knowledge and I know my codes are ugly as hell, but hey, if it works, it ain’t stupid.