When homeowner Todd Kreckman and his family moved into their first Portage, Wis.-based home, knowing that even though his family would only be in the house for two years, his first thought was to build a sauna. "I knew I was going to lose all of my value on the sauna — because, at that time, no one in this area really wanted a sauna in their home — but we built it anyway," he says.
Then when his family moved into their forever home two years later, the same thought crossed his mind. "Where am I going to put a sauna here?" He pondered the question for over a year, and could simply not find the right location within the house, and adding a sauna as an extension onto the home was not an option, due to its historic charm and brick exterior.
Kreckman — who grew up using saunas, starting as early as six years old — did not like the thought of not having one. His solution? To build a mobile sauna that would live outside of his home, one that could simply be tucked away when not in use, and taken out whenever he had the urge for a steam.
But building a mobile sauna was, of course, easier said than done, so he began to do some research. That's when he found Rob Licht Custom Saunas, nearly 900 miles away in Lansing, N.Y., who helped to bring Kreckman's mobile sauna — by way of construction plans — to fruition.
Behind the Business
Rob Licht is first and foremost an artist. "I was trained as a sculptor and taught for many years at a local college," he says. "But like most artists, I was not making a lot of money and was working in the trades to get by."
Sometimes, to his delight, he would be brought in on building a sauna. "Like Todd, I grew up enjoying saunas. I had a lot of Finnish friends, and they had a very old Finnish sauna on their property that was built in the '30s — one of the oldest, still-standing Finnish saunas in upstate New York, in fact. There, we dreamed of making our own saunas some day."
Between his passion, talents as a sculptor and his experience in trades, he really had a knack for the niche product. And before he knew it, he left his work as a sculptor to pursue building saunas full time.
Now over 35 years later, business is booming, and Licht finds himself completely booked, receiving calls from all around the world. "The sauna business was on the back burner for a while until the pandemic hit," he says. "But that's when it came to the front burner, started simmering — and now, it's at a full boil."
Not only does Licht design and build wood-fire, traditional Finnish-style saunas that get as hot as 100 degrees Celsius — and steamy, due to löyly (when water is poured over the rocks for an authentic sauna experience) — he offers the option for electric, too.
But it wasn't the wood-fire or electric saunas that caught Kreckman's eye when he stumbled upon Licht's website. Instead, it was the fact that Licht gives customers the opportunity to build their own mobile sauna using his well-established, tried-and-true blueprints. The sauna plans are available to ambitious customers for a one-time build and non-commercial use only, by way of PDF download.
"After purchasing the plans and signing a nondisclosure agreement, a buddy and I started building this mobile sauna, and it was absolutely fantastic," says Kreckman.
Kreckman and his carpenter friend did customize it to an extent — they opted to install a propane heater instead of wood, for example, because Kreckman believes "while propane heaters are expensive [his set him back about $3,000 at the time], for these portable saunas, it allows you freedom to take it wherever you want to go and to heat it up quickly" — but for the most part, the model is as close to Licht's plans as they could get it.
"I kept telling my buddy, 'It's in the plans, we have to do it,' whenever something seemed out of reach or he would tell me that a detail would take too much time. He's very talented, and it ultimately turned out fantastic."
It helped that Licht makes himself available to customers who take on building their own saunas — and for lucky locals, he also offers a sauna building workshop, a three-day class that covers aspects of building saunas through hands-on demonstrations.
"People aren't just buying the construction plan, they're buying access," says Licht. "I make myself available to the DIYers, if any questions arise or if they need clarification. I certainly had a few conversations with Todd throughout the process."
Ready to Enjoy
After a long day's work, Kreckman still finds himself thinking, "I just can't wait to go home and get a sauna in tonight," he says, "especially during the wintertime. There's something about going from hot to cold that just makes you feel more alive."
Over the years, he has had the pleasure of sharing his mobile sauna with his network of friends, and invites them over to partake in a steam whenever it makes sense. "My son Ryan, who didn't like a sauna at first and now loves it, also invites his buddies over, and the first thing they say is, 'Let's get that sauna going,'" he says, "so there is really a community to be made through sauna."
Licht couldn't agree more. "I've established some pretty good relationships with my clients over the years, because by them inquiring about a sauna, we already have like-minded interests. In fact, I credit a lot to my profession. My first mobile sauna customer is now my future wife."
Ultimately, Kreckman is grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Licht. "He could have built this sauna for me, but with me being in Wisconsin, it would have cost thousands of dollars to get here," he says. "So I'm grateful that he offers this kind of service to people who don't live in his area. I'm definitely a satisfied customer."
This article first appeared in the September 2023 issue of AQUA Magazine — the top resource for retailers, builders and service pros in the pool and spa industry. Subscriptions to the print magazine are free to all industry professionals. Click here to subscribe.