Cottage Q&A: Portable saunas vs bylaws

A tent sauna standing in a field By Dmitry Modestov/Shutterstock

We want to set up one of those portable tent saunas that are heated by a woodstove. Do we need a permit for this? Are there any other bylaws governing them at the cottage?—Sidney Indy, via email

There could be. “As always, an owner should communicate with the local authority having jurisdiction,” says Marty Herbert, the team leader with building and bylaw services for B.C.’s Columbia Shuswap Regional District. Bylaws can vary between municipalities, and just because a tent sauna doesn’t meet the definition of “building” under your provincial building code (which means you likely wouldn’t need a permit), your local building authority or fire department might still have restrictions.

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Under zoning bylaws, some jurisdictions could consider the tent a “structure,” and as such, “it needs to comply with all applicable zoning provisions,” says Noella Floyd-Foulds, a permit clerk with the building department and bylaw enforcement for Dysart et al., Ont. “We wouldn’t regulate how long you can keep it up, but it would need to meet all water, lot line, and septic setbacks,” she says. “On our typical waterfront lots, these setbacks would be 20 or 30 metres from the water, 4.5 metres from side lot lines, and five metres from a septic distribution field.”

As for potential fire bylaws, it’s possible that burning or campfire restrictions could apply, says Herbert. (Your municipality might treat the woodstove as an outdoor fire.)

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Mike Peake, a fire prevention officer for the town of Bracebridge, Ont., says that his department certainly wouldn’t do any kind of inspection on a tent sauna. That’s not because there aren’t any possible fire risks, but because a tent sauna wouldn’t require it under the Ontario Fire Code. Still, you are putting a woodstove inside of a tent. Yes, the stove is designed for the tent, and yes, the tent—unlike a regular camping tent—is designed to withstand the stove’s heat. But, “I feel this in itself may become risky over time as people become complacent,” says Peake. “I would highly recommend to anyone owning these saunas to strictly abide by the manufacturer’s installation, care, and maintenance instructions,” he says. “And make sure that you never let your guard down.”

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This article was originally published in the August 2022 issue of Cottage Life.


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