A bespoke rustic sauna by Heartwood Saunas using an Estonian HUUM stove.

Here’s how we keep delivering Estonian sauna design & tech to post-Brexit Britain

Don’t sweat about extra paperwork and fees when ordering a HUUM sauna stove in the UK.

Adam Rang
Adam Rang
Jun 14 · 13 min read
Adam Rang and Anni Oviir, EstonianSaunas.co.uk

Anyone who’s tried to order goods into the UK from abroad recently will know just how tricky it’s become.

Extra import fees, unexpected duties, confusing paperwork, and long delays are now often a normal part of the process since the end of the Brexit transition in January.

We deliver Estonian sauna design and technology around the world, including into the UK. In fact, the UK is our most important market because there’s a rapidly growing community of British sauna enthusiasts seeking out authentic sauna design — and many of them really love HUUM sauna stoves and WiFi-connected app control systems that are made in Estonia.

We serve the UK through EstonianSaunas.co.uk and have always said that we’ll keep delivering no matter what happens after Brexit.

That’s been a far bigger challenge this year than we thought.

The good news though is that we are now delivering smoothly across the UK with the same or lower prices on products than before, no duties, no extra import fees, no extra paperwork, delivery quite consistently in 10 working days, and also more resources to provide better customer service.

This fits with out strategy to help the world sauna by keeping costs as low as possible. We don’t even have a logo, for example. Our marketing strategy is just to have fun creating our own content about saunas and our entire branding budget was €18, which we spent on two red towels. That’s enough for people to recognise us!

We always like to be transparent as possible too.

So I want to briefly explain what the problem has been, how we overcame it, then show you some amazing new saunas being built around the UK with Estonian design and technology as a result!

(TL:DR: We studied the rules then set up a UK company to handle both export and import procedures ourselves so UK customers won’t see the paperwork and will only have to deal with the UK company then we absorbed the costs elsewhere. At least don’t skip the saunas at the end of this article though!)

What’s the problem?

The new trading relationship between the EU and the UK was agreed at the 11th hour late last year. That makes for exciting politics but isn’t at all convenient for businesses that need to both understand it and plan their logistics around it.

And when companies trading between the EU and the UK did understand the new rules, many didn’t like it. In fact, one by one, every courier operating between Estonia and the UK simply stopped delivering for us. They could still handle deliveries to companies in the UK as long as those companies applied for a special import license and did some extra paperwork for each order (and paid an extra fee for that privilege) but they couldn’t do the same with individuals when the value was as high as our products.

That’s why some online retailers in the EU and elsewhere just don’t bother serving the UK anymore. In many cases, their existing logistics partners won’t even allow it.

And even online retailers that do still serve the UK often haven’t put enough thought into clearly explaining and guiding their British customers through the new arrangements when accepting their orders. As a result, company owners and consumers in the UK often get a nasty surprise when the full bill becomes clear during the delivery process.

All this hassle has led to quite a sharp drop in trade. The reason it doesn’t get more media coverage is firstly (and understandably) because the pandemic is a much bigger deal and has masked some of the economic impact. In addition, people filling out extra paperwork and paying fees in their homes and offices just doesn’t look as dramatic on the news as lorries lined up at the border like we experienced just before the end of the Brexit transition.

You could just not import. As funny as this sounds, we’re actually very sympathetic to this idea. We want to keep our environmental footprint as low as possible so we don’t encourage importing — or consuming at all — unless it’s reasonably necessary. In fact, when Anni isn’t in the sauna or helping people build their saunas, she’s also one of Estonia’s leading environmental experts, specialising in reducing construction carbon emissions. So we don’t deliver anything from abroad that could be made and purchased locally.

That includes small things, like oils or soaps, which you won’t find in our online shop. One of the most essential items for a sauna is a viht (or “whisk” in English according to some people) that we use to beat ourselves with. However, we’d much rather you made those yourself locally so here’s a guide on how to do that.

It also includes big things like the actual sauna buildings. That’s why we work closely with high quality sauna builders across the UK, such as Heartwood Saunas in Wales, which makes high end bespoke saunas like the one in the cover photo. There’s also Beach Box Spa in Brighton, which makes wonderfully quirky horsebox saunas in addition to opening their own to the public on Brighton Beach, and also the Cedar Sauna Company, which provides outdoor saunas in a wide range of styles.

So we always encourage buying locally.

However, sourcing a quality sauna stove in Britain is trickier. Both sauna stoves and sauna control systems for electric stoves require specialist production skills and processes. The highest quality and best value sauna stoves come from the Finnic nations of Finland and Estonia where expertise in building them has been passed down through many generations and new technology, such as WiFi-connected apps, are constantly being developed.

The founder of HUUM, Siim Nellis, comes from a family of sauna stove builders over several generations in Estonia. Following years of technical development, Nellis turned to the Estonian Academy of Arts in 2011 and challenged students there to help design a more efficient electric sauna heater that combines traditional Estonian sauna building knowledge with modern design and smart technology. They decided that modern sauna stoves are too industrial and that the design focus should be returned to the stones, as it has been for thousands of years.

HUUM now produces some of the world’s most sought after sauna stoves, combining ancient sauna building principles with contemporary Nordic design and cutting-edge technology. Their electric heaters and wood-fired stoves don’t just look good in the sauna, but are carefully designed with minimal metal to hold a large number of stones that provide the best possible heat and steam. HUUM has also designed a smart control system called UKU for electric sauna heaters, which includes a wall-mounted controller and a WiFi-connected mobile app so you can control your sauna with improved safety and convenience from anywhere — like while travelling home or out exercising.

By the way, here’s a quick peek at the very newest innovation. The UKU wall-mounted controller is now available in black glass, which can be recessed into a wall.

We don’t want to impose extra costs and hassle on our business or private customers and we certainly don’t want to stop serving private customers entirely. So, to keep serving sauna enthusiasts smoothly in the UK, we’ve had to overhaul our business.

The solution

Our first idea was to create a warehouse in the UK and deliver from there. As bizarre as this sounds though, it turned out to be far more expensive to deliver pallets of goods to customers within the UK than to deliver to them from the other side of Europe. That’s even without the costs of the warehouse itself. Most Brits will already be familiar though with the fact that it’s cheaper to fly abroad for a holiday than it is to get a train across Britain. We’re hoping to revisit this solution in future but only when we can ensure that we are bringing costs down for our customers.

Our second idea was to hire specialist import agents in the UK to represent our company, Estonian Saunas OÜ, which is registered in Estonia. The best valued service we could find to handle all that paperwork still would have added quite a considerable extra cost to every delivery though.

Instead, we set up a UK company, Estonian Saunas Ltd, as a subsidiary of our Estonian company so we could handle both sides of the export and import process ourselves. We then spent the last few months studying the new rules in detail from both sides so we were sure how we could do it ourselves for both businesses and individual customers ordering. Let me tell you, the rules are often confusing and always incredibly boring, but if it means more people can spend more time building and enjoying saunas then that’s all that matters.

If you order in Scotland, England or Wales then you’ll now just receive a UK VAT invoice from our UK company, while if you order from Northern Ireland (which has it’s own arrangements within the EU customs zone) then you’ll receive an invoice from our Estonian (EU) company. If you are VAT registered then you can claim that back, of course. In both cases though, you’ll be paying our UK bank account. Our bank account is provided by Wise, formerly known as TransferWise, which also has a sauna with a HUUM stove in its London office for employees!

There are no duties to pay fortunately because all HUUM sauna stoves and UKU control systems are made in Estonia and meet the requirements for EU preferential origin. Much of the production is actually done by hand by skilled metal workers across Estonia. Just be careful with alternative sauna suppliers without a solid reputation as they may look like they are in the UK but often supply poor quality goods from China and elsewhere.

Another thing to note is that our sauna stove prices include all the stones you will need. Most sauna stoves are sold online without stones, which isn’t always clear. As standard, we supply the highest quality sauna stones possible, grey rounded olavine dolerite collected in Finland, because stones are the most important element of the sauna, essential for the quality of heat and leil (sauna steam) and it’s not worth cutting any costs here.

Due to our growing orders, we’ve also added an extra person passionate about saunas to the team. His name is David Rang (and he also happens to be my dad). So you can always email us at tere@estoniansaunas.com and from now on will receive replies from either myself, Anni or David.

Deliveries still occasionally encounter some kind of problem enroute. Labels fall off, paperwork goes astray, couriers are not sure what country Northern Ireland is part of. Yes, these are all real recent examples. It’s not just President Macron who is a bit confused about these things. But that’s why we now monitor deliveries every day so we can spot if something has been held up then get it resolved. We won’t abandon you after you place your order. In fact, we will continue providing advice through installation and love staying in touch with our customers to see how their saunas are doing! You can always be sure that you can email us at any time at tere@estoniansaunas.com.

What’s been happening in the UK recently?

Right, that’s all the boring stuff dealt with. Now let me show you some saunas that have been constructed recently in the UK with Estonian sauna design and technology.

Firstly to Wales where Heartwood Saunas have produced a range of gorgeous new saunas, in addition to their bespoke sauna building service.

This is their new Ora, which is popular in residential gardens and glamping sites.

It’s a compact outdoor sauna with an open porch and large frontal view that comfortably fits four people around an electric Drop stove by HUUM. It can reach 80 degrees Celcius in 30 minutes. The Ora is built around a fully rigid galvanised steel base, is insulated entirely with Welsh sheep’s wool (165mm thick) and Heartwood’s unique vapour barrier. The two tier floating benches are made from aspen, illuminated by warm down lights, while the internal cladding is Western Red Cedar and the external cladding is Welsh Cedar.

For something more spacious, however, take a look at the Aire, which is available as both the Aire+ for six people or the Aire X for ten people. Both are available with either wood-fired or electric Hive stoves by HUUM.

Let’s first take a look at the Aire+. This one below was delivered to a customer in Scotland.

The Aire+ has some similar design elements to Ora, except it has dark stained cedar wood cladding to contrast the natural cedar internals and the extended porch area can accommodate an outdoor shower.

There’s also a video here.

The Aire X, meanwhile, takes this design to another level. This one below was also delivered to a private home in Scotland.

The sauna hot room not only fits more people, but it the building also includes a built-in private changing room with under-bench storage, shelf, and towel hooks.

Here’s the video.

Heartwood Saunas also build bespoke saunas based on the unique requirements of their customers.

They were recently contacted by Ben Fogle, the great adventurer, bestselling author and TV presenter. He wanted a sauna inspired by remote wilderness cabins that he’s visited around the world so the brief was to “design a bespoke rustic alpine cabin that opened to reveal a sauna, using reclaimed materials that blend as if it’s been there for ever”. The end result is really special and is exactly what Ben ordered!

Just imagine the sound of rainy British weather hitting that tin roof while enjoying the leil (sauna steam) inside.

You can also learn more about Heartwood Saunas here on our blog or by visiting HeartwoodSaunas.com. That’s their founder, Oliver Davey, handing over the sauna personally to Ben.

Next, to the south coast of England, where another pop-up sauna has appeared on a Sussex beach. Many of you will already be familiar with the wonderful Beach Box Spa on Brighton beach. They have a HUUM stove inside a sauna that they’ve named “Leil” in tribute to Estonian sauna culture!

Well, now there’s also Fire, Salt, & Sea, which has opened down the road in Sussex on Worthing beach. They used an old vintage horsebox and a new wood-fired HUUM stove to offer their pop-up sauna experience.

Together, but in their own unique style, both these Sussex beach saunas are helping build an authentic sauna culture locally alongside the surge in interest for year round sea swimming. We wish them all the best and are proud to support them from the other side of the continent. As you can imagine, it’s been extra tough during this pandemic so please do visit them if you are ever in Sussex or know friends going there. It’s also a great day trip from London.

Thanks for reading

This Estonian Saunas blog is run by Anni and Adam. We export Estonian sauna design, technology, & culture to the UK at EstonianSaunas.co.uk. We also have a EU shop at EstonianSaunas.com.

You can follow our own sauna adventures on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. We also have a Facebook group for Sauna Builders & Explorers.

You can contact us at tere@estoniansaunas.com.

Estonian Saunas magazine

We export Estonian sauna design, technology, & traditions.