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Building A Sauna - Planning and Options

There is nothing like a sauna to ease stress and make you relax. Saunas will cleanse your body of impurities with heat and steam. As the temperature rises, perspiration occurs and blood circulation increases. Muscles and organs are stimulated and toxic waste (heavy metals, fat, and other toxic materials) are released. Your skin will be smooth and soft, and it is great for anyone with acne.

Before you begin, check your local building codes. You may need a licensed electrician and a good plumber and carpenter if you are not handy.

There are a few decisions you must make before you begin. The first is whether to build your sauna in your home or as an outbuilding. If you are building in your home, there are heat and humidity factors to consider. There are kits that you can buy to build a sauna in your home. Talk to the manufacturers about possible problems from heat and humidity, and also a good location to build your sauna in your home. 

If you have a pool, or access to a body of water such as a lake or pond, consider an outbuilding. There is no greater feeling than jumping in the water to cool off after a sauna.  A shower after a sauna is nice, but you cannot even compare the refreshing feeling of a dip in the water. We have an outbuilding for our sauna and love it. We have 2 doors in our steam room. One goes to the change room and one goes directly outside. I love this plan, as you don't have to run through the change room to get to the water. It also keeps the change room from filling with too much steam. One other thing we did was to put a ceiling panel vent right above the change room door so all the steam goes up and out the roof instead of collecting in the change room. We also have a small electric fan vent directly over our sauna stove door in our change room and turn it on whenever we put wood in the fire. This keeps the smoke out of the change room and also keeps the wall above the stove soot free.

Whatever option you choose, you may want to build a change room off the steam room.  This works great for all the wet suits and towels and keeps the mess out of your home. Build a few benches to sit on while you cool down, and don't forget to hang some hooks. We also have a small sink and mirror we use for shaving.  You will never get a closer shave than one during a sauna. We stoke our wood stove from the change room, but if you have an outbuilding you may choose to have access to your wood stove from the outside. The great thing about this option is it keeps your change room cleaner.  However, you may regret it on a rainy day unless you put a small roof over the area. One thing we did not do that I often wish we would have was to put a small drain in the change room floor to allow for drainage. If you have a lot of traffic in your change room, you will be surprised by how much water collects during a busy day.

Your next choice will be the heat source. Wood is considered the best source by sauna purists. However, if you are building a sauna in your home, your insurance or building code may not allow a wood stove. Another thing to consider is access to wood, storage for a wood pile, and it can be messy. Wood stoves usually cost from $500 to $1000.  If you choose a wood stove, you will have to surround it with stone or some other material to prevent someone getting burned off the hot surfaces. You can make a cement form, use large stone, or any other heat resistant material. If you use a cement form, it can be prone to cracking with the heat and cold. We just bought some landscaping decorative blocks that were about 4" wide and 15" square and placed them around the stove. These blocks were not solid; the inside was shaped like a flower and allowed air to circulate through. We placed the block about 3" from the stove and surrounded it on all sides.

Electric heat is a popular choice for most folks. An electric stove will cost anywhere from $500 to $1000 and up. The heat is not the same as a wood stove, so be sure you buy one with enough power to heat your room. Electric heat is clean and relatively inexpensive to use.

Gas stoves will provide a heat similar to wood. The cost of a gas stove can run from $1000 to $3000 or more. You must have access to natural gas or a propane tank for this option.

A newer option is infrared heat. The cost of infrared starts at about $2000. Manufacturers say infrared heat penetrates your body differently than conventional stoves. Most saunas transfer heat by circulating hot air and steam, warming your body from the outside of your skin.  Infrared penetrates your body directly, allowing more in depth heating at lower temperatures of 110 to 150 degrees. Infrared heat can penetrate the body up to 45mm. I don't know of anyone who has this system, but before I spent that kind of money, I would want to try it out and see how it compared to a conventional sauna.  It may be a totally different experience. This system uses electricity as a power source.

Your steam room should be made of cedar.  Choose boards in smaller widths, no wider than 3" tongue and groove. We made a mistake in choosing 5" widths, and they shrunk and buckled a little from the heat and humidity. The smaller width will give you some room for expansion and contraction. Do not seal the cedar. You want the cedar to absorb the water and release it in moisture. You really don't have to worry about mold in a sauna because the heat will dry out the wood every time you use it.  The steam dissipates and your sauna will dry out overnight.  Use cedar for the benches in your steam room also.  We have a large steam room; about 9x14 feet. Most people don't need this large a room, but we love it and can fit a lot of people in the sauna at the same time. Remember the larger the steam room, the larger the stove you will need. Most people are content with a  6 to 8 foot bench and a steam room measuring 6x8 feet. Be sure and insulate your walls and cover them with plastic before you put up the tongue and groove paneling.

Even if you have access to a body of water, you will want a shower in your steam room to clean up with. Do not make a separate shower stall that you will have to clean. Simply plumb the shower head right off the wall. We have a simple hook on our door to allow for privacy.

The flooring of  your sauna can be concrete. Do not make the floor too smooth or it will be slippery when wet. If you choose a tile floor, be sure it has a rougher surface or you will slip easily. There are mats you can buy to prevent slippage, but they have to be cleaned periodically. My advice would be to stick to a concrete floor with a rougher surface, but not so rough that it collects dirt and grime. You will want a good drain in the sauna floor. If you have an out building, it must be attached to your septic system.

One last thing we put in our steam room that we love is a small garden hose. Plumb in an outdoor faucet into one wall and connect a garden hose to it. We use this to wet the walls for more steam and it is also great for cleaning the sauna. Once a year a take a bucket of soapy water with some bleach in it and use a scrub brush to clean the benches and walls. I just hose down the walls to rinse and I'm done. I use the same solution on our cement floor and use a broom to wash it down.  

We use a 15 watt yellow appliance bulb for our light source in our steam room. It is covered with a plastic screw -in cap for moisture protection. You don't want a lot of light in the steam room because # 1 you want this to be a soothing experience and harsh lights can hamper that feeling and  # 2, do you really want to be seen in harsh lights when you are sweating and in a swimsuit or in the nude? Another option is to put a small window between the change room and the steam room and to install a small light in the change room so it glows into the steam room. This allows you to be electric free in the steam room.

The best advice you can get is from fellow sauna owners and sauna manufacturers and installers. Research before you build and consider your wants and needs first. Enjoy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



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Sauna Pronunciation
Sau'na: (or sow'-) n.
The correct pronunciation for sauna is sow-na (as in "cow"), not saw-na as it is commonly mistaken.
Health Benefits
  • Cleansing the body of toxins
  • Cleans Pours
  • Increased Blood Flow
  • Relaxation
  • Ease Stress

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