Finland, Turkey, Russia, South Korea, and Ancient Rome – what do they have in common? Well, they all know how to enjoy a session in a sauna.
Though there are some dubious claims out there when it comes to health benefits, one can’t argue that they are great for de-stressing and skin cleansing. If you need to unclog your pores and sweat your problems away, why not build a sauna at home?
Today, I’ll show you how to build 3 different types. We’ll cover everything from heaters to other materials. As long as you have basic carpentry skills, you’ll find that this can be a fun weekend project. So, without further ado, let’s start sweating!
Fun fact: Saunas increase the value of your home. By how much, depends on the type and size. They can also be tax-deductible, so have a chat with your accountant about it.
Hight Tech vs Old School
Before we start building the sauna, let’s talk about its most important feature: heat.
Traditional saunas usually feature a fire pit or another heat-proof vessel with burning coals, with rocks stacked on top. To produce the steam, you would splash the water over the rocks.
While it’s a simple set-up that you can put together quickly, maybe… don’t. This old-school design raises the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. It’s safer to go with a more modern solution either by purchasing a ready-made sauna heater or placing the rocks over the electric (waterproof!) source of heat.
A basic ready-made heater should set you back about $200. If you have more room in your budget (enough room for 4 digits, to be precise), you can also get beautiful designer pieces like the ones from HUUM or Fero.
Infrared vs Steam Saunas
Steam saunas work by heating the room with steam, while infrared saunas directly heat your body. While the latter is more efficient, steam saunas are usually more affordable, and the room doesn’t have to be made from wood to use it.
Pick any type that you like or that you can afford. If you have high blood pressure, migraines, or just can’t handle the heat that well, go for infrared.
Whichever one you choose, make sure to do so before starting any other works, so you can adjust your plans in time.
Level 1 – Upgrading Your Shower Cabin
This is a great option for someone with little to no carpentry skills and limited space and budget. There are only 2 things you have to do, and it all can be done in under an hour.
Step 1 – Install the Cover
Some companies offer specialized covers for this purpose, but a piece of tarp will do. You can also get waterproof blinds that conveniently roll back in when you don’t need to use them.
Step 2 – Install the Heater
Pick a steamer that is suitable for your shower cabin. Be careful about the shape and size since it will be very close to you and you may get burned.
You can easily find and heaters steamers online, but it may be better to make a trip to your local bath supply store and see what they have in stock. The staff there will also be able to give you great recommendations and advice. Infrared heaters are better for this project, but browse around and see what appeals to you more.
Other, than that, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation, and you’re done.
Step 3 – Maintain the Unit Properly
Since the unit will be exposed to water a lot, you have to make sure to maintain it properly. Even when it’s not in direct contact, all that moisture will cause rust and water stains to appear.
The instruction manual should come with all you need to know about basic maintenance, just don’t get lazy about it.
Level 2 – Indoor DIY Sauna
When building a sauna indoors, you have 2 options. One is to build the sauna in one of the existing rooms, and the other is to build a special room to house a sauna.
You are far more likely to do the latter whilst building a home or doing major renovations. When doing the former, it’s best to convert an unused bathroom or section of a large one.
Anyway, we’ll have 3 ways to start the project, but it’s pretty much the same procedure from that point.
Step 1 – The Construction Begins
If you’re building a new room that is to become a sauna, think of it as building another bathroom. There will be a lot of heat and steam, and the room is supposed to be able to handle that.
When converting a bathroom, start by taking out the tiles and removing most of the plumbing and faucets. You can leave the floor drain since it will make it easier to clean the sauna. And yes, we have to remove the tiles. At least the floor ones since they will become a hazard when you get all sweaty and slippery.
The process for sectioning off a piece of the bathroom is similar to the one above. The only difference is that you’re doing construction in only one part of the room, and not the rest.
Step 2 – Floors, Walls, and Benches
Wood is a perfect building material for saunas, even when you’re not going for the infrared., It looks good and it won’t cause you to slip and break something.
Speaking of, the varnish matters, unvarnished wood is the least slippery, but varnished is easier to clean and disinfect. A nice mid-point is choosing teak as your material and finishing it with marine teak oil. If it works on a boat, it will work in a sauna as well. Though, keep in mind that you will have to come in and re-season the wood from time to time.
You can add a finished bench or build one into the wall. Teak is also a great option here, but you have a bit more freedom to play.
However, you go about designing the space, make sure that you join everything with nails and screws. Don’t use any form of glue is possible. Though there are glues that can withstand both moisture and heat, they will still wear off over time. And you don’t want a panel to fall on your head, right?
Step 3 – Build and Install the Door
You can probably use a ready-made door, and your local bath supply store may have a few sauna doors they offer. But, if you’re building one from scratch, make sure to add a window to it.
For safety reasons, you want people to have a clear view of what’s happening inside. In case that you stay too long, someone can come and take a peek and make sure that you didn’t faint.
The inside handles are important as well. You need a solution that allows you to open the door easily and get out in the case of an emergency. Check out the stuff that is designed for the elderly or people with disabilities. To test if they work, try operating it with your non-dominant hand that you oiled previously.
Step 4 – Install the Heater
Pretty straightforward, follow the instructions that came with the device.
Most of them come with a thermometer, so make sure that you can have a clear view of it at all times.
Step 5 – Finish the Interior
Add the little touches and accessories that will make your stay more pleasant and comfortable. You can even add speakers and screens, but only after you make sure that they are sauna-proof.
Level 3 – Outdoor DIY Sauna
The best part of the outdoor sauna is that you can go low-tech and use traditional heaters (aka, save a lot of money). The worst? Paperwork.
Before you start, check if you need to acquire permits as any other regulations that may be in place. If you are a member of an HOA, get in touch with the board and see if you have something to say about it as well.
Step 1 – Build the Structure
Do you know how to build a shed? Because it’s pretty much the same thing we are doing here.
The only difference is that you should avoid using glues as much as possible. The heat and steam will work their magic over time, and you will have to do a lot of repairs soon enough.
Just as in the indoor sauna, it’s best to go for wood floors. Leave the section at the door at ground level and raise everything else. This will create a nice space to take off your shoes, just like in many East Asian homes.
Step 2 – Build the Chimney and Heater
You can repurpose an old furnace or its parts for this job. You can also recycle that grill that’s collecting dust ever since you bought that new fancy one.
What this setup needs to look like is pretty straightforward. You need a chamber for burning wood and coal. A chimney is supposed to take the fumes outside and on top should be a place where you can stack the stones.
This is also the stage where you should install the lights and ventilation fans if you’re planning on having some.
If you’re not making the heater from scratch and using the one you bought, follow the installation instructions that came with it.
Step 3 – Install Insulation and Interior Panels
Sheds are not the most weatherproof of structures, so you will have to install some insulation to prevent the heat from escaping. Steel wool is perfect, styrofoam will work if that’s all you can get your hands on. Just remember to use nails and avoid glue during installation.
Then, you can cover everything with panels of choice. Again, wood works and looks the best, but you can pick anything that strikes your fancy. As long as it can withstand heat and moisture, it will be a good choice.
Step 4- Make and Install the Door
You can buy any door you want, but remember to pick one with a window, or plan on adding the window to the door. It’s always a good idea that people can take a peek a what’s going on if you spend a little too much time in the sauna.
The door doesn’t need to be insulated, but you need to make sure it doesn’t release too much heat. A silicone or a rubber strip is all you need.
Also, make sure that you pay attention to the way the door opens. Just like before, find and install a latch or other mechanism that allows you to open the door easily in the case of an emergency.
Step 5 – Finish the Interior.
You will need at least one bench. You can use a pre-made one or build one into the wall. As always, wood is best, and go for a simple water-resistant varnish.
Another thing that is a must is a thermometer, especially if you made the heater from scratch. Save temperature limit for a classic home sauna is 175 degrees Fahrenheit, so you may want to have a visible notch next to that number. Or if you have a digital thermometer, set the alarm to go off if the temp goes above that limit. Of course, if that number needs to be lower for you, set it to suit your needs. Finish by decorating to suit your taste.
Time to Build
We’ve looked at the options on saunas to build. You may need to look into your local store before you get started on what’s available. Then there’s nothing stopping you!
However, if this task seems like a little too big to take on for your experience level. Try building an indoor electric fireplace. It’s not nearly as complicated and could produce some nice heat too, depending on the model you choose.