A mong the most popular means of relaxation, saunas can help you blow off some of the steam from work and eliminate the toxins you have absorbed after going through the dust and smog of the city. It can be a way to spend time with your family and friends or it can offer you a moment of solitude and meditation. It all depends on your needs.
While you have the option of installing a sauna either indoors or outdoors, we must admit that the second variant is the dream of every homeowner. The advantages are huge, starting from the size of the wood chamber, which can be larger and accommodate more people, and ending with the scenery, which, in some cases, can be breathtaking.
And, even if a large variety of models are available, and you can easily pick a ready-made barrel or square sauna with a wood-fire, electric, gas, or infrared element, there’s nothing more thrilling than building your own. You will be able to pick the shape, size, and even add some unique décor elements. Plus, the costs may even be lower.
If you have decided it is time for a new DIY project, continue reading and follow the steps to get everything done by the book.
Find inspiration in our selection of outdoor saunas or even consider buying one for yourself and enjoy the benefits faster and with considerably less effort.
Why Build Your Own Sauna?
If you have the space and the scenery, you could choose to buy an outdoor sauna kit and get it installed in a few hours. And this could be perfect, assuming that you find one that can satisfy your expectations, namely one that is large enough for your entire family and that can fit your budget.
But most kits will accommodate a maximum of 4 people and can be pretty expensive, some of them reaching prices of over $7,000. Plus, they are standard, and you won’t be able to personalize them in any way.
Building a sauna from scratch allows you to pick the wood, the heating source, and project the room to match the shape and capacity you desire. Moreover, if you already have a shed or another outdoor chamber that is not being used, you can speed up the construction and turn it into a very solid sweating room. The costs will be considerably lower as well.
If you are looking to lose weight through sweat, then a portable model can be a more convenient alternative. Check out our portable sit-down infrared saunas and get rid of toxins quickly and cheaper.
Sauna DIY Step by Step
It is common sense that if you decide to build anything outside, it is better to do it in the warm season and preferably check the weather, as you wouldn’t want rain pouring over your unfinished work. So, make sure you pick a sunny week for this project and dedicate enough time to it, as once you have started, you will want to work until you finish it. By doing so, not only that you will be able to enjoy it sooner but you will make sure that the materials don’t get deteriorated before being set into place.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the process. Here’s how it should follow:
Step 1 – Pick Your Location
One of the main reasons people build outdoor saunas is that they can pick a good location for them and get a nice panorama. Nevertheless, even if you are living close to a beach or you have a stunning lake close to your house, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a good idea to place the sauna next to them.
Let’s analyze a bit this aspect.
First, think if your sauna will require electricity. If this is the model you are going for, then you need to position it as close to the house as possible to be able to provide the required energy. Nevertheless, you can easily solve this problem by picking a wood-fire model.
Another aspect involves the preparation steps before taking a sauna. You will need to take a shower before entering the sauna, so walking 15 minutes through dust or snow to your lake sweating chamber may not be a good idea. First, you will reach there dirty and bring all the dust and dirt inside, and secondly, you will freeze if you are doing this activity in the winter. It is best to place the sauna closer to your home or arrange an outdoor shower next to it.
Saunas require moments of chilling, otherwise, you may get overheated. Thus, you should consider setting up a place where you can decrease your body temperature. A nice terrasse with a table and chairs can be a nice idea. Some people like to rub snow on themselves while others prefer to swim if a lake is available. However, you should make sure your chilling area is placed in a safe space as staying half an hour in a steamy room can make you less attentive to the things around you. Thus, you wouldn’t want you or your guests to fall over a cliff or stumble on some narrow steps.
Imagine you’ve spent some relaxing moments in the sauna and you are getting ready to get out and chill yourself, but the first thing you see when you set foot outside is your curious and possibly odd neighbor looking at you through the fence. Or imagine that you want to sit outside and cool off with a nice glass of lemonade, but your neighbor decides it’s time to mow the lawn and keeps peeking at your towel or robe, sometimes with a disapproving look. This is definitely not the definition of relaxation but its opposite, so make sure you pick a spot that is far from your neighbors’ look. Some of them may fill uncomfortable watching you and your family walking around in towels and robes, and they will let you know in a way or another.
Do You Already Have the Room?
If you are going to take a shed and turn it into a sauna, then there’s nothing more to say, as the location is determined by the place where the shed is positioned. The distance is probably not a problem while you won’t have any problem providing a chilling area. The only thing that remains to be solved is privacy, which can be ensured in this case by investing in some yard remodeling. You could build a nice gazebo or plant taller bushes around your chilling area to restrict peeks.
If you cannot manage to get the desired privacy in any way, you may want to resort to an indoor sauna. Take a look at our first-rate infrared models and select one that can fit inside your house. You can place it inside your bathroom and enjoy the best privacy you can get.
Step 2 – Buy the Materials
This is one of the most important steps, as here’s where all your money will go. You need to pick wisely otherwise you will end up investing more than you may have planned.
As the sauna is going to be built outdoors, you need to pick a wood that can resist moisture, cold, and high heat. Most saunas of this type are built of cedar, and this isn’t a coincidence. Cedarwood doesn’t absorb moisture and can be treated to become even more resistant to outdoor conditions. However, it is pretty expensive, so, if you are looking for an alternative, you could use hemlock, which is a soft type of wood and is resistant to rot, or spruce, which is a nice option as well.
All saunas deal with moisture, no matter if the process is dry or wet, as the main result is sweat. Thus, you will want to build a floor that can resist high humidity and bacteria growth. Concrete or tiles are frequent picks as they are easy to maintain and tend to gather fewer bacteria than other materials.
It’s time to decide how you are going to provide the heat inside the room. Most people who build a sauna outdoors go for a wood-burning heater, which makes the room independent of electricity and creates a more rustic and relaxing atmosphere. Nevertheless, it is good to know that you have alternatives. You could install a gas heater or a heater that is based on electricity, and the process of heating the room could be cleaner and easier. Or you could opt for an infrared model, which is known to be the most cost-effective.
Step 3 – Build the Foundation
The room needs to have a steady ground so it doesn’t experience mud, water, or frost problems when the weather is getting messy. Here are some types of foundations you could consider:
- Concrete foundation – This is the most common type, and it will imply digging up a square hole, filling it with rocks and sand until it is level, covering it with a moisture barrier and building an isolating foam frame around it. Then, the next step is to top the hole with a wooden frame that will be used to keep the concrete in place. The last step implies pouring concrete and waiting for it to dry.
- Trench foundation – You will dig a trench in the place where the walls will be further built and fill it with concrete. When the concrete has hardened, you will place a few rows of bricks on top of it, obtaining a solid foundation.
- Pier foundation – A pier is basically a column that can be made of wood, brick, steel or concrete. For this type of foundation, you will need to dig several holes and stick the poles in them, making sure they all have the same exterior height and are positioned at regular intervals. Then you can just build your structure on them.
- Screw foundation – This is a more expensive method, but it is one of the easiest and the great advantage is that if you ever want to move your sauna, you can just unscrew the foundation and take it with you.
- Plinth foundation – It offers a great quality-price balance and is pretty easy to install. To mount a plinth you will need to dig a hole of about 4 inches, place a moisture barrier, and then use some gravel to level the spot. Place the plinth and repeat until the foundation is ready.
How about taking a good sweat even when you are on vacation? Check out our best infrared blankets. They function just like a sauna and will help you eliminate all the toxins, but at the end of the session, you can just clean and roll them. The space they take is minimal.
Step 4 – Build the Room
Frame the walls and the roof by using the wood you have picked. The length and width will vary according to the number of persons you want your room to accommodate, but the height should be around 7 feet. As your room will need venting, you will need to leave three points through which the air can circulate: one at the top, one at the bottom, and one above the heater. At the same time, it is recommended to build a drain in the floor, which will make maintenance easier.
Build the door. Standard sauna doors have a height of 6 feet and a width of 2 feet. If your room accommodates more people, you can choose to build two entrance for easier access. Once the door is ready, you can mount the benches and then proceed at insulating the room, using R-13 insulation for the walls and R-22 to R-26 insulation for the ceiling. The last step will be to cover the interior in wood.
Step 5 – Install the Heating Source
This step is better to be left at the hand of a specialist, which will know how to install the wood-burning heater so no toxic gases are eliminated inside the room. If you have picked an electrical model, make sure to call an electrician to handle the electrical part. There’s no room for improvisation here, and you want everything to be made by the book to make sure your family isn’t exposed to any danger. Remember that a sauna is a moist environment and moisture is a great electricity conductor.
Step 6 – Make the Room Comfortable
The benches and the floor will resist more if you add some accessories. Consider installing bench covers and a floor mat, or make sure to use towels to prevent sweat from being absorbed into the wood. At the same time, if you feel that moist air would make the heat more bearable, bring some rocks inside and pour water on them when they are hot. This will release steam and make the room more comfortable.
Your work should be done now, so call your friends and family and enjoy it.
The Bottom Line
It isn’t easy to build a sauna from scratch, but it isn’t the most difficult project either. So, if you are truly determined, you will pull it through. Nevertheless, you should note that half of the work of building a sauna is projecting it. You will need to think about all the aspects from location to size and materials and only after put everything together. If you take your time to plan everything carefully, things will actually go smoothly, and you will obtain a room that will last you longer. So, prepare yourself and get it done. You will have plenty of time to relax afterward.