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A poolside sauna in Eastern Canada provides a rich spectrum of hot, cold, relaxation and wellness retreat

Guest post series continues. Please welcome Troy V. from Rockwood, Ontario.  Troy comes to Saunatimes with a good first world sauna problem: how to build an authentic sauna poolside, as part of his pool utility shed. So, let’s dive right in and check out Troy’s sauna building project.  Enter Troy:

What compelled you to build your own sauna?

The decision to build my own came back in 2014, after listening to a podcast with Dr. Rhonda Patrick who detailed the health benefits of regular sauna use. What compelled me most was a lack of suitable sauna options in my area.

I discovered the sauna for myself around 2006 as a member of the Fort Erie YMCA, located across the Niagara River from Buffalo, NY. In that location, the men’s change room has a sauna that I used regularly. We called it the “executive workout” and it attracted people from all backgrounds, including a fun group of seniors, providing the perfect environment for good conversations.

The Y never set the temperature hot enough, so members would constantly spray the thermometer with cold water to crank up the heat. A Ukrainian taught me about the loyly and benefit of adding eucalyptus to the water. A jockey from the local horse track, using the sauna to cut weight, explained how the sauna was incorrectly built because it didn’t have proper ventilation (we wedged a plastic bottle in the door for airflow). I watched one Scandinavian member shave regularly in the sauna, never using shaving crème, something I now do regularly in my own. The willingness of complete strangers to engage in discussion while sweating buckets was remarkable.

Around this time, my dad would often travel to Finland on business, much of which revolved around the sauna and I enjoyed hearing about their culture. His stories combined with my own experience taught me a sauna is more than a place to sweat and relax; it’s also a place of socialization and community.

After the Fort Erie YMCA, I couldn’t find a satisfying public sauna. The so-called saunas I did find were not hot enough, prohibited pouring water on the rocks and worst of all, required clothing!

How did you find Saunatimes? Give us a few examples where the DIY eBook helped you out.

I came across Saunatimes in 2016 while researching how to build a sauna and found several bits of useful information in the DIY ebook. In particular, Chapter 6 – “Insulation” and Chapter 8 – “Cedar Time! Paneling, benches and sauna door”. In addition to the ebook, Glenn from Saunatimes was very helpful and always responded when I had a question.

Perhaps most importantly, he convinced me to revise my plan for a 20” wide top bench to a 24” bench. This is excellent advice, much more comfortable for lying down.

What were the biggest 1-2 challenges for your Sauna build?

I built the sauna in a pool shed constructed in the 1970’s and the walls were not exactly square any longer. That required some adjustments when installing the T&G cedar. Everything from learning to calculate board feet for purchasing lumber, framing walls, insulating and building benches were a first for me. I worked with an electrician to upgrade the service from the house to the shed and that required digging a trench in November, racing to beat the ground freezing up. Building a good-looking door and hanging it probably worried me the most overall. In hindsight, it was not as difficult as I expected.

The local sauna businesses did their best to discourage me from building the project myself. They recommended a DIY kit, including a factory built door. However, I’m glad I tackled this project myself; it’s been a satisfying and valuable learning experience.

What aspect of your Sauna are you most proud of?

There is still a bit to do, it may be a lifelong project, but I am quite satisfied with how it’s turned out. My favorite aspects are the details I did not plan when drafting the design.

One is the shelf, which was unintended. My original design included an “L” shaped lower bench, but I abandoned this idea after installing a portion of the bench and seeing the limited space available. This left exposed an unused portion of 2×4-bench hanger and rather than remove it, I decided to construct a shelf using the exposed 2×4 as backing. It’s the perfect height, never getting too hot at that level, great for a phone playing podcasts like Sauna Talk or music. It even amplifies the sound beautifully!

The bottom bench turned out great too. My dad, who helped me build the sauna, convinced me to build a wider bottom bench. My original plan was to build a 20” lower bench, but he didn’t like the idea of all that empty space down low and wanted to make better use of it, so we modified the bench design in the Saunatimes ebook by including 4 additional 2×4’s, making it a 36” wide lower bench.

I also love how the door handle turned out. My dad asked me to include in the project a 16” piece of 4×4 Western Red Cedar, which he saved from a table he built in the mid 1970’s. After a lot of consideration, I decided to use it for a handle. When researching handle styles, I really liked the “pull handle” style found on some cathedral doors and the 16” length worked out perfectly.  A few dowels, corner brackets, glue and finishing nails did the trick to fasten it all together for what seems a solid construction. Building it and developing a method to fasten it all together pushed me to the edge of my ability and required using tools for the first time like the dado blade on the table saw.

Any regrets or do-overs?

I could have executed a few details better given more patience. The sauna has only been functional for six months, so I suspect with time my answer would be different, but for now, not too many regrets.

The choice to use an electric heater may be one.

I had already purchased a 6kw electric Saunacore heater by the time I concluded a wood burning stove provides a better heating experience.

Perhaps my next build will include a wood burning stove. That said, I choose an electric heater for the convenience and low maintenance and thus far, it has not disappointed!

Here’s a better angle of the exterior pool shed: the sauna change room is through the door on the left side of the shed, next to the window. The other doors open to another change room and the pool equipment room.

Your benches are super beautiful clear 2×4 cedar, where did you source? Same with your clear 1x tongue and groove, by the way.

I spent a lot of time deciding what wood species to work with, but in the end, I decided to go with Western Red Cedar because of its stability in a sauna environment.

Pacific Cedar on Highway 6 in Hamilton, Ontario is my closest source of clear WRC and they have a good selection of products. The staff were a big help and very patient while assisting me determine the best lengths to use. They also let me hand pick each piece of wood I purchased and I was lucky to be the first person digging through their newly arrived skid of cedar.

Interior of Troy’s poolside sauna hot room

If you could have a Mobile Sauna anywhere in the world, where would you bring it and go Sauna?

Somewhere in the Canadian Rockies like Banff or Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. It’s rugged, secluded terrain, with spectacular views and glacier fed rivers and lakes. There’s loads of wildlife to see and outdoor activities to do any time of year. A mobile sauna in the back-country, next to a fire in the winter time, would be an excellent addition.

Any last thoughts?

Now that the sauna is nearing completion, I’ll shift my focus to improving the exterior pool shed with features that compliment the sauna. I’d like to install an outdoor shower, benches to relax outside and possibly a 150 gallon stock tank to fill up with ice and water for post sauna cold dunks.
My pal, Rob, who also built his own sauna recently, is always testing bio-hack methods promoted by people like Wim Hof and Ben Greenfield. Over the last few years, he’s motivated me to experiment with hot/cold therapy, breathing techniques and meditation. I find some of these methods extremely useful and consider the sauna a key component. To tie it all together, there is nothing better than to finish with 20 minutes in my backyard hammock, swinging on the breeze!
Well, time to go fire up the sauna!

Editor’s Note:  A great backyard sauna build environment to celebrate Troy’s health and wellness retreat.  This just goes to show that if you put your mind to it, you can turn part of a utility pool shed into a sauna.  As you can see, it did require effort and time commitment. And we all know that time is a sparse resource. A simple formula to help you with building your own sauna can be reviewed here.

And just by doing simple things such as using a robot clean your swimming pool, or cutting down on TV usage (3h 58 min extra!), you can earn yourself multiple hours a day to work on your sauna project.

2 thoughts on “A poolside sauna in Eastern Canada provides a rich spectrum of hot, cold, relaxation and wellness retreat”

  1. Nice build! How are you liking the saunacore heater? I know they make a few different models (rock capacity) in the 6kw size.

  2. Thanks, Sam. I have the Saunacore SE model and it’s performing well. Keep in mind, it’s only been functional for about six months but I’m doing my best to break it. I use it a lot – 4 to 7 days a week in an outdoor environment, which requires a longer 45 min. warm up in sub-zero temps (approx. 15 mins in warmer months). I also like it hot – 160 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit (70 to 87 Celsius). Some winter days I’ll run it for 2 hours straight in order to achieve a couple 20-30 min. sessions. Most surprisingly, it isn’t expensive to operate. My electrical bill has only increased by about $5 to $10/month.

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