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Do I really need a changing room? The hardiest sauna map answers

light steam graphic

In 2010, we asked the question: “Do I really need a changing room?” And the answers ring as true today as they did back then.

  • 1. Double doors (like grocery stores, to help maintain climate).
  • 2. Equalize your body temperature
  • 3. Expand your space
  • 4. Hang your clothes

And since 2010, sauna has become more popular all over North America. In climates like Texas, California and Florida we most often see “hot room only” saunas. In many cases, these saunas are barrel or kit saunas propped up by their owners who are tapping into the thermal craze. (insert Andrew Huberman brown fat thermoregulatory deliberate exposure paper here).

As you consider your own backyard sauna retreat, one of the key ways to answer the question: “do I really need a changing room?” is to determine which climatic zone you are in by checking this map. This is only a guide, since the conditions for sauna will vary in certain areas. 

the USDA Plant hardiness zone map
the USDA Plant hardiness zone map with sauna application

Zones 1-4?

A sauna changing room is pretty damn good idea.

Zones 5-10?

Not critical for performance, but could be a good vibe consideration.

Zone 11?

You live in a sauna, already.

Revisiting, here are 5 reasons why a changing room is a good idea:

  1. thermal dynamic goodness.
  2. Extended cool downs.
  3. Winter cool down climate that is .. magical.
  4. Socialization in the cool mist.
  5. A winter escape.. sometimes as little as 20 or steps in our own backyard.

Imagine a bitter cold winter’s day (in zones 1-3). Cold and dry. Between rounds, the cool down room becomes thermal climatization nirvana. As steam billows off our bodies in the cold changing room, the humidity level rises to such a state that often, we have to squint like a sea captain in Seattle to make out the smiling faces of fellow sauna enthusiasts just across the room.

Cold and dry outside, and cool and steamy in our cool down rooms. During these sauna sessions, the “3rd zone of sauna” is often where a lot of magic can happen.

  • Thermal magic – the slow equalization of our body temperatures (thermoregulatory goodness).
  • Social magic – A cold beverage of choice, a story, some laughter, a reconnection with your sauna guest(s).

If you live in one of these cold zones and are considering “hot room only” I encourage you to take 10 Wim Hof breaths and reconsider. That said, if you’re under cost or space constraints, and have to go hot room only, here are a couple ideas for between your rounds:

  • Put on a hearty bathrobe (after your complete cold water dejankifiation rinse).
  • Invest in a heat lamp for your sauna deck.
  • Locate your sauna in close proximity to garage, porch or existing structure (but be mindful to not jackrabbit your sauna rounds).

I am a big fan of the changing room. The “third space” where a lot of thermal sauna magic happens. And in 2017, we ask “does the sauna changing room need a new name?

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2 thoughts on “Do I really need a changing room? The hardiest sauna map answers”

  1. I love this subject, Glen.

    I know that you’re a big believer in designing a sauna to maximize your “changing room” footprint while keeping your hot room just big enough – around 8′ x 8′. When I built out our sauna in the back of my shop, we split the area to be two 7′-6″ x 7′-6″ rooms, one hot room and one “changing room”. I’d never make my hot room smaller than that, but I would certainly do whatever I could to make my “changing room” larger! I keep using quotes around changing room, because really I don’t that name does the space justice. We call ours The Sauna Lounge. Sure you can change there, but it’s also the best place for us to relax between rounds. It’s great to get outside between rounds, but let’s face it, when the bugs are thick in Northern Minnesota, it’s much more comfortable to sit inside with a screen door for airflow and bug protection. And in reality, on most dark, Northern winter nights, we’re in the Lounge as well.

    Maybe this is a reinforcement worth contributing to the book: If your design includes a changing room, it’s very likely that you will spend more time in that changing room cooling off than you will spend in your hot room heating up. Do whatever you can to make it as large as possible; make it a true Sauna Lounge! Don’t forget windows with screens and a screen door for the best cool down indoors.

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