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Is it worth getting all steamed up about your sauna’s moisture and condensation build up?

light steam graphic

Let’s face it, moisture can be a brutal enemy to a safe healthy home.

Home builders, contractors, and handy men (the good ones anyway) are especially cautious when navigating through bathroom projects.  (The good ones anyway) have all been trained or have seen from their own eyes how moisture and water leaks can do awful things, and most often from behind the scenes.  Structural damage, rot, and black mold.  Yuck.  Costly and dangerous.

This is why many tradesmen get wiggy when a home owner contacts them to build them a sauna.

Because we sauna enthusiasts who are enthusiastic enough to recognize the value of having our own sauna are still somewhat unique birds, most tradesmen aren’t familiar with sauna building.  “You sure you just don’t want a hot tub?”  So, many of us build our own saunas.  And most of us that build our own saunas are with it enough to not get too steamed up about moisture and condensation.

This is what I know:

A backyard sauna, an independent structure separate from main living area, not only allows us to enjoy cool downs in the garden all misty wet with rain, but an independent sauna structure built correctly basically vents itself.  A shit load of steam is going to get out between sauna rounds, and a simple crack of the door will be the easiest escape for warmer moist air to run away into nature like you on your first hike as soon as you get up to your cabin.  To best visualize, look closely at this photo:

Lake Superior, South of Two Harbors. Photo: Brian Peterson
Lake Superior, South of Two Harbors. Photo: Brian Peterson

Foil bubble wrap, and doing a kick ass job installing your vapor barrier, will protect your building.  It will create a greater resistance to the warm moist air, which will be much happier escaping out the door than into your walls.

I am a big fan of outdoor saunas.  Moisture is such a minimal issue when we pop open the doors a bit after our sessions, and this advantage may not even make my top 5.  But we’ll take it.  Sauna buildings are not heated 24/7.  When we are done with our sauna session and are enjoying a final beer and a laugh, all the condensation on our changing room windows can be wiped down, or we can prop open our hot room door and heat up our changing room, then open the door to outdoors.  Bye bye moisture.  Hello winter’s night.

A sauna built inside a house is a different story

A sauna in the house in Minnesota or Turku, Finland?  Yes, we need to be mindful of where our moisture from our sauna is going.  In many winter climates, a good amount of moisture is a welcome thing.  Here in Minnesota, as example, Walgreens does a robust business in humidifiers.  With our home sauna, this could mean one less appliance to plug in!  Weeks of sub freezing dry cold air sucks all the moisture out of a house.  Our pets watch their water dishes evaporate before they can finish drinking.  Our plants are sad and sorry.  Our eyeballs stick to our eyelids.  That sound of water being tossed on sauna rocks makes us all happy in the house”pssssssst” “ahhhhhhh”..

A sauna in the house in Seattle or most of England?  We need to be mindful of where our moisture from our sauna is going.  Everything is cold and damp already.  Stepping into our sauna feels friggin fantastic in this climate.  As we toss water on the rocks, “pssssssst” damn that feels great, “ahhhhhh” but when we are done with our sauna session, we probably want to flip a switch to activate a fan that will vent our moist sauna air out the house.

A lot of these shenanigans are detailed in my ebook.

A sauna in a house in Oropendola, Costa Rica?  I’m not sure about this, but instead, how about a mobile sauna that we can wheel up to this waterfall?  This would give the sauna bather not only a double dose of negative ions, but a freedom factor from the issue of moisture or condensation build up in their house back home.

No moisture build up with a mobile sauna by the shores of Oropendola Waterfall, off one of the paths just outside of the Rincón de La Vieja National Park, Costa Rica.
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10 thoughts on “Is it worth getting all steamed up about your sauna’s moisture and condensation build up?”

  1. I am currently turning our old milk house into a sauna. Interior will be 5x7x7. My main concern is, should I install fresh air vents? I know just propping the door open after a sauna will sufficiently dry the sauna out but we live in the country and I’m not liking that idea.. Too many critters looking for a nice warm place to hang out and chew on stuff.. I still have time to add a couple of vents to the structure as I’m expecting my wood delivery this week. Any insight here would be much appreciated.

  2. Jimmy:

    It sounds like you don’t want to put in a vent, and I think that’s just fine. A vent is a good thing, maybe, but i’ve not found it to be critical or any more incrementally advantageous to just propping open hot room door when all is done with their nICE mug and sauna session.

  3. Actually, I’m a big believer in air flow. I don’t want to leave the door open at the end of the night because of the risk of an animal getting into the sauna and chewing on something. The reason I ask about the vents is, I’ve been reading conflicting stories about how they are necessary and then how they should not be installed. I don’t see how the air in the room can circulate properly without them.

  4. Vents and air flow: Reason #11 why I prefer a wood burning sauna stove. Burning wood requires a constant and surprisingly large amount of oxygen. Veteran sauna builders, those of us who get sore as hell after standing on a ladder installing tongue and groove cedar ceilings, always build our sauna doors with a generous opening along the bottom. As our sauna stoves crackle away, we can rest our foot along the bottom of our hot room door, and can feel fresh cool air flowing into our hot room. This gentle blow dryer helps dry our duck boards, especially after kids dump water over their heads while sitting on the sauna bench. Kids who haven’t yet learned the Wim Hof Method or value of Avanto, cold plunge, outdoor shower, or hanging outside between rounds in the garden all misty wet with rain.

  5. Hey Glenn,
    Just found this site and I’m really digging it! I’m from Madison, WI and just bought the makings of a used homemade sauna (now a part in panelled pieces) with an electric heating element from a neighbor who was gonna ditch it from their new house. We have a backyard shed/cottage with raw plywood subflooring. The sauna currently does not have a floor. It used to have the cement basement floor from the other house. The backyard cottage will not be constantly heated in the winter. Would love suggestions on flooring ideas. Concerns are moisture and fluctuations in heat over the seasons.

    Your new fan,

  6. Hi Hanna: Flooring ideas: from the plywood subfloor, I recommend durarock and skim coat vinyl cement on top of that. This makes your floor water proof. On top of this, build and lay a cedar duck board. This allows you a soft landing for your feet and keeps your feet kind of dry and happy.

    If you’re pouring water over your head in the hot room, i recommend pitching your durarock to a drain before skim coating and all this and more is well detailed in my ebook, so that is my big up sell for you, and happy to help in any area. A good sauna for you is my goal.

  7. Hi, I’m turning a 16’ x 20’ storage building into a sleep camp and sauna. Windows are in and interior framing has begun, but now I’m hearing concerns about moisture issues escaping from the sauna into the sleeping area, creating a lot of dampness. It had been suggested that I put the sauna door leading directly outside to eliminate the moisture escaping. Do you have any thoughts on if this will be a problem and how I can solve it?


  8. Dave:

    our lake home sauna/office/guest cabin has been running well since 1996. We have an operative window from the hot room to the outside that helps vent the hot room as well as pull moisture for extra steamy sessions (vs. it waifing into the anti chamber/sleeping area).

    That’s all we needed to do to solve it. For cold days and nights, the extra warm moist-ish heat is a great climate enhancer to the space. I recommend typing “bake and breathe” in the search bar above for more on that.

  9. I’m in the Pacific Northwest and I’m converting an existing shed to a sauna. I’m building a window into it and I’m trying to figure out how to limit/reduce fog and condensation so that we can actually look outside. I know I need tempered glass for the window, but what steps can I take to limit heat transfer? Also, I’m planning to install an outside drain to serve dual purpose of getting rid of water and providing air intake for the heater. Does that make sense to you?

  10. Geoff:

    Yes, this makes sense.

    I’m all about fixed glass. And if a larger window, purchasing a thermally insulated fixed window from a glass company is the way to go.

    In either case, the glass doesn’t get foggy or wet in sauna. Good sauna has good ventilation and with that air movement, condensation clears in the relatively dry heat.

    yes, the dual function is drain as well as a vent. yes!

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