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Lighting in a Sauna

light steam graphic

Dimmer Lighting in a Sauna

Every sauna I’ve ever built has a light in it. Every light is switched via a dimmer, just outside the sauna door on the changing room wall. Why? Soft, indirect light is preferred in a sauna; the softer the better. I like to nude up in a sauna and if I’m taking a sauna with others, I don’t want the lighting to make me feel like I’m in a doctor’s office. Get it? A light with a dimmer switch allows for brighter light when, say, reading in a sauna, or when having to look for a bottle opener or something you’ve lost under the bench.

a candle resting on the sauna changing room window sill
Candle in the sauna changing room

Candle Light in a Sauna

I have a good friend who has built saunas in remote areas, sans electricity. When you design for a window on the common wall to the changing room, the window sill on the changing room side of the window is a great spot to mount a candle holder. As you illuminate a candle, the soft light from the candle casts a wonderful glow in your sauna room, and doesn’t melt the candle!

Window Lighting in a Sauna

A lot of hard core sauna nuts don’t like any light in their sauna, just a window facing the lapping shoreline on their pristine lake. Who wouldn’t like that!? I have that set up at my lake sauna, and it is priceless. In addition to a window to the outside, whether indoor or an urban environment, a window from the hot room to the changing room is a great consideration. Just imagine you’re at the lake!

Could LED Dimmable Rope Lighting Be the Next Big Sauna Lighting Game Changer?

Every sauna built from today forward shall have this lighting configuration:

  1. LED rope light extended underneath the upper bench.
  2. Two sconce lights, one on either side of the hot room door.

Both light systems shall be controlled by dimmer switches via a dual switch box installed at a convenient height outside the hot room door, opposite of the hinge side.

Advantages of LED Rope Lighting in a Sauna

The advance of LED rope light technology is upon us. We now have these systems available at big box Depot stores. We can install these systems via conventional 110v 15 amp 12 gauge wiring. If there is a better lighting system for our saunas, I’d like to know about it. Modifications of the following can include an LED rope light system, also on a dimmer switch, mounted under the bench in the changing area.

1. Lighting Underneath Upper Bench Casts Indirect Light

A pleasant vibe for sauna bathers. This light helps illuminate the path from the upper bench down to the floor, and out the door. What was once the dark dim underbelly of the sauna hot room now becomes a soft, glowing, appealing space, making our hot rooms feel that much larger. Thanks to the dimmer switch, we can control exactly how much illumination we want: an illumination level of our own creation.

2. Lighting via Overhead Sconces Casts Direct Light

Wall sconce lighting can help create a functional vibe for sauna bathers. This light helps illuminate the entire hot room for cleaning, or early stages of a sauna as we fire up our stoves, and prep the area. Thanks to the dimmer switch, we can control exactly how much illumination we want from our overhead sconce lights. Often, we may set for a very soft glow to cast off from the wall sconces, which is enhanced by the light reflecting off our wood paneling. This provides a warm feeling for the sauna bather, who may be known to remark at the beauty of our tongue and groove paneling not just as a compliment to our craftsmanship, but as a representation of nature’s beauty. And if the sauna bather thinks more deeply, he or she may possibly also pay homage to the fact that trees also provide us the fuel for our sauna stoves and the oxygen for each of our breaths.

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40 Comments

40 thoughts on “Lighting in a Sauna”

  1. Hi Glenn,

    Thanks so much for your ebook and posting all this info! I have a couple of questions about lighting. I just ran my electrical for switches and lights and put in 2 ceiling lights. There is one light in the vestibule and one in the sauna itself. I’m second-guessing myself about the ceiling lights and wondering if you have any thoughts. My first worry is that since it’s a wood fired sauna, the light fixture might be too close to the stovepipe (26″ away). Second, I worry that the plastic vapour barrier around the electrical box might actually melt. I’m using rockwool & foil vapour barrier on the ceiling and walls…but by habit put the thin plastic shells around the electrical boxes. Do you have any thoughts on this? Should I omit the plastic vapour barrier in the hot room? Would wall lights be a bit less of a hazard? Any suggestions would be much appreciated. Thanks!

  2. Plastic vapor barrier in the hot room is yesterday’s product. Foil bubble wrap, or foil wrap, is much better suited. It reflects heat back into the hot room, is easier to work with, and with good taping around the seams with foil tape, one need not worry about infultration or melting. My (26 year) experience. Hope this helps!

  3. Hi Glenn, thanks for your reply! Unfortunately I think you misunderstood my question. Yes I WILL be using foil on all the walls and ceiling. I’m wondering specifically how do you seal around the electrical boxes. Here’s a link to what I normally use (elsewhere in my home). Wondering if you can suggest an alternative? Or do you just let the sauna steam penetrate the insulation at the electrical switches and lights & hope things dry out? https://www.homedepot.ca/en/home/p.vapor-barrier-octogonal-box.1000176241.html

  4. don’t use those box vapor seals, they will likely melt. yes, there may be some vapor in the area around the box but not so much to be a concern. i would also recommend metal boxes in the hot room, especially if you like a real hot sauna (200+). the plastic light box in my sauna is deformed from melting. the wires are okay (or appear to be) but the box is toast. full disclosure, my light is at the ceiling elevation but pretty close to the heater (electric). so it probably gets more heat than if it was in a different corner but i still think it would melt either way.

  5. I know this is a very old post, but what’s the optimal electric light location? I’m getting ready to do electrical on an indoor sauna, about 5′ x 6′ size, where the door has to be on the short end and the benches will run the long way. Is one vapor-proof light enough? I’m thinking to put it on the wall with the door, above the lower bench, and close to the ceiling. Would you use a second light fixture, or would one be enough? FYI, I don’t have the option for a window.

  6. Hi Mike:

    Given that this is a new build, and that we build our saunas only once, my recommendation is as follows:
    1. LED rope light under upper bench.
    2. Wall sconce light on wall, adjacent to hot room door, 1′ from ceiling.

    IMPORTANT:
    Both lights are activated via dual switch box on wall outside of hot room, adjacent to door handle side of door. (easy access).

    REALLY IMPORTANT:
    Both lights are activated via dimmer switches.

    I’ve wired lights for sauna hot rooms every which way from Tuesday, and above is the optimal, greatest “ahhh”, not expensive, best, awesome-ist by a country mile.

    All fixtures can be procured at big box Depot store and are not expensive. 110v is the best. You can wire with a GFI outlet upstream and feed your sauna building with a simple extension cord or hard wire as desired.

    Great sauna lighting need not be fancy to be really versatile and wonderful and functional. Dim it down and chill! Crank it up and clean!

  7. Any new lighting options for remote locations without electricity? For instance a sauna appropriate LED rope with a battery?

  8. Yes! 12v is a great solution, especially with a little solar gig atop our sauna building.

    It’s insane how efficient 12v. LED rope lighting is. Especially mounted underneath our upper bench, with a dimmer switch just outside our hot room.

    Now, there is a counter to all this thinking. For remote locations, it’s best to embrace being without electricity. There’s something magical about off grid locales with just a flashlight to show us the matches that light our candles. There’s a closer connection to Nature, and the quiet solitude can be a welcomed friend, a scarcity in our busy, overstimulated lives.

  9. Thank you for the great suggestions. I am going with LED rope lighting under upper bench and a wall sconce by the door. Do you have specific suggestions for a wall sconce? I bought today a metal unit with LEDs and plastic diffuser. The specs on the website said glass diffuser, but clearly is plastic.

  10. Hi Reed: Wall sconce: I’ve had great results with the simple $5.49 jam jar wall available at Depot and other big box.

    Was just looking at my cabin sauna, built in 1996 and the light is as good as the day I installed it. Hope this helps.

  11. Ben: My hunch is too thick, (as you suggest). I have used the foil bubble wrap for decades, now a stock item at big box. It works great and is readily available. Some use the non bubble foil faced, much easier to install cedar paneling, yet i’ve had no issues with the foil bubble product as long as you don’t overlap.

    This double bubble product may be double trouble in terms of a nice surface for installing cedar paneling. But lemme know how you go, and how it goes!

  12. Hello,
    Could anyone share what LED rope alights they are using? If you ask salesman at the store, if those would be okay in sauna, everyone say no.

    Thanks

  13. I assume it is not a good idea to run LED lights closer to the ceiling due to the ambient temperature. Do you know if there are any LED rope/strips that can withstand high temperatures such as in sauna?

  14. Alexei:

    LED mfrs. produce lighting systems for overhead in hot room, so it is possible. I’m not sure if the off the shelf LED lighting systems are that heat tolerant, which is another reason why we set them under bench.

  15. Hi, Glenn!

    Reading this thread regarding lighting. Building mine meant for simple wall sconce mount. I see your suggestion for the jam jar, which seems way simpler than the 10 hours I’ve spent researching!

    I’m seeing that lighting should be “vapor tight” or “vapor proof” or “suitable for wet locations” (does that in itself mean that it is at least “vapor resistant”?)

    Should the description state that the glass is “high-heat resistant”?

    I’m looking at the bulkhead-style, but wondering if that’s not “safe” enough.

    I’m also looking at the vapor-proof jar style (about $65), and am wondering if that’s overkill.

    Like everything else, I am likely overanalyzing this thing and am hoping you can provide a safe & simple suggestion.

    As always…thank you!

  16. Right on Mark, and I think you are your best critic.

    I’ve built saunas using the under $10 jam jar fixture, and have only had to replace the lightbulb after decades of heavy use.

    Apply a strip of metal tape to seal off where the Romex comes into the light box. If your $10 jam jar fixture doesn’t hold up, well, it’ll be ok to replace with something more fancy/sauna suitable, but like I say, I’ve had great results with it.

    HOT TIP #7″: Control the wall sconce light with a dimmer switch (located at a good height, just outside the hot room door).

    Sauna on Mark!

  17. Hi Glenn—as so many have said before me, thank you so much for all the time and thought you put in on this website, and for your book. It’s so helpful! Just a quick question about sauna lighting. We’re doing a new build (electric heater, 6×8), and need to decide on lighting. I just read online somewhere that LEDs shouldn’t be used in a sauna, and that the high heat would cause problems and early burnout. But I see above you that you recommended LED strip lights under the top bench. Just wanted to make sure led strip is still okay? If so, is there any particular type of strip that you’d recommend, or is any big box store type okay? Any special installation requirements? Is an led strip okay under a closed bench? (Or do you recommend not doing closed benches?). Lots of questions after all! Again, thanks so much. You’re an invaluable resource.

  18. Hi Victoria:

    Thanks for the kind words. LED in hot room: I have had great success. The concept of running LED rope lights under the upper bench is a good thing as it:
    1. helps illuminate the dark area under benches.
    2. provides passive lighting vs. in your face lighting.
    3. illuminate where it makes sense, the lower bench, so that you can safely come and go.
    4. is a little cooler under the bench, vs. up high.

    LED’s have held up very well for me, and we like hot sauna with lots of löyly. I have used christmas tree LED lights, and ran the plug through the wall to a switched outlet outside the hot room. I have installed the off the shelf LED solutions sold at big box. Most of these are used in kitchens for under cabinet lighting.

    All switches and junctions outside the hot room.

    Sauna on Victoria!

  19. Glen,
    I would like to talk to you about a sauna construction I have in mind for a large residence and am also considering hiring a consultant to make sure it goes well. Is there some way I can reach out to you directly?
    Elizabeth

  20. Excellent lighting thread, roughly how many lumens for a 6x4sauna? I think the rope led idea is perfect, esp that you get get12v systems

  21. Mark:

    I’m not sure ho many lumens i’ve ran for some of my projects, but I do know that the double dimmer switch (one for under bench, one for overhead sconce) is really awesome.. an infinite tuning of the ambiance.

  22. Good comments all of you.
    I too and building a new wood fired sauna in my backyard to replace my old one. I would like to use some LED strip lights either upper bench or behind a backrest on the upper bench or in both areas. I am also planning a ceiling light in the center of the room, mostly for house cleaning. All of the lights will be on separate dimmer switches controlled from the changing room. My question, like many of you, has to do with the LED strip lights. If they are located under the upper bench, no doubt they will get wet from either sweat or the act of pouring water on your head on occasions. Will this be a problem? Also, can the LED strip lights be controlled with a standard dimmer switch? And another question is whether the heat will effect the LED lights. It would be great if you could send me a link on what LED lights you would recommend or a product # from Home Depot,
    A sincere thank you in advance!
    Jac

  23. Jac,

    I have had good results with the LED strip lights available by pushing your cart down the Home Depot isle. They don’t seem to freak out from moisture and we avoid direct wet contact by stapling them to under the upper benches. You can use a standard dimmer switch but this is where things get confusing. I have installed lighting systems with 110v as well as 12v. The conventional 110v dimmer switches are much better than 12v options. But using 110v LED rope lighting is clunky as there’s a reducer involved to bring it down to 12v. And 12v dimmer switches are not quality nor responsive.

    The heat doesn’t mess with the LED rope lights, especially if strung under the bench, where it’s relatively less hot.

    I could send links of what’s available today, but the LED rope lighting solutions keep changing, evolving, and in many cases not in a good direction. This category is being “China-ized” and we at Saunatimes are rolling up our sleeves to do something about it! If you are reading this after March 2022, you’ll have links and better options.!

  24. Hi Glenn, hoping to see the links you mentioned in your Jan 19, 2022 post.
    I messaging with Drip Saunas in Australia, as they had a picture of a beautiful installation of under bench lighting. They told me they use “IP 65 Dotless Weatherproof LED Strip lights, that they source from an Australian supplier. I’m trying to track these down in Canada (or at least North America).

  25. Our sauna was designed to be dark inside when wanted – two walls are even stained black – it’s especially restful and centering with just the light of the stove.

    When I sauna alone, I sometimes read, with the help of a small book light – Short stories are especially good in the sauna… though it destroys the books!

    Best of all though so far, is candle light.
    A tin can, with nail-hole designs poked through, cast mysterious shadows on the walls and keep melted wax off the benches. Votive candles that come in little tin cups turn into liquid during a sauna session, but continue to work just fine – we place them low in the sauna to avoid some of the heat higher up – extremely romantic.

  26. Hi Glenn – I’m just reviewing this thread and about to have my electrician rough everything in tomorrow. I’m doing some last minute research into LED lights and seeing that you mention some links that you will post after March 2022. Am I missing them, or are the links another addition to the Covid-related supply chain casualties 🙂 …coming soon, but maybe on a boat somewhere in the middle of the ocean.

  27. Alex!

    You nailed it!

    Global supply chain issues!

    I think the best move is 110v. under bench and overhead on dimmers… and the good news is that there is some fairly ok selection available in big box (Depot, Lowes, Menards).. mainly set up for under cabinet kitchen action.

    Smiling Alex. You get it.

  28. Glenn – thanks for all the hot tips!!
    How about the changing room light? Where do you recommend locating that?

  29. Hi Laura:

    Changing room light: The easiest is overhead, and on a dimmer. While building and the wall cavities are open, you can also do a secondary light system of two wall sconce lights centered on either side of window, also on dimmer.

  30. Glenn – great information. For LED rope lights under the bench, do you run the romex exposed through the wall to directly under the bench to hardwire the rope lights? How does this handle water, some people wash up on the bench so the Romex would get wet. Thank you

  31. Hi Travis:

    Yes, I do exactly this. An electrician may issue a yellow card if making this connection without a junction box, so you could install your under bench LED with an outside/water proof junction box tucked underneath the bench.

    The real key is controlling these lights with a dimmer switch. And thanks to fancy under cabinet lighting systems available at big box retailers, we can source all the components to make this happen for under our sauna benches.

    There are really good 12v sauna lighting systems in Europe. Finland specifically. But the sauna market is small for these guys, too small to amortize the $20-40k for UL testing and certifications.

    And 12v lighting systems here in the US are pretty much all clunky looking/functioning light systems for RV’s. I don’t like the switches and controls of these systems.

  32. Hey – been searching for the right rope light product for a bit, and seems a bit more complicated than I thought. According to my research, the only dimmable rope lights – direct wire – are incandescent not LED. There are dimmable LED tape lights, but they don’t seem rated for hot / wet locations. Can you suggest a product that has worked for you? Really appreciate all the guidance on the site!

  33. There’s a hole in the LED sauna lighting bucket. We use the dimmable LED tape lights and mount them below the upper bench where it’s relatively cooler.

    Overhead sconce: We use standard 110v. fixtures and an LED bulb.

    Hope this gets some good direction for you. I know it’s not easy.

  34. Ceiling lights get very hot. The problem with metal electrical boxes is that they get very very hot. And plastic electrical boxes are really not good at all. So, we move over to 12v LED and this is a whole new animal in terms of switches and fixtures. Practically speaking, as we push our cart down the Home Depot isle, we find LED kitchen lighting systems that can be adapted for sauna use. This can work or we can use imported LED sauna lighting systems.

  35. Hi Glen

    I am wondering if I get a sconce for the sauna we are building
    what are the requirements? Does it have to be an indoor outdoor light fixture?
    Is it fine if it is enclosed glass or with metal?
    Does it matter if its LED lighting versus a regular bulb?

    Thanks so much,

    Danii

  36. For 30 yrs, now, I’ve used simple 110v. ‘jam jar’ lighting fixture available via big box. I know this is not instagram worthy vis a vis fancy LED spot or under bench rope lighting, but they have worked fine for me. The tricky part is the electrical box. the blue box is prone to melting a bit and off gassing possibly. So i’ve put some rockwool around that and all is fine. tape the seams with foil tape.

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