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Designing your sauna: most of the time L benches look better on paper than in real life

I’m not sure what it is, but architects and casual sauna hot room designers are quick to lay out their hot rooms to include L benches. And 90% of the time, at point of construction, we realize that things are getting too tight.

Generally speaking: I’m not a fan of L benches in sauna. Why? Three reasons:

  1. Corners benches are dead space. You can’t fit your butt in the corner. They do work for laying down, however.
  2. Knees knock. Two people sitting in the corners, adjacent, need to put their feet somewhere, and they end up knocking knees.
  3. Standing around space is valuable. L benches take away from standing space. A more generous standing space gives a sauna hot room good flow. Anybody sitting on the benches can come and go without the “excuse me” or “Let me know when you’re ready to go” chatter. Also, it is beneficial to have space to stand and stretch in the hot room, or dump water over your head.

What’s a better way to design our sauna hot rooms?

Go with stadium seating. Like this:

Then, after your sauna build, after a few sauna rounds, you can always come back and after market your sauna with the introduction of more benching, if you think you want it. And more often than not, an added “L” becomes a creatively functional slider, or a free standing removable bench, or perhaps bench cover for wood supply.

How wide should sauna benches be?

24″ is the magic width for sauna benches. Building 24″ wide benches, allow us to lay down comfortably, and we have ergonomically happy depth for sitting. 24″ is especially valuable depth for our upper benches. We like 24″ for lower benches too, yet we tuck under the lower bench 4″ (to avoid ankle twisting when stepping up and down). The exposed bench width of our lower bench is 20.”

Many do better building stadium seating stadium benches for their new sauna builds. Then we can field verify this preliminary layout over the course of a few of our first sauna sessions.

SUMMARY: When designing for our sauna bench layout, like with cowbell, we can always add more later.

mobile sauna stadium seating with a very mini L lower bench (referred to as “the on deck circle,” added after market.

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14 thoughts on “Designing your sauna: most of the time L benches look better on paper than in real life”

  1. I think that’s because we think of sauna as a tradition, and want to do things same way as it was done before 🙂
    But your arguments are valid and I would rethink my future bench layout once again.

  2. Alexey: beautifully poetic (and true)!

    Such a lovely aphorism and inspirational for an article with this statement as foundation. Very zen and the art of sauna building.

    Every sauna has its own soul. Ty for this provocative thought!

  3. Hey Glenn,
    You have any experience with the supi sauna wax? Not sure if we can even get it in the US, unless you smuggled some back from your Finland trip. My sauna has a 2X6 cedar floor that doesn’t neeeed the wax, but it could be cool.

  4. Hi. Yes, I have had experience with supi sauna wax.

    My knee jerk reaction when considering any product on or in the hot room is first to say no. Come to think of it, and this is totally just my matter of preference, I use no products in my sauna. Only exception is a bar of soap, which lasts a super long time as I use it very sparingly and most often as just lather for shaving on the sauna bench.

    Anyhow, that’s just me, so i’m not the best to get an opinion regarding sauna wax. Could be great stuff. Maybe others have thoughts on it.

  5. If the space is very small, L-shape benches seem to me the most space-efficient way to get the most seating — or even enough seating simply to let one person at least lie down.

    I have a 2x3m cabin split diagonally between sauna on the inside and office/anteroom on the outside (our home is small and we couldn’t build bigger), which makes the sauna a scalene triangle. The oven and door are on the diagonal (the longest side), the opposite corner — the only right-angle — is perfect for the corner of L-shaped benches.

    But yes, benches are removable (instant 1-person hot yoga studio, just about).

    There are advantages to small — quicker and cheaper to heat!

  6. My wife and I purchased a copy of your book on how to build a sauna.  We are in the process of building a house with a sauna (electric).  My wife’s parents are from Finland, and my wife grew up in Florida in a house with a sauna (a necessity!), so we’re looking forward every much to finally being in a home with a sauna.  

    Your book has been very helpful as we plan things–thanks!  Are you able to answer some follow up questions we still have after reading the book?

    The constraints of the lot/build allow us to have an electric sauna that is within the house.
    The sauna (6′ x 6′) will have one wall to the exterior and three walls to the interior (shower, laundry room, and living room).  The wall to the exterior will have a window, and the wall to the shower will have a 2′ wide door.  The plan is to use bubble foil vapor barrier as you describe in your book.

    What type of insulation should we use for the wall to the exterior?  There are a number of materials that will meet the needed R value in order to pass code.  We’re trying to figure out which material would be most appropriate for this location, and perform well with the potential heat and moisture.  One site recommends fiberglass, another recommends mineral wool.  We figure it makes sense to stay away from cellulose (soggy if it gets wet).  Our builder had been planning to use spray-in foam, but we wonder if that allows any open channels for air to circulate and moisture to escape, if needed.

    What type of insulation (if any) should we use for the three interior walls?  The same as for the exterior wall, accounting for wall thickness?  Likely, it makes sense to insulate the wall toward the living room, and probably toward the laundry room.  However, someone brought up the possibility of not insulating between the shower and the sauna–moisture is more likely to work into the space in that wall, and the insulation might trap the water.  Leaving an open wall cavity might let the moist air dissipate more easily and quickly.  We live in Michigan, so the slight added warmth coming through the sauna wall to the shower might be appreciated on cold days (pretty much every day except the Fourth of July?).

    Also, as to the joist spaces, if the builder recommends spray-in foam (but is open to other ideas) should we use the same foam or a different insulation for the stretch of joist spaces below and above the sauna?  We’re concerned about the effect of heat on the foam (melting? volatilizing?).  

    Thanks for any help you can give on these questions!

    Dan

  7. Hi Dan:

    Insulating our sauna is a hot topic. Until recently, we had few options. Now, in addition to fiberglass batting, we have wool batting. And we also have closed cell blown in spray foam, and its first cousin: rigid foam.

    No matter which way that we choose to insulate between the joists, I like that you’re thinking foil bubble wrap applied to the inside face of your joists so that we safely seal off what’s inside our wall cavities, isolated from our hot, moist sauna hot room.

    You can insulate with pretty much any of the options you and I outline above. Each product has its advantages, and each product is also subject to criticism (moisture, off gassing, trapping, etc.).

    If this were my project: I’d probably look at hiring a professional to blow in insulation everywhere: ceiling, exterior, common walls, etc. If you’re worried about this product under extreme heat, then go with batting.

    Vague, yes. But if I had a dollar for every hour I’ve spent talking and analyzing the pros and cons of different insulation options for sauna, I could buy us a really good case of beer. (and it’s still not definitive).

    And this just in:

    https://foursevenfive.com/blog/is-foam-evil-a-new-paradigm-of-foam-less-is-more/

    475 has a nice energy envelop product, expensive, but well done and they have a lot of published research. They use foam, limited, but they use it.

    And the other truth is we don’t “really know” -https://www.sprayfoam.com/content/exposure-to-spf-chemicals/45 Just like COVID-19 – there is a ton of stuff we don’t know

  8. Hello! I’m trying to design a sauna that will double as a one-person hot yoga studio now that my 26/2 (Bikram) studio has closed forever. Any designs out there for fold-up / -away benches to (temporarily) increase floor space for a yoga workout?

  9. Hi Jen:

    For sure on fold up and away benches.

    This is how we build our saunas, using “cleats” glued and screwed to the walls and bench sitting atop. By building the benches about 1/2″ shorter than the length of the wall, the bench an be folded up against the wall.

    For the lower bench, we put cleats on the wall, supporting benches from the sides such that the Bikram enthusiast can slide the lower bench underneath the Upper bench for that kind of action.

    And for your application, I’m thinking a “third bench” or raised floor – such that yoga mats can be laid down and you’re off to the races.

    Pls. email me if you want to have me help you further. I can help deliver your plans to your builder, or handy brother in law to build it, or you can write a check and we can deliver to you a Finnished sauna built in MN directly to you.

  10. Glenn,
    I have started my ” sauna-plex “, a combo man cave, sauna, screened in porch/tree house. I bought the e book and regarding the sandwich plywood T & G sauna door I was wondering about hinges and their placement. Not all the pic downloaded for me evidently.

    Jim

  11. Hi Jim:

    Your project sounds great.

    Regarding sauna door hinges and placements, there may be some exact science to it, but what i’ve done is just measure up from the bottom and top of the door to what look to be reasonable distance, maybe 18″ and secure the two sets of hinges there. One bit of tinkering is that the hinges tend to bind, so we come back with a skill saw and set the blade shallow and score out where the hinge attaches to the end or the door, so the hinge sits flush with the door end, so the door closes flush.

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