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Tips to Think About for Your Own Authentic Sauna Build

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NOTE:  SaunaTimes begrudges no one for not applying any of the following sauna building tips to their sauna.  A working sauna is better than no sauna.

1.  A separate structure.

The first thing you’ll need is a structure worthy of a retreat. Not a converted closet or carved out corner in the basement.

An 8'x12' authentic sauna building. A separate space from living area.
An 8’x12′ authentic sauna building. A separate space from living area.

2. A changing room of an ample size

This will be a wonderful hangout space. It’s just like how grocery stores have double doors. Freezing outside temperatures are not meant to come into contact with wonderfully hot steamy sauna air. Pane uks kinni (close the door)!

A changing room with windows and hooks and space to chill out.
A changing room with windows and hooks and space to chill out.

3.  A changing room bench.

Not just for sauna use, but so you can escape from the busy world and hang out in your changing room and read.

A cozy sauna changing room bench can double as a great hang out space - an "up North" lake cottage feeling steps out your back door.
A cozy sauna changing room bench can double as a great hang out space – an “up North” lake cottage feeling steps out your back door.

4.  A well sized hot room.

Finns use 10 cubic meters as a rule of thumb. A 6×8 feet (1.82 x 2.43 metres) or 7×7 feet (2.13 x 2.13 metres) hot room is an ideal size. 7 foot (2.13 metres) tall ceilings for sure.

A lively open hot room: sauna door, candle window and all cedar tongue and groove.
A lively open hot room: sauna door, candle window and all cedar tongue and groove.

5. 24 inch (60.96 cm) wide sauna benches.

Yes, you can make them more narrow, butt you will notice.

Sauna benches basking in the sun prior to installation.

6.  Trim it nICE.

Trim around the sauna windows.

7.  A kick ass sauna stove.

There are lousy stoves and there are outstanding sauna stoves. You and your sauna deserve a kick ass sauna stove.

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30 thoughts on “Tips to Think About for Your Own Authentic Sauna Build”

  1. Very nice Glen, I absolutely love traditional saunas to, I built a 8×7 outdoor with electric (harvia) heater, that I use 2 to 3 times daily. I will post some pictures in here sometime, but I put extras in like Cup holders next to the benches and towel & magazine rack, dimming light switch (but I prefer candles) and I found an old Viking sauna porcelain thermometer made in Finland but is in F which is rare. My average sauna temp is around 180 to 190F and I enjoy about 30 min sessions, with plenty of steam, so relaxing, it is like heaven, euphoric even.
    I find electric to be the most convenient for me because I keep mine on all the time. I work at home so when I take a break I like to go for a hot sauna/shower. Even with electric, the heat still comes through the rocks, for a softer heat.

  2. heippa jack,
    u write a lot 🙂
    less speaking n more sauna. have u ever been to a real finnish smoke sauna – in finland?

  3. Thanks for the tips for building a sauna! My wife and I want to have a suana built on our property, so we are trying to figure out what we want. I really like the trim around the sauna stove pipe in that picture. It is a really great accent that brings the room together, I will have to look into something like that.

  4. Ernest: Sauna building allows for both left and right brain thinking (and doing!). Glad you’re moving forward.

  5. Hi Myron: Please use the search bar on saunatimes. If you’re asking questions to build content for your own website, let me offer a suggestion that you first change your content about “infrared saunas” as infrared is not a sauna. Let’s start with that.

  6. it’s in the ebook, but basically you can do what you want in your changing room ceiling. I like taller ish ceilings as they circulate air well and give a smallish room an open cathedral vibe/feel which helps the room feel larger as it breathes.

  7. Glenn, I’m not sure where else to post this question. After reviewing your e-book and reading about the double cement board with 1: space around the stove, I’m confused about one thing. You say to leave a 1 foot gap at the bottom of the outer board and 1′ at the top, allowing for circulation. But I plan to tile river rock on the cement board. why a foot gap at the bottom? All the photos I find are without any gaps.

  8. Hi Mary:

    There’s two ways to look at stove surround.
    1. Double cement board air gap.
    2. Stone surround.

    #1 is a great way to go to as it allows air flow to keep wall relatively cool.
    #2 is a great way to go to help build thermal mass and wave the lampomassa flag.

    I’ve built saunas with both surround methods. And either work great, and it depends on what you want to achieve.

    As you are keen to tile river rock (an awesome direction!) then just do that. Forget the double cement board with air gap. Your new intention is to build a wall with thermal mass that will help radiate heat into your hot room. The thickness and density of your stone will be its own fire retardant. The A job would be to use metal studs for framing around your stove corner. yet our thermal testing meters are telling us that this stone is getting no hotter than 280f, well below the 451f temp. where things combust.

    Hope this helps!

  9. Glenn,
    To properly fireguard around my sauna corner, do I screw the cement board into studs, and then just attach the Terracotta? Or do you still recommend to use 2 layers of cement boards? Is 7″ clearance from the side wall and back enough? Yes, I am going to install the shields

  10. Slava:

    Assuming this is a fixed sauna, and not mobile (with weight constraints), what I suggest for proper fireguard around sauna corner is:
    1. metal studs. (not realistic for me, so, i’ve always just framed with conventional wood 2x joists).
    2. batting.
    3. foil.
    4. Cement board.
    5. tile or cultured stone.

    and 7″ has been just fine, my experience (cabin sauna: 1996, my backyard sauna: 2003).

    Now here’s a nuance: regarding #4, consider a double layer of cement board. Then tile. Benefit?: Please search “lampomassa” in search box above.

    This is one of the differences between am insta-closet-wimpy-tin-can sauna and a kick ass authentic sauna, where any Finn exiting the hot room shall do so with a smile on their face.

  11. I started building my ” sauna-plex ” two weeks ago. 12 x 27 pole building, with a 12 x 10 screened in porch in the rear, overlooking the Iowa River bottom from my 125 foot hillside lot. 6 x 12 sauna/changing room in the middle and an 11 x 12 poker room/man cave in the front. My wife is Latvian so we have a stove coming from Baltic Metal Craft somewhere in transit. I’m pouring the concrete floors Friday. I am debating laying brick myself as I’m a concrete man ( retired ) by trade. Any special brick required?

  12. No special brick required for sauna, per my knowledge. It’s cool down there. Surprisingly cool. Sounds like a great project, James, and send along some pics!

  13. Glenn, in your e-book pg 27 you say: leave a 1′ gap at the bottom of the outer board and a little gap by the ceiling, allowing for air circulation. Did you mean 1″ (one inch)?
    If you did mean a foot gaps, is is possible I do just an inch? I am going to tile the outer board with a natural stone, want it to look really pretty.

  14. Hi Slava:

    As you reference, the book describes one of best and safest ways to do stove surround:
    1. Cement board screwed to the walls, back and sides, up to the ceiling and a 3’x3′ square in the ceiling, boxing out for your chimney.
    2. An inner layer of cement board, 1″ air gap, using spacers.
    3. The inner layer starting about a foot (1′) up from the floor, and ending a few inches from the ceiling. (encouraging air flow).

    For sure you can apply stone to #3. You’ll be mindful of weight and how to best support this inner layer of cement board.

    Many, MANY saunas are built with only one layer of cement board, then stone. This is a bit off the reservation of “code” and UL certification.

    We can wrestle to the ground the best way to build our stove surrounds within a stick frame building. And the “A job would be metal studs and fire retardant insulation, then cement board, then your stone.

    But we aren’t masonry tradesmen wearing overalls, we are sauna enthusiasts wearing Troxers. So, like skating on a frozen lake in winter, we try to balance as best we can (and not fall through).

  15. Thanks, Glenn
    Can you please post/email a picture or two with part of your stove corner, sauna room door, and duckboard all visible in one picture so that I can compare the heights and proportions?


  16. Slava:
    You don’t want to see a picture of my stove corners. The OSHA police and Setback Requirement Inspector would reach into his breast pocket for his red flag, for sure. Some call it “cobbler’s kids shoes” in some parts of the world. Each have stood the test of time (cabin sauna: 1996, backyard sauna:2003). Way to go: 7″ from heat shield to cement board wall.

  17. Hello Glenn.

    I’m a beginner builder who is in the process of building a sauna in my backyard. So far, I have built an 8’x12′ wooden platform with the plan to have a 8’x8′ sauna and an 8’x4′ deck. I have lined up a 2nd hand wood stove (Vermont Castings The Aspen 1920) and am about to frame the walls and ceiling using information online and from a book. Given my circumstances, would your ebook still help me out? I feel like I need more guidance.



  18. Hi David,

    Yes, Sauna Build Start to Finnish will be your best guide.

    And one thing about your wood stove. You can try to use a non sauna stove for sauna use, but I discourage this. Not because I’m a sauna purest or a dick head, but wood stoves are not built to take rocks, make steam and perform. They are often cast iron, and they will break apart with continued use (water being tossed upon). I want you to think about starting to put some money in the sauna stove piggy bank and save up to invest in a kick ass sauna stove, made for sauna.

  19. Greetings Glenn!

    Please talk me out of my sauna project idea. I have an old barn (1850s) that I was thinking of using to convert an animal stall into a working sauna. (No more animals on this little farmette). I have plenty of space to fit a hot (and cool) room with front and center access to a barn door and amazing corn field views.

    My concerns: above the sauna location I have a semi-insulated wood shop, and above that level is another 20 or so feet of storage space for the “harvest”. (In quotations because I am not a farmer and have no crops to store and don’t plan on doing that in the future.) Besides the local rules of chimney design, what are you thoughts on this application? Any experience with extra long chimneys and kuuma sauna stoves?

    I am excited about the prospect of this idea, in part, because I can build it over time while protected from the elements. And also, because I could see the final set up being quite attractive as long as im not risking a lousy performing sauna or a dangerous set up regarding the chimney.

    Have you ever come across saunas with this kind of set up?


  20. Hi Jeremy:

    Given that you are excited about this prospect, I think you should pursue it further. As I read it, your only/primary issue is the long run of chimney up through your storage space. The first place to start is simple: a 3′ section of double insulated chimney is .. well, you can find it easy, say it’s $75.00. Add those sections up to get a pain point total.

    Then, if you’re cool with that, I would contact 2-3 local fireplace dealers. See what they think about installing a wood stove in your old barn animal stall. Whether it’s a Kuuma or a Vermont Castings, the challenge of a long run is comparable. And if you advance, I will strongly recommend the upside down fire to help create the necessary draw.

    Please let us know how this goes.

  21. As I am currently in the process of building my outdoor wood burning sauna here in Wisconsin, I’ve been thinking a lot about my stove size and my changing room and how I might end up using the space even outside of sauna. For example, this spring we have had a lot of unenjoyable outside weather and I think, “boy, it sure would be nice to just have a warm space with a wood stove all to myself to escape and just read a book or think.” Then I start thinking about sizing up my stove, to one, have more rocks, and two, I would maybe have the ability to warm both the hot room and the changing room and have all this extra zen like living space that I could use on non sauna days. I also, just love this short article on making sure you conquer the sauna essentials. Doing it right the first time, cause you get to hopefully keep it for a lifetime. Thanks for any and all comments and insight on this thought.

  22. Hi Zack:

    Yes, there’s two ways to achieve a warm zen space adjacent to your hot room:

    1. build your sauna with stove outside feed to changing room.
    2. build your sauna and prop open your hot room door.

    My friend and I designed and built my cabin sauna in 1996, and I apply the #2 method above with great success, to this day. It’s worked great for for decades us as an office, party space, guest cabin etc.

    In Russia, they are known to build their banyas with an outside feed to an ample great room space. They put in a stone hearth and generate lämpömassa within the hot room and the cool down space via this outside feed. I’ve experienced this in Finland as well.

    I applaud the doing it right the first time thinking. And a cousin to this is “we build our saunas one time, and get to enjoy them the rest of our lives.”

  23. Corey:

    When you say metal sauna frame, are you thinking surround? If yes, you can metal frame your stove surround. But keep in mind that a stone surround is a good thing as it absorbs heat and holds heat.

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