Top 3 sauna building breaches and how to fix them

I’ve built a dozen saunas have helped many dozens build their own.

Not those indoor closet saunas made out of 2×2’s, but authentic saunas.  Saunas that while looking up at the moon between rounds you say out loud: “shit, I can’t believe how good this feels” type saunas.  And another thing, I’ve sat in another 100 or so saunas and can’t help analyzing and critiquing.  I love saunas, and I enjoy learning and sharing new ways to build better saunas.  Yes, I know, I am a nut.

“What are the most common mistakes people make when building their own sauna?”

I am burning with optimism’s flames:

  • If you are building a sauna – Please take these into consideration.
  • If you’ve already built a sauna – I can help you fix any of these.

1.  Lame benches.  Sauna benches should 24″ wide.  They should be built stout, solid, with dimensional cedar.  Also, there’s some consideration to how to support your sauna benches.  Don’t allow yourself to feel compromised.  Whilst sitting on a sauna bench, it’s best to feel like a King, instead of a criminal in a jail cell, perched upright, uncomfortable, compromised, and creaking away.  Click here for more information on how to build good sauna benches.  Use 2×4 cedar, don’t use 1x material.  2×4 cedar is ideal.  The material feels soft and dense (on the buttox region) is wide enough (to support the buttox region) yet with proper spacing allows good air flow (for the buttox region).


2.  No or not enough attention to changing room.  Every proper sauna needs a chill out zone.  A space outside of the hot room and inside the outdoors: a temperature buffer (grocery stores all have double sets of doors).  Secondly, one needs a private space to nude up.  Third, a changing room is where you can solve many of the world’s problems.  When one is cooling down and chilling out, if you allow yourself, you will find mental clarity.  You deserve a comfortable space to allow this to happen.

6'x8' changing room. 2'x6' cedar bench. Upper shelf for storage. 2 28"x36" double hung windows for plenty of crosslight and open feel.
6’x8′ changing room. 2’x6′ cedar bench. Upper shelf for storage. 2 28″x36″ double hung windows for plenty of crosslight and open feel.

3.  Too many cubic feet in hot room.  Like those 4,000 sheetrock palaces in the exburbs, many are enamored with square footage and the materialistic false belief that more is better.  Imagine all the wasted energy heating overbuilt houses.  Don’t let this happen with your sauna.  8′ ceiling?  Don’t do it.  All proper saunas should have a 7′ ceiling.  That extra foot up there is where all the good heat goes, and a key reason why your hot room takes so long to heat up.  When designing your hot room, think about wasted standing around space.  Maximize your bench location so it can hold a few people comfortably and no more.  Health club saunas and spas have to account for many bodies.  Your home sauna does not.  If you’re having a sauna party, think about flow: not everyone is in the hot room at one time.  Some will be and should be chilling out in the misty garden and others should be debating Proust in the changing room.  Especially when practicing Marty’s Law of Reverse Cycling.


How to fix these issues if you’ve already built your sauna:

1.  Lame benches.  Time to replace your benches.  Use your old ones to make a cool seating area around your outside patio.  Read here on how a guy (or girl) can activate this action.

2.  Changing room.  Consider how you can improve this space, or carve out a space where you can chill out between hot room sessions.  A sauna session isn’t complete until you’ve completely cooled down.  Yes, when it’s not bitter cold we can chill out in the misty garden all wet with rain, but we need a temperate changing room for super cold winter days.  Matter of fact, when it’s sub zero outside and super hot in the hot room, the temperate “changing room” becomes an amazingly wonderful (and therapeutic) climate of steam and coolness that, after a hot round and clean rinse outside, sipping a nICE cold beverage, this climate does something awesome, both physically and mentally.  Changing rooms encourage endorphin rushing and a complete cool down during the cold weather season.

3.  Too big of a hot room.  An 8′ wall in a hot room can easily be dropped down to a 7′ wall.  consider framing a drop ceiling with 2×6’s, insulating the heck out of the cavity, applying a foil bubble wrap vapor barrier, and tongue and grooving the ceiling.  It’d take a day to do it, even for (us) amateurs.  Boxing around the chimney may be figured out with a couple scratches to the back of the head.  An overbuilt sauna can be knocked down by reframing one of the walls, especially if one is tackling #1 at that same time.

You don’t need to bring a tape measure with you when you are checking out saunas.  Your outstretched arms, finger to finger, measure how tall you are.  A dollar bill is 6″.

The big sell.

I can help you with all of this and more.  I’ve written my book “How to Build Your Own Health & Wellness Sauna Retreat” and would love a shorter title and even more, to get it in your hands for $25.00.  It’s in a Google Doc format for now.  I’ve refined the content over a few sauna builds and welcome input from authentic Finnish sauna enthusiasts.  Send $25.00 to my Paypal [email protected] and i’ll send it to you.

  • Complete 10 chapter step by step instructions, start to Finnish.
  • 100 detailed photos that follow along with instructions.
  • Complete building material list, down to the light switch (Corresponding Home Depot SKU numbers).
  • Amateur blueprints.

I get fueled by helping folks realize their authentic sauna dreams.

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11 thoughts on “Top 3 sauna building breaches and how to fix them”

  1. Couldn’t agree more, especially with the comment about the changing room. I’m also glad that I didn’t totally finish the changing room before I started to use the sauna. I had a few ideas of how to finish that space but I couldn’t wait until doing so to start using the stove room. Actually using the sauna gave me a lot of better ideas of how to optimize the changing room area.

  2. Good tips….my sauna is wood fired….its about 115 square feet 6.5 foot ceilings…..i love it big…have lots of friends……i have a water tank hooked up to my hose…it sits behind stove….warm showers for rinsing between sweats and soaping up at the end….the shower makes the sauna that much sweeter

  3. We recently bought a cottage with an exterior sauna building and change room arear. The change room/bunkie was drywalled so as you can imagine the paint is all peeling away from the drywall. Can we put up T&G pine or cedar over the drywall to fix this? Will the drywall underneath get mold? Do we need to remove all of the drywall first (which is a big job)?

  4. Susan: If it were my cabin, i’d get a case of beer and a couple trusted friends or relatives, and crowbars and such, and just bite the bullet and pull out the drywall. Drywall and sauna changing room are much like glass bottles and cement pool patios – they don’t do well together, and will eventually make a regrettable mess.

    BONUS: When you gut the changing room, you’ll be so happy as you can finish it the way you like (paneling).

  5. you don’t need to take the drywall down but i agree with glenn, it is a better approach. i wouldn’t really worry about the drywall molding but taking it down gives you several advantages:

    1. you pick up an extra inch or so of length/width in the room
    2. you can use shorter nails to put up the t&g (and easier to nail)
    3. probably most important, you can see what is happening inside the wall. is there insulation? vapor barrier? possible mold?

    not sure if you have electric at the sauna but taking the drywall down also gives you the chance to add/modify lights/receptacles.

  6. Glen, I’ve noticed that you seem to be an advocate of the water tank on the wood burning Kuuma stove. How are you using the hot water during your sauna session? Is heat buffering/heat protection for the sauna legs of whom ever happens to sit in this area another benefit of the water tank? I’m not sure I would use one for bathing, but the heat buffering issue may well push me toward buying the water tank.

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