The only time to build a sauna door with no window at all is if you are living with your in-laws and you can only build the sauna in their laundry room. In law underwear: “ugghhhhhh” (voice of Simpsons’ Sideshow Bob after he gets hit with a rake).
This setup is best reserved for a very public sauna, or a very private sauna. Full length sauna door windows work in health clubs because they create an open feel to what is beyond: usually a pool area. Further, young kids love to stand in front of out swing doors. Sauna users can see everything going on beyond a sauna door with a full length window. A very private space, like Gweneth Paltrow’s bathroom, allows for openness and connectivity to a private spa area. In this instance, there is no concern for nude-ing up and being fully exposed because it is the antithesis of a mobile sauna parked in the middle of a winter carnival. This is a private gig.
When I build my sauna doors, I like to cut in a modest sized 12″x12″ window. This is in addition to installing a candle window between the hot room to the changing room,. Why? A 12″ square window has feng shui, good karma, and helps those of us with ADD: “Where’s my water bottle”?
We can see through the window in our sauna door with full intention. We look through the window to check the temp, or to see how the fire’s going. With a knock on the window and hand gesture, we silently ask if anyone needs a beer. We can look through the window and spot our towel, or our water bottle, or our sanity. And when it’s all over, we give another knock and wave goodbye, “until next time.” We can do all this and more, without having to open our sauna door.
A window in the sauna door connects the changing room with the hot room in a perfectly subtle way.
A sauna door window represents what we value in life when we are faced with change. Instead of blindly moving forward, we appreciate a peek at where we are going next. Wherever You Go, There You Are, may be Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life. And in our case, we can look out before we walk in, and we can look in before we walk out, while still being present with where we are at that moment. Heating up or cooling down. As in sauna as in life: when one door closes, and you are ready to move, look for the window.
Folks in the glass industry seem about as temperamental as the product they sell. Industry experts that I have spoken with are generally not the most patient and don’t seem like a lot of questions from DIY’ers. Most are more accustomed to dealing with tradesmen. I understand how patience can wear thin as ordering the right custom cut glass can be an involved process. There are many glass options to choose from, and every order involves a careful verification of dimensions. Mistakes are costly.
However, I finally connected to an expert in the field who was patient and friendly, and locked into my barrage of questions. Michelle is a glass industry expert with years of experience. Even better is that she told me “I never stop learning” which tells me that she is open minded enough to keep expanding her knowledge in the field. (This, by the way, is exactly my theory of sauna building, which is why my eBook is open to evolving with sauna builders’ generated content).
For windows in your sauna:
- Plan your sauna window carefully. I am a big fan of transom windows up high. – 16″x 30″ or so. They don’t get in the way with whatever is underneath, and allow privacy. There is the candle window, and window in the hot room door.
- Contact a local glass company.
- Order 1/4″ insulated tempered glass, cut 1/8″ to 1/4″ less than your rough opening.
- Frame in the glass using the same material as your hot room (cedar paneling ripped to size).
- Run a bead of silicone around the inside and outside of window.
Insulated tempered glass is two pieces of glass bonded together. This creates an insulated unit. This system reduces moisture on the glass. This system helps facilitate the temperature extremes of a sauna hot room and a cold winter’s night.
What if the seal of the double pane glass breaks down and moisture gets between the glass? This shouldn’t happen, but if it does, we are shit out of luck. We either have to live with it or replace the glass.
A 16″x30″ insulated tempered 1/4″ piece of glass costs $93.00. That’s about twice the price of single-pane. But this price is a fraction of the price of buying a window. We build our saunas one time. Let’s use the best glass option we can find for our sauna windows.
When designing and building our own saunas, it’s important to be thinking about windows. In the “ole country” (Finland), with the exception of the candle window, few sauna hot rooms were built with windows. Who knows why. Maybe it was cultural timidity, or structural platitudes, or heat loss concerns. Whatever the reason, today, the hot room window concept is “opening up!”
Like music in the sauna, traditionalists may scoff, but any sauna bather of any origin sweating it out on the upper bench will smile that much wider being able to gaze out of their hot room and take in a bit of nature.
A transom window offers:
- a great vista from the sauna bench.
- privacy while standing.
- natural light without being a fishbowl.
Let’s start with 18″ tall by 36″ wide, cut in about 8″ below the 7′ ceiling. A sauna with a hot room transom window and a common wall candle window feels airy and nICE. Don’t have these windows? No big deal. We can make it happen with a sawzall or with your next sauna build.
Hundreds of thousands of traditional saunas are functioning just fine without electricity, along lake shores and rural countrysides of Europe. As most have been around before the introduction of electricity, they have been built free from the umbilical cord of conduit, 12 gauge wire, sub panels, and electrical inspectors with clipboards and frowns.
And with a nod towards zen of simplicity, these structures are lit by the moonlight, the smiles of its users, and most often by a simple candle. A candle in the changing room can provide ample light in the hot room thanks to a simple yet ingenious idea: a window. When building your own authentic Finnish sauna, be it a backyard sauna, cabin sauna, or even an electric stove powered sauna in your basement, consider giving a nod to this tradition by installing a window within the common wall of the sauna and changing room. Your window ledge in the changing room: perfect spot for a candle.
Then, perhaps after a hectic work week, or maybe amongst a collection of close friends, or family, you are free to take a sauna as people have for centuries. No phones, no music, nothing. Just a single source candle, radiating soft light throughout. Illuminated simplicity.
- Frame your common wall (the wall between your sauna hot room and your changing room) 16″ on center, as usual.
- Get a piece of cardboard and cut it out to what you think would be a good candle window size.
- Tack up the cut cardboard where you think it makes sense.
- Imagine your sauna benches in place.
- Walk around to ensure you’ve got it in the perfect location.
- Fold or add cardboard to ensure you’ve got it the perfect size.
- Keep in mind views and angles and the wall on either side.
- Mark your final candle window location.
- Sawzall existing stud, if necessary, and frame in for your window, using 2×4’s.
IMPORTANT: Don’t do #9 until you have your glass in hand. Glass is 110% unforgiving. When framing your window, it’s important that the opening is plum and square, and the opening is at least 1/4″ larger than the piece of glass. As you set your glass inside the frame opening, it’s a good idea to use glass little cork glass spacers, so the glass rests on these spacers, and not directly on the window framing.
Above is detailed in the book Sauna Build, from Start to Finnish. I wish you good luck with this and I know you’ll make it work well.