If you ask 5 professionals in the lumber industry what the best wood paneling for your sauna hot room is, you may get 2- 3 different answers. But the most common answer is Western Red Cedar.
Western Red Cedar is:
- Slightly aromatic yet not smelly or overpowering.
- Holds up over generations (literally).
- Expensive, but readily available and is cheaper over the long haul.
- Doesn’t get as hot to the touch. Soft wood. loose grained.
- During construction, most sauna builders love the smell of freshly cut cedar in the morning…. smells like victory.
Other common species include basswood, spruce, and aspen. These are softer woods, which are more prone to rot and decay. But with good ventilation, and practicing the bake and breathe method, using these species for our sauna paneling can be a good choice.
Whether a wood fired sauna or an electric sauna, when it comes to building our own sauna, lots of folks get tripped up about how much material they’ll need to panel their hot rooms. We get our pencils out and start writing down some numbers. We scratch our left ear, do some calculations, then we scratch our forehead. “board feet, lineal feet, square feet, oh, my! I’m not a total idiot here, but why is this so hard?” I’ve built a bunch of saunas and still, I get tripped up on this.
- What is the square feet of your sauna hot room?
Add up the length of all four walls. Take that number and multiply it by height of your sauna hot room. This number is the square feet of your walls. But you also need to add the square feet of your ceiling. Easy. Multiply the length times the width of your hot room. At these two numbers together. This is the square feet of your sauna room.
- Subtract for windows, doors and add for trim.
Here’s the secret. Chances are if you measure all that stuff, then add back in what you’re needing for trim, odds are that your numbers are going to be pretty close to each other. So, just go with #1 (and maybe a little more for mistakes, etc.).
Now you have TOTAL square feet of material you’ll need to panel your sauna hot room. But we need to convert this to board feet. uggh.. this is so hard to explain.
Let me just try to roll through an example.
- 7’+7’+7’+7′ = 28′ That’s the perimeter of my hot room
- 7′ That’s the height of my hot room.
- 28′ – perimeter of hot room
- x7′ – height of hot room
- 196′ = that’s the square feet of my walls
- 7′ – length of one wall
- +7′ – length of the adjacent wall
- 14′ = square feet of my ceiling
- 196′ – square feet of walls
- +49′ – square feet of ceiling
- ~ 250 = square feet of sauna.
- 5″ exposed height of t&g paneling
- x12″ number of inches in a foot.
- 60″ – square inches of 1′ of paneling.
- x.00694444 – 1 Sq. Inch = 0.00694444444 Sq. Foot (this is a formula number)
- 0.41664 – square feet of one board foot of 5″ paneling.
- / 250′ – square feet of sauna.
- 600 – lineal feet of 5″ paneling needed to panel my sauna.
- / 14′ – length of boards.
- 43- number of 14′ boards needed to panel my sauna.
This is the best way I know how to figure out the number of cedar boards to panel my saunas. Again, there’s all kinds of weeds we can get tangled in, trying to subtract for windows and doors and durock corners behind our sauna stoves I’ve built my share of saunas. It’s crazy how subtracting for all that is about the same amount you’ll want on hand for ripping trim and making a sauna hot room door. So, order 37 boards, 14′ long and let’s start paneling our hot room!
Here in Minnesota, we use Western Red Cedar for our sauna hot room wood paneling. In Scandinavia, many saunas are paneled with White Spruce. Both these species are not cheap, but definitely, definitely stay away from Pine. I will fill you in why another day. Don’t be tempted by compromising on wood species. Most any home improvement expert can help you understand the importance of using good and durable materials when building a structure. They can provide you fiscally responsible and good quality suggestions for construction. Focus more on reducing your required square footage instead of using cheap materials.
These are my tips for wood paneling for your sauna hot room, and you may let us know if you have any more tips along these lines. Just start typing in the comments below.
- HOT ROOM SIZE: Don’t make your hot room too big. 6’x8′ or 7’x7′ are ideal sizes for hot room. Any larger and you’re just being American with a bigger car. Bigger is not better. I can fill you in why another day.
- DURROCK AROUND STOVE: Code requires non combustibles within a lot of inches around your sauna stove. Applying durock over studs and vapor barrier in the stove corner – plus on the ceiling around the chimney – helps reduce your wood paneling square footage. I have tiled and I have skim coated on top of this. Either way, it looks great and is safe and durarock is cheaper than wood paneling.
- CHEAPER WOOD UNDER BENCHES: It’s darker and quiet down there. You could screw in some primed plywood or get more creative if you need to. It’s not the end of the world, few will see what’s going on down there.
- CANDLE WINDOW: I am a huge fan of the candle window. It creates collusion with your changing room, gives a feeling of openness, and as an added bonus: cost: the glass window can be free or cheaper than wood paneling (recycled or surprisingly it’s not a rip off to get glass cut to size from a local glass company).
- TRANSOM WINDOW: Lately, there’s been a sauna building trend towards putting windows in the hot room to the outdoors. A transom window – a longer rectangular window set up higher along the wall – is the best option. A transom window allows the sauna bather to have a more panoramic view of the outdoors. Those outside peering in may only get a glimpse of the sauna bather’s head vs. *gasp* a pair of boobs or gosh knows what else! (insert the horrors of nudity in American culture here). Again, a custom piece of 1/4″ tempered glass can be cut for a surprisingly reasonable price from a glass company).
- #3 GRADE: Because Western Red Cedar is a premium species, there is often lots of #3 grade product out there at lumber yards and wholesalers.A guy can save some coin here.
- SHORTER RUNS: The introduction of windows, doors, durarock cut down on the amount of wood needed for a sauna hot room. What’s more, now you will be using lots more shorter boards to fill in. Short runs means that a guy has lots of flexibility when using #3 grade or recycled product, cutting out bad areas, warped boards, etc.
- RECYCLED PRODUCT: Out of all the ideas, using recycled cedar paneling is probably your best tip. There’s Craigslist and there is a ton of remodeling going on right now. It’s amazing how many thousands, millions of premium grade cedar board feet are being ripped out and tossed in dumpsters. Don’t believe me? Hop on a bike and cruise around a tony neighborhood in your town. I literally cry when I see cedar tossed in construction dumpsters. When I see or smell cedar, whether dressed in shorts or work attire, I will stop my car, put on my flashers, and am unabashed about climbing into the dumpster to get that beautiful wood out of there and into my car for reuse another day. This ethos, I know, is shared by all reading this which is another reason why we are a tribe of kindred spirits.