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Looking to pitch your sauna floor and install a drain? Consider the Trevor Trowel Fill Method

People often ask during their sauna build: “do I really need a floor drain?” Well, the best answer is always “yes”.

Why is a sauna floor drain a good idea?

A proper sauna is one in which if:

  • someone wants to bathe in the sauna hot room, they can.
  • kids want to have a friendly water fight in the hot room, they can.
  • the sauna owner wants to hose out or rinse out the hot room, they can.

How do we pitch a sauna hot room floor to the drain?

Working up from the subfloor, we rip sleepers on our table saw, and glue and screw them down to our subfloor to create a pitch for cement board. We can set sleepers two ways:

  1. The bicycle spoke method
  2. The Ben Square method.
bicycle spoke method of sloping floor drain
Ben Square method: glue and screw sleepers at decreasing widths to drain

Either way, we create a slight and gradual slope, so that when we glue and screw down durarock, then skim coat it with vinyl cement, our floor is sealed and water will run to the drain.

A great way to ensure a solid floor is to run the sleepers in the bicycle spoke fashion, then, with a $10.00 bag of premium cement (no rocks) backfill the gaps between the sleepers with cement. Use the sleepers as trowel guide to ensure a smooth finish. Run a wet sponge along the sleepers so that durarock can lay flat.

laying in mortar mix between sleepers

The Trever Trowel Method creates a really firm, well supported (and sloped!) base for our cement board.

sloped cement board supported throughout
Trevor also ran cement board up the wall, via his patented “sauce pan” method.

I have built sauna floors every which way from Tuesday. I am a huge fan of vinyl cement repair. Check out this post on how to skim coat cement board for a “smooth clean finish.” As Trevor illustrates above, he has created a solid water tight floor that sheds water down to the drain. The floor is perfectly ready to accept a duck board overlay floor (gentle for bare feet and keeps feet dry) or even a “3rd step” for more vertically aligned hot rooms that get the sauna bather climbing up to an upper bench.

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27 thoughts on “Looking to pitch your sauna floor and install a drain? Consider the Trevor Trowel Fill Method”

  1. ok Glenn, i JUST left a comment on a different blag about DO I REALLY NEED A FLOOR drain? well, i think the time has come that i CHOOSE to trust your experience and wisdom with this stuff. my question is this, is the dura rock and vinyl cement repair flexible enough that i wont crack when the trailer flexes during travel? Should i consider using a epdm or rubber shower pan material over the dura rock instead of the vinyl cement repair method? if you say that the vinyl cement repair skim coat is the best way to go, can it be dyed black so it wont be too noticeable under my duckboards?

  2. the above comment should also include: Im building a mobile sauna so weight is a consideration, the ‘sleepers with fill’ method would get pretty hefty. whats a comparable method that isnt too heavy?

  3. Hi Barrett: For mobile, we have a very clear, optimal solution for hot room floor. No need to pitch our floor to the drain. Instead, we do this: we red guard our wood subfloor OR durarock/vinyl cement skim coat over our subfloor and punch in two drains: one in the back corner driver’s side and the other in the far corner passenger side.

    Ever so slightly, we pitch our trailer so water drains to the back, and Murphy’s Law works in our favor as the trailer will pitch left or right 98% of the time, and it need not be much.

    Mobile Non Level Activation works in our favor. 🙂

  4. I like the durarock / vinyl cement repair team. I’m just a nut that way. It’s worked great for me for decades. In mobile, I’ve become quite open to the rubber floor mat solution (for weight and twisting and turning). So, you’ll do the right thing, i know it. Send me a pic, and let’s see how it rolls for you, Barrett!

  5. I am currently under construction on a basement sauna. I have plumbed in the drain for shower in the changing/relax room and a drain in the hot room floors. I am looking to slope the floor in the hot room as the floor is level. would you recommend the above example for sloping an already existing level cement floor? (I already purchased your book and it really only covered sloping wood floors in outdoor saunas) . How have you sloped an already level, cement floor in the past? Thanks

  6. David: Yes, for sure. I have dealt with an existing cement floor, to create a slope for drain. Before advancing in any direction, I’d contact a cement expert, someone into more of the nuances than the typical square peg, square hole cement contractor. Because an expert may suggest “scoring” your exiting cement slab, to make it rough, and able to accept an overcoat or top coat that you’ll pour and trowel atop existing slab, to create the slope.

    And another expert may say “don’t bother, you’ll get dust everywhere” and will point you in the direction of a good cement patch product and say “them are good for sticking to existing concrete.”

    First thing i’d check is: is your existing basement cement floor really level? I’m betting that it’s not. There may be an existing slope away from your exterior wall, which may work in your favor. Not seen to the untrained eye, but very trained for water which always seeks its lowest level.

    Second thing to keep in mind is that that if you do need to slope your floor to drain, your run is very short, and so you’ll need very little build up along your walls. So, if this were my build and I needed to create a slope to drain, i’d:
    1. be using 2×4 green bottom plate for my hot room walls.
    2. run a bead of silicone underneath my bottom plate before cement screwing it to existing cement slab.
    3. screw in a drip edge (as detailed in my ebook) with a bead of silicone underneath.
    4. run another bead of silicone along inside edge of drip edge, where it meets the existing slab.
    4. mix up some vinyl cement or recommended cement patch product and trowel it nicely along the perimeter of my hot room, with gentle slope to my new drain.
    5. rinse off my tools and crack a beer.

  7. Glenn-

    The floor is surprisingly level. I put a 4′ level to it and dumped a little water on it. it doesn’t run, just sits there.

    You mentioned you have applied a slope to an existing cement slab in the past. How did you go about this and were you satisfied with the results? Thanks!
    -Dave

  8. David: Yes, i’ve created a pitch to an existing flat slab a couple times. I’m pretty sure I used vinyl cement repair. 40# bag, which was more than plenty. I troweled it over the slab and up against the drip edge around the perimeter. I’m trying to remember if I did anything fancy to the existing slab, like acid wash the paint or score it in some way to accept the vinyl cement. My take is to ask a cement guy what he’d use, so that the new pour adheres to the existing slab.

    It’s easy work, i mean, it should only take you about 20 mins. once you figure out the best product to use and the prep involved.

    And you’ll most likely have a cedar duck board atop your hot room floor, so any trowel marks, etc. will be hidden.

  9. Thanks Glenn. I think I will do as you recommend and just use the vinyl cement. Will definitely use a bonding agent between the 2 pieces of cement. The floor is larger side (8×7) so I will probably put down some pressure treated kneeling strips to keep me in the proper slope.
    Thanks again.

  10. I am building an outdoor sauna and it has a perimeter foundation but is not built up from the ground. I am not going to be able to put a drain in. I am wondering how to deal with the ground. My plan was a couple inches of gravel and then the cedar flooring on that. I am wondering if I should put vapor barrier over the ground first, or let it be able to drain any moisture that might go though the flooring. I do not anticipate any of the scenarios that are outlined above, i.e. bathing in sauna, water fights, hosing inside of sauna.
    Any thoughts?
    Thanks

  11. I’m planning on building a backyard sauna, and I’m curious where people are taking the drain plumbing. Bringing the waste line back to the house seems like an awful amount of digging (Like 200ft in my case) for a line that should rarely carry any considerable amount of water. Especially if I have to dig below the frost line! Here, in northern Vermont temperatures dip into negative territory for 3 months of the year. I also picked a location that’s fairly far away from the house.

    I’m planning on putting in a 6″ deep 14 ‘x 14 gravel slab, and building a 12’x12’ cottage. I was wondering if I should dig a dry well a few feet from the structure, or just utilize a french drain. I thought about making a complete off-grid shed with solar electric/underground rainwater storage. The freeze proof rain water collection pump system, just seems too complicated when I can easily just bring water from the house. Probably will still go for a small solar system. Being far from utilities is really becoming a royal pain.

  12. French drains work great. And we are bathing in our hot rooms with free range organic soap, if any at all, so i’m very comfy with French drain solution, and have this in my saunas and consider no harm, no foul to this approach.

    Also, with the clean rinse outside, and outdoor showers and cold plunges, even in Winter, very little water ends up down the drain.

  13. Hi yes, I have a couple thoughts.

    I don’t use much water in the hot room, as “rinse offs are strictly an outside affair” says a fellow sauna enthusiast. That said, I appreciate having a drain for when I do a thorough cleaning/hose down couple times a year. And those times my wife joins or others, it’s a good feeling to allow others to dump water over their head and know the water gets out of there easily.

    So, in your case, i’d consider a post hole digger and just getting down a few feet and back filling with white 2″ or so PVC, and sticking a drain in there. Also, I happen to really like my method of skim coating sloped durarock. All this messing around may take a day, but you’ll benefit for the rest of your sauna life.

    This is just me, and I hope this help, g.

  14. Hi Glenn, thanks for this, I’d been researching for a long time trying to work out the best way before I came across this!

    I am wondering how thick the sleepers and cement should be with the spokes method? I was thinking of having it vary from 10mm where the drain is to 20mm at the highest point… but am not sure if 10mm cement is too thin and likely to crack and move? and if that amount of fall will be enough to ensure the cement sheeting all sits flat at the desired pitch and ensures the water drains nicely?

    context : I am turning a 10ft shipping container into a sauna – the internal dimensions of the part I heat will be 2100mm by 2200mm and the lengths of the sleeper “spokes” will range from 750mm to 1700mm.

    I am also thinking to paint a fairly thin layer of epoxy over the skim coat as the final layer to ensure i get a finish that has the perfect grip, texture and non porosity. any guesses whether this will work well?

    Thanks again, any advice or thoughts would be much appreciated,
    Carl

  15. you don’t need much pitch, Carl. I’d run sleepers from 3/4″ at perimeter down to the drain. search “ben square method” as this may be better for you with shipping container floor. I’ve done two shipping container projects, and it’s awesome. you can search “shipping container” on saunatimes and see a couple possible inspirations.

    vinyl cement and cracking: I have done this method in a few mobile saunas and no cracking. But here’s an entire left turn: Just put two drains in each corner of your shipping container hot room. Pitch the container such that water will run off into these corners. This is what i’m doing now in mobile saunas i’m building and it’s slick method. Water wants to run and we can encourage it, in the mobile domain.

    Epoxy: never done this, but if you do it, please email me pics and lemme know how it worked for you. I happen to like to come off the skim coated floor with cedar decking or the “3rd bench” so we’re walking on wood. Just me, and open to what you’ve got in mind.

  16. Question: If I’m pitching my floor towards a drain using the sleeper/Durock method, will the Durock bend enough to “mold” itself into the shape I need? Or will I have to cut it into a dozen pie-slice pieces to fit?

    Also, is the vinyl cement repair kit sufficient to seal the gaps where each piece of Durock meets its neighbor?

    Thanks! Great book by the way.

  17. Hi Sean:

    Glad the book is helping you.

    re: your floor: it’s best to not try to bend the Durock.

    You’ll want to cut a bunch of sleepers to slope to the drain – long thin triangle like – and you can backfill with the Trevor Trowel method, if you like that. Also, there is a more orthodox sect of sauna builders, reported to be of German descent, who are having success with the Ben Square method, as a guy can set his table saw to run very precise and accurate thinner and thinner sleepers and lay them down on the subfloor this way:
    https://www.saunatimes.com/building-a-sauna/slope-your-hot-room-floor-with-the-ben-square-sleeper-method-and-enjoy-a-water-fight-in-your-sauna-hot-room/

    And no matter which way we go, the vinyl cement skim coat is really a great system. When you’re done, I am sure you’ll agree that the products (vinyl cement and Durock) work well together, in two part harmony, kind of like that David Bowie and Bing Crosby Christmas tune… two that you think wouldn’t necessarily jive well together but end up doing so, and very well at that.

    Ebook bonus track here:
    https://www.saunatimes.com/building-a-sauna/is-there-a-better-way-to-seal-our-sauna-floor/

  18. Can you tell me what drain to use in a concrete sauna floor that we are hoping to seal with epoxy

  19. So, drains in concrete floor. I go to big box and purchase the standard shower drain that accepts, I believe 2″ PVC. It may be 3″ PVC, I can’t quite remember. This drain has a removable metal mesh, with 2 screws. I like to blue tape the metal mesh as I set the drain, flush with the cement, then run a wet sponge around to clear off most of the cement around the drain. Then when everything is dry, peel off the tape.

  20. What do you recommend using to cover a plywood floor. We used the sleeper method for the drain and covered it with plywood. Would an epoxy coating be our best option?

  21. Staci:

    Durarock (cement board) is the answer. It’s in my ebook, and please search “durarock” or “vinyl cement” for more.

  22. New to sauna building here, my husband is sort of going at full speed right now to get ours done by winter. We like the idea of a slate floor – flooring with texture. We prefer not to have wood to deal with the mold and mildew and slimyness. Any suggestions on slate? Is ceramic better? Is any tile just a horrible idea? Having a hard time finding info so any advice or where I should look to learn more would be super helpful. Thanks from Northern WI!

  23. Hi Vicky:

    Slate is great and I did it in my changing room in our S. Mpls. backyard sauna, but here’s the thing: it’s cold. And it gets colder as the winter gets colder and when feet are cold it’s a buzz kill to good sauna, as rounds get short because feet are cold.

    And here’s another thing. I brought down some really awesome slate rock from our island cabin and set them as a really awesome slate patio and it was a really awesome idea until it got below freezing. Then it became an iceberg, and I built a cedar deck over the slate rock.

    So, all i’m saying here is if you’re going with a slate floor, and this is a new build, I’d be isolating the slab or surround with 2″ rigid insulation, and have a way to try to keep the slate floor from being an iceberg. It is possible to add a cedar deck on top of your slate floor, which I ended up doing after one too many icy feet between rounds.

    As far as hot room goes, i’m a huge fan of the “3rd bench” or “raised floor”. 43-44″ ceiling to top bench (not 42″ as noted on the graph here). https://www.saunatimes.com/building-a-sauna/lets-talk-about-sauna-ceiling-height-bench-height-venting-along-sauna-door-down-to-the-inch-and-centimeter/

  24. I’m building a 7′ x 5′ outdoor sauna in southern California where temperature never gets below 40 Fahrenheit. The floor will rest on cement blocks about 4″ off the ground. Instead of sloping the floor to a drain, I’m thinking about using 2×2 cedar with 1/16″ gaps and one or two 2×4 beneath for support. The entire floor will be vented/drained to the gravel/dirt below. I intend to have an electric heater and one small vent near the top of a wall that can be opened or closed. Heat rises, the top vent will usually be closed, and it never gets really cold outside. Do you think there is anything wrong with this? Will I regret something, or is it no problem?

    Thanks for the advice

  25. Brad… Nothing wrong with this. Unless you’ve got some real estate constraints, if you’re thinking of going 7’x5′, you may think about going 7’x6′ instead.

    And this is one of those rare instances where I’m thinking you may want to nudge up your square footage a tad. Typically, i’m more in a position to encourage a smaller hot room, because people are thinking dimensions like 8’x10′ etc.

    And unless you’re thinking a bare bones electric heater, in your case the 7’x6′ may work better as you will have the footprint to raise up the floor 6″ and allow for this step up, which will give you better heat with 3 levels of living.. 44″ ceiling to top bench. 16-18″ top bench to lower bench, 16-18″ lower bench to raised floor. 6″ raised floor to grade, where stove sits.

    3 level living (large).

  26. Glenn,
    How do we solve the elevation problem between hot room and the changing room referring to the floor highs. Duckboard floor added an 1 inch approximately above the finished floor for the deck and changing room. We do not want to raise the existing floor height of the deck/changing room

  27. The elevation between hot room and changing room isn’t really a problem, but an opportunity to get our feet off the cold floor.

    I’ve been adapting from the duckboard concept to what I call the “3rd bench”: a good 3-5 inch step up from the changing room, to a raised floor/duckboard system, which allows us to get up, up, and away, closer to the ceiling (two fists above one’s head) and feet closer to the level of the rocks on the sauna stove.

    In Finland, this is called “the Law of Loyly.” While sitting on the top bench, if one’s feet are below the level of the sauna rocks, it calls for 30 lashes from the vihta wisk, and a major scorn.

    Here in US, we have to balance the “climbing up the high school bleacher effect” with the “Law of Loyly” such that we want good flow and good heat and make things happen the best we can. All this is a future post, now that you got me going, and hope this helps for your design.

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