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Looking to build your own sauna on the cheap? Saunatimes founder goes on a rampage

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Being frugal is commendable.  Anyone that knows me, knows that frugality runs deep in my veins.  High school kids drive a more expensive car than I do.  If I’m not in my employer issued vehicle, I’m moving around close to the pavement in our 2003 Saturn.  If splurging for a glass of wine at a restaurant, I read the drink menu from right to left.  I seize up in shopping malls. Buying things make me queazy, not happy.

But don’t send me a set of steak knives.

I’m no different than you.  We sauna enthusiasts are interested in building our own saunas because we instinctively understand the value quotient.   Our satisfaction in our investment is much greater than its cost.  We plan to invest in something of great value, and this gives us satisfaction, not queasiness.

So let’s get real.

Just as we shouldn’t let the downside of a risk outweigh its opportunity, let’s not let the idea of saving money drive our project down to the bottom with a compromised sauna end product.  If your goal is to settle onto your sauna bench and look around and tell your friend “I did all this for $800” well, then, you have your priorities out of wack.  Your goal should be to settle onto your sauna bench with a Finlander, and make sure that when he or she leaves the hot room, they do so with a smile. Why?

Because there is a huge difference between an authentic sauna and a shitty sauna.  And you will feel it in your bones.

If someone is looking to cut corners and thus build a sub standard sauna, then just save a bunch of time and effort and continue to go to a health club and say “this is good enough for me.”

There is plenty of opportunity to save money with your own authentic sauna build, but two areas where you should spend to the max are:

  1. your sauna stove
  2. material for your hot room walls and benches

Shopping for a sauna stove?

Don’t be drawn to low price and thin metal. If you can pick up the stove with one hand, it is a cheap stove.  And the heat is going to be more toaster oven.  Don’t believe me?  Search “thermal mass” on this website.

$1,000 for a sauna stove has you freaked out?

Do the math:  I have taken over 1,000 saunas IN EACH of my two saunas.  It costs $1.00 in gas just to drive to the parking lot of a health club, let alone get in the door.  What’s worth more to you?

Tongue and groove cedar is expensive.

I get it.  As of this writing, $1.80 a lineal foot at the big box.  But cedar is getting like concert tickets, the face value is high, but with a little standing around out front and Craigslist or Nextdoor shopping, we can get in the door cheap.  Do that.  Don’t get sap in your hair with crappy pine wood paneling.  I don’t want to hear about this.  Read these tips about saving money, instead.

There is an intangible satisfaction to building our own sauna.  When we apply Will, Information, and Time, we minimize cost.  Read about that here.

Is the thought of building a sauna building beyond your scope?

Hire a shed company.  Worked up about their price?  Don’t do it.  Keep complaining that you can’t afford a sauna. Or take a week off work, get to it, and build it yourself.

It’s easy to sit behind a computer screen and type about wanting to have our own sauna.  But there’s a time to stand up, close down the laptop, and get to it.  If you really want a kick ass sauna, get a second job and start saving.  Stop the health club membership today and put it in the piggy bank.  Trade in your car for a 2003 Saturn.

But when it comes to your own sauna, let’s stop thinking about cutting corners.  Stop fretting about the price of your own authentic sauna.  As Nick says: “I know it will cost a pretty penny, but I am only going to build this thing once.”

What is money for if we can’t invest it in our own health and wellbeing?

opening the door to your own sauna build
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12 thoughts on “Looking to build your own sauna on the cheap? Saunatimes founder goes on a rampage”

  1. Hi Glen. I have not yet ordered the e-book, but I have been drawing up plans for my sauna build and checking local regulations. I agree that you only build your sauna once and you’re better off waiting and building it right than cutting corners and living with a compromise sauna you wish you had built right the first time.

    The thing is, our local regulations are pretty ridiculous regarding saunas. Any sauna here needs to be at max 50 square feet, use real wood paneling outside and have a flat or single slope roof. Also, no inside saunas, unless it’s infrared or electric. No exceptions. None. Nada. This limits options and drives up the cost.

    Since I want a wood fire sauna (I already have the woodstove) and do not want to run 240v to the sauna, I’m in a pickle: if I want to comply with code regarding the wood stove clearances and still have room to lay down and accomodate more than two bathers at a time, I really need a 6×8 hot room, which leaves no square footage for a changing room. I could always have a double door setup (exterior door that swings out and sauna door that swings in) to cut on outside wind rushing in, but not a changing room, unless I really play fast and loose with the stove. The sauna would be about 10 feet away from the main house master’s bedroom, so not too far to change in a bathrobe, but still… The sauna would also have a panoramic view of the Saint-Lawrence River.

    I could also hide the sauna elsewhere on my property and do what the hell I wanted, but I would need to build/maintain/climb stairs on a 40 foot rock face drop and then walk about 300 feet to the planned site. The inspector would not see the sauna, so I could build it bigger, it would be fun on the weekend and be really, really peaceful, but it would mean a boatload of shoveling in winter and weeknight saunas would be out of the question due to distance.

    So it’s basically a sauna with no change room and a kickass view or a sauna with a changing room but built illegally and really, really far from the house.

  2. Jeff: You are in Canada? No wonder all the regulations. You may have lower prescription price, but your building inspectors are all WETT noodling around with tape measurers. Saunatimes totally respects the need to build a sauna correctly, and this is why we go on and on about how to do things correctly. But building correctly and building to code are not always the same thing, as you note in your note.

    A few points:
    1) a 6×8 hot room. Good size. Do that.
    2) no changing room. Consider building a covered deck. or just a deck to gable end. Extend roof line over deck when building inspector signs off and retreats to his living room to watch Hockey Night in Canada. Screen in deck in a couple years. Next thing you know, you can put in windows instead of screens, et voila, you have a proper changing room. Think stages instead of sacrifices. Have Labatts or Molson around in dorm fridge in case building inspector returns some day.
    3) hot room door: swings out. Always. Safety first.

    Sounds like a great sauna location. When complete, send photos and invite. Our youngest is off to college and i’m brewing up for a Sauna Tour. (for more Sauna Talk).

  3. Thank you Glen for the quick response. Not only am I in Canada, I’m in a quaint tourist town and my house is visible from the pier next to the Saint-Lawrence which means that I have even more regulations to follow.

    After I posted, I went for a walk to the secluded spot and it just won’t be feasible. I would have to cut beautiful three old spruce trees there to accomodate for the building and it’s way too far and it’s pretty treacherous in summer wearing work boots, so I can’t imagine getting there in snowshoes in the winter. So I guess I’ll justa bide by the law.

    I like the idea of having a covered deck and the thing is, I have a covered deck not 5 feet away from the proposed sauna entrance (our house has two levels and the second level deck serves as the covered ground level deck), so I would realistically not have to build a big deck in front of the sauna, just have enough overhang to insure snow and sleet don’t get in the hot room and cord my wood there and maybe have the door about 6 inches off the floor.

    I also plan to install a fire pit (and maybe hot tub) in that part of the yeard so I could realistically hang out there between rounds in fall/spring and when it’s not too cold in winter. A spa near our town has that setup and it’s really divine even in winter.

    I’ll be sure the door to the sauna swings out for safety concerns. I’m a bit puzzled about how to insulate a sauna door accessing directly outside as to not lose too much heat though. I also will need to find a way to have the door stay shut securely while not having a conventional door handle setup.

  4. Help!!
    I’m currently building a portable sauna …My reason for this is so I can move it towards the lake during the winter months (at our cabin in Northern Wisconsin) sauna is 5×6 actually truth be told I am refitting a 2 place horse trailer. I have purchased a disassembled sauna… so I have all the components… cedar tounge/groove, cedar benches, door, slat flooring and 6kw heater etc
    I am nearly done with the build, however, I want a wood stove as our current 5×5 outdoor sauna is electric heat, a wood stove would be truly portable. Is there any small wood stove that would work for me that won’t take up so much square footage?? With all the clearances and setbacks needed for wood stoves it seems impossible to accomplish this in a smaller sauna. It is only my wife and myself so a two person is what I am trying to accomplish. I can post photos if I can figure how.
    I am a licensed master electrician so the electric thing is no issue for me…I just want wood….help!!

  5. Gary: First, i’d like to commend you on your desire to build your sauna with a wood burning stove vs. electric. As you being a licensed master electrician, I can understand if this decision has been hard for you. This may be like a basketball player finally realizing that ice hockey is a much better sport. So, let me try to make this easier for you to join the “bright” side of good heat. Small wood stoves are available, but they are not sauna stoves. What’s the big deal? Well, retrofitting a pot belly stove to a sauna stove, as example, is a compromise. The main reasons are sauna rocks and stove design. A pot belly stove isn’t made to hold rocks, and its functionality: maybe it’ll work ok, but maybe it’ll suck.

    Clearances: Durarock is our friend. Heat shields are our friend. PLease email directly, Gary. Send me a pic of your project. We will figure it out It sounds awesome. (I have also been stewing about a mobile sauna in a converted horse trailer!).

  6. Hello Glen, I would like to know if Bald Cypress would be an acceptable wood for inside a sauna. I have access to cypress on my property that can be used. Thanks, Park

  7. Park: I gotta say, i’ve not worked with Cypress.

    If you want to email me or respond here, you can share more about this species. Wood species remind me of fish. Salmon and trout can be like redwood and cedar, similar and sure different. Northern Pike and Muskee, White Pine and Spruce. Does Cypress grow in wet areas and their needles and structure are somewhat Western Red cedar like, so I gotta be thinking you’re onto something.

  8. I have appreciated using this site as a resource for sauna construction. I particularly found your instructions for installing an insulated/tempered window very helpful! I just built a sauna at the top of a forested canyon behind my house and have been enjoying it a lot. I used kiln-dried tongue and groove pine boards from HD at $10 each for interior paneling. I probably would have used cedar, but the cedar boards were $20 each and out of my budget. I have been using the sauna for about 3 months now a few times per week with temps maxing out a bit over 205 deg F and there is absolutely ZERO sap seeping out of those kiln dried t&g pine boards on the ceiling or walls. I used common pine boards for the crown molding and interior window/door trim — and there is a small amount of sap seeping from those here and there but it is really a non-issue. The humidity stays under 40% in the sauna most all the time and it is well vented and located in a relatively dry climate. I am anticipating this sauna will last a very long time. I have a 6kW sauna heater that holds about 35 pounds of stones and it heats up the 6’x6’x6.5′ sauna to about 190 degrees within 40 minutes and to about 205 degrees within an hour. I paid $170 for the Vevor heater. If it konks out at some point, I may upgrade, but it is working well. My sauna is much hotter and more enjoyable than the ones in town at the gym or the massage therapists. If I had an unlimited budget, sure I would have bought the cedar boards and $1000 heater — but if I had been stuck on those items, then I would not even have a sauna now. I’m sure die hard sauna connoisseurs have other preferences, but this is working great for me.

  9. Right on to this Tim. The best sauna is one that gets used. Glad for you and thanks for sharing your project.

  10. Hello,

    Earlier someone asked about using bald cypress inside the sauna room, didn’t look like that question was answered. Any follow up about using that wood? Thank you!!

  11. Hi Ryan…

    I’m not sure about this species. !! We like to avoid hardwoods. In my experience: cedar, aspen, basswood, spruce.. all good. I don’t have experience with cypress.

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