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Ben builds an awesome backyard sauna and his only regret may surprise you

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Guest post series continues.  We first heard from Ben here, who shared the now famous “Ben Square sleeper method” concept for sloping a sauna hot room floor.  Well, good news: Ben has completed his sauna, and we are excited to share his story with you.  Enter Ben:

What compelled you to build your own sauna?

We have had a sauna at our deer camp north of Orr, MN since 1983.  It is a rare night that we don’t sauna when we are there.  I have always wanted one at home, and this summer we didn’t have any large projects to do on our house, so I decided that this was the year to build it.

How did you find saunatimes?  Give us a few examples where the DIY ebook helped you out.

I started planning the sauna last fall.  I bought several books and read them cover to cover, but none of them told me HOW to build a sauna, just what some of them looked like.  What I needed were details such as how much insulation, how to slope the floor, how to make a vapor barrier, etc.  I started looking for information online, and quickly came across Sauna Times and Glenn’s ebook, and found the details I was looking for.
Just as valuable as the ebook were the emails exchanged with Glenn. I had a lot of questions and different ideas, and Glenn was very helpful. I hope he stops by to see what he helped me create someday!
Ben’s sauna hot room. Note the 24″ wide benches.
Some of the places where the book really helped were:
1) The sloped floor.  Even though I chose a slightly different method (see the Ben Square post on Sauna Times), the cement board and vinyl patch worked great.
2) The importance of windows.  I put a transom window and a candle window in the hot room, and I’m glad I did.  My original design didn’t include either.
3) The details on building the door and benches.  One thing that I did with the door that is not in the ebook is spring return hinges.  The door closes on its own when the kids are in and out and in and out and in and out of the hot room!
4) Size.  I was originally planning a larger sauna and changing room.  Glenn I exchanged numerous emails about this subject, and I ended up following his 8×12 recommendation, even though our local zoning laws would have let me make it twice that size.  The 8×6 hot room is just right for the 4 of us, and the small Kuuma stove has enough horsepower to get it as hot as any sane person would want it. Last night the sauna went from 15 below zero to 180 in about 75 minutes.
Ben’s changing room with spring hinged hot room door

What were your biggest 1-2 challenges for your sauna build?

 I would say the biggest challenge was finding the time to work on it.  Between work and a busy family, I only had a few weekends this summer to build it.  I spent many nights working with a headlamp into the wee hours of the morning.  Once the shell was complete, it was much easier to get things done after the kids were in bed.
The second was the rocks.  I didn’t want just any old rocks.  My rocks came from my cabin and canoe country.  Some made a journey of 45 miles and 12 portages to get out of the woods.  All of them are special for some reason or another.
Ben’s sauna stove with free range organic sauna rocks

What aspect to your sauna are you most proud of?

The overall design is what I am most proud of.  I like sitting outside between rounds, even in the Minnesota winter.  I wanted a covered porch out front for some protection from rain, etc.  The design that I came up with has a 6×12 porch with the option of screening it in down the road.  My wife was also adamant that the sauna needed to match the house, which in hindsight was correct.  It looks like it is supposed to be there.
This picture is from our back deck.  Next summer the plywood on the deck will be replaced with trex and the beams stained to match the deck on the house.
Ben’s backyard 8×12 wood burning sauna

 Any regrets or do overs?

Only that I should have cut more wood this summer.  I had cut and split about 8 face cords, enough to fill the wood shed in back.  At the rate we are taking saunas, we will be out of wood by May!

If you could have a mobile sauna anywhere in the world, where would you bring it and enjoy a good sauna?

 If it could float, I would bring it to the Quetico.  I have often thought of turning a winter camping stove into a light weight sauna stove and building a sauna teepee on a week long base camp.
Ben between sauna rounds, thinking of Quetico sauna camping

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9 thoughts on “Ben builds an awesome backyard sauna and his only regret may surprise you”

  1. We are just rehabbing an old sauna and putting in white cedar,do you put a preservative on the wood or just leave it natural?

  2. Ben,
    Looks like a great sauna. I saw a comment where you mentioned if it could float – well I just wanted to let you know that we have built several Kuuma sauna stoves for installation on pontoon boats. We add bolt-down brackets and have made custom (extra protection) heat shields. From what I hear – they love then. Just a quick jump off the front porch into the lake and back into the hot-room.
    Anyway – great looking sauna. Dale from Lamppa

  3. Ben- I admire your craftsmanship and well thought out design. As an engineer, did you have any concerns about not observing the recommended clearances around your Kuuma stove? Specified clearance to combustibles with heat shields is around 15 inches, and it looks like your clearances are maybe 3 inches. I agonized over my design, ending up with a larger hot room to meet the specified clearances, and compromised by using CMUs for the bottom half of a wall under the tile. I realize that the specs are probably pretty conservative, and they are commonly disregarded (even on the Lamppa site) based on pictures posted. Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. I’ve found a shed with a 7×7 sauna room in it and 4×5 cooling room. Real rustic look and clearly homemade sauna. I’d say it had a couple corners cut. First the benches are spruce, although the walls are cedar. Second, the ceiling is plywood. And third, AND MOST SIGNIFICANTLY, I’m not sure there is proper insulation in the sauna room. The stove itself is just a Scandia wood stove with iron brackets welded on so rocks can be piled up over the top of the stove. I’m sure the stove would heat 1500 sf but is the building likely to have that sauna heat feel without proper insulation? I have some pics if there is a way to attach them.

  5. we get what we pay for, David. My hunch is to stay away from coddled together efforts, especially without any clue as to what’s up between the joist cavities.

  6. I am really enjoying your website and learning a lot – thank you for sharing your knowledge with everyone. I saw that you live in S. Minneapolis so I have a zoning and permit question for you…
    I also live in S. Minneapolis near Broder’s on 50th and Penn Ave. and have a corner lot that backs up to an alley and have the blvd sidewalk on the same side of the property where the sauna would reside. I would like to put a wood burning sauna in the corner of the lot but concerned about zoning regulation. I am interested in hearing from you on the items I should pay attention to when determining size and location of the sauna. What are the things I should watch out for with the city of Minneapolis? The only information that I found on zoning and planning from Minneapolis stated a permit is not required if the structure (ie. shed) is less than 200sqft. in area.
    Here is the link->

    Thanks in advance,
    Jason B.

  7. Hi Jason:

    Thanks for the kind words and glad you are enjoying saunatimes.

    Basically, from memory, the main constraints are:

    1. side yard setback – 1′ to properly line

    2. less than 120 sf (or it may be 100 sf) – no permit needed.

    3. No greater than 40% of your property – for auxiliary structures.

    #3 is to keep people from turning their entire property into living space/garges.

    These rules make for building a “shed” on your property 100% cool/kosher/legal.

    Now, what we do in our sheds is our own business. Some choose to build a shed to store their bikes. Some choose to build a shed to practice the violin. Some choose to build a shed to put in a heater and sweat (that’s us).

    If we choose an electric stove, we must use a licensed electrician and make sure all the work is done to code (not my preference for sauna, but that’s the way to do it).

    If we choose a wood burning stove (very much my preference) then we should build to the mfr. specifications of the stove company. And the good news with the Kuuma stove is that it is UL certified. So, building your sauna to UL specs means that nobody can give you any shit. (sorry for being blunt).

    But we are practical minded people. We don’t want to piss anyone off, especially our neighbors, and especially the neighbor closest to our new sauna. So, hopefully you have a cool neighbor there.

    I am a big fan of and 8×12 structure. If you haven’t already, please search (“8 12”) on this website and you’ll get lots of examples and illustrations of layouts, etc.

    I have a small Kuuma in my backyard, built in 2003. Unlike indoor chimney fireplaces, It is almost impossible to tell when I have my sauna going vs. not. Why? 1) the design of the stove (clean burning, gasification) 2) using good, dry wood, 3) using the stove correctly (top down fire, damper control, etc.).

    #1: check out my 2016 interview with Daryl Lamppa.

    #2: discussed on saunatimes. (birch, oak, etc.).

    #3: please search “top down” or “kuuma operation” on saunatimes.

    Happy for your project. Hope this helps. When you’re ready for a stove, i’m happy to sell you one. We stock in Minneapolis.

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