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Budget was his biggest challenge: “I built this sauna for $1000 by looking on Craigslist all day for materials”

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Guest post series continues. Please welcome Greg from North Minneapolis. He’s pleased to share his sauna build project with you. Enter Greg:

Hello! I am a dedicated follower of your blog and used several of your posts to inspire my building process. I live in North Minneapolis and just finished my mobile sauna a few months ago. Just wanted to share some pictures with you. I have upper and lower deck seating of course and can fit about 5-7 people inside. Thanks again for the awesome blog and inspiring average Joes like me to build themselves saunas!

What compelled you to build your own sauna?

My friend built a mobile sauna and he introduced me to the experience. Doing the sauna rounds in and out of the cold with good friends was an amazing relaxing community experience. My body would feel good for days after and I just had to build one. In addition to that I love the creative process. I can’t think of a more awesome project than designing and building a sauna from scratch.

Greg’s urban backyard sauna retreat

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

Saunatimes was continually popping up in my Google searches on how to build a sauna. Soon I was just searching in the Saunatimes website and using the ebook for answers. I followed Glenn’s advice on keeping the sauna room small and I don’t regret that. The bench design was also a very helpful reference point for me.

Greg’s backyard sauna interior

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

Budget was the biggest challenge. I built this sauna for $1000 by looking on Craigslist all day for materials. So about half of the materials are reclaimed, repurposed, or free. At the time of building I was working full time, in grad school, and my daughter was just born. Money was tight but the build HAD to happen. It helped that I am a welder by trade and built my own stove for the material cost of $60 using an old oil drum, scrap metal, car parts, rocks from Lake Superior, and one “borrowed” railroad spike. The second biggest challenge was the floor design. Instead of concrete or tile I decided to use sheet aluminum which is perfectly corrosion, water, heat resistant, and extremely light. On top of the sheet aluminum is a removable cedar floor. I was really proud of this design and it has worked out perfectly thus far.

Greg’s custom welded sauna heater

Of which aspect to your sauna are you most proud?

I was very pleased with how the look of the exterior turned out. It’s nice to look at out my back window. The modern exterior contrasts with the inside which feels very rustic and transports you to another place and time. In addition to that the sauna has amazing heat. Since the stove is a mix of thin sheet metal and dense materials like the fire rocks inside and stones on top, it heats up the room really fast while also retaining heat. With a roaring fire it heats up in about 15 minutes even on the coldest days of the year. The stove has a 6” air intake in its side that connects to the outside, so the air quality in the sauna is perfect.

Outside Greg’s backyard sauna

Any regrets or do overs?

The only do over would be the raw Durock behind the stove. Although it was a cheap heat proof option I wish I would have tiled over it to make it look nicer. But it does add to the rustic vibe so it works.

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

I identify as Norwegian American as my grandpa immigrated to the United States from Bergen Norway. So I would park it right on the ocean and swim in the ice cold sea in between sauna rounds in Bergen.  

Greg and his daughter getting ready for sauna
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22 thoughts on “Budget was his biggest challenge: “I built this sauna for $1000 by looking on Craigslist all day for materials””

  1. I’ve been building my own sauna made ALSO made from a lot of things that were repurposed, refinished, etc (though you did it for about half of what I did… Well done!) Two of the things that I repurposed were the door and the window. Both of them aren’t made of cedar (I have limited cedar because it’s all offcuts from someone milling bog bridges) but need refinishing. Any thoughts on a good finish for the interior? I’m assuming some sort of oil?


  2. Hi Glenn and Greg,

    Great Job Greg! I spent way more than that, and I bet yours is just as hot as mine!


    Here is a link to a Facebook marketplace ad I saw for cedar. They have 1600 board feet left, in 12-16 foot lengths, selling for a buck a foot. Location is Mars, PA.
    I thought you or someone doing a build might be interested.

    Maybe you should start a blog specifically for selling and buying sauna materials?

  3. I’ve also started building my own sauna with mostly recycled and extra, materials leftover from work. (I’m a carpenter)
    My question is, is it ok to have vinyl siding on the exterior of the sauna? 2×4 walls, with insulation, foil bubble wrap, and cedar interior.
    I can’t seem to find a yes or no answer to the vinyl siding.

    Thanks in advance,

  4. jeremy, no worries on vinyl siding. you’ll want to seal up the exterior like any other occupied structure, with wood sheathing and house wrap under the vinyl.

  5. Thank you. This sauna is the most inspiring one I have seen so far. I think there is a great meed for support for building affordable saunas. Repurposing materials is less costly but also meets my desire for creativity and sustainability. I am very curious about the sauna heater. How did you make that? Are you willing to share here or talk with me about it? Thank you so much!

  6. Hello this is Greg the builder. Just wanted to respond to a few comments.
    I am a professional welder so making the stove was easy for me. I guess Milagros not sure how to explain how I did it, would be hard build without welding knowledge. I think the best alternative is to save up for a Kuuma stove or modify a regular wood burning stove by adding rocks to the top. Also you can find kits online to convert oil drums to wood burning stoves if you Google it. The interior dimensions are 6’x7′.
    I did paint the inside of the window but I used grill paint that can withstand 1000 degree temp without releasing any nasty stuff, otherwise everything is just raw wood.

  7. Hello,
    What is your opinion on unisulated floor – planks on a simple frame lifted 20-30cm above the ground. I cannot find a reason why it would be wrong. However, i see that vapor insulation is important on walls and ceiling – does it make sense though if the floor is breathable ?

  8. Hi David,

    I go into detail on uninsulated hot room floor in my book Sauna Build, Start to Finnish. The moral of the story is that many build their hot rooms on top of simple decking, as you describe, where you can look between pencil width cracks between floor boards and see the ground underneath. Lots and lots of ventilation. And as you point out, with heat rising, because we are able to capture this heat from above and the sides, what we stand on in the hot room – heat wise – is less important.

    That said, there’s something good about a “thermal envelope” whereby we can lay in 2″ rigid between floor joist cavities and help encourage a warm floor down there. This is valuable if one is looking for warm floors in the changing room, so that we can control air flow from the outside with good ventilation and at the same time, a warm space throughout.

    So, what we have here is not an absolute best strategy but options for your hot room floor that depend upon what you’d like to work best for you.

  9. Thanks a lot for the fast reply!
    I will end up buying your book anyway, but I have to say that being from Europe, it is usually hard for me to decode what you mean in terms of building materials, parts, construction technology etc…..anyway, google helps a bit.

    About the floor – I am less (not at all) worried about the heat loss. What I am trying to understand if whether wall+ceiling vapor insulation makes sense in such scenario. The moisture will be able to get inside trough the door and the floor anyway. Furthermore – in other articles you write about 10cm gap at the bottom of the door that is “praised” in Finnland – seem like zero vapor barrier there.
    My idea is a simple outdoor sauna, small porch for 2 chairs, no changing room.

    Thanks! Dave

  10. On walls surrounding the stove, is that Masonite/concrete board? How does that work? Do you have insulation behind that board, or just an empty wall? I’m worried about safety issues as I’m doing this with a 55-gal. drum that’s been converted into a stove.

  11. I am in Michigan and I found someone who milled his own pine – so Michigan WIDE white pine for flooring and on facebook marketplace found a guy who mills michigan white cedar –I used that t & g for walls (beautiful)… the ceiling I did find red cedar thick board to use from a lumber yard. Not a cheap project, but I did keep as local as I possibly could..luckily I didn’t have to pay myself 🙂

  12. I’m making my sauna on a limited budget so the only way I could afford cedar was to take odd sizes and not in great condition. Some cracks and missing knot holes. My question is can I glue the cracked pieces? Any ideas on filling knot holes? I imagine that most glues will not withstand high heat.

  13. Another thought if I have short pieces to join horizontally end to end do you cut them at 45 degrees? so they have a overlap joint or butt them and put a molding over?

  14. End matching hot room paneling with 45° is better than just butting the boards. A guy could purchase or borrow a router bit set and create their own end match t&g. Or, as you reference, you could uniform cut lengths at the stud, and hide the seams with molding, almost a board and batten look.

    All above is a compromise to no seams and straight runs of t&g corner to corner. But if we have access to lots of short pieces, my vote is to apply some labor and try to make end match t&g. Hot room paneling expands and contracts. T&G is our best way to roll. I like the flat horizontal plane vs. molding.

  15. Exactly John.

    Instead of filling knot holes, I think you’re best to take a deep breath and cut out these sections. I know, it sucks, but it’s super hard to ask filling composite material to expand and contract the same as wood, so it’s only a matter of time when the material you use to fill knots will separate and fall out.

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