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They couldn’t find it in Canada, so they decided to build a German style sauna in their garden

light steam graphic

Guest post series continues. Please welcome Michael from Muskoka,Ontario, Canada; about 150KM north of Toronto, and about 120 km south of the well known Algonquin Park.  Enter Michael:

What compelled you to build your own sauna

First I went to the YMCA for workouts. Out of curiosity, I checked the “Finish” sauna, one day. It was so hot, I did not last 5 min. In general, I was able to deal with the cold a lot better, than with the heat.

A member told me to ease into it and just to be patient with myself. No one would laugh or make fun of me, since this was normal, when first experiencing the sauna.
Eventually I got used to it and started learning more about saunas and how to use them correctly. I also learned about the health benefits.

Another YMCA had a different type of sauna: a steam sauna. I liked it also.

Eventually, thinking about hygiene, the spread of viruses and bacteria made me very sceptical about public saunas. History teaches, that saunas used to exist all over Europe, from early on. Eventually they were all closed down, do to the transmission problem of STDs. Eventually medicine found a way to deal with those STDs, and just in the 1950tees, German saunas were revived. They slowly spread all over the country again.

On a trip to Germany, I checked out the saunas over there, of course. WHAT A TREAT! …..and what a difference. I loved the beauty, the rules, the variety of sauna rituals, how people were conducting themselves, the openness for mixed genders, and the pure absence of any sexuality, at the same time. I was hooked and every year, we re-joined the club, when we returned.

After enjoying the German sauna’s on our vacations, for 5 years in a row, we missed the German sauna at home, in Canada, so much, that we decided to build a spa scape and sauna, in our backyard. This gave us a little of what we enjoyed so much oversees.

We also knew, the day would come, when we could not afford to spend weeks in Europe, every year, anymore. Building a sauna was really, almost a necessity.

We’ve had our sauna for about a year now. I am still using it 5 times a week; sometimes making whole days of it. My wife joins in, whenever she can. A set of 2 to 3 sessions, at about 15 min each, with enough cool down time in between of at least 1/2+ hour is supposed to be the most beneficial, in the German approach.

The whole venture was rather costly (about $15 000 Can, in material), but I tell myself that we do not have any other hobbies, and that this was better investment than a summer car, or any of the other things people afford, to make life pleasant. I saved big, by designing and making everything myself, including the sauna bucket and ladle.

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

During the time, I was surfing the Internet, wanting to learn about saunas and how to build them, I came across this blog.

Just reading about it here, what people discussed, the questions they had, the guidance that was given, was inspiring enough for me to follow through with my plan.

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

There were a lot of challenges. I am not a builder.

1) Satisfying the building code; 2) settling for wood rather that gas – day time electricity is too expensive in Canada. 3) Learning the proper construction of such a building. 4) Learning to build trusses was quite something. 5) Siding, facia and soffit’s was a nightmare. 6) Installing the chimney I was losing hair, from all the head scratching.
But everything can be learned, and there are people who are willing to help and teach.

What aspect to your sauna are you most proud of?

At the end, I think in I managed to build a real solid sauna, which is beautiful to the eye, functional and exceeds building code. Every time I settle in, I go ……..awwwwwww…….

Any regrets or do overs?

Yes, there are things I would do differently today:

  1. In addition to nailing the slats for the benches, I would also glue them down, for extra firmness.
  2. I changed the lighting once, and I am still not sure, whether I want to go back to what I had.
  3. I would take more time to build the door. It’s a tricky job.
  4. If I would build it again, I may try for an even larger, main window.

But Do-overs were not necessary. Everything is pretty well perfect.

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

I don’t think, I would take it anywhere, really. The sauna is not a party room for me; it is something very precious to be shared only with the best of friends, who also do not mind doing it the “German” way and follow all the guidelines. For me: the best aspect of a mobile sauna is, that I can take it with me, once I move to a different place. We all move sooner or later.

The next buyer of my house may not even appreciate my sauna and turn it into a garden shed. It kills me, just thinking about it.

More Thoughts?

I think, it is wonderful to know that our sauna community is slowly growing, in North America. Healthy body – healthy mind.

Yep…to find sauna buddies here in Canada is still not easy. People are prudish, and as struggles around sexuality continues, it won’t be overcame anytime soon. The German sauna is always mixed and nude. Even dressing rooms, showers and washrooms are mostly shared, where I come from. For us, a nude body is natural and can be looked at in a totally nonsexual manner; without any thoughts wondering into the sexual realm.

No fabric is allowed in the sauna room itself (it’s considered unhygienic) , and towels are only to be used to sit or lay on, so the precious woods never comes in contact with any sweat. (We do not use cedar, in most cases).

Over time, the “traditional” German sauna has evolved. – Lots of rules, as you can imagine. (hahahhha). It’s all about health, cleanliness, bathing, cleansing, meditation, ethics, and beauty of the surroundings.

The sauna club we belong to in Germany, has 7 different types of saunas, with a Zen garden at the centre, plus bistro and sleeping rooms, an ice cave, cooling river and 8 different types of showers.

In any event. Any type of sauna has undeniable health benefits. What ever your poison: Finish, Russian, Turkish, German, Japanese, Sanarium, Native Sweat Lodge, Smoke Sauna, ……they are all wonderful and have a tradition on their own. It’s worth learning about them all.

Here in Canada, I can not find such wonderful places, so I decided to build at least a small German Sauna (8 X 10), in our garden. The pictures make me want to open the door and step right in!

Welcome to my authentic German Sauna:

Winter December 2018. I had to build a screen, so neighbours would not get upset with us sitting outside in the nude.

German style backyard sauna in summer

Winter December 2018. I had to build a screen, so neighbors would not get upset with us sitting outside in the nude.

German style backyard sauna in winter.  Welcome to Canada!

Stepping inside, you see this:

Stepping inside Michael’s German backyard sauna

Small rooms are hard to capture with a camera, so, the below photo shows the window into the garden better:

Stepping inside Michael’s German style backyard sauna

Sitting on the back bench, looking back to the door, this is what you see:
– The floor tiles are cut natural stone from Turkey.

Photos taken inside are not always easy for me, especially against a light source, but I think this will help show the large window:

Michael’s backyard sauna with large window. Juxtaposition of fire and ice.

The door was more difficult to build than I thought. The frosting is a simple window privacy film, applied from the outside. Unfortunately I had to install it, because people could see inside, at night time, when the lights were on, inside.
In Canada, you can get arrested for displaying yourself in your birthday suit. The window film has already lasted 4 seasons, in our harsh Canadian climate. I am amazed how well this worked. I thought it would peel or bubble – but as luck would have it, its still in perfect shape.

Custom sauna door build with frosted glass treatment


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16 thoughts on “They couldn’t find it in Canada, so they decided to build a German style sauna in their garden”

  1. Very good!
    Harvia-stove 🙂 from Finland is the best option to a mobile sauna.
    Happy New Year !
    – International Mobile Sauna Parade in Teuva Finland

  2. I loved this sauna so much, that my husband and I built one modeled after this. If there’s an email to share pictures, I would happily send some along! We live in Maine, and love our sauna so much!!!

  3. My wife is a Berliner and I am Canadian. The first time she was in a sauna here in Canada at the Y she was horrified. I am building a sauna for us in Northern Ontario. Last weekend our neighbour saw someone skinny dipping and said he was gonna call the police. I have it in a very secluded place, but not everyone is open minded unfortunately.

  4. Ah, bummer, Ash! Somehow, many/most in N. America have fallen off the wheels when it comes to nudity. Like it’s some big deal.

  5. Great sauna build, my son wants me to build him one for his remote cabin in Northern Manitoba and yours has inspired some ideas. It will certainly be used in the German style by my wife and I.

  6. How did you seal the door to the exterior elements. Unfortunately Due to space I need to install a door from the sauna to the outside world. Im worried about heat loss…

  7. Hey, not to freak you out, but you should be worried about heat loss. it’s gonna happen.

    It’s a lot of pressure on your sauna stove (the little engine that could) to keep things cranking with the hot room door opening and closing to the colder than the well digger’s ass winter temps. In boring climates like most of CA, wimpy barrel saunas can function because the heat loss is less. But when you consider 100°c moist air coming in contact with 0°c dry air, well, it’s a huge vacuum of activity. Kind of like the dash to the exits when the MN Wild give up the 6th goal in the outdoor Winter Classic hockey game.

    Anyhow, sealing off your hot room door to these temperature/climate extremes is a tricky proposition with no clear magic bullets. Moisture will want to collect along your door jam. I don’t have any simple answers for you.

    I will say, give it all a go, and if it gets to be a drag, consider “the tent annex” you can set up some grommets along the outside of your common wall, and set up a tent gig. Restaurants do this, to stem off the cold wind that comes whipping inside when people come and go out of their restaurants.

    Food for thought on that, and hope this helps!

  8. To me it was important to seal the door, so insects would not make their way into the sauna, during the warmer months. I also like to stay in control of the air flow in the sauna. An absence of a seal, can create unwanted drafts (all depending on the door, you plan to put in.
    In my case, a 3/8″ rubber foam band taped to the door jam, did the trick. It just needs to be run at the bottom, the top and the opening side. It squishes enough to not be a problem when closing the door. Condensation has never been a problem in my sauna, because I use it about 5 times a week. However, their is a bit condensation on the thermo-pane windows in the morning, but never enough to create a run-off.
    Home depot offers variety of sealing options for drafty door. Check those out too. Most of them are installed against the closet door from the inside.
    I would attach pictures, but this is not possible here.
    Cheers – and good sweat!

  9. Thanks Michael! sealing off the hot room door makes great sense in outdoor, hot room only situations. Well described!

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