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Instead of buying a prefab sauna and calling it a day, he rolls up his sleeves and builds his own kick ass sauna

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Guest Post series continues. Pleased to welcome Bob Leutmer to Saunatimes.

Growing up

In the late seventies and eighties my dad had a cabin on a dreamy, walleye rich northern Minnesota lake (which will remain unnamed). The property featured an old, dilapidated fish cleaning shack right on the beach with rotten half log siding that was infested with bats. While the constant restless skittering and scratching in its walls was creepy as hell, it was our favorite place because it also housed the sauna. We spent many wonderful, crazy nights listening to an old Robert Johnson cassette, getting impossibly hot and sprinting down the dock into the cool water.

Of course, I wasn’t the only exuberant youth enjoying the sauna and one night some stupid with a flare gun…well, you know the rest. To be honest, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner – that sauna was a tinderbox! 

The will to build

Since that time I always wanted my own sauna and after I got laid off last year and sold my cabin I thought maybe the universe is finally affording me the time to do this already. I started hunting for ideas and stumbled across Saunatimes. Glenn’s wonderful stories and love of all things sauna was infectious and I finally had the motivation to build. By the way, my sauna will be much safer than the one that inspired me.

Getting started

I bought the ebook thinking that if it only helped with one thing, it was easily worth 20 bucks. Of course, it helped with much more and before I knew it, I was cutting a giant hole in my new roof. One of my favorite aspects of the ebook (and Glenn’s guidance) was how it downplayed the complexities of a shed build by breaking it all down into separate acts. One of my favorites is the section on the durarock/skim coating for the floor and stove surround. While I’m mostly comfortable with woodworking, cement work intimidated me until I realized (with the edbook’s help) that it was just another thing that anybody can do.

Bob’s wife on her way up to “serving temp” inside their newly hand built sauna

Overcoming challenges

One of my greatest challenges was designing a roof system and shingling – there’s plenty of youtube videos out there, however, and I finally settled on something that made sense to me. Between carving a level spot for a foundation in my sloped backyard to that stressful roof and all the wiring, foil, cement board and cedar in between, I am very proud of the fact that I attempted this project at all. Had I not found Saunatimes and the ebook, I probably would have bought a prefab sauna and called it a day. Thanks to Glenn, I now have a bullet proof, custom sauna and the confidence to build just about anything.

Bob and kids outside their new sauna, celebrating sauna confidence

Glenn asked me if I could have a mobile sauna anywhere in the world, where would I bring it and go sauna? I think I would bring it up to that unnamed northern MN lake where we sometimes mixed our scotch with lake water. 

I think I still have that Robert Johnson tape laying around somewhere…

The sauna kicks ass and I’m very grateful for your assistance/advice! (I am still getting a handle in the intricacies of using the Kuuma to it’s full potential).

Bob, contemplating the intricacies of the Kuuma stove
Another kick ass authentic backyard sauna, opening the door to really good heat
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15 thoughts on “Instead of buying a prefab sauna and calling it a day, he rolls up his sleeves and builds his own kick ass sauna”

  1. Hi Glenn,

    We are building our sauna and after reading your ebook have two questions…

    1. We live in the country and have plenty of space, but want our sauna close to our house for convenience and to use our patio. We are getting a kuuma stove and wondering are there any safety concerns about closeness to the house?

    2. Do you have any concerns about using rigid foam for the entire structure (other than cost)? We are concerned about mice…

    Thank you

  2. Hi Treena:

    1. Kuuma safety concerns: I’ve worked with the Kuuma for close to 3 decades now and have never had an issue of safety breaches and flame -age coming from the chimney. Extend your chimney pipe above your ridge, and be mindful of the potential for sparks as you would with any wood burning stove. But i’ve been very happy with the Kuuma, on all levels, including safety.

    2. Rigid foam for entire structure: No issues. Matter of fact, love it. The 4×8 sheets cut easy and fast on a table saw. You can fill joist cavities and A job may be a little expanding foam spray in the corners as adhesive as well as gap filler. Foil vapor after and you’re off to the races!

    Hope this helps.

  3. Glenn – I was curious if you had any local recommendations on shed builders. I live in the north west metro of Minneapolis and am looking for one to build my shell. We are on a lake and I purchased your eBook to complete my version of sauna I have experienced at a family home in Ely. I have enough skill to frame one up myself, but wanted to explore the option given time constraints before the snow flies! Thanks again for the great content.

  4. Hi Dan:

    Shed builders in MN: It’s a matter of discovery. I’ve worked with Tuff Shed in Shakopee for several of my sauna build projects. I’ve seen plenty of shed builders along highways, like Hwy. 65 in Isanti, and Pine City, etc. but just can’t endorse any one over the other.

    I totally get where you’re going about framing one up yourself, and especially the concept of time constraints before the snow flies. That’s totally my speed, as you know. (Getting the heavy lifting done by writing a check for a shed).

    So, keep after it, Dan. The real wow will come when you can take over and convert to sauna. Happy for you and glad Saunatimes is helping you.

  5. Slava: 2×4 16oc should be fine, but there’s other considerations (snow load, rafter spacing, etc.). My advice is to talk with local lumber yard and area builders who know your terrain and conditions, and get their take. The advantage with 2×6 walls is R19, of course, but this advantage is not important with sauna, especially with a kick ass stove.

    Hope this. helps.

  6. Hi Glenn,
    Thanks for all the great info.
    Question: We are plugging along with our sauna build and sadly did not insulate the floor prior to sheathing. Walls are up, roof is done. Now we are wondering… is it possible to insulate on top of the subfloor and below the Durock in hot room floor if we change our minds?

    Cold toes in Northern MN.

  7. Karla:

    Absolutely! I was just in a horse trailer sauna last night with the following and it is working fabulously.
    1) subfloor.
    2) 1/2″ or 1″ polyiso, dealer’s choice.
    3) durarock.
    4) vinyl cement skim coat.

    2: polyiso is available at big box, 4×8 sheets and can be cut easily on a table saw for easy snug fit.
    3. durarock above the polyiso creates an interesting dynamic: it gets warm! This leads us down the road towards some appealing design iterating…where the polyiso thermal insulating barrier is really doing something wow.

    Now, we also want to keep in mind that many old school saunas, especially in our region of Northern MN, have been built right on top of simple decking. I have taken saunas in many built like this, and life is wonderful. Sitting on the bench, we can look down to note pencil thick gaps between deck boards where you can look between to see the ground under the sauna, and Nature and all its glory. Yet, i’d submit that these saunas are super fab. for summer use, and when we’re building a new sauna, and for year round use, i’m a big fan of an insulated floor, as a heat retention feature.

  8. Rex:

    My friend has done this with his mobile sauna build. Barn door is critical (vs. pocket) as pocket traps moisture in the cavity. We gotta be thinking about the flashing around the door as it’s a heat loss. And if the flashing is too tight, the barn door rubs.

  9. Hi Glenn,

    Does the book cover indoor electric builds too? I’m going to buy the book either way and all of these outdoor wood saunas are sweet, but realistically that’s going to be my first build. I’ve got a 4×12 space to work with, of which 4×7 or 7.5 will be the hot room. My main question is how the floor gets handled on an indoor build with vapor barrier, drainage, etc.

    Happy Holidays.


  10. Hi Rick:

    Many of the sauna building techniques detailed in Sauna Build Start to Finnish can be applied to indoor builds as well.

    Floor: we gotta be careful if sauna is not in the basement. Water and indoor houses don’t mix. For this, we should appeal to a higher authority, a contractor who is proficient with shower installs, etc. or find the right guy at Big Box who can show us what aisle has the water pan system for shower underlayment, which is often next to Red Guard.

    Happy holidays to you too, Rick! Sauna on!

  11. Hey Glenn,

    Thanks for all of the great content — it’s been super helpful as I plan for my own backyard sauna. I’m curious what your stance is on pre-fab kits (not barrel kits, but cabin style)?

    From what I’ve gathered from reading your ebook, you estimate $8k of material costs (circa 2013, probably much higher now) and ~120 labor hours (likely even more for an inexperienced builder such as myself). On the other hand, a pre-fab kit for a 5’8 x 7’8 hot room (reasonably close to your plan for 6×8) is ~$6.5k with an option to increase ceiling height to 7′, add conduits, full duckboard flooring, etc. for a grand total of $7.5k (×7-outdoor-sauna-kit.html). In comparing, it seems like a great option (at least for me) since I don’t have space for a changing room. Am I missing anything or for my use case does this seem like the right option? I understand for someone interested in a custom shed form factor, it may make more sense to go with the approach described in the book (or potentially simplify further by doing a shed kit + pre-cut interior kit). Any insights would be greatly appreciated.

    Happy holidays,
    Alex (in Seattle)

  12. Hi Alex:

    The old adage, you get what you pay for, applies to sauna kits as well as couches (I know this because my wife has been shopping for a new couch since March. Hashtag: cold feet). Anyhow, with your question, first thing I did was to look to see where you are from.

    When I see Seattle, well, my “no changing room” armor goes down.

    See, here in Minnesota, we are best to build our saunas, as Nissam Talib would say, with “robustness.” (it gets f***ing cold here). And by building our own using stick frame with insulation, we have stoutness to fight back from cold. These stand alone kits lack, but if a sauna is what you want, and the price is what you have, well, “the best saunas are the ones that get used.”

    And the idea of a shed, then a kit inside: this has been done. But if you’re going to go with a shed, my instinct for you is to just order up some insulation, and foil, and then find a buddy to t&g your new sauna, using some local free range organic western red, et voila!

    Most importantly: sauna stove.

    that’s a whole new topic! Please read here.

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