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Sauna Planning

#1 Don't be fooled by outrageous claims made by so-called sauna "experts" and their websites.

Contrary to claims seen on some websites, radiant heat or  traditional saunas will NOT cure the following ailments: cancer and other serious diseases, lower your cholesterol dramatically, or similar, spurious claims like "losing 60 pounds in two weeks" or this beauty...."burn 900+ calories in 30 minutes". Common sense will tell you losing 900 calories by sitting for a 1/2 hour is downright dangerous, let alone impossible!! Companies making these claims do the industry and you, the consumer, no favors with such boasts.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

#2  Western Red Cedar is the wood of choice for saunas.

a-  although less expensive, most woods with knots will result in skin burns in a sauna. For this reason your should source clear Cedar in your sauna.

b-  cedar will not discolor to the same degree as other woods...such as Redwood, etc. but a sealant is still recommended to protect the wood in the sauna.

c-  another reason for choosing cedar is it's inherent stability. Other woods will swell and shrink in a sauna far more than kiln-dried, western red cedar.

sauna benching

#3  Building your own sauna is not hard.

Don't be intimidated with the thought of building your own sauna. Whether you hire a carpenter, bribe a friend to help, or undertake it yourself...it's quite easy to do. Need some "hand-holding" on building issues?....there are many sites on the Internet offering good framing instruction along with pictures if you have no construction experience.

...what are the real benefits of owning and using a sauna?

Sauna users will reap real benefits from increased circulation and the cleansing of impurities that rise to the skin surface during the sauna as a result of sweating.

Consistent users usually sleep better, have fewer respiratory problems, and have more energy after a sauna. 

Relaxation is another benefit, along with an overall improved sense of well-being.

Some owners have told us that their "love-life" is better too, but we'll let you decide that after you build one !!

Planning your room size:

Within reason, try to keep your room smaller rather than larger. The upper and lower benches are the main components you will use to sit and lay down in the sauna. After allowing for the depth of each bench, (typically 19" each) you should then plan on space for your heater, plus an area of 4" around the front, and two sides.

A smaller room will also permit using a smaller heater, smaller circuit breakers in your panel, and provide more efficient heating.

TIP: remember that most sauna users like to stretch out on the upper and lower benches, so try to have the main bench wall 6 feet or longer.

example: let's plan a room 6 ft x 5 ft. The 6 foot wall will allow one upper and one lower bench, each 6 feet long, ideal for laying down. The 5 foot (60") side wall space will be used up by: a)19" wide upper bench, and b)19" wide lower bench, leaving 22" of space for the heater and safety clearance. ..."perfect" (60" - 19" - 19" = 22")

Note: the ceiling height for a sauna can be from 6 1/2 to a maximum 7 feet high. Because heat rises, you want the benefit of the warmer air in the sauna while you are laying on the upper bench, so a ceiling height of 8 or 9 feet is going to defeat this, plus your heater will not function properly.

Room size: once you have determined your room dimensions, calculate the cubic area (length x width x height) of your sauna and choose:  a) the model of heater,  and b) the sauna control.

Tip: you can install two heaters if you need to service a very large room in your home (i.e. over 450 cubic feet). Bear in mind this is unusual for a residence. Larger, commercial sauna heaters usually require 208 volt, 3 phase power, something not normally available in residences.


sauna kit

This picture shows an example of the material typically required for a 7x4 sauna material package


Planning the Sauna Room Layout

1. Plan the size of your room -- saunas can be virtually any size or shape. 
Hint: If you enjoy lying down in your sauna, allow 6 feet in at least one direction.

2. Plan the door location and direction of its swing. A sauna door MUST swing out of the room, not into the room. Hint: For a better layout of the benches, put your door and heater on a long wall next to each other, if possible.

3. Plan the location of your heater, preferably near the door wall. Remember that cool air will be naturally drawn from the door, along the floor to the heater where it will be heated and naturally rise to the ceiling.

4. Plan the bench layout: normal sauna bench depth is usually 19"; height is either 38" ( for the upper bench) or 19" high (for the lower bench).
Hint: You will either sit or lie down in your sauna so include maximum benching as space permits; and note that the upper bench will be the warmer bench.

5. Some sauna companies offer a free service to customers so you can send them your planned room sketch and they will fax or email you a scale drawing done on a computer CAD system, showing the bench layouts and heater placement. 

Click here to view information on sauna material kits

or here

Notes for preparing your sauna space...

Your sauna can be anywhere -- in a basement, garage, bathroom. attic or under a staircase.

Ceiling Height:
Recommended inside height is 6'-6" to 7'. Heated air is wasted above that height. If you are building a drop ceiling, use 2X4 studs on 16" centers.

Wall Construction:
Build any new walls with 2X4 studs on 16" centers, including against cement walls. Optionally, 2X6 walls can also be used for increased energy efficiency, especially if building an outdoor sauna, or if you are located in a colder part of the country.

Use insulation with a minimum R-factor of R-11 in walls and R-19 in ceiling. Use fiberglass bats, not polystyrene foam board! the use of foams is not recommended in any sauna. Our information is, while foam boards are chemically stable under normal temperatures, other gasses such as formaldehydes, etc. will be given off by foams when exposed to higher sauna temperatures.

Click here for more extensive sauna building information

Aluminum Foil Vapor Barrier:

A sauna is basically a dry heat with the addition of moisture to the air when water is sprinkled on the rocks. You want to use aluminum foil vapor barrier, NOT polyethylene as used in regular residential construction. Good results have been achieved by sealing the aluminum vapor barrier joints with aluminum foil adhesive duct tape or red "Tyvek" sealing tape made by "3M".

HINT: when installing the aluminum foil, drape it loosely especially in the corners. Aluminum foil will shrink somewhat with heating and cooling. Don't stretch it tight as commonly done when installing "poly" in residential construction.


In most residential situations, a drain is not necessary. If water is pooling on the floor you are using too much water! Some plan on installing a drain in commercial saunas if the sauna is going to be washed down often.

Door Opening: (refer to the sauna door page for more information)

Sauna doors are usually smaller than normal residential doors. This is intentional to preserve as much heat in the sauna as possible when people enter or leave the room. Insulated doors usually measure 24" x 76" o.s.m. plus the cedar frame. This requires a 26" x 78" rough opening for your door. Custom size doors are usually available if needed. 

Sauna doors (without window glass) are often supplied with an adjustable exhaust vent in the upper portion of the door. 

NOTE: at the present time, most commercial saunas require wider doors and additional floor space to permit access by wheelchairs and "mobility-impaired" sauna patrons. Check with your local authorities and/or architect to confirm the necessary space and clearances if building a commercial sauna. Also remember that most government regulations require a commercial sauna have a door with glass in it to allow the occupants to be viewed from outside. Again, check your local codes.

Remember, the door swings out, NOT into the room.


Proper venting is necessary for fresh oxygen and to create air flow for efficient operation of your heater. Fresh air can be supplied through a) a non-adjustable vent installed in the wall under the heater position, or b) by leaving an air space (up to 1") between the threshold and the bottom of the door panel.

An adjustable exhaust wall vent on the opposite wall to the incoming air allows air to circulate and distributes the heat more evenly throughout the room. Any exhaust wall vent should have sliding doors controlling the volume of air allowed into the room. The exhaust vent is normally installed 48" to 54" from the floor. Installing the exhaust vent higher than this can mean too much of the heated air that "pools" near the ceiling will be leaving the room.

Locating your exhaust vent within arm's reach of the upper bench is good, this way you can adjust air circulation from the upper bench where you will spend most of your sauna time.


Sauna lights are specially certified for sauna use in high-heat, high-moisture environments. Do NOT use any conventional fixtures in your saunas. 

building a sauna

Many saunas built today include a second or even a third sauna light. These additional light fixtures are usually mounted on the main bench wall, but about 3 inches below where the upper bench meets the wall. This way they are hidden from casual view, yet illuminate the traditionally dark area below the benching, plus they shine upwards through the slats in the benching creating a wonderful reflected lighting effect in the sauna.

Sauna lights are often operated by dimmer switches which offer the option of adjusting each light as the "mood" warrants.


sauna room

Here's a finished pine sauna showing the additional lighting that's found in many modern saunas,  installed under the upper bench.

Also note the use of horizontal bench supports attached to the wall (instead of vertical supports). If you decide to go this route you can use these on any bench up to 6 ft long. In this 4 foot deep sauna, the lower bench supports are about 38 inches long so the lower bench can slide in or out to suit the user. 

(note: above picture shown without mandatory heater guard for illustration purposes)



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