Sitting in a sauna provides a long list of health benefits, including detoxification, pain relief, improved circulation, and increased cardiovascular health. These benefits have been well known for thousands of years, with various cultures employing them all over the world. These days, however, not everyone has easy access to a sauna. For this reason, more and more people are choosing to build a DIY sauna at home or even at the office.

Building a DIY sauna is much easier and less expensive than you might think. There are some basic materials and structural rules to follow, but apart from these, you'll have quite a bit of freedom to customize it to your liking. You can build your DIY sauna almost any size you choose, build it indoors or outdoors, or have it be attached or freestanding. You can even build a portable sauna for use in various locations.

First, let's take a look at some of the basics, starting with a simple explanation of what a sauna is and how it functions.

What Is A Sauna?

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  • Taking up to 4 inches of length off
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While it's important to note that there are many types of saunas, the main principle remains the same. Basically, a sauna is an enclosed room that is heated to a very high temperature of up to 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit). They typically use dry heat as opposed to so-called “steam rooms” that have both high temperature and high humidity. People generally enter saunas for 10-30 minutes at a time and enjoy multiple health benefits from regular usage.

History

Sauna use dates back thousands of years, originating in Northern Europe. It is most often associated with Finland, where even today nearly every home includes a sauna.

Traditionally, Finnish saunas were heated by a large pile of rocks, which themselves were heated by burning large amounts of wood. Saunas were common throughout Europe during the middle ages, reaching mass popularity during the 20th century in the wake of WWII.

Interestingly, the use of saunas in Korea dates back to the 15th century, and indigenous people all over the world have practiced sauna use in rituals and for the maintenance of spiritual and physical well being.

Types Of Saunas

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As we mentioned, there are now many types of saunas to choose from. Choosing which one is right for you will be one of your first decisions in building a DIY sauna. The most common DIY saunas use either a wood-burning stove or an electrical heater.

The wood-burning concept is classic and relatively simple. Wood is burned in an oven or heater, and sauna rocks are placed on top.


Once heated, the rocks will absorb and maintain the heat in the room. Some people splash a bit of water on the rocks to cool them down and provide steam in the room.

An electrically heated sauna simply substitutes an electric heater instead of a wood-burning oven to heat the sauna rocks. If done correctly, this option allows for much finer temperature control and can be quite energy efficient.

Health Benefits

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The benefits of regular sauna use are numerous, and it seems we're discovering new benefits all the time. Beyond simple relaxation and stress relief, this is why so many are choosing to make room for a DIY sauna in their homes.

The most obvious health benefits come from sweating. Sitting in a sauna will help flush toxins and disease out of the body. This can dramatically improve skin health as built-up sebum, bacteria, and dead skin cells are forced out through the pores.


When you sit in a sauna, your heart rate increases and blood vessels expand, much like what happens with low-to-moderate exercise. This increases circulation, which in turn can ease pain, reduce stress levels, and improve overall cardiovascular health.

Materials For Your DIY Sauna

In order to construct your very own sauna, some materials are necessary, of course. The following list will show you exactly what is needed for your sauna.

  • Wall studs and ceiling joists 
  • Ceramic floor tile
  • Nails and nail gun
  • Electrical wiring, outlet, and light switches
  • Fiberglass insulation
  • Foil vapor barrier
  • Tongue-and-groove cedar wood paneling for walls and ceiling
  • Tongue-and-groove cedar wood floorboards
  • Cedar lumber for benches
  • Sauna heater
  • Sauna door
  • Cedar trim finishing (optional)

Step-By-Step Instructions

Below, we have laid out the steps you should follow to build your sauna.

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Step 1: The Frame

If you're converting an existing space such as a closet or bathroom into a sauna, remove any drywall and strip the room down to its structural studs. If you're constructing the sauna from scratch, identify a space that has easy access to plumbing and electrical needs. Then, frame it with standard 2x4 studs according to your desired size.


You should leave room for three ventilation points: one in the ceiling, a side vent above where the heater will be, and one on the floor. Keep in mind that a smaller room with a lower ceiling will be easier to heat.

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Step 2: Floor Layer #1

Your DIY sauna needs a non-permeable floor base, such as cement, vinyl, or ceramic tile. If converting an existing room, this may be as simple as stripping the floor back to its concrete base.

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Step 3: Electrical Wiring

Your sauna's going to need light, and that means it needs electricity. Run any electrical wiring needed to light your sauna. Also, if you'll be using an electrical heater, run the appropriate gauge electrical wiring.

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Step 4: Insulation

Next, fill the cavities between the studs with R-11 insulation for interior walls or R-19 insulation for exterior walls. This will help retain heat and thus lower your operating costs. It will also provide a nice sound barrier, which is critical to your relaxing sauna experience.

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Step 5: Foil Vapor Barrier

Once you've installed the insulation in the walls and ceiling, cover it with a foil vapor barrier. This will protect the insulation from moisture and ensure that it lasts longer.

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Step 6: Cedar Paneling

You may be wondering why saunas are almost always lined with cedar walls and benches. Unlike other woods, cedar resists mold, doesn't absorb odors, and remains comfortable to the touch, even at high temperatures. It also won't warp or crack with the constant heating up, cooling off, getting wet, and drying out that saunas undergo. It is also quite beautiful and emits a pleasant sweet forest smell.

Now it's time to install cedar paneling boards over the ceiling and walls. Start with the ceiling, nailing the boards perpendicular to the joists. If needed, cut a hole for your light box.


For the walls, starting at the bottom, nail the boards horizontally across the wall studs, covering the insulation and foil barrier. It's best to use tongue-and-groove boards if you can (tongue up and groove down). Install them in rows, checking that they're level roughly every 4th board. Cut holes for any light or electrical boxes, light switches, etc. Once you reach the ceiling, remember that it need not align perfectly. As long as you're within a quarter inch, you can cover any gaps with cedar trim at the end.

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Step 7: Install Your Heater

Consult the instructions that come with your electrical or wood-burning heater, paying close attention to electrical and ventilation requirements. It's probably best to consult a professional electrician to help wire your heater to the power source.

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Step 8: Set Your Sauna Benches

Consult the instructions that come with your electrical or wood-burning heater, paying close attention to electrical and ventilation requirements. It's probably best to consult a professional electrician to help wire your heater to the power source.

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Step 9: Add a Door

Properly hanging a door is more difficult than it looks, and this is even more relevant in a sauna. Heat retention and proper sealing are important, which is why many opt for a pre-hung sauna door. There are many of these available, and they generally come with the frame and swing already set.

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Step 10: Trim Finishing

This step is optional but will give your DIY sauna a nice clean finished look if your corner seams aren't perfectly aligned. Use cedar trim pieces that match the paneling you've already installed.

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Step 11: (Floor Layer #2) Cedar Flooring Panels

You're almost finished! Lastly, add cedar panels atop your existing permeable concrete or tile floor. Use panels that can easily be removed so you can sweep or mop the floor below. Now turn everything on and enjoy a nice relaxing sauna - you've earned it.

Conclusion

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With multiple benefits to general health and well being, it's no surprise that so many people are making sauna sessions a regular part of their lives. Building a DIY sauna in your home or office is perhaps the most convenient way to add this healthy practice to your weekly routine. Convenience is critical as recent studies indicate that at least three weekly sessions are necessary to maximize the health benefits of using a sauna.

Building a DIY sauna is much less costly than you would think, and the construction is relatively straightforward. Just follow the steps as outlined in this guide, and don't be afraid to enlist the help of professionals as needed.

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