Sauna Buying Guide | HomeTips
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Sauna Buying Guide

Saunas lend a luxurious option to any home.

One of the reasons behind the growing popularity of home saunas is the fact that it doesn’t take a carpenter to build one. Thanks to precut or modular, prefabricated kits, all you need is the place to put a sauna and an easily-cleaned, waterproof floor (ceramic tile, concrete, or heavy vinyl will do).

Depending upon where you’d like to do your relaxing, a sauna can go in a basement, garage, bathroom, attic, area under a staircase, pool house, or a spot in the yard.

Because the idea behind a sauna is to perspire, it’s best to have a shower nearby; a small dressing area is helpful, too.

Precut Sauna Kits

For precuts, you may need construction help. With these, you provide the wall studs, insulation, and exterior walls, and then must build the unit from precut pieces. A precut kit typically includes wall and ceiling boards, assembled benches, a pre-hung door, floor decking, a sauna heater, and a variety of accessories, from back rests to heater fences, vents, and controls.

Major manufacturers may modify their precut kits to accommodate custom sizes. From your blueprint or floor plan, they will custom-size a sauna to fit any space—even if the design includes curves and angles, or just if you want dramatic windows. But unless you’re working with an odd space, custom- made saunas aren’t usually necessary because many sizes and configurations of both precut and prefabricated standard kits are available and are less expensive.

Modular and Prefabricated Saunas

Modular or prefabricated saunas cost a bit more than precut kits but are much easier to erect. Because of the labor savings, total costs are similar to precut saunas—and you can have one installed (or do it yourself) in half a day. If you move or want to relocate the sauna, you can take it apart and reassemble it somewhere else. They have two-sided, pre-insulated walls and ceilings that simply lock together. Benches, back rests, and floor decking are all pre-assembled.

For example, Harvia makes a prefabricated system that has 1-by-4 clear cedar or vertical-grain redwood on the interior and rough-sawn fir on the exterior. Between the two surfaces are 2-by-2 wall studs and R11 foil-backed fiberglass insulation. Other options are also available—for instance, you can get rough-sawn Douglas fir plywood exterior or an imported sauna that is built from Nordic spruce logs.

The concept of prefabricated modular saunas is the fastest growing part of the sauna business. Precuts represented about 90% of sales until recent years; now choice is gravitating more to prefabricated saunas. Although prefabs once were just square boxes, now designs of prefabs are handsome and contemporary with deluxe interiors, low-voltage lighting, interesting angles, and plenty of glass.

Finlandia offers a complete, insulated outdoor sauna, complete with roof package; available in 4-by-4-foot to 8-by-8-foot sizes, it is designed to be assembled on an existing slab.

Taking the prefabricated concept to its ultimate conclusion, the Helo Porta-Saun and the Finnleo Thera-Port come complete in just two pieces that you can lock together in a couple of minutes. These are popular “portables” for people who live in apartments or condos.

Types of Wood for a Sauna Interior

Light-colored Sauna Wood

Sauna interiors are made of handsome softwoods that remain relatively cool and absorb steam, making the room more comfortable.

Cedar is a very popular wood in North America. It is handsome, has natural resistance to decay, weathers extremely well in a sauna’s harsh environment, and is aromatic.

Saunas built of Nordic white spruce are more traditionally Finnish. This material is a beautiful, white-toned, fine-grained wood with very tight ‘living’ knots that are about the size of a pencil eraser. From very slow-growing woods in Finland’s sustainable forests, it darkens only slightly with age. Prices are comparable with cedar.

An excellent wood for benches and backrests is Abachi, another light-toned softwood that looks great with Nordic white spruce.

Other woods used for saunas include clear aspen, clear vertical-grain hemlock, and clear all-heart redwood, although redwood is rarely used today because of its high cost and the fact that it darkens almost immediately.

Domestic spruce and pine have a white wood look when new, but are not the same quality as imported Nordic white spruce. These woods tend to have larger, looser knots that will eventually fall out as the wood dries.


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About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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