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As is the case with most building projects, the most important step in building a sauna is proper planning. Before you head to the hardware store and the lumber yard to get your supplies, you will need to take careful measurements in the space in which you intend to start building a sauna, and consider whether that space is the most appropriate location for the unit. The size, shape, design, and cost of the sauna you build can vary significantly based on your plans, and proper planning will ensure you stay within budget and get the finished product you want.
Once you have determined the size and location of the unit, the next step in building a sauna is determining what materials you will use for construction and what type of heater you will use. The type of heater will depend on the size of the sauna, and it may be wise to contact a sauna dealer to help determine which size heater is most appropriate for the structure you will be building. A heater that is too powerful for a small sauna will make the room far too hot and therefore potentially dangerous, and a heater that is too small may not be able to adequately heat the space.
The wood you choose for building a sauna will have a significant impact on the efficiency and longevity of the space. Cedar is a popular choice because it is naturally resistant to water damage and bug infestations, and it is a highly aromatic wood. Some people enjoy the aroma, but others may find the scent cloying and overwhelming when they are in the sauna, in which case a less aromatic wood may be in order. Hemlock is a popular choice, as is teak; the latter has many of the same properties as cedar, but it is less aromatic and far more expensive.
Remember that unlike building another structure such as a closet or a shed, building a sauna will involve insulating the walls to prevent excess heat loss. Be sure to research the different insulation methods, and remember that moisture will very likely seep through the boards and reach that insulation; try to avoid any insulation that will get waterlogged and therefore grow mold or lose its effectiveness as an insulator. Foil insulation is commonly used, though other methods do exist that can be more effective though perhaps slightly more expensive.
One thing you might want to consider is having a plunge pool or some equivalent near by. A lot of people swear by the method of warming up in the sauna, then plunging into cold water before returning to the sauna again.
They might do this many times in order to get the health benefits. It does open and shut the pores, although I'm not sure it does anything else!
I quite enjoy doing this though.
You can try to have the equivalent of it with a cold shower near the sauna if you don't have room for a plunge pool.
@irontoenail - I agree that the idea of a sauna as the neighborhood hangout is appealing. It seems like there aren't enough places like that left in the world.
But I think it would be quite difficult to introduce that idea in a country like the US. Nudity is looked at in a different way there. I think most people would be building a sauna for their own, or possibly their family's benefit.
However, almost every city I've lived in across the world has had a local sauna, where I'm sure people still keep up their social traditions, even far from home.
If you're interested in that side of it, you might want to consider going and having a look.
I had a friend write a story about a sauna recently. It was about a group of Finnish migrants who wanted to build a sauna in order to make their new home feel more comfortable.
It was interesting to me, because a sauna is not something I would personally associate with home comfort. It seems to me more like something I would do on holiday, or something I might do in the gym for fitness.
But, of course if you are from a very cold country, a sauna makes perfect sense as a place where you can relax and let all the tension of the cold months go.
As I understand it, it's also quite a social place, where locals come to hang out and hear the gossip. In that sense it really appeals to me.
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