EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT AN OUTDOOR OR BACKYARD SAUNA
The outdoor sauna is a staple in history, evolving from a means for survival and purification to a therapeutic temple of sorts. Today, saunas are enjoyed for a number of health benefits, including detoxing, improved heart function, and weight loss.
If you currently enjoy the luxury of owning your own sauna, or wish to buy one, it is normal to have questions about how sauna use came to be.
You may have questions about different types of saunas designed for outdoors and how to build them.
You could even have concerns about if your outdoor will work better than an indoor version.
To help you get a better understanding of your new relaxation tool, here is everything you need to know about an outdoor or backyard sauna.
WHAT IS AN OUTDOOR SAUNA?
A sauna is a small room created for relaxation sessions through wet or dry heat therapy. For the most part, saunas made for the outdoors function in the same manner as indoor saunas.
Saunas placed outside, as well as the indoor version, both create steam by using a heat source, sauna stones, and water. Infrared saunas that give off dry heat are available for outdoor use, but are more commonly seen indoors.
The frame and interior of saunas designed for the outdoors use special materials, covered later in this guide, for dealing with weather and temperature changes. Here are a few other factors that set them apart from one another:
Most indoor saunas come in a standard box, or cubical, shape. Saunas for the backyard have a variety of shapes available.
Venting is easier to complete in outside saunas, but installation is sometimes complicated. You must follow local codes while building a sauna outside the home. (wiring, chimney, etc.)
Saunas made for inside the home are usually more compact in size than outdoor ones.
THE ORIGIN OF THE OUTDOOR SAUNA
While the exact date of when sauna use started is unknown, scientists believe that it began around 2,000 B.C. in the northern Europe region.
The very first saunas were not actual buildings like the saunas of today. They were caves that were man-made and covered using animal skins to close them off. Here are a few facts about the first saunas used outside:
Because of their long-lasting heat and smoke sterilization, these rooms also helped with everyday life and survival.
The saunas of yesterday often served more than one purpose, even used as hospitals for birthing children.
They sometimes served as homes, the only space warm enough to live during the extremely cold winter months.
Their healing and therapeutic benefits led to them becoming traditional holy grounds. Some cultures believed in sauna spirits. Some still believe that saunas have magical properties.
Ancient saunas were also used for:
DIFFERENT TYPES OF OUTDOOR SAUNAS
There are three main factors that influence the difference between backyard saunas:
The way that they produce heat, better known as the heat source,
the style of the design,
and the size of the structure.
Saunas produce heat in one of two ways: traditionally or through infrared heat. Here is more insight on how both heat sources work:
THE TRADITIONAL SAUNA
These saunas work by following the same methods as the previously mentioned ancient saunas. They are also known as “wet saunas,” or “steam saunas.” Here’s what happens while inside this particular type of sauna:
You place sauna stones on top of the sauna heater, where they warm up.
Water is then sprinkled on them, which creates steam.
The steam circulates and makes the temperature rise in the room, causing you to perspire.
Many backyard sauna fans prefer using the traditional sauna because it provides a more authentic feel during sessions. To heat your sauna, you have 2 options: a wood-burning heater or an electric heater.
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Whether you want a simple, quaint addition to your yard, or are opting to add a more modern, stylish means for relaxation, there are a variety of different styles to choose from for the layout of your sauna.
While Almost Heaven provides amazing barrel sauna options, Dundalk LeisureCraft provides several other trendy sauna designs.
Showcases a noteworthy, uniquely circular design
Sheds water naturally
Appropriate for use indoors, but better suited as an outdoor sauna
Quicker heating time than other sauna styles
Better air circulation
Does not require insulation
One of the newer sauna styles on the market
Showcases an innovative, stylish rain-drop shape
Provides users with extra headspace for comfortability
Allows you to add on a chic overhang cove
Features a triple layer roof for durability
Does not require insulation
Showcases eye-catching, modern design
Provides users with 2-tier benches that come equipped with rounded corners
Provides plenty of inside space
Has 2 large windows with bronze-tempering
Provides users with an abundance of natural light flow
Uses a modern approach to design
The only style that features a hexagonal shape
Features a triple layer roof for durability
Does not require insulation
Goes well next to the home in terms of design (looks like a small house
Gives users 3 sizing options to choose from 8’x6’, 8’x7’ and 8’x8’
Also has a glass door with full tempering
The backyard sauna is not “one size fits all.” There are various sizes available for energy and space efficiency. Here is more information on each of the sizes available:
1-Person Traditional Sauna: The smallest option. Perfect for enjoying your de-stressing and rejuvenating sessions alone. If you plan to relax solo, this is the best option.
2-Person Traditional Sauna: Works if you plan to bring a companion along. Whether spouse, a close friend or loved one, two people can fit comfortably.
Example: Almost Heaven Salem 2-Person Standard Barrel Sauna
4-Person Traditional Sauna: If you plan to bring your family along for the fun, or a few close associates, opt for this option. Example: Almost Heaven 4-Person Pinnacle Standard Barrel Sauna
6-Person Barrel Sauna: Perfect for small therapeutic gatherings. Example: Almost Heaven Princeton 6-Person Standard Barrel Sauna
8-Person Traditional Sauna: The largest option. Ideal for hosting a large number of guests.
Being cramped up is the last way to reach pure bliss. You want to be sure that you have enough room so that all guests can unwind comfortably.
HOW TO BUILD A BACKYARD SAUNA
Before you begin building your sauna, you need to have an understanding of the materials you will need, as well as your options for construction.
TYPES OF WOOD USED
There are two different types of wood that are used with your sauna: softwood and hardwood. Here is how they are different and what they are best for:
The cheaper option
Better for building the structure and benches of your sauna
Perfect for starting the fire in your wood-burning stove
The more expensive option
Has a slow burn
Better for building a long-lasting flame
You have the option to find your own firewood, or you can buy prepared wood from a local hardware store. Here are a few tips for choosing the best wood:
Only use seasoned firewood in your sauna heater. Seasoned wood simply means that it has dried out for a few months.
If you try to burn wood that has been freshly cut from the forest, it will not burn correctly. Instead of greed wood, you need wood with less than 20% moisture content.
Do not use wood that has sap. Applying heat to sap can release toxic fumes and burning liquid.
Avoid painted and stained wood as well. Harmful fumes release if you burn them.
Try to choose the wood that has no broken knots.
Be sure that the color of the wood is the same throughout. This will help the wood withstand drastic changes in temperature.
YOUR SAUNA AND ELECTRICITY
If you are not knowledgeable about electrical wiring, hiring an electrician will be your best option. Here is some extra information that will assist a professional as they wire your sauna:
In order to work, your sauna heater requires 220 volts.
Be sure that the heater is hard-wired to the electrical box.
4.5 or 6 KW heaters: use a 30-amp breaker and 10/2 wire
If more than 30 feet away from breaker, use 8/2 wire
8 KW heaters: use a 40-amp breaker and 8/2 wire
Place the wiring hole below the heater in the sauna wall.
The hole can go through the floor below the heater with barrel saunas.
YOUR SAUNA AND INSULATION
Many pre-built saunas will not require insulation. The barrel, pod, and kota styles are examples of saunas that do not need insulation. If using a pre-existing building or starting from scratch, you need the proper insulation.
The floor and ceiling of your sauna need insulation along with the walls.
You can use fiberglass to insulate your sauna, although this option can be dangerous.
Recycled cotton, such as shredded old jeans, is the safer alternative for insulation.
Keep in mind that you need a foil vapor barrier as well for heat retention.
METHODS FOR BUILDING
Before you begin building your backyard sauna, try to figure out which method will work best for your personal needs.
You can use a building that you already have in your backyard, choose to build your own sauna, or simply order a pre-built sauna.
To simplify the process, you can use a pre-existing building.
This eliminates the need to actually build the structure.
You will only be responsible for wiring and plumbing.
Any building in your yard that is no longer of use, such as a log cabin, garage, or storage shed, is ideal.
D.I.Y. (DO IT YOURSELF)
You can even build your very own backyard sauna yourself. Here are a few aspects to keep in mind:
Be sure that you gather all required resources and materials before you begin your project to make it easier.
You have to follow local wiring and plumbing codes. Be sure to research the laws in your area as well before you begin.
Yard space is very important. The size of your sauna will depend on how much available space you already have.
Be sure that you have a flat surface area for your foundation.
The easiest way to build your own sauna is to order a pre-built sauna kit. There are several benefits for using this method:
Comes with written assembly instructions and “how-to” tutorial videos
More options available for exterior and interior customization
Add-ons available to enhance the health benefits you experience, such as the Almost Heaven Sauna Himalayan Salt Wall Panel
Comes with heater and lumber warranty to ensure decades of use
Some designs can deliver within one week
Comes with chimney kit included (if needed)
MISTAKES TO AVOID
Avoiding these commonly made mistakes will save you from dealing with hours of headaches in the long run. Keep these 4 helpful tips in mind:
1. Never use treatment, paint, or staining products on the wood inside your sauna. (Using them on the exterior is fine.) Doing this may result in the following:
Toxic fumes may release.
Your wood might become cracked or warped because it is unable to release humidity.
2. If you choose a wood-burning sauna heater, make sure that it is not installed on top of a concrete slab. 3. The area underneath your wood-burning stove should not come in contact with heat for hours at a time. The floor of your sauna could be set on fire.
Normally seen in areas that have excess moisture around electricity
May malfunction when you apply water to your sauna stones
ARE OUTDOOR SAUNAS BETTER THAN INDOOR SAUNAS?
Both saunas inside the home, as well as saunas outside the home, provide a host of health benefits, such as:
Lowered blood pressure
Reduced inflammation of the lungs
Helping your body fight the common cold and flu
Detoxing your body of harmful toxins
Assisting with weight loss and management
Ridding your skin of acne and blemishes
Providing a means for stress relief and meditation
While both are practical, here are a few reasons why you may prefer to place your sauna in your backyard:
Building your sauna outside the home will save you valuable room space inside the home.
If you prefer adding charm to the outside of your home with the bonus of increasing your property value, the outdoor traditional sauna is a better choice.
A sauna placed conveniently right outside your threshold provides a quick getaway without leaving your property.
You can use your sauna as a pool house if it is outdoors. You can even make use of your pool in the winter by taking a dip in between your sauna sessions.
YOUR SAUNA & MAINTENANCE
The expert craftsmanship of saunas ensures decades of use. The oldest working sauna in the world was built in the 20th century and is still functioning today! This tells you that with proper care, your sauna can last a lifetime.
Here are a few tips for cleaning and maintenance that will keep your sauna up and running for years to come:
BEFORE USING YOUR SAUNA
Be sure to clean your feet to cut back on dirt and sweat build-up. You also reduce the chance of mold growth.
Take a shower before entering to cut back on the amount of dirt, sweat, and grime left on your benches and floors afterward.
CLEANING YOUR SAUNA
Be sure to vacuum or sweep regularly and clean once a month.
Always turn your sauna off while you clean to avoid body strain and harmful chemicals.
You can use a pressure washer that is set on low for deep cleaning.
If you choose to stain the outside of your sauna, use a product with a UV inhibitor. This helps your wood resist sunlight.
SAUNA HEATER, DOOR, & VENT CARE
Your sauna heater is extremely low maintenance. Simply use a soft cloth for wiping. Well-kept sauna stones last for years.
Check doors and vents regularly and replace screws as needed. Loose hinge screws require longer replacement screws.
If your sauna door will not close properly, sand down uneven areas.
If your sauna door keeps opening, try adjusting the ketch. Add a small piece of cardboard if needed.
Sand the slider corners to reduce the drag of your sauna vent.
ONGOING SAUNA MAINTENANCE
If your sauna stones happen to crack or split open because of temperature changes, replace them as soon as possible.
Try to stick with only using stones designated for your sauna heater. (If you have to gather your own stones for a quick fix, choose dark stones that can retain heat.)
During the first few months of owning your sauna, you might have to tighten the bands.
As time passes, do not panic if you have to add more filler staves.
As you begin to use and enjoy your new backyard sauna, you will realize that your investment is not only calming, but practical as well. Both indoor and outdoor saunas have health benefits, which will leave your body feeling rejuvenated after each relaxing session. Because the outdoor sauna is compact and has a variety of shapes available, you will have no difficulty finding a choice that perfectly suits your needs. They also offer venting made easy and save inside home space.
While customizing your sauna, remember that the heat source, the style of the design, and the size are what make saunas different. When doing construction, remember that softwoods are best. Hardwoods are better for building a long-lasting fire. Be sure that electrical wiring and/or chimney installation follow local codes. Use insulation in the proper areas if needed.
To keep your sauna clean and long-lasting, shower and clean your feet before use. Clean using a soft cloth and chemical-free product. You may treat the wood outside if you wish. Keep in mind when building your sauna, you can use a structure that is already in your yard, start from scratch and do it yourself, or order a pre-built sauna, the easiest, most efficient option.
For more information on the backyard sauna, or any other related add-ons or accessories, be sure to regularly check out our My Sauna World Blog.