April 13, 2021 12 min read 0 Comments

The outdoor sauna is a staple in history, evolving from a means for survival andpurification, to a therapeutic temple of sorts. Today, saunas are enjoyed for a number ofhealth 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 asindoor 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 followlocal 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 beganaround 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 forbirthing 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: 
    • Washrooms 
    • Kitchens
    • Burial grounds
    • Celebrations

Different Types of Outdoor Saunas 

There are three main factors that influence the difference between backyard saunas: 

  1. The way that they produce heat, better known as the heat source, 
  2. the style of the design, 
  3. and the size of the structure. 

Heat Source

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 of 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 placesauna 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.

Wood-Burning Stove

  • Uses firewood and awood-burning stove to heat rocks  
  • Surrounds users with an aromatically-pleasing ambience 
  • No wiring required for use 
  • Needs a chimney installed to function

Electric Heater

  • Operates by using anelectric heater to heat sauna rocks 
  • The standard option inAlmost Heaven saunas
  • Faster heating time
  • Easier control of temperature 

The Infrared Sauna

These saunas use a more focused, modern approach to heat therapy. 

  • Instead of warming the entire room like a traditional saunas, these saunas work by using infrared heaters to give off radiant heat. 
  • Your body absorbs this heat, which makes you sweat as a result. 
  • These saunas are ideal for detoxing your body, proven to beseven times more effective in that regard than traditional saunas.

Sauna Style

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 amazingbarrel sauna options, Dundalk LeisureCraft provides several other trendy sauna designs. 

Barrel Sauna

  • Showcases a noteworthy, uniquely circular design 
  • Sheds water naturally
  • Appropriate for use indoors, but better suited as anoutdoor sauna
  • Quicker heating time than other sauna styles 
  • Better air circulation
  • Does not require insulation

Pod Sauna

  • One of the newer sauna styles on the market
  • Showcases an innovative, stylish rain-drop shape
  • Provides users with extra head space for comfortability
  • Allows you to add-on a chic overhang cove 
  • Features a triple layer roof for durability
  • Does not require insulation

Luna Sauna

  • Showcases eye-catching, modern design
  •  Eco-friendly
  • 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

Kota Sauna

  • 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

Eagles’ Nest 

  • 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 glass door with full tempering 

Sauna Sizes

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, close friend, or loved one, two people can fit comfortably. 
    • Example: Almost Heaven Salem 2-Person 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. 
    • Example: Almost Heaven Lewisburg 8-Person Standard Barrel Sauna 

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 andhardwood. Here is how they are different and what they are best for: 

  • Softwoods:
    • The cheaper option
    • Easily accessible 
    • Better for building the structure and benches of your sauna
    • Perfect for starting the fire in your wood-burning stove 
    • Examples:
      • Pine
      • Cedar
      • Fir
      • Spruce 
      • Redwood
  • Hardwoods: 
    • The more expensive option
    • Has a slow burn
    • Better for building a long-lasting flame
    • Examples:
      • Oak
      • Maple
      • Walnut
      • Cherry
      • Poplar 
      • Birch

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 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. 

Pre-Existing Building 

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. 

Pre-Built Sauna 

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 thehealth benefits you experience, such as the Almost Heaven Sauna Himalayan Salt Wall Panel 
  • Comes with heater and lumberwarranty 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 headache 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:

    1. Toxic fumes may release.
    2. 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 set on fire. 
    4. If you decide to use an electric sauna heater, do not add on a GFCI or GFI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter)  
      1. Normally seen in areas that have excess moisture around electricity
      2.  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:

    1. Building your sauna outside the home will save you valuable room space inside the home. 
    2. 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. 
    3. A sauna placed conveniently right outside your threshold provides a quick getaway without leaving your property.  
    4. 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 ensure 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

    1. Be sure to clean your feet to cut back on dirt and sweat build-up. You also reduce the chance of mold growing. 
    2. Take a shower before entering to cut back on the amount of dirt, sweat, and grime left on your benches and floors afterwards.

    Cleaning Your Sauna

    1. Be sure to vacuum or sweep regularly and clean once a month. 
    2. Always turn your sauna off while you clean to avoid body strain and harmful chemicals. 
    3. Try to stick withchemical-free products and warm water only. Water and baking soda is effective as well. 
    4. For stubborn, tough stains or scuff marks, usefine grit sandpaper.
    5. You can also pressure wash the inside of your sauna if you need to. 
    • Use a wide-pattern nozzle with the low pressure setting.

    Caring For the Wood Inside Your Sauna

    1. Try to avoid using hard water if possible. Magnesium and calcium salts will cause lime buildup, which you have to use sanding discs to get rid of. 
    2. Do not use protectants or sealants inside for moisture reduction. High heat will cause toxic chemicals to release. 
    3. Always use towels and keep extras on hand for your guests. Wash them  immediately after use. 
    4. Wipe the wood with warm water and a soft cloth regularly to keep your wood looking like new. 
    5. If your lumber warranty has expired and your wood looks faded, simple touch-up the problem areas by sanding them. Clean wood chips when finished to avoid splinters. 

    Caring For the Wood Outside Your Sauna

    1. If you choose to treat the outside of your sauna, use awood-penetrating oil.
    2. You can use a pressure washer that is set on low for deep cleaning. 
    3. 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

    1. Your sauna heater is extremely low maintenance. Simply use a soft cloth for wiping. Well-kept sauna stones last for years.
    2. Check doors and vents regularly and replace screws as needed. Loose hinge screws require longer replacement screws. 
    3. If your sauna door will not close properly, sand down uneven areas. 
    4. If your sauna door keeps opening, try adjusting the ketch. Add a small piece of cardboard if needed. 
    5. Sand the slider corners to reduce the drag of your sauna vent. 

    Ongoing Sauna Maintenance 

    1. If your sauna stones happen to crack or split open because of temperature changes, replace them as soon as possible. 
    2. 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.)
    3. During the first few months of owning your sauna, you might have to tighten the bands.
    4. As time passes, do not panic if you have to add more filler staves.

    Summary

    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 follows 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 thebackyard sauna, or any other related add-ons oraccessories, be sure to regularly check out our My Sauna World Blog.