For thousands of years, the Finns have used saunas as a way to relax, socialize and purge their bodies of contaminants. Just imagine your own spa nestled among the Douglas firs and wild Oregon grapes in your backyard. With the down-to-earth Northwest lifestyle, it’s no wonder more Oregonians are investing in their own saunas.

Building a custom or kit sauna is surprisingly simple. A sauna is basically just an insulated shed with an electric, gas or wood-burning heat source. A kit takes an average of twenty hours to complete, while a custom design will take a few more weekends. Basic kits generally start around $2,000 and go up to $7,000, while DIY saunas cost around $3,000 to $6,000.

In either case, location is the first consideration. Find a level, slightly secluded spot next to the house. Exterior saunas provide the best ventilation, scenery and sustainability. Next, choose a solid structural sauna plan.

There are plenty of ways to make your sauna more cost effective and eco-friendly. Pick up recycled 2×4 cedar lumber at a restore. Use locallyharvested cedar shingles for roofing. Local cedar is the best option for an earth-friendly, mold-free environment.

To go the ultimate green route, use an infrared heater instead of using a wood, gas or electric heater. Infrared heaters take less time to heat up, use 90 percent less electricity and are more beneficial for skin cleansing. Another option is to use an energy efficient wood-burning eco-stove such as those from Aprovecho Research Center.

After gathering supplies, it’s time to strap on the toolbelt and get to work. First you’ll want to pour a three-inch concrete slab foundation. Next, use your recycled cedar to frame the walls and roof. Make sure to not exceed a ceiling height of seven feet. Allow three ventilation points at the top, at floor level and above the heater. Construct a small drain in the floor as well.

Next, build a standard sauna doorway of two feet by six feet. Construct upper and lower benches at eighteen or twenty-four inches deep. Insulate walls with R13-rated insulation, and ceiling with R22-R26 before stapling over with a sauna aluminum foil vapor barrier. Then dress the inside with Western cedar or Oregon cedar. Cedar has an excellent aroma, lasts for ages and handles heat better than other woods.

Remember to recess and cover any nail heads as they conduct heat. Make sure to hire a licensed electrician for the wiring. Check with your county to see whether you need a building permit as well.

With more than ten years of construction experience, Jim Roe of King James Construction, based in Redmond, Oregon, has built his fair share of sheds. He realized he could simply finish out the inside and create outdoor saunas instead. The biggest mistake people make is not doing their research, he says. “Keep it safe … Make sure it’s not going to burn down.”

Edwin Ouellette
Contributing Writer | + posts