Ideas & Inspiration

How to Build a Sauna

Types of Saunas
A ready-made sauna placed in a sunroom.

Saunas come in different types based primarily on the heat source used. The more common ones are dry saunas, steam rooms and the relatively new infrared saunas. 

  • A dry sauna stove heats special rocks to produce the desired temperature. Often water is poured on the stones periodically to humidify the air. 
  • A Turkish-style sauna or steam room combines heat and water to detox the body inside and out.
  • An infrared sauna stimulates the body’s natural sweating ability. This deep heat relaxes and tones muscles, especially after rigorous excercise.
Where to Build a Sauna
A cedar-lined sauna with a raised seat.

When figuring out how to build a sauna at home, first decide if you want it to be inside or outside. Indoor saunas can be created by converting a storage closet or a small bathroom. As long as you have access to a 120v for your heater or infrared lights, you could also build a sauna from scratch in a basement, garage or even an attic. Electric heater saunas and infrared saunas are the best for indoors. 

Outside, a sauna can be added to a deck or porch or it could be a separate structure. Wood-burning and steam options are ideal for outdoor locations. Here’s some things to know about how to build a sauna outdoors:

  • Use a solid, level foundation. Opt for wood since concrete or other cold surfaces can affect heating.
  • Choose an area that’s protected from the weather to avoid water damage to the structure or heater.
  • Make sure there’s good drainage if you're installing a steam or wet sauna.

Tip: Hire a licensed electrician for any wiring. 

Choosing a Home Sauna Heater
Someone using a wooden spoon to pour water on sauna rocks.

There are wood sauna heaters, electric sauna heaters and gas sauna heaters. They usually have heated stones or rocks that water can be poured on. Another heating source are infrared lights, which are known for producing penetrating heat. Electric heaters are the easiest to use and the most popular. 

You can have a ceramic heater sauna or a carbon heater sauna. Ceramic heats the entire space to 150 degrees but there can be hot spots. A carbon heater heats a room evenly and is better at heating the body.

Best Wood for a Home Sauna
Wood 2 x 4's stacked on top of each other.

Saunas can reach temperatures of 150 degrees or more. When you build a sauna, you need a softwood that is flexible and not easily damaged by moisture or warped by heat. The most popular choices are cedar saunas. Cedar planks have a beautiful look, a pleasant smell and remain cool enough to sit on comfortably. They're also anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. Other top sauna wood choices include poplar, basswood and hemlock. Both basswood and poplar are hypoallergenic and virtually odor free. Hemlock is a budget-friendly choice.

Selecting a Home Sauna Size
Three women enjoying a large sauna with cedar walls.

The size of the sauna you build will depend on the number of users, the heating system and the number of benches you want. An upper and lower bench is a common choice. While the top bench is for sitting and lying, the lower bench is primarily used as a cool-down spot. Comfort and consistent temperature is essential to the experience so there are few rules of thumb to follow:

  • A typical sauna can be as large as 8 feet by 12 feet or as small as 3 feet bt 3 feet. A smaller room will be easier to heat and keep hot.
  • Allow 2 feet of seating space for each person or 6 feet of bench space for reclining per person.
  • An upper bench should be about 18 inches to 24 inches wide and 36 inches high while the lower one should be 18 inches high. 
  • Windows or a glazed glass door makes the sauna feel more open. 
Sauna Tips and Accessories
A stack of white towels on a cedar sauna bench.

The two basic essentials for a great sauna experience are quick-drying Turkish towels and a comfortable seat. You can add a spa bench or chair if your sauna doesn’t come with one. To make your sauna experience more relaxing:

  • Fill a bucket with water. The water will evaporate, making the hot dry air comfortable. If your sauna has heated rocks, you’ll also need a long handled dipper to pour water on the rocks.
  • Place a thermometer near the heater sauna so you don’t overheat.
  • Use a timer to ensure you don’t overdo it. 
  • Hang scented herbs, add them to your water bucket or place them directly on the heated rocks. If you use an essential oil diffuser, choose one that is made to resist moisture and heat. 
  • Use pillows and backrests with a natural filler and a washable cover. Make sure to wash them often.
  • Install a waterproof sound system for soothing music.