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What is a Sauna?

Do You Want to Build or Install a Sauna in Your Yard?

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A woman in a sauna ladles water.

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Saunas are sometimes confused with spas or hot tubs, possibly because people refer to them in the context of taking a sauna bath. They also are used for many of the same reasons: to relax sore muscles, stimulate circulation and to get warm -- sometimes extremely warm. While a hot tub or spa bathes you in hot water, a sauna bathes you in heat. In other words, the only water you will experience in a sauna will be your own perspiration. But that's the whole idea. Sweat is the goal.

The Finnish Connection

The icy, northern climate of Finland is where the sauna was born, possibly 1,000 years ago or more. Centuries-old reasons for building saunas still exist today, including:

  • Healing illnesses
  • Cleansing
  • Relaxation
  • Socialization
  • Religious ceremonies

Benefits of Owning a Sauna

Why would anyone want to have a small structure in their backyard that is a place to sit and perspire heavily for about 5-to-15 minutes? It's not just a little structure in which to sweat. Many find it a soothing refuge in which to meditate and relax, through the cycle of perspiration, cooling off and then resting. The recommended routine is to sit in the sauna for up to 10 minutes, followed by a dip in a cool swimming pool or a roll in the snow, another visit to the sauna, and self massage with birch twigs (vihtas) to stimulate circulation. The final sauna bath concludes with a light snack (saunapala), cool-down and rest

In addition to relaxation and stimulating circulation, sauna use is said to be good for opening up clogged pores, which can result in a glowing complexion. Other sauna aficionados believe their mental awareness is heightened and they receive a temporary release in muscular tension and stress through regular sauna use. Doctors sometimes recommend arthritis patients use saunas for temporary relief from inflammation of muscles and joints. Sufferers of the common cold who have access to a sauna swear by it to help soothe sinus and chest congestion. As with hot tubs, swimming, or any physical activity, consult a physician before using a sauna, or if you have health conditions or concerns.

Building a Sauna

If you decide to go the do-it-yourself route and build a sauna, be sure it's what you really want. Two vital points to consider before plunging into a sauna project:

  1. Have you tested out other saunas enough times to justify building or installing one in your own yard? Will you or other family / household members also use the sauna? Are you prepared to maintain it?
  2. Do you have the DIY skills, interest or know-how to construct a sauna yourself, or with a friend or family member? If so, do you have a blueprint or plans? Do you know what materials to use, and have you estimated the cost?

Sizing Up an Outdoor Sauna Project

Some saunas are built indoors, near a master bedroom or bathroom, walk-in closet, or spare bedroom. Building a sauna outdoors has its advantages -- among them, since it's a box-like structure in your yard, you don't have to remodel or reconfigure interior space, especially if it's on the tight side.

If you own a pool and/or spa, you might want to locate the sauna in an existing pool house or cabana, near everything else, including an outdoor shower or bathroom. If you desire a more private, meditative space, a corner of the yard or just outside a bedroom might be an ideal location.

While some outdoor saunas look like simple wooden sheds or playhouses, remember to include the cost of site preparation, gas and electrical wiring and connections into your budget.

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