Who wouldn't like to chill out in their own personal sauna at home? While some might be put off by the costs of installing a modular, pre-built sauna, here's a way to build your very own one at home.

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1. Choose your location

The best spot for a sauna should be a place well insulated and protected against moisture damage. If you want to run a wood burner, you'll need to route a flue safely through the room so that the fumes from the fire can escape. Remember to position ventilation grills that will to allow the air to flow. If you don't have an air vent in a small bathroom, then don't bother making one as the gap under the bathroom door will work just fine.

Pay particular attention to fixtures and fittings since plastic can warp and metal can get hot, so zoning off these areas is the safest idea. It's best to furnish with ceramics and wood where possible.

Most pros normally install special IR emitters with reflectors and special temperature controls. To keep costs low, try infrared (FIR) installation, as it will keep the ambient temperature low, so it's ideal for an existing bathroom, and the heaters can be positioned either side of the body for efficient heating.

2. Insulate the room

Cotton insulation is a great, eco-friendly choice and it's safer than fiberglass in the home. After positioning the insulation between the baton frame and fixing it down, ensure that the room is well prepared with a vapor barrier if you're going for a steam sauna. A cheap solution is to use aluminum foil as it won't melt or warp like plastic. Tack it to the walls carefully using aluminum tape.

3. Construction

The reason why steam saunas are constructed from cedar wood is that it doesn't expand excessively or crack when hot, it insulates well and it's much less likely to rot. There are seven different grades of cedar wood, but you can stick to Proprietary or even Standard for panelling.

An infrared sauna opens up more options like pine panelling, which is easier to find. You can even recycle off-cuts from a builder's yard or carpenter, or use old furniture. Keep in mind that whatever you choose, ensure that the wood is not chemically treated or varnished.

When nailing any wood in a steam sauna, remember to carefully cover each nail or place a layer of thin wood over the top to ensure all the metal parts are tucked away. Tongue and groove is a popular choice for sauna construction since it requires minimal tacking. If a wood-burning stove is part of your plan, be sure to fire-proof the walls and roof around the stove. Particle board isn't cheap, but this is one area you don't want to skimp on.

4. Seating

By now you should know that metal is an absolute no-no in a steamy environment, so a wooden bench is your best bet. You can even find an old futon frame and trim it down to fit your sauna space. Since futons are discarded once their mattresses become lumpy, you can just look for one at your local used furniture store. But avoid using left over, untreated wood for any areas where you're likely to sit as it may absorb sweat over time.

For infrared saunas, you'll need to position your bench carefully because the emitters or lamps won't heat the air around you. The ideal spot will be sitting between two heaters, meaning it's a good idea to plan the heater positioning first before you position the futon.

5. Installing a wood burning stove for steam


One man's junk yard gas canister is another man's wood burning stove. Cut off the top using an axle grinder, find a metal bucket, cut a hatch and fit the flue. Light a few fires in your canister outdoors before you install it to test for any signs of residual paint or chemicals. All you need now is an old wooden spoon and a ceramic container/cookie jar for your utensils. For safety purposes, remember to install a carbon monoxide detector with an alarm.

The stones which sit in a sauna heater are commonly dark minerals like granite. You can easily reclaim this from old flooring tiles, paperweights, kitchen counters and broken kitchen appliances, or even scavenge some rocks. Be sure stress-test any found rocks by quickly heating for two minutes, dropping into icy water and inspecting them for cracks.

For constant humidity, you'll need to give your coals a little extra help. Soapstone heats to twice the temperature of brick, it stores heat for a really long time, and it can be used safely with aromatherapy oils. Place a few drops of essential oil in your soapstone for a soothing aromatherapy sauna without the expense of installing a separate diffuser. Avoid soapstone that has been treated with chemicals or glazed.

Installing infrared heaters

Instead of purchasing special sauna heaters, fit infrared bulbs to your standard light fittings. A minimum of 1,000 watts is needed to really heat up a room, so you may need to replace the cabling to the fittings first. Make sure the bulbs are securely fitted since they will get incredibly hot in use and you definitely don't want to touch them. If you need to hang anything, a telescopic shower rod provides a great temporary hanging point. If your room is small, infrared bulbs in your existing fittings will produce enough heat to give you a sauna experience. You may need to panel at least one wall with cedar or pine to absorb the IR and create more heat for larger spaces. Even better, use low-cost, free-standing or wall-mounted IR heaters and zone your room.