Making a sauna out of your bathroom


It’s possible to economize on gym visits and construct a sauna in the comfort of your own home, your back yard, garden or even the basement. Building a sauna in a bathroom sounds impossible, but with a few clever adaptations, it’s possible to save as much as 50% on the cost of a modular, pre-built sauna. And there’s no need to go crazy on cost: a couple of heaters is often all you need to work up a sweat.

Step 1 – The Study of Space:

Space – How much can I have? The next step is to find out more about the space that is available for this new bathroom. Is it restricted to the existing bathroom footprint? Can you remove the linen closet and use that space in a different way? Do you really use the whirlpool tub? Can you use an adjacent closet, a coat closet or part of the adjacent bedroom? Empty nesters may be very willing to give up a bedroom to make a new master bath. Master baths with all the amenities can take up a lot of space in a hurry. Look at all the options. Be creative and think outside the “box”.

Now look at the room(s) available. Are there windows that will dictate the design? Is there a finished or unfinished basement below? Is there a crawl space below? How much access is there to the plumbing and electricity and HVAC? What is above? An attic, or a finished room? In a two story home, it is likely that the baths are stacked. Note this and start to think about the waste lines and supply lines (waste lines are by far more important and more difficult to re-configure). What walls do you think the waste lines are coming down? Are the walls thicker than the normal walls in the house?

Other questions to ask yourself are whether the existing configuration is a good one. Does it fit your new needs? Is it safe, efficient, attractive, comfortable, inviting? How much natural light is there?

Choose your location

Your sauna needs to be located in a spot which can be well insulated and protected against moisture damage. If you plan to run a wood burner, you’ll need to be able to route a flue safely through the room for the fumes from the fire to escape, and you’ll need to ensure you have some way to position ventilation grills to allow the air to flow.

Installing a sauna in a bathroom means paying particular attention to fixtures and fittings because plastic can warp and metal can get hot. Zoning off an area is the safest idea. Make sure you furnish with ceramics and wood where possible. Remember: you will find it easier to heat a small room, so if you have a choice of rooms, choose your en-suite.

Step 2 – Function:

Steam saunas are typically constructed from cedar wood, because it will not expand excessively or crack when hot, it insulates well and it’s much less likely to rot. Cedar wood comes in seven different grades: there’s no need to go for anything better than Proprietary or even Standard for panelling. With an infrared sauna, you have more choices, including pine panelling which is easier to find used. Recycle off-cuts from a builder’s yard or carpenter, or use old furniture. It’s absolutely essential to ensure that any wood you acquire is not chemically treated or varnished.

If you need to nail any wood in a steam sauna, it’s a good idea 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.

The stones which sit in a sauna heater are commonly dark minerals, such as granite. Reclaim your granite from old flooring tiles, paperweights, kitchen counters and broken kitchen appliances, or scavenge some rocks. Make sure you stress-test any found rocks by quickly heating for two minutes, dropping into icy water and inspecting 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.

Soapstone can be purchased online from aromatherapy stores and costs around $3 per oz (and pre-infused soapstone costs a lot more). However, it can be reclaimed from kitchen counter manufacturing too. Don’t accept off-cuts that have been treated with chemicals or glazed.

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