How to build a sauna in your basement.

I've always dreamed of having a sauna in my home. Growing up in the Finnish communities of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, I spent every Summer out in the woods, swimming in lakes, and sauna-ing constantly. In the winter I could sauna at relatives' homes. Even church events included community saunas. On recent trips to Finland I had the opportunity to sauna at the Summer-house of my Finnish Rundman relatives, which was a true delight (although the Baltic Sea was freeeeeezing).

Last Fall I acquired a nice Polar by Saunatec sauna heater, so the building opportunity finally arrived. My Dad is a construction and carpentry genius, so he came over to my basement to work his architectural magic. He had built numerous saunas in the past, so he knew what he was doing.

Our basement had a perfect location: a lower corner, right above the main basement floor drain, and already equipped with a hot/cold overhead shower installed when our home was built in 1952. One problem: a giant double-tubbed 300 pound concrete laundry sink, too large to allow for the walls of the forthcoming sauna room.
How to solve the sink problem? Knock over the laundry tub and go crazy with a sledgehammer. I got great pleasure out of busting the heck out of something so big and heavy.
We shoveled the concrete debris of the sink into the corner of the room (eventually to be hauled out in many many trips using cardboard boxes) and Dad installed a new, smaller laundry sink which would allow for the construction of sauna walls.

Dad wanted to attempt a new sauna-construction concept: build the entire room out of insulated steel doors. Yes, doors. From the bargain bin at Menards...$1 each. That's it. One buck each. It was a brilliant idea. No need for foam or spray insulation, or for framing with 2X4s like a normal room. The doors are already super-insulated, with steel exterior, ultra strong, and no wood elements to get damp or moldy. This is sure to be the most insulated sauna of all time...like sauna-ing in a industrial freezer, or in a space capsule.
Dad installed a fan, to help air out the room post-sauna-session, as well as a inbound heating vent which will allow the furnace in the house to keep the sauna room at normal room temperature during the cold winter. That way, it takes less time to heat the sauna when the surrounding basement is chilly.The sauna heater was mounted on the wall according to the Saunatec/Polar specs., including the allowance of a fresh air source below the heater at floor level (which also provided a route to the basement/sauna floor drain in case of basement flooding or any other water-related emergency).
The interior of the sauna room was lined with cedar, salvaged from scrap piles and bargain bins at various lumber yards. A nice railing was constructed around the heater for safety.

Dad arranged the cedar around the pre-existing shower pipes and added bi-level benches. The lower bench level can fold up on hinges, which turns the sauna into a shower-room when the heater's not on. He also custom-fit a cedar floor platform that can be lifted out of the room to allow for cleaning and floor-drain access.
The benches provide plenty of butt-space for four adults, two on the top bench, and two on the lower level along the perpendicular wall. It'll be perfect for my family...my little kids can sit on the lower level where things are not so scalding.
Dad finished the work completely about a week ago and my wife and I have had a few late-evening sauna sessions already. I wasn't sure how it was gonna "feel" initially...I grew up with wood-stove saunas, so I was hoping to get an authentic Finnish sauna experience (and not that sickly hotel or heath club fake-sauna vibe). Thankfully, I can say that the Saunatec/Polar company really makes a great little heater and the water-on-the-rocks results and entire experience feels just as wonderful as the wood-fired saunas of my childhood. Of course, nothing beats a free-standing lakeside wood-sauna, but for a home/basement substitute, this is really incredible!

I hope to blog some more about the benefits and joy of sauna, but until then I encourage y'all to check out an excellent blog Sauna Times written by another Minnesota sauna enthusiast.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Hyvaa sauna Rundmans! Congrats Jonathan, I remember you talking about putting in a sauna two summers ago at FinnFest, and here it is!
Also how cool that you have an eco-sauna (reduce, reuse, recycle). Are you still thinking of putting in a an outdoor cooling off porch?
I know what you mean about electric vs. wood stoves, but there seem to be some better ones coming on the market, my brother Jonathan has a pretty good electric one too.
I am impressed! Make Lyyly (steam), not war! Nakemin, Joel Rova-Hegener
Joseph said…
Wow. This must be a dream come true for you. Ever since trying my friend's cedar infrared sauna, I've dreamed of having one for myself. What I really like about this is that aside from providing a relaxing experience, it also burns calories, detoxifies body and many other benefits through regular use of infrared sauna. Dealers are probably receiving lots of inquiries from many health-conscious people.
G. Smith said…
The insulated metal doors are a great idea: reduce, reuse, and cheaper :) - but do you get condensation build up inside the doors? What's been your experience so far?
plumbing said…
Having a sauna in your home can provide you with hours of relaxation, but remember, the sauna heaters are what make your sauna so warm and inviting. While years ago saunas were run by wooden sauna heaters, today it is more practical to have an electric heater for your sauna.
Neil Dalby said…
I must say, you and your dad did a fine job of making your own sauna! How is it working for you so far? I think that having a home sauna is a great addition to every home. One of its benefits is you can have the convenience of access to the sauna anytime you like, and enjoy its relaxing benefits. When the winter season comes, a sauna can be a way to keep you warm and to regulate your body temperature. But I think the best part is you can enjoy your privacy while you relax and unwind.
Neil Dalby said…
I must say, you and your dad did a fine job of making your own sauna! How is it working for you so far? I think that having a home sauna is a great addition to every home. One of its benefits is you can have the convenience of access to the sauna anytime you like, and enjoy its relaxing benefits. When the winter season comes, a sauna can be a way to keep you warm and to regulate your body temperature. But I think the best part is you can enjoy your privacy while you relax and unwind.
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The moist atmosphere generated by the Traditional Sauna heater will mask the symptoms of dehydration and overheating which could potentially lead to death.
Lucy Eury said…
Having sauna at your home is the coolest thing, or should I say hottest thing, ever! You’re lucky that you have a dad who knows about sauna construction. That saved you a lot of money for labor cost. Surely, you and your wife will have unlimited time of sauna-ing at home, especially if you have the know-how in maintaining your sauna in good condition. ->iHealth Saunas
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randy kaminski said…
Thank you for "blogging" this. I am contemplating the building of a Sauna in my basement and I was concerned about less heat and a less authentic experience with an electric stove in the basement. I currently have an outdoor sauna, but it is very hard to heat up in the Upper Peninsula winter. . .
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