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Building a Sauna – The Secret Sauna – Episode 2

Building a Sauna – The Secret Sauna – Episode 2

The quest to create my own sauna continues in this episode. As ever with such DIY projects, things occasionally go wrong but, all in all, I have been pleasantly surprised at how well it is going. My own skills in regards to taking on building a sauna are not exactly comprehensive. In all honesty though, if I can do it, almost anyone with the space and funds can do it.

Speaking of funds, so far it is coming in right on budget. We are, admittedly though, still at a relatively early stage in the project. There will, no doubt, be unseen costs. Up to now, though, it still seems likely that the whole project will come in well under the original £1000 estimate.

Building a Sauna guide to installations book

A Few Practicalities …

The first few days of the building a sauna project were taken up with preparation. Creating a space that we could actually put our sauna into. This week, we have started the actual construction work. So far, it is going remarkably well, despite facing the odd, unforeseen challenge.

Stud work

After water-proofing the inside of the shed, the next step was to actually start building the internal frames. Essentially, this was all stud work. This refers to using timber supports to create the basic frame of a structure. My idea was to create both a sauna space and somewhere to change within the old shed.

The shed was divided up by a previous frame consisting of four uprights and two corner posts, therefore forming five spans altogether. I used these to align my studs. This meant I couldn’t follow the normal 16-inch to centre pattern used with most stud walls, but it seemed to work out pretty well in any case. The first two spaces were to be devoted to the changing area, the remaining three would be used for the sauna itself.

building a sauna stud timber pic
For illustration only…cheaper to get these at Wickes, B&Q, or Home Depot.

These spans dictated that the sauna would be around five feet deep by six feet wide. This is fairly small, but should be economical, and quick, to heat, plus it would be quite sufficient for the two of us plus the occasional guest. The roof is a little low at around six feet two inches, but again quite sufficient in practice.

Saws

For most of the work so far I have employed a simple hand saw. These are quick and easy to use on the smaller studs I am employing for this build. If I was using the 4 x 2s, I would probably use the circular saw far more often. I also like the accuracy of the cut I can create with a hand saw. It also feels a lot safer!

Draper hand saw for building a sauna
A perfectly decent hand saw at a reasonable price.

Safety

On the subject of safety, there is a need to be aware of any children on site. This is not so much a problem for regular builders but for those of us working on our own houses, it can be quite a challenge. My son, Daniel, has a knack for finding the sharpest or most pointed tool that is left lying around or even in a draw. I love the fact that he is interested but try to direct his attention towards measuring and marking.

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One area we all need to be careful is the use of power tools. These need to be not only put out of reach when not being used but also be sure to take the plug out. This can be a little irritating but having nearly come a cropper a couple of times, I am pretty convinced that it is a worthwhile safety measure.

My blue blockers safety glasses have also come in handy a couple of times. This was particularly the case when I was drilling 2 inch holes to create a ventilation gap. Because I was working slightly above my head and the wood dust was flying everywhere, I chose to wear the glasses. A few minutes into the session a couple of shards of wood broke away and flew towards my face. No damage done, but that may be thanks to the precautions take.

Infield Blue Blockers for safety while building a sauna
Excellent value, blue blocker safety glasses (the ones I personally use).

Materials

Annoyingly, the price of DIY materials seems to have suffered a fair amount of inflation in the last couple of years or so. Building a sauna last year would have cost quite a lot less than this. So far, I have spent around £200. For this amount, I have put in a dampproof layer, more or less completed the framing, put a vent in, and started work on the door. This is a fairly simple arrangement, perfectly satisfactory for now. At some stage in the future, however, I may replace it with a glass door of my own design.

Insulation

The next stage will call for insulation. I am planning to use rock wool or something similar. It is simple, safe, and relatively economic. There are two dangers to be considered when choosing which type of insulation you use. Firstly, make sure it is sufficiently heat resistant, otherwise, it could be a fire hazard in a sauna situation. Secondly, there is a problem with some solid insulation materials because of the fumes they emit at greater heats.

rock wool insulation for building a sauna
A cheap and efficient solution for insulation in a sauna.

Most sites recommend R13 for the walls and R26 for the ceiling. I plan to cover the rock wall with a thermal foil layer. This will help to reflect the heat back into the sauna and protects the studs from rotting over time. At the moment, my estimate for the total cost of these is around £80 or so. Any spare foil will be used to reinforce radiators in the house by taping a sheet behind the rad.

Thermal Insulation for building a sauna
Reflective thermal insulation – a cheap and easy solution.

More Reasons for Building Your Own Sauna …

Whilst engaged in this project, I have been listening to various podcasts and reading a range of blogs relating to saunas and sauna building. For interest, I would highly recommend Sauna Times, both as a podcast and as a blog. The guy who runs it, Glenn Auerbach, is a great interviewer and all-around fount of knowledge for all things sauna (1). Whilst listening to Rhonda Patrick (Found My Fitness) (2), I became aware of a recent study carried out on 2,300 sauna users in Finland by Dr. Jari Laukkanen’s lab. Remarkably, it took place over a period of 20 years and came up with some stunning findings.

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Taking Saunas Reduces Cardiovascular Events

Perhaps the most striking finding to emergy from Dr. Laukkanen’s study was that those who used the sauna 2 to 3 times a week were 27% less likely to die from cardiovascular problems. Saunas not only make a difference …they make a huge difference!

Duration of use was also a factor, with those who stayed in the sauna longer also showing greater resistance to such problems. The results turned out to be strongly dose-dependent. Those true believers who used the sauna from 4 to 7 times a week experienced around twice the benefits in regards to CV problems. These souls were a whole 50% less likely to die from cardiovascular events(3).

Having Regular Saunas Reduces All-Cause Mortality

Remarkably, in Dr. Laukkanen’s study, this latter group taking 4 to 7 saunas a week, showed a 40% reduced likelihood of dying from all causes of premature death. This remained the case even after factoring in age, activity levels, and other lifestyle factors. A truly amazing result and ample evidence to support the wisdom of taking regular saunas (4).

Regular Saunas Reduce Depression

It seems very likely that saunas really help those who struggle with depression. The research seems to clearly demonstrate that they are a useful weapon in the arsenal of those who wish to fight this affliction. Paradoxically, even though saunas can be quite stressful, this very stress is used by the body to produce and release more euphoric hormones, such as endorphins and ACTH (AdrenoCorticoTropic Hormone), to deal with it (5).

Hearteningly, many of these changes appear to be at least semi-permanent (6). It seems likely that taking regular saunas can result in those who so partake being consistently happy, or at least happier than beforehand.

Regular Saunas Reduce Frequency of Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Dr. Laukkannen’s study also revealed that those using the sauna 4 to 7 times a week, and staying in the sauna for at least 19 minutes, significantly lowered their risk for both Alzheimer’s and Dementia. The exact mechanism for this effect is not currently known. Dr. Laukkannen himself felt that frequent heat exposure, as is the case with sauna, may protect both the heart and the memory via similar mechanisms. To quote Dr. Laukkannen himself: “However, it is known that cardiovascular health affects the brain as well. The sense of well-being and relaxation experienced during sauna bathing may also play a role.”

Saunas Induce Healthy Sleep

If you want to enjoy a really good night’s sleep, then taking a sauna may be the way to go. Saunas can help the body release a significant amount of endorphins. This is great preparation for sound sleep.

It is wise to follow a sauna with a cold shower. Currently, we enjoy indulging in a cold shower each evening. At times, though, I cannot help but think how much better this will feel after a sizzlingly hot sauna. It seems likely that such a practice will help to relax the body even more, thereby promoting even deeper sleep.

One of the best blogs (and podcasts) out there is Glenn Auerbach’s ‘Sauna Times’. Here is a link to his own experiences and ideas in regards to sauna and sleep (7).

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Progress and Upcoming Challenges

This week we have gone from preparing the ground for building a sauna to the start of real construction work. Before you can paint a picture you need to have a reasonably blank canvas, to begin with. Giving yourself a good place to start from keeps everything clearer and simpler.

Framing

After we did some initial work to ensure that the shed was damp proof, the framing was the next stage. Essentially, the plan was to build a box inside a box (the shed). Because we already had a superstructure, the inner box didn’t need to be incredibly strong, merely strong enough. If I was building the shed part as well, I would have used 38 x 89 mm rather than the 38 x 63 mm I settled with for this situation.

Laying out the basic frame.

Annoyingly, maybe because of Brexit or maybe because of the Covid problem, it seems that the price of timber has shot up over the past year. Twelve months ago, you could pick up 38 x 63 x2400 mm pieces of stud work for £2.25. This year, a similar length will cost you £3.85. Having said that, we are still currently well within our overall budget.

To create the basic box inside the shed we needed to buy a grand total of 23 lengths of timber. Because of the somewhat unique design of the outbuilding, I decided to follow the lines of the superstructure of the shed in order to tie the two together. This meant that the distances between studs were not the recommended uniform 16 inches (to centres). If I had been building from scratch, I would have preferred the more uniform approach.

The fit turned out almost perfect…with a little help from a rubber mallet!

I tried, as much as was reasonably possible, to create a squared-off box. Given that the shed slopes slightly from back to front, I had to compensate somewhat. All in all, though, I managed to create a relatively square frame by adding an inch to the lower part. If I make a success of this, I may well be tempted to create a second sauna for my brother too. This time though, we will start building a sauna from scratch!

Sweat book by Mikkel Aaland
A lovely old book that has been something of an inspiration for me.

Conclusion

Well, here we are two weeks into our building a sauna project now and all is going well. To assist in composing these blogs I have to do a reasonable amount of research. In this particular case, the more I read about saunas the more convinced I am of their beneficial effects on a number of levels. So far, the actual process of creating one does not seem too difficult, even for those of us, like myself, whose DIY skills are barely average, if that. There is also something very pleasant and rewarding about facing the inevitable problems and coming up with your own solutions. I am almost surprised at times at how my own ponderings seem to lead to relatively innovative solutions to the challenges that emerge. Early days though still, we shall see in the next couple of weeks if this continues to be the case!

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