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Dean Johnson

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Panel-Built Sauna


img Once only a Scandinavian tradition, saunas are becoming more and more popular in American homes. Assembling a panel-built sauna can take as little as a couple hours, making it a great weekend project.

Our panel-built sauna came in a kit that included everything we needed for assembly. The walls and ceilings are prefabricated panels that are finished on both sides with tongue-and-groove boards, and are insulated inside. We could have also had plywood paneling on the outside if we just wanted to paint the exterior.

Everything is put together at the factory and then numbered, so it's just a matter of putting them back together at your site. There is no actual construction involved.

Soft woods work best for saunas because they don't get excessively hot and they absorb moisture. Our sauna was made from Nordic White Spruce from Finland. It's a smooth-surface wood that stays light colored in the sauna. Cedar, redwood, and hemlock are also common woods for saunas. It's usually just a matter of personal taste and how you want your sauna to look.

Depending on size and features, a sauna can range in price from under $2,000 to $6,000. Our sauna was a fairly deluxe model and retailed for around $3900 for the complete package. Without the glass we would have saved about $500. A sauna this size that you would construct yourself with pre-cut tongue-and-groove pieces would cost about 40% less.

We installed one of these pre-cut saunas in our Lower Level project. And in our Log Cabin project we put up a unit that was assembled with log-type pieces.


Wall Panels

img Dean worked with Keith Raisanen on assembling this kit.

The wall panels slid on top of the base boards that they layed out on the floor. This frame establishes the layout of the walls so they made sure everything was square.

You can install a sauna on just about any type of flooring because the heat rises up and the floor stays cool.

Once they got the first two pieces in to form a corner, they installed a corner post to keep them tight.

They continued sliding the wall panels in place, using wood fasteners to temporarily hold the panels together until they got the ceiling panel in.




img Glass is becoming more popular in saunas because it gives them a more open and inviting feeling. It also gives them a more contemporary, European look.

Our sauna had three glass panels across the front. One in the door itself, and one on either side of the door. All of the glass is insulated and tempered so it doesn't lose much heat

The door came prehung and is built into a panel that slides in just like the wall panels.


Ceiling Panels

img The ceiling went together with two pre-built panels. They set them on top of the wall panels and folded them down to meet at a tongue-and-groove joint in the center.

The ceiling pieces don't need to be nailed in, they just rest on the wall panels. Crown molding will finish off the seams in between the wall panels and ceiling panels.


Benches and Trim

img Dean and Keith installed two benches in the sauna; an upper one and a lower one. The lower one is designed to slide out, and the upper one has a backrest behind it.

The benches, backrest and headrest also come preassembled. These pieces are made from a different type of wood called abachi. It's free of any knots and stays cooler in higher temperatures so it's comfortable to the skin.

The benches rest on wooden supports that you screw into the wall panels.

Stainless steel fasteners are used so they don't rust. You can also use galvanized fasteners. And all the fasteners are hidden so you don't have any exposed metal to burn yourself on.



img The heater gets its own 240-volt circuit so you generally need an electrician for that.

The heater was installed on metal brackets. Then they filled it with rocks that heat up when the sauna is turned on. They stacked the rocks right on the elements so they get good and hot, but they also made sure that there's good air flow between the rocks.

These are special black granite rocks from Finland called peridotite that heat real well but won't decompose or explode in a sauna environment like a common field rock might.

The heater is made to have water poured on it so you can control the humidity inside.

Other than a few accessories and a light, that completed our sauna installation.


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