Avoid These Costly Mistakes When Building an Outdoor Sauna

W29 barrel sauna assembly

As sauna becomes more and more popular, many are undertaking to build their own projects. Here is our top ten list of costly mistakes when building an outdoor sauna, and how to avoid them.

1. Over fancy materials.

As of this writing, lumber prices have sky-rocked during 2020 Covid. Reasons for this are for another subject but consider the price multiple as a math problem. 

Pre pandemic pricing:

  • $1.15/lineal foot: #2 cedar tongue and groove
  • -$4/lineal foot: clear cedar tongue and groove

As each of these grades faces a “doubling in pricing” we can look at whether clear is really worth it. Some may like the look of knotty material, as more “rustic.” And those that still prefer the clear, are paying a great sum of money to clad the inside of their hot rooms. 

Some places not to scrimp on lower grade material, however, are sauna benches. Knotty benches are extremely uncomfortable on the buttock’s region. 

Knots can feel like a cattle branding iron, so it’s best not to scrimp when it comes to sauna bench stock.

2. Too many hands in the pie

Architects, designers, builders all need to get paid. 

Sauna building and design can be tricky business. In many countries, like the United States, architects and builders are not well familiar with the nuances of sauna building. To get the attention of architects and builders, homeowners either need to provide a really compelling story or a wad of cash. 

Architects and builders typically steer away from sauna building projects as, frankly, these projects are too small for their attention. Architects and builders like new builds, big additions, and remodels. The pros need to get paid. And professional hands in the pie may be a costly mistake for your sauna build. 

3. Too big

The great thing about saunas is often, less is more. A smaller footprint means less material. We can tuck an 8×12 sauna building in our backyard and build out an economical deck and seating area. 

A nice-sized sauna hot room is about 50 square feet. So, to avoid a costly mistake for your sauna build, consider downsizing your sauna plan to a reasonable size. A 50 square foot hot room heats up much faster than a big hot room and requires less electricity or wood, if using a quality wood-fired sauna stove, like the Iki from Finland, Harvia, or the Kuuma from Northern Minnesota.

4. non-sustainable materials

Another mistake is cutting corners on using the right materials for our sauna build. 

For example, the outside of a sauna building should be long-lasting quality materials, capable of withstanding moisture and weather elements. We can use cheap, non-sustainable materials and perhaps save a few bucks at the time of construction, but too often, cutting corners at this stage will cost us more in the long run because we will soon find costly building mistakes of needing to replace and fix things. 

Another example of where non-sustainable materials are best avoided is with soffits and facia, where if not using good material, rot and decay can happen within a couple of years after construction. 

Considerations like this help us avoid costly mistakes. 

5. Overhangs

If building an outdoor sauna, an easily avoidable sauna building mistake is to not design and build for adequate overhangs. 

Minimal overhangs don’t shed water runoff from the roof. Water splashes against the sauna building, and this leads to potential decay and rot. Further, inadequate overhangs mean that water can collect along the perimeter of and underneath the sauna building. 

Poor drainage around the sauna building can mean heaving of the structure and the potential costly sauna building mistake of needing to dig out around the sauna structure after it has been built, to re-level and fix drainage issues.

6. Roofing and flashing

A sauna building must be able to shed water properly. Roofing materials such as conventional asphalt shingles or metal are perfectly adequate materials, but they need to be installed properly. 

Pay careful attention to properly flash around the chimney, for example. Follow the manufacturer instructions for chimney flashing, so that water sheds away from the chimney components.

Use quality sealants like Lexall for sealing off screws and seams. Quality sealants can handle the expansion and contraction that occurs on roofs, sustaining extreme heat and cold. 

Another area to be mindful of your sauna build is to apply the right drip edge around the fascia of your sauna building. Getting water to shed off the building is extremely important!

7. Ventilation, drying out hot room for long life

As we turn our attention to inside the hot room, another costly mistake to avoid is poor ventilation in our hot room.

Good saunas need good ventilation. By allowing fresh air into our sauna, we not only are taking better saunas with better air and oxygen, but our saunas are able to dry out and breathe properly between sauna sessions. 

Sauna pros call this the Bake and Breathe Method and you too can avoid this costly mistake when building an Outdoor Sauna. Vent your sauna well, and your sauna will last for decades, perhaps generations. 

If you don’t vent your sauna well, you run the risk of mold, mildew, and yucky odors. Good ventilation is a great thing and a critical characteristic of a good sauna.

8. Lame sauna heaters

Invest in a good sauna heater! We can save a buck by purchasing an inexpensive sauna heater, but you will pay for it again by needing to purchase another new sauna heater a couple of years down the road. 

Lame sauna heaters are made with a thin metal, not able to withstand the intense and sustained heat of the good sauna. It’s a shame that lame sauna heaters are built, but poor quality exists with many things.

We build our saunas one time and get to enjoy them the rest of our lives. So, invest in a quality sauna heater like an Iki, Harvia, or a Kuuma, for example, and the only question you’ll have is who you’ll like to will your sauna to after you leave this earth.

9. Not following setback requirements

When building your own sauna, pay careful attention and follow the setback requirements set by the sauna stove manufacturer. It’s common sense, but not following the setback requirements means that each time you fire up your sauna, you are rolling the dice that materials too close to the heat will be compromised, potentially to the point of combustion. 

Areas of special concern are where the stove pipe goes through the ceiling. At this point, it is critical that we are using certified components and following the proper setbacks to combustibles. Same for as we design our hot rooms, and plan to locate our sauna stove. 

We need to provide the right setback stove to the wall. For most applications, applying a non-combustible cement board for the stove surround is a good principle for helping avoid the costly mistake of not following setback requirements for our sauna build, otherwise, our sauna could go up in smoke.

10. Rip off infrared rooms or toaster ovens claiming to be a sauna

Perhaps the most common costly mistake is investing in something that isn’t even a sauna and thinking you are getting a sauna.  

A good heat is easily felt, but harder to understand. Some sauna manufacturers are selling really bad saunas. They are heating these marginal saunas with toaster oven appliances, with a little amount of sauna stones, and marginal BTU output. If you’re into an infrared cabin, that’s fine, but infrared is not a sauna. 

If you are investing in a sauna because of the reported health benefits of a sauna, keep in mind that you need a sauna. Not infrared light bulbs.

Further, the health benefits of a sauna are best achieved with really good heat and steam. To achieve these benefits, avoid the costly mistake of building your sauna using subpar product components. As mentioned above, let’s invest in a good sauna once, and then we get to enjoy our kick-ass sauna for the rest of our lives. 

If building your own sauna seems too complicated or time-consuming, take a look at our outdoor sauna kits – made from the finest slow-grown European Spruce and crafted with care and precision in Northern Europe.


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Welcome to BZB Cabins & Outdoors blog. Our company is a proud distributor of high-quality, eco-friendly outdoor sauna and cabin kits that are manufactured in Europe. 

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