Jun 21, 2016

Premium specialized sauna accessories-- not required.

Once the sauna was getting close to completion, usable, but not finished, a big step for me was to start buying the accessories for it. A necessary accessory is a wooden bucket and a ladle. My go to place for both was the web. However, I was a little surprised that I had to pay $60+ for anything close to decent (a plastic water liner in a 200+F sauna? Really?). Also, it was no secret that the same buckets/ladles being sold on different websites were also sold on AliExpress at about $20 cheaper per bucket or even cheaper when bought in bulk. After exhausting all my options, I bit the bullet and bought the best deal I could find, on Amazon, which fit my needs. Grand total for the sauna bucket and ladle, about $69.

Bucket I purchased online, specifically for sauna use $45.
Bucket I purchased online, specifically for sauna use $45.

Ladle I purchased online specifically for Sauna use $21.55.
Ladle I purchased online specifically for Sauna use $21.55.


When everything arrived, we were excited to try them out. Both the sauna bucket and ladle looked authentic and were a great fit to all the cedar used in the sauna. Things were good, however, after the first few sessions, we noticed that the ladle sprung a leak. The ladle, advertised as being specifically for a sauna, was carved out of wood. It seemed like the cup portion of it, was carved out of a piece containing a knot. After a few more rounds of sauna, with shrinking and expending, the wood gave and the ladle split. A few sessions later, the ladle broke completely. This was a special ladle, specifically for saunas, and thus, at a premium price of $21.55.

A wooden sauna ladle cracked from use.
A wooden sauna ladle cracked from use.

For a few sessions after, we ended up using Styrofoam cups and whatever else we could find to dump water on the sauna stove. One day, I was at Walmart, in the cooking accessories isle. There was a stainless steel ladle for sale, with a wooden handle—for cooking. Ladles of such material, specifically for saunas, are $40 online!! This thing, under $6.

This brings me to my main point. An item doesn’t need to be specifically made for a certain use to be charged a premium on. Below is a screenshot of ladles on Walmart.com

A regular ladle is cheap!
A regular ladle is cheap!

Now, here is the same search with the word Sauna added. Do you see my point?

A ladle with the word "Sauna", is sold at a premium.
A ladle with the word "Sauna", is sold at a premium.

Furthermore, as one of my friends pointed out, if you go to say HomeDepot.com and do a search for Galvanized Pail, you’ll get the following, CHEAP, results. These things will outlive your sauna by many years.

Alternative cheap sauna buckets sold at Home Depot.
Alternative cheap sauna buckets sold at Home Depot.

So, the moral of this post is, try and find non-specialized items to be used in a sauna, in a specialized way. It may save you some money as well as frustration of buying inferior specialized products sold at a premium.

Jun 13, 2016

Outdoor Sauna-- You can now use it in the summer!

When you think of a sauna, you probably think of massive amounts of snow and bone chilling cold. But what about 90F degree weather and blooming flowers? Can a sauna be used in the summer and actually enjoyed? Sure, with an addition of a simple outdoor shower.

You don’t need a snow bank to cool down after a sauna. The evenings here are around 70F degrees and the water coming out of the garden hose is pretty bone chilling. With a few cheap parts, we decided to build a portable outdoor shower which we use in the summer to cool down between sauna rounds. The shower is light and can be moved around the driveway to wherever we need it.

We used only green treated 2x4s and the first thing we built was the base. The base is in a form of an H and pieces are secured by outdoor screws. Then, measuring to our average heights, we cut a 2x4 to attach to the piece of the base that holds the 2 parallel pieces together. This holds the shower head and the water lines. This pieces was attached with 5 screws to the base.

The base of our outdoor DIY shower.
This is the base of our outdoor shower. Make sure the two side pieces are long enough to make the shower steady.

Now, the structure of our shower was complete. Next we attached the water parts. My choice was to build the shower out of CPVC ½” line. It’s easy to work with and is readily available. Make sure you use the CPVC glue for it as well. We started with mounting something called the “drop ear elbow.” Yea, I know, took some Googling on my part to find out the name:

Drop ear elbow image for where the shower head pipe screws in.
Drop Ear Elbow. This is where the shower head pipe threads in shown upside down in this photo.
http://www.homedepot.com/catalog/productImages/400/88/88eb57f5-05e0-44dc-8bfb-29e580ecaaad_400.jpg

We mounted it to where our shower head would be, at the top. We screwed it in to the 2x4 with outdoor screws with the input of it facing towards the bottom and the threaded part facing out. Make sure you get the CPVC piece since you’re working with CPVC piping. Once that was attached, we attached the mixing valve to the shower shaft where it was most convenient to operate it. The mixing valve we used is a simple one piece plastic (CPVC) type for around $5.

A $5 simple plastic mixing valve is all we needed for our outdoor shower.
A $5 simple plastic mixing valve is all we needed for our outdoor shower.

You’re now starting to have the general shower layout. Next, we built the water hose input. We wanted to hide it at the bottom of the shower on the opposite side. We bought a “brass to CPVC” fitting and a coupler that threaded in to that fitting on one side and accepted a garden hose fitting on the other side. Next, we drilled a hole all the way through the bottom of the shower shaft that was big enough to hide that brass fitting in.

Garden hose screws in on the back of the outdoor shower for a cleaner look.
Garden hose screws in on the back of the outdoor shower for a cleaner look.

Once that was done and all fit in, we could start on attaching the lines. Using the ½” CPVC pipe, we cut lengths to size to connect all the components. To get the line through the hole at the bottom, we used a CPVC 90* elbow and a coupling to connect the “brass to CPVC” to the elbow. Remember to insert the pipe all the way in to the fittings and use the orange solder both inside the fittings and around the pipe that’s going in to the fittings. Once attached, you should see the orange solder outside of the joints.

Now that all the main components were connected, we used pipe straps to secure the CPVC pipes to the shower shaft to make things more rigid. Next, we need the stainless shower head pipe. We threaded it in to the “drop ear elbow” using Teflon tape. Afterwards, we attached our cheap $5 shower head to this pipe. Remember, this is an outdoor shower that will stand up to the elements—don’t spend too much on it—unless you want to :)

And with that—the shower was complete. When you build yours, fire up the sauna and give the shower about 20 minutes to cure before you can start running water through it. While the sauna warms up, put some meat on the grill and socialize. By the time you’re done, the sauna will be up to temp, and the shower cured. Go ahead and do a round in the hot room then get under the cold shower water. You will agree, your sauna is not just for winter anymore.

Fully assembled outdoor shower for after sauna use. Side view.
Fully assembled custom built outdoor shower for after sauna use. Side view.

Fully assembled outdoor shower for after sauna use. Front view.
Fully assembled custom built outdoor shower for after sauna use. Front view.

Jun 8, 2016

Sauna stove installation instructions misinterpreted.

When building an outdoor sauna, you may have the best intentions in mind. You want to do it correctly and legally. You pull a permit, purchase a UL listed stove to be compliant with the city regulations and install it by carefully following the install manual. Then, you request your final inspection and fail it. Why? Because the way you interpreted the installation manual was different than what it was trying to convey. The result? Benches need to be cut short. Flooring needs to be cemented. What is the moral here? Even though you think you understand the install instructions, contact the stove manufacturer prior to installing the stove and building around it to save yourself from redoing your work.


What happened:

Per manufacturer specs, the stove has clearances that need to be followed for safe operation. There’s side clearances of X inches to combustibles. X is the same on both sides. There’s the rear clearance Y and front clearance Z. Both front and rear clearances are different (Y does not equal Z). Where this gets interesting, and not explicitly listed in the install manual, is here. The side clearance X actually extends the whole length of the front clearance Z, on both sides. Furthermore, the “clearance to combustibles” refers not only to the wooden benches at 90 degrees to the plane of the stove, but also refers to the floor (and probably, by the same definition, to the ceiling.) Furthermore, though all the installation pictures showed the front clearance with the arrow pointing to the door of the stove, they actually meant the whole front side. Finally, although my floor was built up from non-combustible cement board and covered with PVC membrane to be waterproof, that thin piece of PVC is considered combustible—and thus non-compliant.

Shaded areas show where the combustibles clearances extend.
Shaded areas show where the combustibles clearances extend. Nothing combustible can be placed in to those areas.

Below is how I built my hot room. Because the bench is within the shaded area and the top of the floor has the PVC membrane, I am non-compliant and failed my final inspection. Now I need to cover the membrane with cement and cut half off my long sauna bench to pass the inspection.

This shows where I went wrong in my build. Part of my long bench encroaches into the no combustibles zone.
This shows where I went wrong in my build. Part of my long bench encroaches into the no combustibles zone. 

Once again, to sum up. When planning out your sauna hot room and chimney/stove installation, be sure to contact the sauna stove manufacturer and verify your understanding of the install documents is exactly what they tried to convey. Also check this with the inspector. In my case, I double checked all the installation steps with my friends and made sure we all understood them the same way. However, I should have also double checked with the stove manufacturer as well.

Finally, be aware that photos used on the stove manufacturer's website showing the sauna stove sitting right next to benches and other combustibles is only for marketing purposes and doesn’t have to be technically to the installation spec. This does not fly with the inspector either.

Sauna stove too close to wooden benches.
Sauna stove too close to wooden benches.


Sauna stove too right next to wooden benches.
Sauna stove too right next to wooden benches.



Sauna stove too right next to wooden duck board.
Sauna stove too right next to wooden duck board.