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Saunas are popular luxury items among homeowners - and they're easy to install

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WHEN it comes to buying a sauna, the most important decision is the heater.

At Krevco, you have a choice of two types of heaters -- a wet sauna or a dry sauna.

A wet sauna is your typical sauna heater, where you can pour water on the rocks to add steam in the room. It's similar to a steam room, says Krevco's sales manager Paul Walker, but the steam in the sauna is not as consistent.

The other type of heater is a dry sauna, which is not nearly as humid as the wet sauna.

"Wet saunas are more popular," Walker notes. "People like to pour water on the rocks and have a little fun with it."

At Krevco, sauna heaters cost anywhere from $700 to $1,500. The cost of the heaters, which range in size from four to 11 kilowatts, depends on the size of the sauna. Walker says you need to measure the square footage of the room to determine which size of heater is required.

The other major difference in cost depends on the kind of warranty you want. Krevco's 100 per cent stainless steel sauna heater comes with a lifetime warranty and is priced accordingly. The heaters with the standard three-year warranty cost less.

While both Krevco's wet and dry sauna heaters are electrical, Cedarman offers customers a different choice altogether. In addition to electric heaters, Cedarman also sells wood-burning units. These are usually used in the country, where there is no access to electricity, owner Jim McKibbin notes. But he says there are also people who are buying the units and simply choosing not to use electricity.

These heaters are stocked with wood and will burn for a good hour or two, he says. The price is comparable to an electric heater, but the wood-burning heaters are made out of steel and are therefore heavier than electric models.

They also have a water jacket attached, so you can still pour water over the rocks to create steam.

There are pros and cons to both the electrical and wood-burning units, notes McKibbin. While you don't need to worry about plumbing or electrical work with the wood-burning versions, you do have to ensure you have the proper chimney to vent them correctly.

It's a cardiovascular workout that aids in weight loss, helps lower your blood pressure, improves circulation and soothes achy, tired muscles. It also helps boost your immune system and cleanses your skin. A new miracle drug? No, it's a sauna.

Not only does a sauna offer great health benefits, it's the perfect spot to relax and keep warm in the chilly winter months ahead. Just ask the people of Finland. A nation of sauna enthusiasts, Finland is home to 1.7 million saunas. With a population of 5.1 million, that's one sauna for every three inhabitants. Incidentally, the term "sauna" is the most commonly borrowed term from the Finnish language.

While it's not quite as popular in Canada as it is over in Finland, many Canadians are already enjoying the benefits the sauna has to offer in the comforts of their own home.

"Saunas are quite popular," says Jim McKibbin, owner of Winnipeg's Cedarman. "They've always been popular."

McKibbin sells as many as two or three sauna packages a week, with 90 per cent of his sales in the winter months. He says people are putting saunas in at their beach cottage and in their basements.

Cedarman sells complete sauna packages that include everything you need to build your own sauna. The kits include the door, which must always open outwards for safety reasons, and all of the wood.

"In this part of the world, cedar is the wood of choice," notes McKibbin. "People rarely use anything else."

Either knotty or clear cedar can be used for a sauna, but McKibbin recommends using clear cedar particularly for the sauna benches. That's because the knots are very dense in cedar and when the wood heats up the knots hold the heat, which could cause you to burn yourself.

In terms of size, a sauna can be as small as a bedroom closet. Three feet by five feet is about the smallest you'd want to go, McKibbin says, and then you can go up in one foot intervals for both the length and depth.

"The very biggest people would want is about 10 feet by 12 feet, " he adds. "You have to remember, the bigger the sauna, the bigger the heater you need."

Height-wise, most saunas are built with a seven-foot, dropped ceiling so you don't have to heat that extra foot. All of the floor boards, walls, benches and the ceiling are made out of cedar.

Cost-wise, while saunas are a luxury rather than a necessity, they don't have to be overly expensive. The sauna packages that McKibbin sells, which are all made out of Canadian products, run as low as $2,000 and go up to about $5,000. He says most people spend about $2,500 to $2,800, which generally includes the door, the heater and all of material for the inside of the sauna.

As long as you have the required space, McKibbin says it's very easy to build a sauna. Most often, he says his customers build the sauna themselves unless they are building a house or having renovation work done where the sauna can be incorporated. All of the sauna packages come complete with detailed plans and step-by-step instructions.

"If you can swing a hammer and saw a board, then you can build a sauna," he says.

Leon Moryl, interior designer and owner of Hands On Design, agrees.

"It's certainly not rocket science," he says. "A competent home handyman could easily do the installation."

While it's easy to incorporate a sauna into almost any basement, Moryl says it's important to define the space for it. Then it's a matter of buying the sauna kit and following the instructions.

Moryl, whose company installed a sauna for a client as part of a large and extensive basement renovation, says the it's fairly straightforward.

The first step is to frame the sauna, using standard two by four frames. Then the walls and ceiling have to be insulated. The insulation, by the way, is typically not included in the sauna kits. Sauna foil, which is basically a reflective paper, is then put over the insulation as another layer before the cedar is added on.

"There's not a lot involved in building a sauna - a lot less than people think," says Harold Schlichting, design consultant and president of The Design Connection.

But even though it's simple to build, Schlichting says it's very important that the sauna is properly constructed and insulated. Even if you're going to install it yourself, he stresses the value of hiring a certified electrician to do the wiring and make sure it's all up to code.

"Be cautious with the electrical," Schlichting warns. "A sauna is a high humidity environment."

The Design Company, which is both a design and a contracting firm, did a complete rec room for a client who wanted all of the amenities. That included a steam shower and a sauna, which Schlichting says is indicative of a trend these days.

"People are putting more luxury items in their homes," he says. "A sauna is one of those items."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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