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Hot tips for saunas done right

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When building a sauna, only hire pros who will use mould and moisture resistant products — both inside and outside the sauna.

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When building a sauna, only hire pros who will use mould and moisture resistant products — both inside and outside the sauna.

Some health professionals say using a sauna can help with arthritis pain, circulation and getting rid of toxins. I don't know much about that. But what I do know is that some downtime in a sauna feels awesome.

The problem with building a sauna for your home is that it can cause mould and other moisture issues if the proper precautions and building methods aren't followed. It must be properly sealed, waterproofed and ventilated. If you can't afford to do it right, it's not worth the risk.

Saunas are made to make you sweat. That means a lot of heat and extra moisture and humidity. All that moisture needs to go somewhere -- but not in your walls. That's why a tight seal and proper ventilation is crucial between your sauna and your home.

Building a sauna as an addition or along an outer wall lets the moisture and humidity escape directly to the exterior. But if the sauna is built inside your home, such as the basement, moisture can get (and stay) inside your walls.

Only mould- and moisture-resistant products should be used in the entire construction of a sauna -- both inside the sauna and the area outside. You should treat it like a shower in a bathroom.

Every time that sauna door opens -- and it should swing out, not in -- heat and moisture escape. Where they escape to needs to be ventilated. (It's illegal for a sauna door to swing in. If someone gets injured or dizzy, they must be able to fall out of the sauna to avoid staying trapped inside.)

One way to stop moisture getting inside your home is by building a sauna as a separate structure on your property -- similar to where you might put a shed. But depending on your municipality, it can be considered an accessory structure, so check with city planning. Make sure you're allowed to have a sauna on your property and that it abides by local codes.

You'll also need to run wiring or gas lines if you build your sauna outside. If you want to add a shower that means plumbing. All of that adds to the cost, which isn't great if you're on a tight budget.

There are wet saunas and dry saunas -- both produce a lot of humidity and both need waterproof floors. The only difference is that in wet saunas you pour water over volcanic rocks that sit on top of a heat source. The water vaporizes immediately when it hits the rocks, and that produces the steam.

The most popular heat source for saunas nowadays is electricity. But there are also wood, gas and infrared saunas. If you go with gas, it needs proper ventilation and a carbon monoxide detector. If you go with wood, you'll need a chimney. And if you choose infrared, it can only be a dry sauna, not a wet one.

If you want to avoid humid air, which is always a safe bet, far-infrared heaters are the top choice. But they're also the most expensive -- go figure! That's why most infrared saunas use low- or medium-infrared panels.

All three kinds of infrared panels emit infrared light that feels like heat. But far-infrared heaters heat only the body, not the air. Their panels stay cool, too. This is not the case with low and medium-infrared panels, which heat the air inside the sauna and can get hot.

There's a lot that goes into building a sauna the right way so it doesn't cause problems in your home. That's why you should hire a pro with plenty of experience building saunas. Don't hire a deck or fence guy.

A pro will know to use Roxul insulation, not foam board or spray foam which can off-gas dangerous chemicals in high temperatures. They will install specially certified sauna lights that are safe for hot and humid conditions, and build your sauna using clean cedar without knots, which hold onto heat and can burn you. Plus, cedar won't discolour, swell or shrink as much as other woods, and it stays a lot cooler.

But it all starts with educating yourself, knowing your options and the different things to watch out for. Because some people might like it hot, but not everyone can take the heat.

-- Postmedia News

For more information on home renovations, visit makeitright.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 10, 2013 F15

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