If you’ve ever wondered what euphoria means, some people would say one way to find out is to try a sauna (pronounced SOW-na). The finish sauna is a method of bathing that is also physically restorative. You’ll conclude that the benefit from this dry heat bath you don’t have to undergo so strenuous a procedure as a Finn who plunges through a hole in an ice-covered lake or rolls in a snowbank afterward; A cold shower will do as well. Saunas can be either quite elaborate or very simple. American versions usually are relatively simple, in that they are not used for washing.
The key to a sauna is a dry heat, which enables the body to withstand heat ranging from 180º to 240º. ( A few drops of water on heated rocks in the sauna is enough to change the humidity in the room). The dry heat induces perspiration rapidly and without the enervation of a steam bath. After cooling – suddenly, with a plunge into cold water, or gradually, at outside temperature – you experience a feeling of thorough well-being. However, persons with high blood pressure or cardiac conditions should use the sauna only with the advice of a physician.
The move indoors
Most saunas are located in separate buildings from home, with a swimming pool or shower unit close by. However, with the construction materials and heating units now available, the sauna is moving indoors and can even be a part of the bathroom.
The simplest form sauna is waterless. One electric heater that does not depend on the rock has an air-circulating fan and produces constant temperature and humidity that many people consider essential to the sauna experience. Gas and the slower wood-burning units can be used where you want a shower in the sauna or for the full Finish sauna that includes bathing space; for remote locations, gas heaters can be converted to LP gas.
Electric heaters require 220-volt wiring and no vent to the outside (vents to adjoining rooms are enough). Gas heaters require gas piping and an outside vent. To vent the sauna, air is let in from a point on the wall near the bottom of the heater and let out from a point high on the opposite wall or on an adjacent wall.
Converted closet space
Saunas can be installed in space as small as five by 8 feet with a 7-foot ceiling. One might fit, for example, in the space of two back-to-back wardrobe closets. It is the best located near a bathroom or shower unit, and near a place where you can lie down afterward. The one shown above occupies an area in back of the garage. Next, to a new study-retreat and guest room, the sauna and its compact bathroom occupy only 108 square feet. With a couch handy, the new room is a pleasant, quiet place to rest after a sauna.
Gas and electric saunas heat within 20 minutes to a half hour and are equipped with adjustable thermostats to maintain their heat. This quick heating has contributed to the form the sauna tends to take in the West.
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Sauna rooms can be directly built with conventional stud-wall construction. Foil-faced mineral batt insulation fills the cavity between wall studs and ceiling joists, leaving an air space for heat reflection between the foil and the sauna’s interior paneling. Or mineral insulation can fill the cavity, with a continuous vapor barrier of aluminum foil placed over it and the studs and joists, under the wall paneling doors should be solid-core wood or insulated, and windows should be double glazed. A concrete floor with drain is indicated where more than a dipper of water at a time is to be used. Since concrete floor remains relatively fresh, it is sometimes covered with wood slats.
Choosing the right wood
In selecting wood for the sauna, look for minimum shrinkage and maximum insulation. Some manufacturers recommend redwood, while others suggest Idaho white pine wall with slatted floor suggest of oil and benches of Aspen.
The wood is best if well seasoned and free from knots or other imperfections. Nails should be inset or concealed (as in blind nailing of tongue-and-groove paneling); they get painfully hot to the touch.
More elaborate saunas may include dressing rooms, with a place to lie down. Rest is essential after the sauna, in the view of the Finn.