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Location
Privacy
Materials
Phases

Building a sauna is no small project. Some time and thought are needed if a quality sauna taking experience is desired. Although nothing major is needed for a temporary sauna, a sauna made for long term use is more substantial and deserves careful consideration. For the experienced sauna taker it might be an easy decision to go ahead with a sauna project. I would not recommend a significant construction project unless you are positive that you will be using the sauna frequently. I’m sure that there are a number of saunas being neglected that will eventually taken down and sold off. Although this is a disappointment in some respect, it presents an opportunity to get needed materials and equipment at a discount. Check your local want ads.

Below I share my sauna building experience and advice.

Location
We live in the state of Oregon (pronounced orygun) next to the first City of Oregon, Oregon City, in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. This is timber, farm, and horse country here in the County of Clackamas. Winters are cool and wet and summers are short (July-September) and dry and warm. The cool wet season starts in October and usually ends in June. Sometimes we can start to get warm dry before July, but locals know that it normally clears up after the 4th of July. Summer nights can also be cool, because of the ocean influence. Often the mornings will be foggy or overcast as cool moist air comes through gaps in the coast range and spills into the Willamette Valley. The sauna can play a year around role here, since the climate is never quite sauna-like out of doors.

Natural surroundings in my neighborhood include mainly Douglas fir, oak, alder, birch, cedar, maple, hemlock,  myrtle, madrone, rhododendron, snowberry, elderberry, blackberry, salal, ferns, yarrow, bleeding heart, strawberry, iris, oxalis, ginger, grasses and stonecrop. In this flora many songbirds, lots of crows, and a few herons, hawks and eagles live. We have tree and ground squirrels, raccoon,  possum, rabbit, mice, rats, voles, and sometimes bobcat, cougar and coyote.  Every year, at least one of the neighborhood cats are lost to the coyotes. The soil is good with some rocks, mostly basaltic, some quite large. We are at the 450′ level on a 500′ elevation hill a ways down from the Cascade foothills in the area known as the Boring Lava that erupted scores of small volcanic mounds in the early Quaternary and is now weathered down to nice reddish soil of at least 25′ of depth, but with those scattered volcanic rocks and boulders that resisted  hundreds of millennia of weathering. These rocks work fine for a fireplace or sauna heater.

After the Pleistocene glaciers melted and the Mega-floods drained away, the hunter-gatherer humans wandered in and found a paradise filled with fauna and flora. A while later, a flood of civilization arrived by ship. Down by the Clackamas river salmon and trout are still caught, deer and elk are chased through the forest hills and mushrooms and berries are gathered under the trees. Up river at the  Breitenbush Hot Springs you can participate in a sweat lodge ceremony. Around town, modern saunas are as rare as Finns, the preference being for the hot tub.

Privacy
I felt good that a separate sauna building next to our home was an acceptable idea to our small family. A separate and nearby building was one of many useful suggestions found on the internet. I had already built what we call our ‘treehouse’ in the waybackyard and was ready for another construction challenge. We already had used most of the yard near the house for ponds and gardens, so the logical remaining nearby area was on the wide yard on the north side of the house. This area is in a forest of firs and a medium size oak tree. All of the trees are 80-100′ tall and the area is totally shaded year around and the soil is dry in the summer. Dry shade is not too good for gardening, so the area was used for a wood pile and not included in the fenced yard.

The neighbor house on the North side has no windows facing this yard and their narrow yard was, and still is, not landscaped. Rather, it is used as a dump for fallen leaves and fir cones, which is perfect, since the previous occupant used it as a driveway and the compacted soil needed compost and a chance to breathe. I have taken over the planning and implementation of landscaping of this area using dry shade plants with supplemental drip irrigation. My choice of habitat is mainly low density understory shrubs and spreading ground covers adapted to deep shade and summer drought. There is one window on this side of our house to the daylight basement. This window is not important to the function of the room so it is mostly left with the shade drawn.

The main concern I had with this location is the exposure from the street and cross street that gives access to half a dozen homes in the dead end street called Wildflower. The headlights of cars exiting wildflower at night tend to shine onto this area. My solution to this was a ceder fence and some thick hedgerow shrubs in the formerly exposed right-of-way, which was in the same line with Wildflower street. The choice of English Laurel and Pseudosasa japonica to block the view seems logical, as these plans make excellent evergreen screens and are well adapted to the climate and site.

Materials
Cedar was and is the construction material of choice in this area. It is easily split into planks and beams, resists rot and smells nice. It is has been the material of choice for gable roof house building for thousands of years. Cedar bark is easily peeled off in large sheets and has many traditional uses, including roofing. Cedar is soft and has low density, often lower than the spruce used in Finland, a useful property since it resists holding heat and is less likely to feel hot to touch in a sauna.

The materials chosen for the building are local, with the goal of using mostly recycled building materials. I worked to minimize environmental impact with the use of a green roof and appropriate landscape plants. The main timber supports were harvested from felled trees on our lot and the fuel for the wood fired sauna stove are gathered, from branches shed from the fir trees. The floor is 4 inch thick recycled fir tongue and groove flooring from railroad boxcars. The floor joists and exposes ceiling are recycled 2×12 fir (from a Criagslister, who is now a member of our church) and the walls and front deck are 2×6 fir recycled from a painted pasture fence in OC. The 2″ thick rigid 4×8′ insulation panels are recycled. The exterior and most of the interior 1×8 cedar siding was reclaimed from a tear down house in Lake Oswego The interior 1×3 cedar lining of the sauna I reclaimed from for a remodel or my church building.

New materials include the Firestone rubber liner for the roof, the concrete and blocks for the foundation, and the peeler cores for the secondary roof supports. The awning over the front porch is covered with recycled tempered glass donated by a neighbor. The outdoor shower deck is from leftover pressure treated fir from another neighbor. The plumbing fixtures, wires and electrical fixtures are mainly from yard sales, Craigslist, and thrift stores. The plumbing pipes and electrical switches and boxes are new. My nephew Andrew donated the really cool old brass indoor shower bath fixture. The instant hot water heater came from a barn sale in Tigard. The two main windows came from a yard sale and I was told they were from a school remodel in West Linn. The doors came from a Craigslist listing in Vancouver, where I had to remove the doors myself. The cedar retainer around the soil on the roof was donated by a coworker. The 1″ thick 4×8 plywood underlayment on the roof is from a craigslist listing in Washougal. More details are mentioned in the Construction Blog.

Phases
This was a one man show and I took my time, since I had work and other things to do. Mainly I worked on it in the late summer and fall when the garden slowed down and the weather cooled and I got my other chores done. My goal was to get the sauna part done first. I would get the power tools set up outside and work on the carpentry stuff until rain threatened, then I would stow the tools inside under the roof.