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Saunas

Most homeowners associate saunas with a monthly health club membership or costly remodel to the home, but modern sauna kits are minimally invasive as well as economical to build and enjoy.

Built from scratch, the modern sauna is a simple unpainted room with wooden walls and benches. While a handful of homeowners opt to build from scratch, especially during new home construction, pre-fabricated sauna kits offer a hassle-free, economical alternative.

An added plus over their health club counterparts, home saunas add several degrees of privacy and relaxation not attainable in a public setting. Also, a quality, kit-built sauna can be relocated should the homeowner decide to sell, or remain in the home to increase property value.

Basic sauna kits include insulated wood panels (R-19 insulation value) with reflective foil for blocking heat loss, a heater (electric, wood, gas or infrared) and benches. Wall panels are installed "tongue in groove" to prevent exposure to hot metal parts. For paneling, red cedar is the most popular choice, followed by redwood.

Increasing popularity of saunas has led to innovative design options, including different heating technologies and a wide variety of prefabricated kits for any budget, style preference and living situation (think indoor and out!)

"Prefabricated units are easy to set up. You can add one inside a corner of a workout room or spare space and they're quick and easy," said Gordon Kamm of Hot Springs Spas of Southern Oregon.

When building a home sauna, determine the maximum number of individuals to use the sauna and plan for space to accommodate 2 feet of bench area per person. For example, a family of four would require enough space to accommodate 8 feet of bench space.

"The thing I always ask is how many are you looking to cook," says Kamm with a laugh.

"There are some small ones where you just sit there, but it's preferable to be able to lie down."

Pre-fabricated units come in a range of sizes, 3x4-foot and up. Bigger units can comfortably accommodate up to six people.

In addition to various types of heating, a final decision to make is that of utilizing wet or dry heat. Unlike spas, saunas-wet or dry- require no plumbing connections, just an available electrical or gas connection, depending on heater type.

Kayde Lininger of Water Pros spa store in Medford suggests checking out a sauna in a health club to determine the benefits of using one, and whether or not dry or wet heat is preferred.

A dry sauna simply uses the heating element to warm the air in the sauna to temperatures around 150 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, she notes. Hot temperatures lead to cleansing perspiration, but the dryness of the air causes evaporation, which creates a cooling effect. Wet saunas create a "sweatier" and more uncomfortable feeling.

"More people seem to like the dry heat better than the wet," Lininger says, but, wet or dry, sauna kits are a nice addition to any home.

"I think maybe more people are going to gyms and places with more and more focus on their health. It's really convenient to have one at home," says Lininger.

"There are places in the world where people know about the benefits and use them every day. I think it's getting more like that here. They do a lot of good."

Saunas