Sauna in Garden: Key considerations for a well-informed choice

If you’re considering building a backyard outdoor sauna in your home, you’re not alone. With sauna construction becoming more accessible, many people are adding saunas to their garden spaces. This article explores the different ways to approach such a project, benefits of owning a sauna, the best wood to use, design ideas, and more.

Health Benefits of Garden Saunas

Evidence suggests saunas have been used in Finland for thousands of years, with the earliest sources dating back to 7,000 years ago. Nowadays, they are still being praised for their benefits to people's physical and mental health. 

Regular sauna sessions are reported to improve metabolism and cardiovascular health and alleviate pain in people with rheumatic disease. In addition, sauna use aids in relaxation and stress relief, which in turn alleviates depression. 

Wood Selection

When choosing the type of sauna you wish to install, one of the things you need to decide on is the materials. Saunas can be constructed from various wood types, typically softwood such as cedar, hemlock, pine, and spruce. Homeowners can select the most suitable sauna timber based on their different characteristics:

  • - Cedar

Cedar is resistant to harsh weather. Its superior insulation properties mean it retains heat without getting hot and doesn’t shrink or expand. This, along with its natural resistance to rot, decay, and pests, makes it a popular choice for outdoor sauna construction. It’s resin-free and has an intense aroma. It comes in reddish or tan depending on the species.

  • - Hemlock

Hemlock is a cost-efficient wood that is durable and moisture-resistant. It has a uniform texture with a straight grain pattern, very few knots, and a low resin content. Hemlock has an aesthetically appealing light white color. On the downside, it’s more prone to splintering and is not as pliable as cedar.

  • - Nordic spruce

Spruce is considered the best wood for sauna construction by many due to its high density and good insulation properties. It has a light color that’s retained throughout its lifespan and a slight scent. It has natural insect-repellent properties. Note that some light sap seepage may occur.

  • - Pine

Pine is the most affordable wood on the list. It has a pleasant scent. However, it’s more prone to warping and cracking as a result of temperature changes and is not as durable in outdoor use if left untreated. In addition, it has a high resin content and some species may have large, loose knots, making seepage more likely.

Heating Options

The next aspect you need to consider is your heat source. For small-scale garden projects, there are several common choices:

  • - Wood-burning stove

This is the traditional method used in Finnish saunas. Some people prefer them because they provide a more authentic experience, producing a strong heat, wood smoke, and a crackling sound. Placing water on the heated rocks on top of the heater lets you increase the humidity. These heaters require no electricity. However, they’re not the most convenient choice as ashes must be regularly cleaned, and you need a steady supply of firewood. Also, the heat is more difficult to regulate, making wood-burning stoves better suited for medium to large-sized saunas.

  • - Electric heaters

These are simple and safe to operate and easy to maintain. They start at the flip of a switch and will heat a small garden sauna quickly. Alternatively, you can integrate them into your smart home automation and schedule a particular time of the day for the sauna to start or pre-heat it from your phone. Note that electric heaters may be more expensive than wood-burning ones.

  • - Infrared technology

These innovative heaters differ from those mentioned above in the fact that instead of heating the whole space, they emit infrared waves that are absorbed by the body. While this does create a warm feeling, it’s different from the traditional sauna experience.

Design Ideas

When choosing a design for your outdoor garden sauna, you need to consider things like size, layout, and overall aesthetics.

  • - Size - Saunas constructed in private homes usually accommodate one to four persons, with the two-person sauna being the most common choice. You need to consider the desired sauna capacity, as well as the available outdoor space. For example, a one-person sauna can be as small as 3 x 3 feet (90x90 cm). A two to three-person one can vary from 4 x 6 feet (120x180 cm) to 5 x 7 feet (150x215 cm). The smaller the size, the easier the sauna is to heat, so it’s best to choose the optimal dimensions depending on your actual needs.


  • - Layout - The L-shaped sauna layout is one of the most common ones. Both arms of a bench have two levels, an upper bench and a lower bench, allowing people to face each other and talk to each other. A common guideline is to allow for 2 feet (60 cm) of seating space per person. Another type of sauna layout people commonly choose is one with a single long sauna bench. It’s usually made long enough to allow users to recline or fully lie down (6-7 feet or 2 meters). You can also experiment with glass door positioning, heater placement and installation, and more.


  • - Aesthetics - In terms of looks and appeal, you can experiment with the overall shape and sauna timber colors or add alternative materials to make it stand out or blend in with the rest of your outdoor space.

There are numerous garden sauna ideas to find inspiration from. From traditional saunas through barrel-shaped ones, to those with a wooden interior and a modern exterior, there are plenty of concepts to experiment with.

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Sauna Accessories

Apart from the sauna design, there are essential accessories that can enhance your backyard outdoor sauna experience. Firstly, temperature and humidity gauges play a key role in ensuring an enjoyable and safe experience. A sauna timer is also a very useful accessory to install to keep track of session lengths. Fixed or moveable backrests will ensure a relaxing experience. Lighting fixtures, from wooden light shade screens to LED strips or colored recess lights, will create a soothing atmosphere and let you explore the benefits of chromotherapy. There are even multimedia systems specifically created for saunas which will allow you to enjoy your favorite music or soothing nature sounds. If you wish to indulge in essential oils, you can add an aromatherapy dish or fountain placed between or above the stove’s stones.

Landscaping and Privacy

When building a wooden sauna outdoors, it’s equally important how you integrate it within the existing landscape.

For example, in properties with scenic views, it’s a good idea to take advantage of them by building your sauna at an elevated spot or on a raised platform using glass walls. Another great approach is to integrate your sauna with outdoor living areas. For instance, if you have an outdoor kitchen, swimming pool, jacuzzi, or patio, create an inviting ensemble where you can spend time with family and guests alike. Saunas can also harmonize with flower beds and garden steps. Planning convenient pathways and lighting will improve accessibility, thus further enhancing your sauna’s functionality.


Privacy is another important aspect when it comes to saunas and landscaping. If you wish to avoid neighbors or passers-by, you could locate your sauna close to natural barriers such as trees, hedges, and trellises. You can also place decorative privacy screens with either minimalistic designs or more artistic, detailed ornaments. Alternatively, you can equip your sauna itself with semi-privacy panels that limit exposure, without limiting daylight.

DIY vs. Professional Installation

Factor / Type

DIY Sauna

Professional Installation


Every aspect of a DIY sauna can be tailored to a great extent. You can hand-pick everything from the wood and benches to lighting fixtures.

There may be limited options when it comes to ready-made saunas. Although companies do offer custom projects, those can be more expensive or take more time to produce.


Building a sauna yourself certainly requires some woodworking experience and technical skills. Electrical and plumbing are also necessary skills that come with a steep learning curve.

Professionals have expertise in all areas of backyard outdoor sauna installation and can provide useful input based on their experience.


DIY saunas can be more cost-effective if you find deals for affordable sauna timber, accessories, etc. However, when make calculations, also keep in mind the tools you will need, as well as potential errors to cover.

Professionals usually provide a quote that includes all necessary materials, which reduces unexpected expenses.

Time and effort

Building a sauna yourself requires dedication. You need to determine in advance whether you have the time and effort needed for the task.

Professionals can save you time and complete projects within shorter timeframes, which can be good if you’re pressed for time. Of course, you need to ensure you employ a trusted, certified company that adheres to deadlines.


Some DIY projects may not fulfill all safety standards, especially when it comes to electrical connections, insulation, and ventilation.

Professionals have better knowledge of building codes and regulations and can therefore provide higher levels of safety. 


DIY enthusiasts will find great joy and pride in accomplishing the task and seeing their idea come to life.

If you’re more focused on the end result and not so passionate about the process itself, a professional sauna builder may be the more suitable choice.

Regardless of your choices when it comes to sauna timber, size, design, or accessories, as long as you follow your needs and vision for the project, you’re bound to achieve a sauna that will provide a blissful and relaxing times.