All You Need to Know About Building an Outdoor Sauna

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who find the concept of a traditional sauna to be almost heaven and those who wouldn't dream of shutting themselves in to sweat in a hot room. 

If you’ve been dreaming of bringing an outdoor sauna to your backyard, then read on. If you’re simply curious about the sauna experience, its benefits, and why you should add a DIY sauna kit to your cart, we’ve got the answers. 

We’re sure we can get dry sauna naysayers to convert to the hot side.

Woman relaxing in an outdoor sauna


What Is an Outdoor Sauna and Where Did It Come From?

A sauna is a wood-lined room that's heated through an electric heater, wood stove, gas, or infrared heat. This dry heat increases body temperature and perspiration. 

Finland’s Role in Sauna Life

Finnish saunas are the most popular type of outdoor sauna. In fact, the country is so closely associated with saunas that the only Finnish word to make it into everyday English is “sauna.”

While the origin of traditional saunas is unknown, the early versions were rudimentary and built into a mound of earth, heated by a fireplace with stones to throw water on. Over the years, we evolved from wood-burning saunas to electric saunas invented in Finland.

Health Benefits of Saunas

If you’re looking for health benefits, saunas can do a lot. They’re a relaxing fix for many of the problems created by our fast-paced world. Here are some of the many things heat exposure can do: 

  • Help relax muscles
  • May reduce muscle and joint pain
  • May reduce blood pressure
  • May alleviate symptoms of anxiety and allergies
  • Stimulate circulation
  • Raise metabolism
  • Detoxify
  • May improve skin tone

Steam Room vs. Sauna

You may have used steam rooms too, but those are less popular in homes.

A steam room uses moist heat, operates at lower temperatures, and is infinitely more humid. While saunas and steam rooms are often compared to one another because of similar health benefits, the experience is pretty different: Open a steam room door and wet steam will pour out. The ground will be slick and you might not be able to see past your hand. You’ll likely get completely damp from the experience (which feels great, as the wet steam can act as a whole-body humidifier).

A sauna will be completely dry inside. You’ll have a clear view in front of you with no steam fogging up the room. If there is wetness on your skin, it’ll dry up almost instantly. It feels more like a desert, which feels amazing after a day of outdoor adventures.

Indoor vs. Outdoor

Home saunas can be built indoors or outdoors. Indoor saunas are typically in a bathroom, indoor gym, or near a pool. Outdoor saunas are built in a backyard or elsewhere on the land. They can be designed to make the most of your views, especially if you’re lucky enough to own a property in the great outdoors. You can even get the plans to build your own stunning minimalist sauna on your property, which we’ll get into in a moment.

4 Types of Saunas

Outdoor sauna: hot stones

The kind of sauna you invest in depends on your design preferences, where you want to place it, and how you plan to use it. The daily energy costs of saunas are negligible: It's often cheaper than running a washer and dryer.

These are the most popular types of saunas so you can pick your perfect match.

Wood-Burning Sauna

A wood sauna heater is a traditional Finnish-style unit and the heat source functions like a traditional fireplace. The cozy scent of a wood fire is a huge perk of this variety, but you’ll need to install a chimney or vent to make sure there’s proper ventilation. Since you don’t need electricity to run this sauna, wood-burning saunas are perfect for off-grid homes.

Electric Sauna

Convenient, clean, and quick, electric saunas use an electric sauna stove rather than old-fashioned fire. You can simply flip on the sauna instead of dealing with the hassle of real firewood. You use a ladle to splash water onto stones to create more heat, and it's easy to adjust the temperature as needed.

Infrared Sauna

Unlike traditional saunas, where the entire room is heated, an infrared sauna is usually a wooden cabin that creates radiant heat with its infrared heater or heating panels. The overall temperature of the room won’t be super high, but the infrared heating will still make you sweat. These are for indoor use only.

Gas Sauna

While most saunas are electric these days, gas is also an option if you want an even cheaper energy source. They’re usually used for larger saunas or for commercial establishments because it’s such an inexpensive source of energy.

How to Customize the Look of Your Sauna

The Sauna from DEN Outdoors

Buying your sauna already built? You have two main choices: You might opt for a prefab outdoor barrel sauna, a Hobbit-hole-looking structure that looks like a barrel laying flat. Two-person barrel saunas are the most common, but you might see some that fit up to six. Otherwise, most prefab saunas are shaped like a basic box with small windows and wooden or glass doors.

If you want updated aesthetics with the option to fully customize the sauna to your needs, The Sauna from DEN Outdoors will be the better option. This high-quality home sauna building plan is configurable for on- or off-grid locations and gives you a visually stunning sauna experience for up to four people. The giant picture window will give you and your guests views of the outdoors while you sit in it, and the attached changing room is the perfect place to take a break between sessions with the sliding door open to the fresh air. You can use a wood-fired or electric stove for the heat source.

With the plans starting at just $199, this minimalist, modern design brings sleek, Scandinavian aesthetics to home saunas. DEN packages include architectural blueprints, detailed structural plans, a project brief, and a list of materials.

Checklist for Adding a Backyard Sauna to Your Home

The Sauna from DEN Outdoors interior

Are you sold yet? Many people have been bringing the sauna life to their homes, and you can too. 

Here’s what to ask yourself before you install your own sauna:

  1. Would an indoor or outdoor sauna work better for my home layout?
  2. Where am I putting it — attached to my home, as an extra room, or a standalone structure in the backyard? (Most outdoor saunas are standalone structures.)
  3. How much space will my home sauna need? Ideally home saunas should be designed to fit at least 2-3 people, but many models fit just one person.
  4. What heat source are you going to use for your sauna (electric, gas, wood-burning, infrared)?
  5. Is there enough space for proper ventilation for a wood-burning sauna?
  6. What kind of wood do you have access to? Western Red Cedar sauna wood and Canadian Hemlock wood boards are quite popular for the interior lining. Thermally modified wood is commonly used, too — it’s wood that has been made more durable by modifying it with heat.

Perfect Cabins to Pair With Your Outdoor Sauna

Not only can we at DEN help you design and customize a backyard sauna, but we can also help you DIY a dream weekend getaway spot with a custom cabin.

Meet the cabins that will pair perfectly with The Sauna:

  • Modern Alpine Tiny House: This simple and sweet 300-square-foot design features a kitchenette, a two-person Murphy bed to maximize floor space, plenty of storage, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Add the DEN Sauna, and you can get cozy in this wintery escape.
  • Modern Alpine Cabin: Our upgraded 448-square-foot cabin sleeps two in a lofted bedroom, has a galley kitchen and a 17-foot wall of glass, and includes an option for a skylight balcony. Complete with walkaround decking, this home is an ideal candidate for breaking open your outdoor sauna kit!
  • Alpine 2.1: If you have more people to house, look into the 920-square-foot loft that sleeps up to six thanks to two bedrooms. Enjoy the large kitchen and full bathroom with a soaking tub, plus a laundry closet. With this much space indoors, you have to put the cherry on top with a roomy four-person sauna.

Heat Things Up in an Outdoor Sauna

Now that you’re no longer all fogged up on building your own sauna room, you can finally have a spa-like outdoor space you’ve always dreamed of.

If you’re ready to go from dreaming about your backyard sauna to bringing it to life, DEN's design packages contain everything you need to get started on your cozy journey.




  • Bosworth, B. M. (2013, September 30). Why Finland loves saunas. BBC News.
  • Oviir, A. (2019, August 6). Here’s why the history of the sauna is deeper than you might think. Medium.
  • Groft. (2020, April 30). Six types of saunas and their brief characteristics | Ark SPA Palace. Ark SPA Palace.
  •  Dunnett, T. (2023, December 2). 7 different types of saunas explained. Sauna Samurai.
  • Saunas, C. I. (2023, May 3). Getting a home sauna: Where to put a sauna in the house. Clearlight Infrared Saunas.