The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Saunas

Wood chairs and a fire pit with a barrel sauna in the background

If having your own sauna sounds extravagant, consider this. In Finland, more than half the population has one. (There are actually more saunas in Finland than there are cars.)

In fact, so obsessed is the nation with their sweaty pastime, that Unesco saw fit to register Finland’s sauna culture on its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Clearly they must be onto something, so why not follow their example?

Having a sauna perched behind your house isn’t as far-fetched as you might think. There are plenty of options to choose from, with prices to suit every budget.

The three main considerations when choosing a sauna are the heat source, the shape or style and the size. What you go with will depend on your budget, the space you have available and your personal preferences.

5 Backyard Sauna Ideas to Suit Every Taste

There’s pretty much nothing holding you back except your imagination and your budget (and even that can be accommodated with payment terms). We’ve put together a list of options that are sure to suit everyone’s taste. 

1. The Barrel

We’re of the opinion that the barrel sauna is the best choice for your home. We’re biased, of course, but that’s not the only reason we’re fans. 
Barrel saunas aren’t insulated, but this is offset by the fact that they have less space to heat than a cabin-style sauna of the same size. Thanks to their circular design, heat also has no way of settling at the top.
Instead, the barrel sauna’s cylindrical shape encourages the air to recirculate naturally. With the hottest air constantly in motion, you’ll enjoy a steady heat throughout the interior. Because the wood expands as it heats up, the hot air cannot escape through the staves.
Barrel saunas are also structurally sound, shed water naturally and able to tolerate a substantial snow load, making them the perfect choice for those harsh Canadian winters
If your barrel sauna is made from Canadian red cedar (which ours are), you have the added advantage of it being naturally resistant to water and insects. Wherever you happen to live, they’re sure to hold their own.

2. The Eagles Nest

The eagles nest sauna is delightfully reminiscent of a tiny house. Particularly if you opt for one that has a porch and benches. Its tapered shape and shingle roof make for a unique design, allowing it to blend in equally well with a modern house or rustic cottage.

The eagles nest sauna has a remarkable 6-person capacity for each of the three sizes it’s available in. Although, with only two long benches, it does mean you’ll have no option but to sit three to a side facing one another.

Then again, with a little slouching, the built-in angled backrests could force your gaze upwards, away from your fellow sauna bathers. The tempered glass door also offers a view to the outside world. Another plus for the eagles nest sauna is the fact that it only takes half an hour to heat up. 

3. The Pod

One of the newer sauna styles on the market, pod saunas are shaped like a raindrop. Its organic structure makes it a pleasant addition to any garden setting. Made from western red cedar, the pod sauna will maintain its good looks for a long time to come.

Also called igloo saunas, pod saunas feature an extra layer of cladding that provides additional insulation and protection from the elements. The shape also does a great job of accommodating taller sweat enthusiasts.

The dual wood layers greatly improve heat quality and thermal performance in the pod sauna, but for a lot of people it’s the unique design that attracts them. Add to that the fact that it heats up fast and you have an excellent contender for the home sauna race.

4. The Kota

With its uniquely hexagonal shape, the kota sauna has a fairytale look about it. It might not be to everyone’s liking, but there’s certainly something endearing about it. Along with offering plenty of headroom for taller sauna goers, the steep roof also aids in uniform air circulation to ensure efficient heat distribution throughout.

The Kota sauna features a triple-layer roof made up of inside cedar, an ice and water shield and an exterior of your choice. The 3.8 cm (1.5 in.) thick walls mean no added insulation is required. All in all an extremely durable choice.

Kota backyard sauna

5. The Mobile Sauna

Investing in a mobile sauna is one of those classic win/win scenarios. You get to have your cake and eat it. Or, in this case, you get to have your sauna and take it with you. Picture it.

Let’s say you’re renting your current home and don’t want to invest in something that you can’t take with you when you leave. Buying a mobile sauna is the obvious solution. 

What if you own your home, but you also have a vacation home where you spend your summers? Wouldn’t it be great if you could have a sauna there as well?

Perhaps your friends have a cabin at a lake and they invite you to spend the weekend with them. How cool would it be if you could arrive with a sauna in tow? You’d score a ton of friendship points for sure.

Plus, given how spacious they can be, once you’re inside and relaxing, you’ll completely forget that you’re essentially sitting in a trailer. You could be anywhere your mind can take you, even in one of these saunas in Helsinki.

Kit vs Building From Scratch 

There’s one other decision you’ll need to make and that’s whether you want to build your sauna from scratch or buy a kit that you can either assemble yourself or have someone do it for you. 

The route you go will depend on things like whether or not you have the tools, the skills, the time and more importantly, the desire. If your workshop is your happy place, then by all means, build it yourself.

But if you’re short on time and just want to enjoy the health benefits of sauna bathing, it makes sense to buy a kit and have the supplier assemble it for you. There’s certainly no shame in going this route (we can’t all be Bob the Builder) and besides, the idea is to get sauna-sweaty, not DIY-sweaty. 

What About Cost?

Costs can vary wildly, depending on the style, the heater, the materials, the size and so on. While you can easily end up spending a small fortune on your ideal sweat box, backyard saunas don’t have to break the bank.
Our barrel saunas range from $8,350 CAD to $8,950 CAD (excl. tax), with customisations (rear window, flat flooring, high performance metal roof, etc.) available at an additional cost. You can visit our order now page for a full rundown of prices.
In general though, the cost can run the gamut from a few hundred dollars for an outdoor tent sauna to as much as $47,000 US for something sleek and modern. 
While it does ultimately come down to how much money you have available, it’s worth shelling out for something decent. Firstly, because it’ll make your sauna experience that much more pleasant and secondly, because it’ll increase the value of your home.

Heating: What Are Your Options?

You have three options to choose from when considering the heat source: wood fired, electric or infrared. The first two are what’s called traditional heating, while the third is non-traditional. 

Traditional or Finnish saunas involve placing stones on either a wood burning or electric stove and heating them up. There’s also the option to sprinkle water on them to create steam. Purists prefer this option as it provides a more authentic experience.

Aside from the obvious, there are some key differences between a wood burning stove and an electric one. A wood burning stove means you’ll need to install a chimney in your sauna in order for it to function. On the upside, you won’t need to concern yourself with wiring.

Depending on the wood you choose to put in your stove, you’ll be rewarded with a pleasant aroma while sweating it out. Plus, there’s the added bonus of the ambiance this heating method creates.

Electric heaters come standard with most saunas nowadays and it’s easy to see why. Heating your sauna comes down to a flick of a switch rather than the more laborious task of preparing and lighting a fire. Controlling the temperature is also infinitely easier.

Infrared saunas are a completely different kettle of fish. They take a more focused approach, heating the body from the inside out. The sauna temperature won’t be as high, but you will still sweat. (Some people claim that infrared saunas are better at detoxifying the body than traditional saunas.)

What’s the Best Home Sauna for You?

Deciding which one is best for you hinges on the three things mentioned at the outset: budget, space and personal preference. However, there are other factors that you may want to take into consideration as well.
If ticking the budget and eco boxes are your main concern, then choosing an infrared sauna is the way to go. They’re more energy-efficient than traditional saunas, don’t take as long to heat up, and the initial outlay is lower.
That said, it is a vastly different experience compared to a traditional sauna. At Nootka, we’re huge proponents of the old school Finnish sauna. We love the feeling of sitting in the heat. We love the ambiance and the connection to an ages-old tradition.
Which one is best for you? It depends. Of course we’d say a barrel sauna (preferably one from Whistler, BC), but at the end of the day it comes down to aesthetics. What would you love to see standing in your yard when you look out the window?

Basing your decision purely on your budget constraints could mean ending up with something you don’t like. It’s also important to think about the maintenance it might require and who you’ll be sharing it with (if anyone). 

While they’re relatively easy to assemble and dismantle, the plan with having a sauna in your garden is to keep it there for the duration. Spend some time thinking about what you want from the experience before making a decision and you’ll avoid being stuck with something you don’t like.

If you do end up going with the barrel sauna (of course you will), you know where to order it from!