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Forget swimming ponds and outdoor gyms – the new must-have for the garden is a Scandi-style sauna

(Taken from the December edition of the Society of Garden Designers Garden Design Journal, MD Jake Newport discussing the latest in authentic Finnish sauna bespoke design and installation)

Jake Newport, MD of UK sauna firm Finnmark Ltd, says there are several reasons for the rise of the sauna as a garden feature. “Some high net worth clients are after the ‘full set’ of home cinema, steam room and sauna, but increasingly people want saunas because they have read about the health benefits they bring; they’re well-travelled and they’ve been to Finland and tried the real deal,” he explains.

Gardens can easily be adapted to accommodate a sauna, whether they are situated in purpose-built sheds or log cabins, or in existing converted garden buildings such as garages. Saunas are most often powered by an electric heater, so mains electricity is usually a requirement, explains Francis Dineen, development manager at Reefgrove Ltd, which designs and installs saunas around the country.“The oven itself is like a big toaster; your average outside sauna would be 9 kilowatts, so it needs a good bit of power,” he explains.

Hotting up
But as Newport points out, there are alternatives. In the US where 110-volt domestic power supply doesn’t allow for a powerful heater to be installed, infrared saunas are increasingly popular, and are starting to be marketed in the UK. However there is an off-grid alternative. Newport prefers a more natural heat source for his own sauna at home: a woodburning stove. “The heat inside a wood burning sauna is undoubtedly better, but making the fire properly is a bit of an art, and it takes more time. For some people it’s the ritual they want, but others just want to switch their sauna on.”

Cooling down
And sauna specs are evolving too. In recent years, both Newport and Dineen have seen a preference for glass-fronted rooms which turn the sauna into a feature and a more luxurious feel, with options such as fibre optic lighting. Another vital element of the sauna experience is cooling off in a plunge pool, says Newport, in order to experience the health benefits and get the authentic sauna experience. A cold shower just isn’t the same.

With saunas proving so popular, it’s vital that designers seek expert advice on installation, advises Newport, as a poorly installed sauna can lead to problems with interstitial condensation, damp, mildew and dry rot. “Our big push is to make sure that people are aware of the insulation, ventilation and vapour sealing that are vital for a successful sauna,” he says.
And finally, safety is paramount, advises Dineen. “Saunas are very low maintenance, but every year it’s worth getting them checked for safety.”

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