The radiant heat relieves tired muscles, eases stress and removes skin blemishes.
BY STACY DOWNS
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A hot sauna can turn a home into a retreat, especially during the cold months.
During the winter, Clarence Krantz uses a sauna at least twice a week in his Overland Park, Kan., home. He had one custom built a few years ago in his basement across from a shower and near his exercise equipment .
"It invigorates me," Krantz says. "It gets your heart rate elevated so you almost feel like you worked out. I love it."
The popularity of saunas has increased in recent years as more people have become familiar with them at health clubs, hotels and military bases. Most sauna fans are seeking a healthier, more relaxing lifestyle, says Linda Pettit, owner of Backyard Living, an Kansas store that sells saunas.
"People in general are turning their homes into vacation getaways," says Pettit, whose customers in increasing numbers have installed saunas in their master bedroom suites.
A sauna is traditionally a room made of softwood tongue-and-groove boards, often cedar or redwood. In contrast, steam rooms typically have tile or solid surfaces, plumbing and wet humidity.
The typical sauna is 6 feet by 6 feet, with a 7-foot ceiling, and the space is warmed by radiant heat. Stones placed atop an electric heater serve a couple of functions: They retain heat when warmed, and they release small amounts of steam whenever the sauna user trickles a dipperful of water on them. The air can be humid, but not enough to fog glass.
Health, beauty be nefits
The goal is to sweat, cleansing the body's pores. Enthusiasts say the heat and humidity soothe tired muscles, relieve stress and help keep skin free of blemishes. Blood circulation, breathing and pulse rates increase as they do in exercise, so some people use it as an aid in losing weight. Before using a sauna, people who have high blood pressure or other health problems and women who are pregnant should consult a physician.
Saunas are especially popular in Finland, where most households have one. Here's the traditional sauna process, according to Reino Tarkiainen, a Finnish native and president of Finlandia Sauna, a Portland-based manufacturer:
U Turn on the heat in the sauna. Add a small amount of water to rocks to increase humidity. Meanwhile, take a short shower.
U Sit or lie down in your heated sauna for 10 to 15 minutes. Get a good sweat going.
U Take another short shower. Use a special sauna brush to get a warm tingly feeling on your skin.
U Return to the heated sauna. Put more water on the rocks. Sit for 15 minutes.
UTake a longer shower. Water should be cold enough to close your pores.
UIt's also fine to take just one shower after a 30-minute sauna session.
"It's best when you do it right before bed," Tarkiainen says. "Then you're relaxed and ready to sleep."
Prices for saunas start at $3,500, which includes parts and professional labor. Sometimes the stones of a sauna are heated by wood-burning stoves instead of electric heaters. If someone wanted to build his own sauna, he could buy either type of heater (the more typical electrical heater costs $600, a wood-burning stove costs between $1,500 and $2,000) and use his own lumber for the walls and ceiling, says Jim Nichols, a professional sauna installer and owner of Artesian Sauna, based in his Kansas home.
"Someone with good woodworking or carpentry skills could do it," he says. "But it's a major assembly if you're going to do it yourself, and it might not look as good."
In recent years, infrared rooms that look and function like saunas have been sold on the Internet and in sauna showrooms. Infrared rooms don't use water or a filter rock heater. Instead, they use a series of infrared heaters placed at different levels inside.
Both traditional saunas and infrared rooms come in pre-fabricated kits that would take two people about an hour to install. Both can be built outdoors. Both types can be customized.
Some people prefer infrared rooms to saunas because they don't get as hot or humid, says Pettit, who sells both types.
Sunlight Saunas, a manufacturer headquartered in Kansas, makes only rooms using infrared heating. "It heats the body, not the space, for more efficiency," says Jason Kort , corporate account manager at Sunlight Saunas.
Traditional sauna companies and infrared companies are critical of each other's product. "They (infrared rooms) are like microwaves," Tarkiainen says. "The heat (in a traditional sauna) is oppressive," Kort says.
After researching, John and Nancy McCarthy of Leawood, Kan., chose an infrared room rather than a traditional sauna. "You don't have to play with rocks and water," Nancy McCarthy says.
They use the infrared room together once a week. Typically they'll play a game of gin rummy before they go to bed. "The cards get kind of sweaty and rippled," she says. "But the whole thing helps with a good night's sleep."