Sweat Box

The warmth of a soaking tub or the sensation of full body sprays in the shower are popular luxury upgrades that also help to dissolve homeowners’ daily stress (see page 30). But adding a sauna goes one step beyond simply feeling better—it actually expels toxins. Pesticides, herbicides, petroleum- and plastic-based chemicals in consumer products are banked by the fatty cells that sit just below the skin. Time spent sweating removes these chemicals and heavy metals.

Saunas, once the domain of health clubs and luxury hotels, are more common in both new construction and modest renovations where they can seat two to eight people. Custom saunas, which can start at $8,500, are integrated into new construction projects where a room is built, insulated and finished with a cedar interior and seating. Only the unfinished wood and glass door distinguishes it from a walk-in closet. The other style is prefabricated and modular, built and installed as panels with a finished exterior and interior. While they’re typically small enough to fit in a large master bedroom, like a standalone wardrobe unit, modular units can be scaled up to fit more people, are easily removable and start at $6,000. Both options allow homeowners to use them as personal retreats. “You can sit back, read a paper, a book or use your iPad in there,” said Joe Musnicki, owner of Ocean Spray Hot Tubs & Saunas in Melville and Westhampton Beach. Once the basic shape is selected, upgrades like benches made from dense, stay-cool exotic woods, LED light therapy and speakers can be added.

The goal of any sauna is to induce sweating. The centuries old Finnish style heats rocks to warm the room, while newer infrared designs, developed in Germany, heat the bathers directly. The traditional style uses an electric element that is hardwired to heat lava rocks, warming them between 150 and 190 degrees, creating enough dry heat to fill the space. Users sit on upper benches for the most heat, lower benches for slightly less heat. Here everything is warmed: The sauna walls, the benches and the air. Water is often ladled over the rocks to produce steam that moderates the level of heat, making it easier to breathe when the intensity is too high.

The infrared style causes sweating at between 120 and 150 degrees with energy rays that penetrate the skin, increasing body temperature. Because sweating happens at a lower temperature some people find it easier to remain in an infrared-style sauna longer, possibly increasing the benefits. But unlike a traditional sauna that houses even temperatures throughout the space, an infrared system limits seating to directly in front of the emitters. After the timed session is over the heater shuts down and there is no residual heat during this cool down, something users enjoy in a traditional sauna.

Most homeowners use saunas as a social event to share with family and friends. Musnicki said that while he’s installed $40,000 saunas large enough for eight people, smaller, 5’x7′ units are more common. “If you go really large you have to consider warming the space with multiple heaters and possibly having to turn those on up to an hour before the sauna is ready to use,” Musnicki said, describing the Finnish style his firm installs. “While a smaller one fits fewer people, it’s ready to use in half the time.”

Regardless of the size or heating style, if a sauna is used improperly it can cause dehydration or fainting. Once installed these rooms become part of an almost daily routine, requiring from 15 to 30 minutes per session. They also allow their owners to relax and detox effortlessly while they catch up with family and friends or even just their Twitter feeds.