Here in the UK, most of us are familiar with the concept of steam baths thanks to the famous Roman spa in Bath, Somerset. Founded on the site of Britain’s only natural hot spring, these impressive thermal baths date back as far as 70 AD and have remained in use ever since, cherished and preserved by each passing generation. Known for their healing properties, such baths appeared across the Roman Empire at the sites of natural geothermal springs, becoming important social hubs during this era. Widely believed to have detoxifying properties, these baths are rich in minerals and associated with the treatment of various chest conditions and asthma, as well as skin complaints and general fatigue. Nowadays, steam baths exist both in this traditional format—particularly in geothermally active places like Iceland—as well as more modern incarnations. Contemporary steam rooms will either pump up naturally-heated waters from the ground, or use artificially-heated water in glass rooms.
Although the traditional Finnish sauna is perhaps better known than the Roman steam bath, both function in similar ways and are believed to have comparable health-giving properties. There are, however, some distinct differences between the two. Firstly, a sauna is heated by hot coals—or the relatively dry steam created from these—whereas steam baths use hot water in a confined space to generate similar conditions. Due to the high humidity levels in a steam room, the temperatures reached are lower than those in a sauna (40°C as opposed to 90°C), with longer vapour sessions possible. Saunas tend to be constructed from natural materials such as pine, cedar and aspen, with steam baths usually tiled and glass fronted.
If you’re a big fan of spas and have the budget to build your own, here’s our simple guide to getting started. We always recommend enlisting the help of an experienced professional early in the process to avoid any common mistakes and keep you on the right track. One of the most important things to get right is the space in which you’re constructing the steam room. It needs to be big enough to allow steam to flow effectively, and secure enough to prevent heat escaping. There should be no additional heating devices or ventilation systems, and the room should feature an enclosed shower space. It’s also important to choose your seating carefully - you’ll need enough space to stretch out comfortably, so make sure you measure up beforehand. Finally, you’ll need to include a steam generator with the option of an additional steam shower. This will get your steam room up and running and should therefore be chosen wisely.
Once you’ve consulted with a professional and thoroughly planned your project, it’s time to get started. As a rough guide, there are four main components you’ll need to include before your steam bath takes shape. The first is the basic enclosure in which the steam will be contained. This will need to be suitably sturdy and lined with appropriate materials in order to stop moisture or heat escaping. Next up, you’ll need to select the right kind of tiles and flooring - this will make a huge difference to your experience and determine the overall quality of the steam bath. Thirdly, make sure you pick the right surface materials for your steam room. Will it be tiled or wood clad, for example? It’s also vital to pick the right kind of door—no heat should escape and the surface should be easy to keep clean. For this reason, glass is the most popular choice. Finally, you’ll need to settle on the best steam generator and thermostat for you. These can vary a lot both in price and quality, so make sure you shop around and enlist the help of a professional.
If you’re ready to bite the bullet and build your own steam room, you’ll be wondering how much the whole project will set you back. Generally speaking, prices start from around £3,500 for a 2-person acrylic steam room, rising to £7,000 for a modular tiled model. Of course these costs will vary depending on the quality of the materials, the labour involved and the completion time of the project. And if you’re feeling super flush, there’s always the option to go all out and invest in a luxury hammam for your home!