Usually called a ‘steam room’ in South Africa, a steam bath is a steam-filled room used for relaxing and cleansing. Its origins go way back to the Roman Empire, when Roman public baths were available to the public for the purposes of socialising, cleansing and relaxing. The heat for these Roman baths was supplied by natural hot springs from beneath the ground.
It’s certainly not uncommon to find a steam room in a hotel, gym or holiday resort in South Africa, and one of the most well-known examples is the Long Street Turkish baths in Cape Town, an old historic building dating back to 1908. Here, one can indulge in not only steam rooms, but also a sauna, hot room and a 25m heated indoor swimming pool.
The benefits of using a room filled with intense heat were already known to the Finns and Swedes a long time ago – generating an abundance of sweat is a wonderful way to reduce anxiety and stress while promoting relaxation and peace of mind, not to mention what it can do for sore muscles and a hangover! Other health benefits of using a steam bath include detoxification and glowing healthy skin.
The process is simple: sit in the hot room, which is typically heated to about 80°C. After 10 – 20 minutes (when the heat becomes uncomfortable), one usually jumps into a pool or take a shower. After a short resting period, one goes back into the heated room and repeat the cycle, according to personal preference.
Saunas produce dry heat, while steam rooms give out moist heat. The dry heat of an old-fashioned sauna is produced by a heater that heats up a heap of rocks. These rocks exude heat across the room, and in most saunas one can even pour water over the rocks to produce more steam and increase humidity levels, although it won’t come close to the levels provided in a steam room.
The other main difference between the two is the amount of heat provided—saunas are significantly hotter, although due to the change in humidity, our bodies usually don’t notice the difference. A typical sauna will be heated to about 70 – 100°C and reach a humidity level of between 5 and 30%. Steam rooms peak at about 45 to 50°C; however, the 100% humidity stops your sweat from evaporating, allowing you to feel much hotter.
The latest trend towards a healthier lifestyle is creating more demand for home steam baths/rooms and saunas, and here we provide a quick guide to setting up your own home steam room.
It’s crucial that you get the size of your steam room right, as it needs to be large enough for the steam to flow effectively. No additional heating devices or ventilation systems should be included. Bear in mind that you’ll need to stretch out comfortably in the space, so get the measurements right beforehand. Remember that you’ll also need to include a steam generator and an optional steam shower. Steam generators are available in different sizes depending on the size of the space.
It is vital that you enlist the help of a professional, as building a steam room does come with precautions. All electrical equipment should be tested by the relevant authority, properly installed, constantly maintained and only used as intended by the manufacturer. In a steam room, the point of entry for the steam is very important, as severe burning can occur if pipes are laid incorrectly.
Although no two steam rooms need to be alike, there are four main components that all of them share:
1. A basic enclosure to contain the steam. Remember that this will need to be quite sturdy and lined with the right materials to prevent moisture and heat from escaping.
2. The right kind of flooring and other surface materials are crucial, as it can affect the overall quality of your steam room. The space can be finished off with tiles, laminated glass, acrylic or wood. And be sure to allow for a drain and slanted ceiling (to prevent water from dripping down on you).
3. The door to the room should not allow any heat to escape and also be easy to clean, which is why glass is usually the most popular choice.
4. Lastly, a steam generator and thermostat, both of which can vary in terms of price and quality, so be sure to scope out a range of options and enlist the help of a professional.
As there are numerous suppliers and providers of all things related to steam rooms and spas (from steam generators and floor tiling to glass doors and portable saunas), it’s best to shop around, ask for prices and compare quotes to find the best product suited to your needs.
Whether it’s a sauna, steam room/bath, backyard pool or something else altogether, homify has a wide variety of designs to inspire you. In addition, we also help to put you in contact with numerous professionals in the building- and design world, from architects and landscape designers to electricians and pools and spa experts, ensuring you have a wide variety of choices.