Anchorage sauna re-habilitation

The old sauna at my parent's house in urban Anchorage, Alaska has been extremely neglected. Over the years it's gotten a lot of use but we haven't done too much to keep it up. In particular the rolled roofing had long since failed. Also squirrels got into the insulation. They did an incredible amount of damage, tearing out insulation, gnawing through wood and vapor barrier. The destruction was truly impressive.

A few years ago I purchased some rolled roofing material with the intention of doing a quick and easy re-roof. How hard can that be? Unfortunately I never had enough time during my periodic visits to actually replace the roofing. A few weeks ago I arrived in Alaska to do some work for my family. One of my own projects was to finally finish this roof. I finally had enough time but this project took a lot of it. 

As you can see, once everything was swept off, there actually wasn't much roof left.

Unfortunately the roof was much worse that I had expected. We let it go too long and some of the decking was rotten. Additionally the chimney system was completely shot. The chimney "thimble"--the old sheet metal double-walled cylinder that provided spacing between the hot 6 inch stove pipe and the potentially combustible framing--was old and second-hand even when my dad put in the wood stove in the late-1970s. It was now pretty resoundingly rusted out. All of this needed to be redone. The trouble was such items are no longer made. Wood stove pipe parts are now built around stainless steel insulated pipe and this is expensive!

So, off came the roofing and out went the old chimney. I selectively replaced the roof boards, saving the good ones for the other side of the roof. When the boards came off I discovered that the insulation was a disaster. Much of it was simply missing, carted off by squirrels. The rest was torn up, the insulative capacity pretty much totally compromised as it was tunneled and trampled and chewed up!

 Busy squirrels. Impressive!

Here's a bit of Alaska history. It's a little hard to read but it says, "Anchorage via Seward," documenting that the shed roofing boards arrived via the Alaska Railroad back when Seward was the primary seaport for the region and there was no road to Anchorage.

Progress! Next comes framing in the new chimney and replacing the roof decking with a few good boards and some scrap plywood.

I ran out of original boards so I was forced to use 1/2 inch plywood. The plywood wasn't as thick so I doubled up around the transition edge with extra tar paper and roofing to feather the edge. This seemed to work.

Viola! The finished roof with new chimney. It's not pretty but looking at gives me a strong sense of satisfaction knowing that underneath it will be dry again.

This turned into a seemingly never-ending project. Not only had the squirrels gotten into the roof, much of the insulation had made its way into the sauna itself. Can there be anything less sensual than bathing in a dusty sauna filled with fiberglass insulation?

Get a load of the wood pile under one of the sauna benches. Ick! Everything needed to come out. 

This included the rocks around the wood stove since the squirrels managed to get insulation in all the rocks as well. Bending down in this small confined space, with itchy insulation everywhere was an absolute horror.

I developed a system for carting out the sauna rocks: dump them in a bucket with water to wash off dust and insulation, place in milk crate, and then carry the crate outside.

Here are the rocks piled up outside waiting to get hosed off. You can see in the background that I carried out the same sort of procedure for the fire wood that was under the benches.

God, it was tedious to wash, unload and reload all of the rocks (and wood.) I swept out the space (many times over), hosed down the interior and wiped down the walls and benches multiple times.
I was finally rewarded by a very pleasant nighttime sweat. I went for a bike ride before hand to get my circulation moving. It was a cold clear night in Anchorage.The stars were out. Everything was wonderful.

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