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hard hat, measuring tape, level, and plansSaunas and steam rooms found at spas, health clubs, and other areas are used for a variety of reasons including health, stress relief, and relaxation.  To understand the accessibility requirements for saunas and steam rooms, we need to look at the 1991 and 2010 ADA Design Standards (ADADS) and the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board’s rules and regulations (MAAB) to determine the applicability and the most stringent requirement.

To illustrate, let’s use the example of a single sauna that was installed in 2014.  Which codes apply and what do those codes require? Since the installation in this example was done in 2014, The 1991 ADADS would not apply (the 1991 ADADS did not include requirements for saunas or steam rooms).  On the other hand, since the 2010 ADADS (Section 241) were in effect at the time of installation and do include specific requirements for this element, these standards do apply. The 2006 revision of the MAAB (Section 19) were also in effect at the time of installation and cover saunas as an element that would need to comply with the codes.

From this analysis, we can determine the following. Under the 2010 ADADA, since this is a single sauna, it would need to comply with Section 612 of the 2010 ADADS.  As an aside, Section 241 states that where there is more than one sauna at a single location, 5% of the saunas at each location would need to comply with Section 612.  Section 612 requires that, where seating is provided, at least one bench comply with Section 903. Additionally, there must be enough turning space provided within the sauna.  This section does allow for a “readily removable” bench to block the turning space required.  This would allow for the easy removal of the bench to meet the appropriate turning space requirements.

Section 903 requires specific design elements for benches such as the required clear floor spaces at the end of the bench seat, the size of the benches (minimum 42 inches long, 20 to 24 inches deep), back support requirements (minimum 42 inches long, maximum of 2 inches above the seat surface, maximum 2 ½ inches high from the rear of the seat, and a minimum of 18 inches in height), bench seat height (17 to 19 inches above the finished floor), structural strength (allow stresses of up to 250 pounds), and even benches in “wet” locations (seat surface to be slip resistant and not accumulate water).  Additional items, under the less “sauna-specific” sections of the standards that need to comply would be doors (Section 404) such as clear width, maneuvering clearances, hardware, and closing speeds; and sauna controls (Section 309) such as operable parts, reach ranges and clear floor space at the controls.

Under the 2006 revision of the MAAB, Section 19 would require the sauna to comply fully with the codes.  While this section specifically states “saunas” as a covered element, there is no further discussion of specific obligations under this section relating to saunas.  This means that we must look to other sections of the code to see what the obligations would be. Unlike Section 241 of the 2010 ADADS, the MAAB codes would require, if there were more than one, all saunas to comply, not just 5% at each cluster location, although variances could be sought. Unlike section 612 and section 903 of the 2010 ADADS, the MAAB has no requirements covering the seating within the sauna. The MAAB regulations would cover the doors to the sauna (Section 26) and sauna controls (Section 39) controls.

We will now combine these two different codes to determine what is required in our example scenario. The sauna controls would need to comply with the 2010 ADADS or MAAB, whichever is more stringent. Benches must be compliant with the 2010 ADADS. Doors and clearances must be compliant with the 2010 ADADS or MAAB, whichever is more stringent. Inside maneuvering spaces must be compliant with the 2010 ADADS or MAAB, whichever is more stringent.

Additionally, under the MAAB (Section 3.4), if this sauna was installed in a previously non-public space that has now become a public space, there would be additional requirements for an accessible route from the public entrance to the newly created sauna.  The proposed regulations changes to the MAAB would bring identical language from the 2010 ADADS to the new MAAB regulations.

The Massachusetts Office on Disability provides training and technical assistance on the requirements for buildings, spaces, and features to be accessible to persons with disabilities.



Written By:

Assistant Director, Community Services Program

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