Thinking of building a wine cellar? Then prepare to get excited, as it’s a fun and rewarding experience.
Your creative juices will begin to flow as you think about the endless wine cellar design possibilities that are available to you and will reflect your personality, taste, and style.
Before you begin you need to ask yourself this important question;
“in addition to storing and preserving my wine, what is the purpose of my wine cellar, and how do I want to utilize the space?”
Do you want a simple and functional design? Then a basic wine cellar will maximize the number of bottles you need to store and preserve them in the smallest space possible.
Do you want to see and appreciate your wines? Then a moderate wine cellar, in addition to your collection, may also have wine-related objects on display.
Do you want to invite guests to view your wine? Then a showcase wine cellar will mean you can share your passion for wine and have space for tasting and other impressive design options.
So, now you have decided what kind of wine cellar you want to build, I have addressed below some of the important construction considerations you need to take into account so you can build a wine cellar that is efficient and practical.
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Don’t build your wine cellar where mechanical or power failures may ruin your wine.
You need to choose an area away from appliances, machinery, or heavy traffic, as vibrations can integrate sediments into the wine that can accelerate the aging process. Even the slightest vibrations, over time, can affect the quality and taste of your wine.
Avoid building your cellar in a garage or other uninsulated room.
Make sure you maintain your cooling system regularly (about every 2-3 months).
Preserve and mature your wine correctly, so create an environment where you can control both the temperature and the humidity.
“Ideal wine conditions maintain a temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 50-70%.”
If the temperature in your cellar is higher than 55 degrees Fahrenheit it will cause your wine to age too quickly, and a temperature lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit will cause your wine to age too slowly.
Likewise, if the humidity in your cellar is higher than the correct amount it may cause mold to grow and lower than the correct amount may cause the corks to crack.
Therefore, you need to choose a cooling system that is designed specifically to keep this delicate balance of temperature and humidity, and one that will optimize your wine cellar to an ideal condition, so that you can successfully store and preserve your wine.
If you have a choice, it’s a good idea to go for a room with as little exposure to direct sunlight as possible.
Also, note which walls are interior and which ones are exterior, because this will determine how much insulation you will need and where you will be needing to install any vapor barrier.
The following are the three different types of cooling systems you can use to cool your wine cellar:
This system is the most cost effective and the easiest to install. The unit is intended to mount between the studs of a current wall and does not require a license from an installation technician.
Self-contained units house the evaporator and condenser together. One side of the unit will blow cool air into your wine cellar, whilst the other side will absorb the heat from your cellar and exhaust it into an area which is adjacent to your cellar.
Note: self-contained cooling units will make more noise than a split or ducted system.
This type of system will be a quieter and, likely, a more efficient way to cool your cellar.
Split cooling system condensers are typically noisy, though, and will need significant space for ventilation, so the location of your cellar may not include an area for these functions.
If you use a split cooling system, the evaporator and condenser come in two parts. Therefore, the condenser can be placed outside or in a separate room which is more suited for the heat and noise dissipation, such as a basement, roof-top or garage. Then, the quiet evaporator can be installed inside or around the wine cellar.
Note: a licensed technician will be required for this type of installation.
This system can be a self-contained or split cooling system and you usually have more flexibility and insulation options available to you.
The cooling unit can be placed up to 25 (ducted) feet from your wine cellar with the cool air flowing from the cellar and the heat exhaust ducted to the outside of your home.
Ducting cooling systems are usually more of an aesthetic choice for wine collectors who would rather not see a cooling unit in their cellar.
Note: noise from a ducted cooling unit will be reduced or eliminated altogether, depending on the insulation.
Self-contained units, evaporators, and any supply ducts should be installed within 18 inches from the cellar’s ceiling.
Any unit you choose will need a dedicated 110 volt 20 amp circuit to make sure it has the proper amount of amps to run at all times.
Regardless of the type of cooling system you decide on, you will still need to vent the heat it generates somewhere else. So here’s a few things to remember:
You’ll need to make sure that the system you install is able to cool up to 55 degrees cooler than the temperature on the exhaust side of the system, unless you have a lower end model, as these only have a 30-degree differential.
For example, to maintain a temperature of 55 degrees in your cellar the room where the exhaust is located should not exceed 110 degrees. If the exhaust room exceeds 110 degrees and increases to say 115 degrees, then the cooling system will only be able to cool the cellar up to 60 degrees.
This is why it is so important that when you are choosing a room to build your cellar, you need to make sure that there’s enough ventilation on the exhaust side.
You also need to keep in mind that your cooling system is able to maintain a relative humidity of between 50-70%.
If your wine is stored in a high humidity environment the cooling unit will move the excess humidity out of the room and dissipate the moisture via a condensate evaporate system or optional drain line.
Cooling systems do not usually create humidity, so if you are in a dry environment, you’ll need to look at creating humidity within the cellar yourself. You can do this by using a nonheat humidifier every now and again, or by installing decorative features within your cellar such as a small fountain.
What’s the difference between a standard air conditioning unit and a wine cooling system you might ask?
Well, standard air conditioning units rapidly cool a room. This rapid cooling can shock your wine and strip the humidity from the air.
Whereas proper wine cooling systems are designed to slowly bring your cellar to the correct temperature, while keeping a relative humidity. This is achieved by the process of correctly absorbing and disbursing the heat.
You need to use standard 2×4 or 2×6 to frame your room. Make sure that the construction methods and ceiling joists you use follow your local and state codes and guidelines.
The thicker you can make the walls in your new wine cellar the better the insulation value will be.
Any glass you use must be insulated as well, so if you chose to add glass you may need to buy a larger cooling unit, as glass will create a poorer insulation value.
To create a vapor barrier you need to add plastic sheeting (6mm) to the warm side of your cellar walls.
Ideally, you should apply the sheeting to the outside walls and ceiling as well. However, if this isn’t possible, you can wrap the entire interior of the room including the ceiling.
It is VERY important to add a vapor barrier.
If you are in a high humidity area it will prevent warm moist air from entering the cellar, which can cause mold. If you are in a dry area a vapor barrier will help keep the correct humidity in the cellar.
You must also make sure that you seal any concrete walls and floors with a decent sealant such as Dry Lock.
Your cooling unit will require the walls and ceilings in your cellar to be insulated.
Options for you to use are fiberglass, foam or blown-in insulation. You should use a minimum of R13 for the inside walls, but the exterior walls may need R19 depending on the thickness of the walls.
A minimum of R19 for the ceiling will be needed, but R30 is highly recommended.
Remember, concrete is not an insulator, so if possible, avoid using it.
Make sure you install a good exterior grade door and use weather stripping on all four sides of the door.
You’ll need to add a sweep or threshold too, as this will create a tight seal and to prevent any cool air from escaping.
Lights can give out a huge amount of heat so it’s a good idea to use low voltage lights like LEDs or fluorescent lights.
Make sure you don’t compromise the vapor barrier when you install the lights in the ceiling.
Using motion sensors and timers are also a great idea, as they will prevent the lights from being left on accidentally or when no one is around.
It’s ok to use standard sheetrock for the walls, but you and/or a contractor may prefer to use green board because of its moisture resistance.
A good PVA paint will also give you a more durable finish and act as an additional vapor barrier.
A lot of people find that tongue and groove wood paneling is an attractive option for their cellar’s wall covering.
If you use rot resistant woods, such as redwoods and cedar, they will breathe in the cellar’s cool damp environment.
You can leave the wood unfinished or unsealed, but remember, any water or wine that’s spilled will discolor the wood.
There are many different types of flooring; slate, marble, hardwood, tile or vinyl, that are suitable for your cellar floor. Don’t use carpet, however, as it will mold and mildew in the cold and damp.
There are many types of racks available for your cellar, and they can vary quite a lot, so it really depends on your style, taste, and budget in terms of what you decide to use.
Racking is normally made from mahogany, redwood or cedar. You should also think about the bottle sizes you are likely going to be storing.
Bottles are also best stored in racks at an angle so that the wine is touching the cork. This will prevent the cork from drying out, cracking, and your wine from spoiling.